The news of Russia pulling back some troops from its border with Ukraine has been met with skepticism thus far, but has at least allowed both nations to declare a victory of sorts in the simmering conflict. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dymytro Kuleba said "we have managed together with our partners to deter Russia from any further escalation,” while a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said that Tuesday "will go into history as the day western war propaganda failed. They have been disgraced and destroyed without a single shot being fired."
How seriously we can take that last statement remains to be seen, as Russia is notorious for sending out various mixed messages before it makes an attack in order to make its actions less predictable.
Why is Russia stationing troops on the border with Ukraine?
Some have suggested that Russia is only attempting to posture by placing the troops there, and wants the West to take its demands over security concerns seriously.
The country has said they want Nato to cease operations in Eastern Europe, something that has been flatly rejected by the allied powers, and that Ukraine should never be allowed to join the alliance.
Putin is known to be unhappy that Nato expanded into eastern bloc countries following 1997, something he feels goes against an agreement that the alliance had apparently made with then-Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.
What have the UK, US and EU said in response?
Early on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned an attack was “highly likely” with Russia having massed some 130,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders. Truss also struck a note of caution about Russia’s intent, warning that it could launch a “false flag” operation to justify an invasion and urged Vladimir Putin to “step back from the brink”.
Diplomatic efforts aimed at warding off a potential crisis continue on Tuesday, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Scholz is likely to repeat warning that the country faces tough sanctions if it invades Ukraine.
Scholz and President Biden have come into conflict over the proposed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which the German Chancellor does not want to scrap but the US President has suggested would be halted if Russia does invade Ukraine.
What happens next?
It all depends on the sincerity of Russia’s statements around its withdrawals, and whether these represent a real de-escalation in the conflict or another act of smoke and mirrors on Putin’s part to confuse the situation. With the US suggesting that Wednesday is likely to be the day that Russia crosses the border into Ukraine if it is to make an invasion, then the next 24 hours or so are crucial.
As Ukraine have recently said in response to the pullback of some Russian troops, "when we see the withdrawal, then we’ll believe the de-escalation".