Western allies have warned that “cautious optimism” is needed after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that troops will be withdrawn from the Ukrainian border
Around 125,000 Russian troops had been deployed bear to Ukraine’s eastern border in November 2021, with President Putin seeking assurances that the country would not join the NATO Defence alliance.
As of Tuesday 15 February, Russian troops are to be stood down from the border but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that any real signs of de-escalation in the region is yet to be seen.
UK intelligence also points towards no signs of de-escalation at the Russia-Ukraine border, with Russian field hospitals being built near to the neighbouring territory.
US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister held crunch talks on the evening of Monday 14 February and discussed the need to impose tough sanctions on Russia if they do decide to invade.
Reports also suggest that the websites of the Ukrainian armed forces, defence military and state banks have been targeted in a cyberattack believed to be of Russian origin.
But what else do we currently know about the situation?
Does Russia want to invade Ukraine?
Since 125,000 troops were positioned along the Russia-Ukrainian border, Russia have repeatedly insisted that they have no intentions of invading Ukraine.
Russian officials have also consistently asked for confirmation that Ukraine would not be joining the the West’s NATO defensive alliance, adding that if the country were to join the group, it would cause “security threats” for Russia.
NATO currently allows any nation to join its alliance.
On 11 February, the US confirmed that they had intelligence showing there had been “signs of Russian escalation” at the Ukrainian border which indicated that an invasion could be imminent before the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
UK intelligence released on Tuesday 15 February backed this up after officials found that Russian field hospitals had been built near to Ukraine.
Boris Johnson said that the field hospitals “only can be construed as preparation for an invasion”.
However, Russia have rubbished reports of an imminent invasion of Ukraine, with President Putin announcing that troops are to withdraw from the border.
The announcement has been met with scepticism, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “What we have to see is a substantial withdrawal of troops, not only troops but equipment.
“It’s too early to say whether we see anything on the ground, but we are following very closely what they are doing.”
Russia has a track record of invading the country, with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was deposed.
Since the annexing of the region, the Ukrainian military and separatist rebels have clashed in a conflict in which 14,000 people have died so far.
What has President Putin said and why would Russia want to invade?
Speaking in a news conference on Tuesday 15 February, President Putin said that troops were being stood back from the Ukrainian border.
He also said that dialogue with Western allies concerning Ukraine’s aspiring NATO membership had not given a “constructive” response to the Russia’s concerns.
President Putin placed emphasis on the need to resolve the issue, indicating that Russia was open to negotiate with NATO and wanted to avoid a war with Europe.
He said: “This is exactly why we have put forward the proposal to start the negotiation process, where the result should be an agreement ensuring equal security for everyone, including our country.
“Unfortunately there was no constructive response to this proposal.”
The Russian leader has also suggested that negotiations with NATO could involve discussions on intermediate-range nuclear missiles and other security threats “as a package” with the issue of Ukraine’s aspiring NATO membership.
Despite announcing the withdrawal of troops, President Putin’s words left some with the indication that a Russian invasion is still likely.
During his press conference beside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on 15 February, he claimed that a “genocide” against a large Russian minority was currently going on in the Donbas region of Ukraine, with opponents saying that this claim could give President Putin a reason to proceed with the invasion.
He also has attempted to recognise separatist regions in eastern Ukraine - Donetsk and Luhansk - as “people’s republics”, however Mr Stoltenberg said that the move to do so would be a “violation of international law”.
What is Putin’s stance on NATO?
Russia has been highly critical of Ukraine’s attempt to join the NATO defence alliance, stating that the expansion of the group eastwards would cause “security threats” to the country.
President Putin has claimed that the US broke a 1990 guarantee that they would not allow NATO to expand any further East, claiming that the US had “deceived” Russia.
NATO has expanded into central and eastern European since 2004, including four countries - Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - who share a border with Russia.
He has also accused NATO of providing Ukrainian forces with weapons in the ongoing conflict.
Russia have been backed by China in the situation, with President Xi Jinping joining President Putin’s criticism of NATO in expanding east.
What has the US said about the situation?
The US told on Friday 11 February that intelligence had shown that a “Russian invasion could happen during the Olympics”, and suggested that it could take place before Wednesday 16 January.
Previously, 3,000 US troops had been repositioned in Poland, Germany and Romania and US nationals living in Ukraine had been urged to leave the country as soon as possible.
In a phone call between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the evening of 14 February, the two Western leaders agreed that “a crucial window for diplomacy remains open” in Ukraine, however they warned that if an invasion was to take place strict economic sanctions would be placed on Russia.
This includes the reduction in reliance on Russian gas.
The US embassy has also been “temporarily relocated” to Lviv in western Ukraine, away from the captial Kyiv, which was suspected to be a target for Russian invasion.
Speaking during an address on Tuesday 15 February, President Biden said that an invasion “remains very much a possibility”, adding that the human cost of an invasion would be “immense”.
He said: “[Russian troops withdrawing] would be good, but we have not yet verified that. We have not yet verified the Russian military units are returning to their home bases.
“Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.”
However, President Biden did say that “as long as there is hope of diplomatic resolution” as a way out of the crisis, the US will “pursue it”.
What has the UK said about the situation?
Following the phone call with President Biden, a Downing Street spokesperson said that the two leaders were keeping in “close contact”.
Mr Johnson has claimed that Russia has been giving “mixed signals” throughout the situation.
He said: “We’ve got Russian field hospitals being constructed near the border with Ukraine in Belarus [that] only can be construed as preparation for an invasion.
“You’ve got more battalion tactical groups actually been brought closer to the border with Ukraine, according to the intelligence that we’re seeing.”
However, he did also state that “we are seeing a Russia openness to conversations” and said that recent comments from The Kremlin indicated “an avenue for diplomacy”
The Prime Minister previously visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and told him that the UK would back the country in any conflict and would commit to £88million in aid if needed.
Speaking to Sky News, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called a Russian invasion “highly likely”, adding: “President Putin has actively questioned why other countries in eastern Europe are members of NATO as well, so this I fear would not stop at Ukraine.”
The UK Foreign Office urged British national to leave the country as soon as possible.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority, which is why we have updated our travel advice.
“We urge British nationals in Ukraine to leave now via commercial means while they remain available.”
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