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Putin says he is WITHDRAWING some troops from Ukraine despite claims artillery & tanks are poised in 'attack positions'

VLADIMIR Putin has said he is withdrawing some of his troops from the Ukraine border despite claims artillery and tanks remain poised in "attack positions".

Although Liz Truss has warned a Russian invasion is "imminent and highly likely", Ukraine has now insisted its diplomatic talks with Western allies have managed to stall an incursion.

Russia's defence ministry said some troops in its military districts near Ukraine are returning to their bases on Tuesday after completing drills.

While drills will continue across the country, some units have "completed their tasks as part of large-scale exercises".

Military spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said: “Units of the Southern and Western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and today they will begin moving to their military garrisons."

Footage released showed tanks and other armoured vehicles being loaded onto railway flatcars.

The defence ministry said it would use trucks to move some of the military equipment while some troops would march to the barracks on their own.

The apparent movements run counter to urgent warnings from the US and the UK that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time.

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And Ms Truss said she would need to see a full-scale removal of Russian troops from the Ukraine border to believe Moscow has no plans for an invasion.

Asked about reports that some Russian troops are expected to return to bases, she told LBC: "I haven't seen the reports that you're referring to.

"Certainly, our latest intelligence suggests that an invasion is imminent, that it's highly likely, and that we've seen 100,000 troops stationed around the border.

"Separately, the Russians have claimed that they have no plans for an invasion, but we will need to see a full-scale removal of troops to show that is true."

Meanwhile, Ukraine has insisted its diplomatic efforts with Western allies have been successful.

🔵 Read our Russia Ukraine live blog for the latest updates

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters today: "We and our allies have managed to prevent Russia from any further escalation.

"It is already the middle of February, and you see that diplomacy is continuing to work."

Despite the reported troop stand-down, a US official said Russia moved some long-range artillery and rocket launchers into firing position on Monday.

And Ms Truss said Britain and the West are still "preparing for the worst".

A Western intelligence assessment revealed: “We would expect multiple sequenced attacks and not a single strike.”

It could mean a sudden thrust against Kyiv, using precision strikes.

Other key cities would be encircled by Putin’s tanks and troops while being pounded by planes and helicopter gunships.

The Foreign Secretary warned Europe is now “on the brink of a war” with a Russian invasion "imminent and highly likely".

And she fears a Russian invasion "wouldn't stop at Ukraine".

She told Sky News: "This I fear is an attack that wouldn’t stop at Ukraine, but would spread to Eastern Europe.

"If we saw an invasion into Ukraine, there would be severe costs in terms of a long-running conflict. It would undermine the long-term security of Europe."

The grave assessment came as Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky declared tomorrow a day of unity and urged his people to stand and sing the national anthem at 10am.

He said: “We do not know how to give up and we will not learn to do so. We believe in our own strength and will continue to build the future together. We are united by love for Ukraine."

It comes after Russia staged a frenzy of new military deployments and war games close to the Ukraine border in recent days.

Chilling footage showed hundreds of paratroopers dropped from the sky during drills in the Kostrama region.

And more than 30 warplanes took part in Black Sea naval exercises to destroy simulated enemy submarines in waters close to Ukraine.

Last night Boris Johnson held crisis talks with US President Joe Biden, after saying it was “pretty clear” Russia will invade within days.

He warned an invasion would result in a “protracted crisis with far reaching damage for both Russia and the world".

But a Downing Street spokesman insisted there “remained a crucial window for diplomacy and for Russia to step back from its threats towards Ukraine”.

Latest developments

  • Russia's defence ministry said some troops deployed near Ukraine are returning to bases after completing drills
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet to defuse tensions
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead an emergency Cobra meeting
  • Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there continues to be a British "presence" in Kyiv
  • The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said the European Union is ready to discuss Russia's security concerns
  • Norway will increase its contribution to Nato's forces in Lithuania by between 50 and 60 troops
  • Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen discussed the Ukraine situation during a telephone call on Tuesday
  • The European Parliament has approved a $1.36 billion EU aid package for Ukraine
  • Ukraine its joint diplomatic efforts with Western allies have managed to avert a feared Russian invasion

No10 said Boris and Biden had agreed to stay in touch as the situation “evolves”.

Reports warned 60 per cent of Russia’s ground forces are in striking range.

The PM cut short a tour of Scotland and was holed up with spy chiefs.

Mr Johnson warned: “This is a very, very ­dangerous, difficult situation. We are on the edge of a precipice. The signs are… they’re at least planning for something that could take place in the next 48 hours. That is extremely concerning.”

After chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, Ms Truss said an invasion could be imminent and urged all Brits to evacuate by any means they can.

Briefing MPs privately, the Foreign Secretary said she believes invasion to be “highly likely”. Mr Johnson will host further talks for intelligence and military chiefs today.

Ms Truss said this morning: "I'm very worried about the situation. We could be on the brink of a war in Europe.

"That would have severe consequences not just for the people of Russia and Ukraine, but also for the broader security of Europe.

"There is still time for Vladimir Putin to step away from the brink. But there is only a limited amount of time for him to do that."

She warned in the event of an invasion Kremlin troops could reach the capital Kyiv "very, very quickly" from neighbouring Belarus.

Ms Truss said the city would "certainly" be a high priority target.

And she said Moscow is likely to begin any attack with a "false flag operation" such as a faked attack on Russian separatists.

She said: "There could be false claims that they have been provoked to give a pretext for Russian invasion.

"What we have been doing is we've been calling out the Russians, we've been exposing their attempts to put a puppet government into Kyiv.

"Over the next few days there could be an attempt to claim the Ukrainians are attacking them, so the Russians have a justification for invading."

In all, 140,000 combat-ready Russians are on its southern and eastern borders, with 40,000 on drills in Belarus to the north.

Saboteurs have also poured into Ukraine and could carry out ­assassinations and attack electricity and gas networks, sources fear.

Russian state TV started a propaganda push with wild claims that Ukrainian nationalists were about to massacre pro-Russians in the east — saying they’d “kill and butcher you all, and hang your children on wires”.

Similar tactics were used to fire up domestic support for the Russian annexation of Crimea and the land grab by pro-Russian forces in Donbas in 2014.

More manipulative TV coverage followed as Putin allowed cameras to film a bizarre exchange in which he pondered going to war.

In a stage-managed clip, Putin asked his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov if talks with the West would meet Russia’s demands or simply “drag on” forever.

Lavrov, seated at a long conference table, said he would not allow “endless negotiations on questions that demand a solution today”.

But he urged Putin to keep the door open insisting “there is always a chance”.

A British C17 transport plane yesterday flew in and out of Kyiv to evacuate military personnel. The US said it was moving its embassy 340 miles west from Kyiv to Lviv — and ordered the destruction of computers which could fall into Russian hands.

Oligarchs are flying out on private jets. And insurers are worried that they can no longer cover the risk of commercial flights.

German leader Olaf Scholz flew to Kyiv before his trip to meet Putin in Moscow today with a “last throw of the dice” peace plea.

But Putin has so far refused to budge on his demand that Ukraine is never allowed to join Nato.

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