Amid Western Skepticism, Russia Says Troop Withdrawals Will Take Time  

The Kremlin said Thursday it will take time to withdraw Russian forces that have completed drills near the Ukraine border, while the United States and other Ukrainian allies say there are no concrete signs of a pullback of the Russian military elements that have sparked fears of a new invasion of Ukraine.

A senior U.S. official told reporters late Wednesday that despite Russia saying it was starting to send some units back to their bases, it had actually added as many as 7,000 more troops along the Ukraine border.

“The Russians have also said in recent days that they are prepared to engage in diplomacy as we and our allies have repeatedly offered,” the official said. “But 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.”

Russia has denied it plans to invade Ukraine, and it has sought security guarantees such as a NATO commitment that it will rule out membership for Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

The United States and NATO have repeatedly said that demand is not up for consideration, including doing so in a letter to Russia in late January as part of lengthy and ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that Russia would deliver its written response to the U.S. letter later in the day.

Also Thursday, Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine traded accusations of firing across a cease-fire line.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was deeply concerned about the flare-up in violence. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a condemnation of what he called a “severe violation of Minsk agreements by Russia amid an already tense security situation.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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