Ukrainian government expresses skepticism over reports that Russia is ending drills and returning troops to bases

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Ukraine’s leaders have expressed skepticism over reports that some of the massive Russian troop presence massed on its borders has been recalled to bases, even as stock markets and commodity futures appear to be pushing a sigh of relief.

“Russia is constantly making various statements,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “That’s why we have the rule: we will not believe when we hear, we will believe when we see. When we see the troops withdrawing, we will believe in de-escalation.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said France was trying to confirm reports of Russian troop movements and would speak “with caution”.

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“But if it is confirmed, it is obviously a good thing. It would be a sign of de-escalation, which we have been calling for for several weeks. It would also confirm that we were right to relaunch the dialogue,” said Attal. The French president Emmanuel Macron met Putin in Moscow last week.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “so far we have seen no de-escalation on the ground, no signs of a reduction in the Russian military presence on Ukraine’s borders.”

Stoltenberg said Russia has in the past moved into areas, such as Belarus, with troops and equipment, then withdrawn while leaving military equipment in place for quick use later. He said NATO wanted to see a “meaningful and sustained withdrawal of forces, troops, and especially heavy equipment”.

However, Stoltenberg said there were “some reasons for cautious optimism” for the diplomatic efforts given the signals coming from Moscow.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia was sending “mixed signals”.

“We are seeing a Russian openness to conversations,” Johnson said after a meeting of his government’s COBRA crisis committee. “On the other hand, the intelligence we see today is still not encouraging.”

He said Russia was continuing to build field hospitals in Belarus near the Ukrainian border, which “can only be interpreted as preparation for an invasion”.

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