The United States now believes Russia’s claims that it is pulling back troops from Ukraine’s borders are “false,” amid fears of an imminent invasion.
“Yesterday, the Russian government said it was withdrawing troops from Ukraine,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Wednesday evening. “They received a lot of attention for that claim, both here and around the world. But we now know it was false.”
The official said that instead, the White House believes Russia has increased the number of troops amassed along the border.
“We have now confirmed that in the last few days, Russia has increased its troop presence along the Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops, with some arriving as recently as today,” the official said.
“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation while privately mobilizing for war,” the official continued, noting that the Biden administration is receiving intel that a Moscow-led invasion of Ukraine could occur “at any moment.”
The senior official didn’t elaborate or provide evidence for their claims, but suggested that Moscow could fabricate allegations to then use as a “false pretext” to justify an invasion of Ukraine.
“We have already seen an increase in false claims by the Russians in the past few days, including reports of an unmarked grave of civilians allegedly killed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, statements that the US and Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons, and that the West is funneling in guerrillas to kill locals,” the official said.
“Each of these allegations is categorically false, and we expect more false reports from Russian state media over the coming days,” they added.
“We don’t know what form of false pretext will take, but we hope the world is ready. Just as Russia’s claims about withdrawing troops were false, so will be whatever pretext they invent to justify this war of choice.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied that it is planning to invade Ukraine.
The official’s claims challenge Russia’s narrative in recent days that it has begun withdrawing some of its troops from Ukraine’s borders, including from Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.
Western officials have estimated some 150,000 Russian troops stationed at the border with Ukraine.
Ukraine has also questioned Russia’s assertion that it has withdrawn soldiers, and has asked to see evidence that it has done so.
“We continuously hear different statements from the Russian federation, so we have a rule … we believe what we see. If we see the pullout, we will believe in deescalation,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a press briefing on Feb. 15, according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday that the United States hasn’t yet “seen any pullback of its forces.”
“We continue to see critical units moving towards the border, not away from the border,” Blinken said.
According to foreign policySecretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg are expected to hold a joint press briefing on Thursday.