Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Tuesday that Moscow had decided "partially withdrawal" some troops were gathered near Ukraine, and that his country was open to further talks with the West.
His comments offered a hope of a diplomatic solution to the standoff. They came after the defense ministry announced that some troops would be returning to their bases following completion of military exercises.
However, Kyiv, NATO and the United States said that it was too soon to determine if the move signals any de-escalation of a crisis. The West had warned that Moscow could invade its neighbor at any moment.
The world is watching closely for signs that the Kremlin may be ready to pull back from the brink. President Joe Biden spoke at the White House Tuesday afternoon.
Although the U.S. is open to diplomacy, his administration is not certain that Russia has begun to withdraw troops. He stated that "an invasion remains distinctly possible".
Biden sent a message to Russians, saying, "You're not our enemy and I don't believe you want a bloody and destructive war."
Biden stated, "Let it be clear that if Russia invades Ukraine, responsible countries around the globe will not hesitate to react."
In a Tuesday call with Sergey Lavrov (Russian foreign minister), Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated America's commitment to a diplomatic solution. However, he stressed that the Biden administration must see "verifiable credible, meaningful de-escalation," Ned Price, State Department spokesperson, said.
Price stated that the administration was looking forward to Russia's written responses to NATO's formal propositions outlining concrete areas for discussion on European security. This response is expected to be sent by Moscow in the next few days.
Biden stated that Russia has placed 150,000 troops around Ukraine in his speech. This is approximately 20,000 more than was previously reported. Despite mounting concern from the U.S., its allies and a crescendo in recent times, Russia has denied that it is planning to invade Ukraine.
Putin stated Tuesday that he does not want war, and was open to discussing further the demands of Moscow for security guarantees.
The Russian defense ministry stated hours earlier that some units from its western and southern military districts had returned to base following their exercise near Ukraine.
In a video message posted online, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov stated that the units "that have completed their tasks have already started loading onto rail and track transport and will start moving to their military garrisons this morning."
The announcement was met with suspicion, while other developments suggest that any reduction in tensions is still far off. Russia has threatened to announce two more drawdowns in the next two months.
While Moscow announced a partial drawdown of troops, the U.S. and its allies continued to hold other military drills. These were being used by the U.S. as cover for an attack. It was not clear how many troops would be withdrawn and where.
Washington is concerned that there could be an invasion anytime soon and has moved its embassy from Kiev to Lviv. This is due to a "dramatic acceleration" in the Russian buildup.
Satellite images released Tuesday revealed that the buildup has intensified in recent days. Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite imaging company, reported an increase in activity in Belarus, Crimea, and western Russia. This included ground forces moving into convoy formation and combat units leaving their garrisons.
Kyiv welcomed Tuesday's announcement by some Russian forces that they were withdrawing with caution.
Dmytro Kuleba (the country's foreign minister) stated on Twitter that "We in Ukraine have an unwritten rule: We don’t believe what you hear, but we believe what is visible." "If these statements are true, we will believe that this is the beginning of a real deescalation."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated to reporters in Brussels, "There are indications from Moscow that diplomacy must continue." This is a reason to be cautiously optimistic. We have yet to see any signs of de-escalation from the Russian side.
Washington was skeptical too.
U.S. Reporters were told by Julianne Smith, Ambassador to NATO. "We have seen instances where Russia claimed that it was de-escalating in the past."
Cyberattacks and sanctions
The U.S. continued discussions on the stalled package of sanctions to slap Moscow if Putin moves on Ukraine. This was according to Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Despite negotiations not being able to reach a compromise, Republicans presented their bill Tuesday, which would impose costs upon Russia, including the Nord Stream 2 pipe between Russia and Germany. The GOP and Democrats have been at odds over how to fix the critical energy pipeline.
After Biden's speech, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senators made a bipartisan statement warning Putin that Congress is ready to support the imposition of immediate, strong, robust and effective sanctions against Russia.
The senators stated that Russia should be punished if Vladimir Putin continues to attack Ukraine's sovereignty.
Officials in Ukraine said that several important websites from Ukraine, including two of the country’s largest banks, and its defense ministry were also temporarily offline on Tuesday due to an apparent cyberattack . The perpetrators of the attack are not yet known.
However, Tuesday's discussion of furthering negotiations offered new hope that Moscow might still be open for a diplomatic solution in the long-running standoff.
Putin spoke at a news conference alongside Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor. He said there were still many disagreements and stressed the importance of the West listening to Russia's main demands. He said, however, that the Kremlin was open to talks about missile deployments and transparency in military drills.
Russia is determined to reshape Europe's post-Cold War security landscape. Some former Soviet republics joined NATO and hosted American troops on their soil.
Although the U.S. and its allies dismissed the demands, western leaders engaged in an frenzy diplomatically in hopes of preventing a new deadly conflict on European soil.
Scholz stated Tuesday that "the diplomatic possibilities are far from exhausting." Biden also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Putin reiterated that Russia views Ukraine's attempt to join NATO as a significant security threat and that Moscow will not be soothed by assurances that Kyiv won't soon be able join the transatlantic military alliance.
He stated that "We must solve this problem today through peaceful means through diplomatic processes." "We want our partners hear our concerns and to be taken seriously."
The State Duma, Russia's lower chamber of parliament, voted to request Putin to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has supported pro-Russian separatist fighters in a conflict that has claimed around 14,000 lives since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea.
Kyiv stated that such a move would effectively kill efforts to find a long term solution to the ongoing conflict. Some international experts see this as a way out of the crisis.