Russia has said it is pulling back troops from the country's border with Ukraine, but a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening that in fact, 7,000 more troops have been added.
It is estimated that more than 150,000 troops are stationed to the east, north, and south of Ukraine, and the U.S. official said some of the 7,000 new troops arrived as recently as Wednesday. Last month, the U.S. warned that Russia could be planning a false-flag operation as a pretext for invading Ukraine, and the U.S. official told AP there has been an uptick in the number of false claims being made by Russia, including that the West is bringing in guerrillas to kill Ukrainians and Ukrainian forces are killing Russians and putting their bodies in unmarked graves.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday said Russia could claim to be withdrawing forces while actually adding troops because "this is the Russian playbook, to paint a picture publicly ... while they do the opposite." NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said the alliance has not seen "any withdrawal of Russian forces," adding, "if they really start to withdraw forces, that's something we will welcome, but that remains to be seen."
With the amount of troops still at the border, Russian President Vladimir Putin "can pull the trigger," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC News. "He can pull it today. He can pull it tomorrow. He can pull it next week. The forces are there if he wants to renew aggression against Ukraine."
Wednesday was declared a national day of unity by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, following reports that this could be the date Russia launched an invasion. Zelensky believes it is "too early to rejoice" about Russia pulling back troops, and in a televised address, said his country is "united by a desire to happily live in peace. We can defend our home only if we stay united."