KYIV, Ukraine — NATO allies accused Russia of misleading the world and disseminating “disinformation” by saying it was returning some troops to bases, charging that Moscow has instead added as many as 7,000 more troops near its tense border with Ukraine.
With Western fears high that Russia is planning to invade, tensions also spiked Thursday along the line that separates Ukrainian forces from Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east, with the parties accusing each other of intensive shelling.
After a handful of positive signals from Russia that lowered the temperature in the crisis earlier in the week, the pendulum appeared to be swinging in the opposite direction again. With an estimated 150,000-plus troops massed near Ukraine, the Kremlin offered to keep pursuing diplomatic solutions — an overture the NATO chief welcomed, even as he and others warned that the US-led alliance has still seen no sign of the military withdrawal that Moscow announced.
“We have seen the opposite of some of the statements. We have seen an increase in troops over the last 48 hours, up to 7,000,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace ahead of a meeting Thursday of the western alliance in Brussels.
That squared with what a US administration official said a day earlier.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey even called Russia’s claim to be withdrawing troops “disinformation.”
While the West warned the threat of invasion remains high, no attack materialized Wednesday, as some had feared.
Moscow said several times this week that some forces are pulling back to their bases, but it gave virtually no details that would allow for an independent assessment of the scope and direction of the troop movement, and Western leaders quickly cast doubt on those statements.
On Thursday, NATO allies knocked down the Russian assertions again — and warned that they are ready to counter any aggression.
“The consequences of this mass buildup – nearly 60% of Russia’s land combat forces on the border of a sovereign nation – will get you the opposite effect,” Wallace said.
“We are deadly serious,” he added, “and we’re going to face the threat that is currently being posed.”
Troops shifting into eastern Europe
Already the alliance has moved troops and military equipment into Eastern Europe — in a display of resolve meant to stop any Russian aggression and underline its intent to defend NATO’s eastern members, in the unlikely event that they too become a target.
The US has started to deploy 5,000 troops to Poland and Romania. A further 8,500 more are on standby. Britain is sending hundreds of soldiers to Poland, offering more warships and plans, and doubling the number of personnel in Estonia. Germany, the Netherlands and Norway are sending additional troops to Lithuania. Denmark and Spain are providing jets for air policing in the Baltic Sea region.