U.S. says Russian claim of withdrawing border troops false

A satellite image shows battle group equipment at the Kursk training area, Russia, February 14, 2022. Picture taken February 14, 2022. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The United States does not believe Russia's claim to be withdrawing troops from the Ukraine border and suspects Moscow has increased its presence by as many as 7,000 troops, a senior Biden administration official said on Wednesday.

"So yesterday, the Russian government said it was withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine....But we now know it was false," the official told reporters without offering details or providing evidence.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Biden administration confirmed that "Russia has increased its troop presence along the Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops" with many of them arriving as recently as Wednesday.

The senior administration official also said Russia has publicly claimed to engage in diplomacy and made claims of "de-escalation" while "privately mobilizing for war."

Russia's defense ministry said Wednesday its forces were pulling back after exercises near Ukraine and published video that it said showed forces leaving the Crimean peninsula.

But U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday that "critical units" were moving towards the border. read more

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States estimated that 150,000 Russian troops had encircled Ukraine, an increase from previous estimates of about 100,000.

The senior administration official said the United States continued to receive information that suggests Russia can "launch a false pretext at any moment" to justify an invasion of Ukraine. The official pointed to an increase in false claims and disinformation online by Russia in recent days.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler, Rosalba O'Brien and Cynthia Osterman

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