Russia has massed more than 130,000 troops near the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, according to US estimates, raising concerns among Western and Ukrainian intelligence officials that an invasion may be imminent.
“After the units of the southern and western military districts have fulfilled their tasks, they have already begun to load on the railways and roads and today they will begin to move to their military garrisons. Individual units will advance alone as part of the military column,” said Mag. General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement posted on Facebook.
But Konashenkov added that large-scale exercises continued.
“In the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, there is a complex of large-scale operational training procedures for troops, in which almost all military districts, fleets and airborne forces participate,” he said. As part of the testing of the reaction forces of the Union state, a joint Russian-Belarusian exercise entitled “Allied Resolution 2022” is being conducted on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.
Ω In addition, Konashenkov said a series of naval exercises – involving surface ships, submarines and naval aviation – are taking place in “operationally important areas of the world’s oceans” and in waters adjacent to Russian territory.
“Exercises are continuing with military formations and units at other training grounds on the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said. “A number of combat training measures, including exercises, were carried out according to plan,” he added.
Moscow’s announcement, which was met with skepticism from Ukrainian officials, came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was still room for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
“If we are prepared to listen to some counter-proposals, it seems to me that our possibilities are far from being exhausted,” replied Lavrov, sitting at the opposite end of a very long table.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed doubts about the Russian forces’ announcement at a press conference in Kiev on Tuesday.
“Different statements are constantly being made from the Russian Federation, so we already have a rule:” Do not listen and then believe. But look and then believe. “When we see the withdrawal, we will believe in de-escalation.”
Meanwhile, the flurry of high-level diplomacy continued on Tuesday as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz became the latest leader to travel to Moscow for talks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the return of some Russian troops to their bases, noting during a press briefing on Tuesday that this was a “normal process” after the completion of military exercises.
But while the Kremlin was talking about bringing troops home, satellite images released by Maxar Technologies revealed new signs of a surge in Russian forces.
An analysis of images showed that over the past few days at least 60 helicopters have landed at a previously vacant air base in Russia-occupied Crimea.
Helicopters are a mixture of transport and attack aircraft. Archival satellite imagery reviewed by CNN indicates that the base at Lake Donozlav on the northwest coast of Crimea – an area Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – has been vacant since at least 2003.
CNN’s Ulyana Pavlova and Nathan Hodge reported from Moscow, while CNN’s Ivana Kutsova, Tim Lister and Olga Voitovich reported from Kiev.