Putin seeks diplomatic solution amid ‘partial’ troop pullback

But he warned that Moscow won’t wait forever for the West to address its demand that Ukraine never join NATO.
Image: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin said he hopes for a diplomatic solution to tensions with the US and its allies and announced a partial pullback of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border. But he warned that Moscow won’t wait forever for the West to address its demand that Ukraine never join NATO.

“We want to resolve this issue now, right now or in the near future, through negotiations, peaceful means,” Putin said at a joint press conference in the Kremlin after three hours of talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the latest in an intense series of efforts by western leaders to ease confrontation amid warnings Russia was preparing to invade its neighbor. “We really hope that our partners listen to our concerns and take them seriously,” Putin said.

Scholz said it’s key “to make sure that we have a peaceful development, that there is no military conflict. If that takes place, then we are all clear what will happen,” a reference to the painful economic sanctions the U.S. and its allies have threatened to impose on Russia.

Putin’s meeting with Scholz came hours after Russia announced it was pulling some of its troops back from near Ukraine. Western officials cautiously welcomed the move, but said they needed to see evidence the withdrawal was actually taking place. The Kremlin has consistently denied it plans an attack, but Putin stopped short of ruling out further escalation if Russia’s security demands aren’t addressed.

Still, financial markets rallied on news of the pullback as investors took the move as a sign of possible de-escalation by Russia amid a major diplomatic push following weeks of warnings from the US and Europe about the risks of a conflict.

The US and NATO have said that Russia has massed some 130 000 troops near the border with Ukraine in preparation for a possible invasion. Russia has dismissed the warnings as “hysteria” but is continuing its largest drills in years in neighboring Belarus. Those are due to finish on February 20, while naval exercises in the Black Sea are scheduled to wrap up on Sunday.

The announcement of a Russian withdrawal offers “reason for cautious optimism,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. “So far, we haven’t seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground” and Russia’s military presence remains capable of an attack, he said.

After warning that a Russian invasion could take place as soon as this week, the US has evacuated its embassy from Kyiv and urged American citizens to leave Ukraine.

Putin has called for the US and its allies to give sweeping security guarantees, including a ban on further expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation that would include a refusal of future membership for Ukraine. They have rejected his demands but offered talks on other security issues including on missile restrictions and measures to build confidence, proposals Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called “constructive” at a meeting with Putin on Monday.

Russia is confident that diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the stand-off will succeed, Lavrov said Tuesday. “Overall we can work out a fairly good package solution,” he told reporters in Moscow.

But in a move that was quickly criticised by Kyiv and its western allies, the lower house of Russia’s parliament voted Tuesday to appeal to Putin to recognise separatist entities in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Russia has issued more than 700 000 passports to residents in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics, even as it publicly backs talks on implementing peace accords intended to reintegrate the regions into Ukraine.

Germany’s Scholz said recognition by Russia would end the peace process “which would be a political catastrophe.”

Putin said the Kremlin remains committed to those agreements but would study the Duma appeal.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said units of the Western and Southern military districts are loading equipment onto road and rail transport after completing their drills and will begin returning to their permanent bases Tuesday. Other military units are continuing drills at training grounds in Russia and “as soon as the combat training activities are completed, the troops, as always, will” return to their bases, the ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video posted on its website.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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I call BS — Observe Crimea 2 coming to a screen near you soon !!

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