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Russia's latest military movements stoke confusion


Is Russia escalating or de-escalating its military positions along the borders of Ukraine? There are conflicting claims about what's happening now and what could come next. We'll spend the next few minutes talking through where things stand on both the military and diplomatic fronts.

And we're going to start with NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hey, Greg.


NADWORNY: So what's the latest on Russia's military positions?

MYRE: Well, there's no hard evidence of a big Russian move in either direction, either escalation or de-escalation. Now, Russia's been saying for a second day that it's pulling back some troops, and the Russian defense ministry has put out a couple of videos. One shows a train hauling armored vehicles away.

But the U.S. and NATO and Ukraine say they're not seeing anything of real significance. Moving a few troops or vehicles around doesn't amount to a pullback when there is a force of 150,000 troops in place. And the NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, says NATO is seeing some signs of an ongoing buildup. And lastly, Ukraine's defense ministry and the country's two biggest banks have suffered cyberattacks, with Russia as the suspect.

NADWORNY: So what's happening on the diplomatic front?

MYRE: So Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave some interviews today, and he said Russian leader Vladimir Putin could pull the trigger today, tomorrow or next week. But Blinken says he's still willing to talk with Russia.

In Brussels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with defense ministers from other NATO countries. They were literally standing shoulder to shoulder in a show of NATO unity, which does appear to be pretty solid at the moment.

And in Moscow, Putin and his top aides say there's still room for dialogue, but we have seen several weeks of phone calls and meetings. What we're not seeing, though, is a breakthrough.

NADWORNY: Right. We've been hearing a Russia invasion was imminent, with today cited as the most likely day. Was that intelligence just off the mark?

MYRE: Well, first, again, it's just quite remarkable that the U.S. is declassifying and sharing such sensitive intelligence. But such specificity really should be treated with real caution. The U.S. isn't sharing the proof. And when this information first emerged last week, it raised a lot of questions. How did the U.S. get this intelligence? How certain were they that it was correct? Was it perhaps Russian disinformation?

And Putin is well known for disguising his plans, sending conflicting signals, keeping his opponents off balance. So even if this might have been his plan last week, it clearly was not his plan today.

NADWORNY: So given all that, is the strategy working of the U.S. declassifying intelligence and going public with it?

MYRE: You know, we'll still have to see, Elissa. The U.S. is clearly trying to pre-bunk Russian claims rather than waiting for Russia to act or say something and then debunk it. Now, Russia has been mocking this. They say the U.S. claims are false, that the West is engaging in hysteria. One Russian official said wryly today that wars in Europe rarely start on Wednesdays.

The U.S. national security community - there is this sense that the U.S. needs to combat Russian disinformation given the events of the past few years. But there are also some concerns that you can't keep crying wolf too often or you erode your own credibility.

NADWORNY: Right. Well, that was NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thank you so much, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.