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Russia's claim that it was pulling troops back from Ukraine is 'false,' official says

Ukrainian troops take part in a military drill outside the city of Rivne on Wednesday.
Aris Messinis
/
AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian troops take part in a military drill outside the city of Rivne on Wednesday.

Updated February 16, 2022 at 8:02 PM ET

Russia's recent claim that it was beginning to pull back some troops from Ukraine's border is "false," a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing Wednesday.

"In fact," the official said, "we have now confirmed that in the last several 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."

That echoes a report earlier in the day from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who warned that the United States should remain skeptical of Russia's claims.

"Unfortunately there's a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we're seeing is no meaningful pullback," Blinken said in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America.

Speaking on Tuesday, President Biden said that Russia had "more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine's border."

"An invasion," Biden said, "remains distinctly possible."

The official on Wednesday added that despite Russia saying it's interested in diplomacy, "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 reiterated that the Biden administration would welcome diplomacy and steps to de-escalate the conflict, but offered the stark warning in a briefing ahead of a trip to Germany by Vice President Harris, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the Munich Security Conference. There, she plans to meet with 13 heads of state this weekend, according to senior administration officials.

Western officials in recent weeks and months have scrambled to assess the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and compose a unified response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's continued escalation on the border.

Biden has spoken directly to Putin and said he made the United States' position clear: If Russia advances an invasion on Ukraine, there will be severe consequences.

This week in an attempt to diplomatically address the mounting crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, Biden spoke for nearly an hour with French President Emmanuel Macron; German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Putin in Moscow; and Harris prepared to depart on Thursday for Munich; among other steps.

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