The world must judge Russia with its own eyes as to whether it is de-escalating, the defense secretary said as he warned an invasion of Ukraine is still possible.
Ben Wallace told Sky News: “Judge with your own eyes at the scale of that Russian deployment on the borders of Ukraine and indeed all the press conferences held by President Putin.
“It’s pretty clear that their intentions towards Ukraine is to change their behavior and indeed change NATO’s relationship towards Ukraine and they’re doing so with the threat of invasion.”
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Ukraine is surrounded
The defense secretary, who is in Brussels for a NATO meeting, added that although Moscow has said it is sending some military units back to their bases, when he was a soldier troops did not set up blood banks and field hospitals and move strategic weapons if they were just training.
He added that intelligence shows the Russians have 60% of their entire land combat power on the border with Ukraine and a “significant flotilla” at sea, meaning Ukraine is “fairly surrounded” by a “significant force that would overwhelm Ukraine should it be deployed “.
“From a Ukrainian point of view, they’re fairly surrounded by a very large force of ready troops,” Mr Wallace added.
“I think that continues, they haven’t taken the foot off the gas. Readiness is one of the first signs you always get about how serious a country is.”
Russia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Tuesday said it had completed some planned training exercises and a number of troops were heading back to their bases but the majority were still training and drills were being carried out in the Black Sea.
Russia’s issue with Ukraine wanting to invade – but called for Ukraine to not become a member of the alliance, Kyiv fears it will invade, but Moscow has said it is not intending to invade.
More: Putin says ‘of course’ we don’t want war in Europe
Russian forces can be held at readiness for weeks
A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said 15 February 2022 “will go down in history as the day Western war propaganda failed” as she said the West had been “humiliated and destroyed without a single shot fired”.
On Wednesday, the Russian MoD published another video showing a column of tanks and military vehicles leaving annexed Crimea, the peninsular seized from Kyiv in 2014, and said some troops would be returning to their permanent bases.
But several world leaders warned the threat of invasion was not over, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden.
US intelligence had indicated Russia might invade on Wednesday but Mr Wallace said “dates are not the issue” and the “real indication” Russia is getting ready to invade is forces being built up into a “readiness posture”.
“Forces can only be held at readiness for so long. Russians are better at it than most, they can hold those forces at readiness for weeks,” he said.
“So there’s really no point speculating on a specific date, however, there are definitely dates in the mix.”
Ukraine’s defense ministry website hacked
In Ukraine, hackers hit the defense ministry’s web portal with an “unpreceded” denial of service attack on Tuesday that was still ongoing on Wednesday morning.
The ministry said the hackers had succeeded in finding vulnerabilities in the programming code of the portal but traffic is being rerouted to servers in the United States while the issue is being fixed.
Earlier on, the US had offered to help Ukraine weather the cyber attack.