President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the US has not yet verified” Russia’s claim that some of its forces have withdrawn from the Ukraine border and said an invasion of Ukraine remains a distinct possibility.
Biden made the remarks at the White House hours after Russia announced that some units participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s borders would begin returning to their bases.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Tuesday said Russia was ready for talks with the United States and NATO on military transparency, missile deployment limits and other security issues. But Biden continued to express skepticism about Russia’s intentions. Biden warned again that if Russia invades Ukraine the US will rally the world to oppose its aggression.”
Putin had said Tuesday he welcomed a security dialogue with the West as his military reported pulling back some of its troops near Ukraine signals that may indicate the Kremlin has opted for a diplomatic path for now despite Western fears of an imminent Russian invasion of its neighbor.
Putin said he doesn’t want war and would rely on negotiations as he presses his demand for the West to halt Ukraine’s bid to join NATO. At the same time, he didn’t commit to a full pullback of troops, saying Russia’s next moves in the standoff will depend on how the situation evolves.
While the overtures soothed global markets that have been on edge amid the worst East-West tensions in decades, Washington and its European allies remained cautious, saying they want to see evidence of a Russian pullback. The US and NATO have warned that over 130,000 Russian forces massed near Ukraine could invade at any time, and they sent troops and military supplies to shore up NATO members in Eastern Europe.
Russia has denied having such plans, demanding that the West keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of the alliance, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders, and roll back forces from Eastern Europe. The US and its allies have roundly rejected the demands, but offered Russia to engage in talks on ways to bolster security in Europe.
Speaking after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the West agreed to discuss a ban on missile deployment to Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures issues that Moscow had put on the table years ago. He said Russia is open to discuss some of those elements,” but added that it would only do that “in complex with the main issues that are of primary importance for us.
Asked if there could be a war in Europe, Putin said Russia doesn’t want it but said Ukraine’s bid to join NATO posed a major security threat to his country. While Scholz reiterated that NATO’s eastward expansion is not on the agenda — everyone knows that very well, Putin retorted that Moscow will not be assuaged by such assurances.
They are telling us it won’t happen tomorrow, Putin said. Well, when will it happen? The day after tomorrow? What does it change for us in the historic perspective? Nothing. He went on to argue NATO expansion violates the principle of the indivisibility of security enshrined in international documents.
We want to solve this issue now as part of negotiation process through peaceful means, Putin said. We very much hope that our partners hear our concerns and take them seriously.