Russia accused of 'ridiculous con' over claim troops are withdrawing from Ukraine border… as Putin 'deploys MORE forces'

RUSSIA has been accused of a “ridiculous” con over claims it has withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine.

The allegation has come from respected independent analysts, who have cast doubt Russian footage of its forces pulling back, while Nato has said Moscow may in fact be bolstering its troop numbers.

It comes as US intelligence fears a full scale Russian invasion could be launched within hours, starting a conflict the scale of which has not been seen since World War 2.

However – as last minute and high level diplomatic talks continue in a frantic bid to avert a devastating war that could kill millions – for now the region remains in a fragile state of calm.

Russia insisted that it was returning more troops and weapons to bases and put out video showing tanks as well as other vehicles leaving the Crimean peninsula.

But Russian researchers the Conflict Intelligence Team said far from the forces being withdrawn from invasion-ready positions, they are merely being sent back to permanent bases just 15 miles away.

The point out that only one of the three divisions being withdrawn – the 42nd Motor Rifle Division – is based away from area so the moves would do little to loosen the noose around Ukraine.

A spokesman for the CIT said the claim the other two, the 3rd and 150th Motor Rifle Divisions, are being withdrawn is "ridiculous".

"Their bases are just near the border with Ukraine, namely they are withdrawn to the Ukrainian border," added the spokesman.

The claim by Russia is alsobeing treated with scepticism by Nato, whose secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said that "on the contrary" more troops were being built up.

"We have not seen any de-escalation on the ground," said Stoltenberg, ahead of a crunch meeting of the alliance.

"On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues their military build-up."

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And the UK's Defence Secretary Wallace also urged caution, warning Russia was still geared up to invade and said it should be judged on its actions.

“Russia has the size of forces now gathered and at readiness, locked and loaded to some extent, ready to go should they wish to do so from yesterday, and that has proved to be exactly right," he said.

Mr Wallace said latest intelligence shows that 60 per cent of Russian land combat power remains on the Ukrainian border along with significant naval forces at sea.

“I think what we haven’t seen is evidence of withdrawal which has been claimed by the Kremlin," he said.

“Instead we have seen strategic build-up of things like field hospitals and strategic weapons systems.”

The Russian gesture appeared to be aimed at allaying invasion fears – even as the U.S said the threat of attack remained.

It comes as:

  • Russian forces are 'locked and loaded' says Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
  • Putin insisted he does not want war as Russia claimed it was pulling back troops
  • Ukraine was hit by a wave of cyber attacks – knocking out the websites of the military and major banks
  • Boris Johnson warned Russia was continue to build up forces and construct field hospitals
  • Liz Truss said that Putin "won't stop" with Ukraine amid renewed fears over the Baltic states
  • It was warned a war between Russia and Ukraine would be "bloody and grimy"
  • Ukraine unveiled a fearsome "Punisher" drone to help defend against Russia
  • Priti Patel moved to axe golden tickets for foreign billionaires in a move aimed at Russian oligarchs
  • Europe was warned to be at its closest to war for 70 years

Russia denies all aggressive intent to Ukraine.

It is feared today could be the day for a "false flag" attack by Russia – a staged incident that would be used as justification for an invasion.

But dawn broke over Ukraine without a shot being fired or the first missiles falling, but the atmosphere remains tense.

Plans are today in place for a “Day of Unity” vigil across the nation.

Ukrainians will be urged to stand together defiantly at 10am to sing the national anthem.

Kyiv has called for calm as preparations have continued for a possible invasion by Russia – with everyday people taking up arms.

Western warnings of a night strike by Russia at around 3am came and went without incident amid the ever changing and volatile situation.

Putin is keeping the West guessing for his next move as Nato defence ministers will today meet in Brussels.

Russia continues to have around 130,000 remain on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders with around 40,000 pro-Putin forces in Belarus to the north.

And another 30,000 pro-Russian separatists were facing Ukrainian defenders in the separatist Donbas enclave.

🔵 Read our Russia Ukraine live blog for the latest updates

Meanwhile, a series of cyberattacks knocked out the websites of the Ukrainian army, the defense ministry and major banks. 

And then Russian lawmakers urged Putin to recognize rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states.

The State Duma, Russia's lower house, voted to submit an appeal to Putin to that effect.

Putin has said he was open to further dialogue with the US and its Nato allies.

But senior figures in the country continue to claim the country is under major threat from US forces on its borders.

Mikhail Popov, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said: “Their [US troops'] main goal in Europe is to create a constant threat to our country. 

“To this end, a significant grouping of the US armed forces has been formed in the region, numbering more than 60,000 military personnel, 200 tanks, and about 150 combat aircraft.”

Numbers of US ground forces had risen 30 per cent in seven years, he said.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman mocked NATO attempts to monitor Russia’s claimed troop pullback. 

“A certain handicap is probably present in NATO's situation assessment system,” said Dmitry Peskov. 

“This most likely does not allow NATO representatives to make sober assessments of the situation.”

He also Russia “has nothing to do” with a series of major large-scale cyber-attacks on Ukraine.

"We do not know anything, and, as expected, Ukraine continues to blame Russia for everything,” he said. 

America and Britain have both promised to retaliate with massive economic sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine.

But Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will retaliate with sanctions of its own.

Kyiv and Moscow have been feuding for the past eight years as Russia doesn't like the fact Ukraine is becoming closer to the West.

Putin illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine back in 2014 and has occupied it ever since.

And the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine has been at war since 2014 as Russian-backed separatists fight to break away from the Kyiv.

Both former Soviet states used to be allies – but Ukraine's government now seeks to draw closer ties the US, UK and Europe, potentially even joining Nato.

Paranoid Putin sees Kyiv signing up for the defensive alliance as a direct threat to Russia.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier suggested there were "mixed signals" coming out of Russia about the prospect of an invasion of Ukraine, describing the situation as "not encouraging".

US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, gave a televised address in the United States, in which he said an invasion was still possible and stressed the US would defend all Nato territory.

In a televised address, he said: "While I will not send American servicemen to fight in Ukraine, we have supplied Ukrainian military with equipment to help them defend themselves, and provided training and advice and intelligence for that purpose.

"And make no mistake, the United States will defend every inch of Nato territory with the full force of American power.

"An attack against one Nato country is an attack against all of us."

Kyiv Mayor Wladimir Klitschko has said that he hopes for a "last-minute" diplomatic solution between Russia and Ukraine.

The former heavyweight champion of the world told LBC that he hoped that Russia would not invade his country on Wednesday.

"It is the first time in the history of Ukraine that so many Russian soldiers stayed at the border", he said.

"The risk (of) aggression towards Ukraine is pretty big. We prepare for any scenario.

"We do not know how the situation will develop but we hope that the invasion does not happen, and that at the last minute we have a diplomatic solution."

Armed forces minister James Heappey said he was cautiously optimistic about news some troops were withdrawing from the Ukrainian border but added he would "continue to be very vigilant" of Russia's actions.

He told Channel 4 News: "If, as a consequence of a combination of things over the last few weeks, the threat of economic sanctions and the impact that that threat is having on the Russian economy, if the cost of military action has started to become clear, then that is a good thing that Russia may be moving in a different direction."

He added: "But until those are matched by troop movements, people like me need to continue to be very vigilant and be very clear in what we are saying in communicating what we are seeing and the danger that that presents."

Following a Cobra emergency committee meeting, Boris Johnson said the intelligence he has received about Russian military activity is "not encouraging", with the construction of field hospitals and the movement of extra forces closer to the border suggesting preparations are still being made for an invasion.

While Mr Johnson acknowledged Russia had claimed it was withdrawing troops from the border, he added there were "more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border".

"So, mixed signals, I think, at the moment," he said.

Mr Johnson also said he would bring forward a new Economic Crime Bill in order to deal with "dirty" Russian money in the City of London.

The news was welcomed by both Labour and Conservative MPs.

But Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer warned the Prime Minister should "get his own house in order" by investigating whether the Tories had received any donations linked to Putin.

Sir Keir also also encouraged the Government to "go now and go hard" in using economic sanctions against Russia.

Russia was also admonished by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for failing to send a representative to a European security meeting about the tensions at the Ukrainian border.

She called for the Kremlin to "commit to meaningful talks" after it failed to send a representative to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting about its military build-up.

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