British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Wednesday warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is still possible, despite announcement of troop withdrawals by Moscow.
Interviewed by Sky News in Brussels, where he attended a NATO defense ministers meeting, Wallace said there is no evidence of a Russian withdrawal and the deployment of heavy weaponry and field hospitals point to a large scale invasion.
“What we haven’t seen is evidence of withdrawal that has been claimed by the Kremlin. In fact, we have seen continued buildup of things like field hospitals and strategic weapons systems such as Iskander Missiles deployed,” he said.
“ ... We will judge them on their actions, and if we are going to build up trust to try and de-escalate this incident we need to make sure we’re not building up troops at the same time and that is still what we see, and until we see a proper de-escalation we should be cautious."
The defense minister said Moscow’s actions are intended to force a change in Kyiv’s orientation towards the West, as well as to force NATO into accepting Russian security proposals that it will not accept Ukraine as a member and expand further east.
According to Wallace, despite Kremlin's claims of not wanting to invade and of partially withdrawing its forces, Ukraine still remains surrounded.
"From a Ukrainian point of view, they're fairly surrounded by a very large force of ready troops. I think if that continues, they haven't taken the foot off the gas. Readiness is one of the first signs you always get about how serious a country is,” Wallace said.
"Judge with your own eyes at the scale of that Russian deployment on the borders of Ukraine and indeed all the press conferences held by President Putin,” he added.
Russia said on Wednesday that it had finished military exercises in Crimea — the Ukrainian peninsula it annexed in 2014 — and was withdrawing troops.
The announcement came a day after it said some of its soldiers stationed close to the Ukrainian border were leaving for their bases. But a large-scale Russian-Belarusian military drill will last until Feb. 20.
Others including US President Joe Biden and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also remain skeptical, saying an invasion still seems highly likely.