NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said there weren’t any signs of a reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine, after the Kremlin said some of its troops returned to garrisons.

Ukraine said deterrence efforts against Russia appeared to be working but that it would watch to see if any Russian withdrawal was real.
Ukraine said deterrence efforts against Russia appeared to be working but that it would watch to see if any Russian withdrawal was real. (AP)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said indications from Russia it is willing to pursue diplomacy over the Ukraine crisis were positive, but there is no evidence yet of Moscow pulling back troops from the border.

"There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue, this gives grounds for cautious optimism. But so far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground," Stoltenberg told journalists on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg warned that Moscow still had "everything in place" to stage an attack on Ukraine at any time, but said the Kremlin "has time to step back from the brink".

"We will continue to monitor and to follow closely what Russia is doing," Stoltenberg said ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Wednesday.

Russia earlier on Tuesday said it was pulling back some of its forces near the Ukrainian border to their bases, after suggesting a diplomatic solution to its standoff with the West was still possible.

Some forces deployed near Ukraine completed their exercises and were packing up to leave, the Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, in what could be the first major step towards de-escalation.

READ MORE: Germany urges Russia to de-escalate, withdraw troops around Ukraine

Western war propaganda?

Russia's announcement came amid intense diplomatic effort to avert a war in Europe after Western leaders accused Moscow of preparing for a possible invasion, amassing over 100,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine.

The ministry released a video that it said showed Russian tanks climbing on to rail cars to leave an area where drills had been taking place.

It was not immediately clear how many units were involved and what impact the withdrawals would have on the overall number of troops surrounding Ukraine, but it was the first announcement of a Russian drawdown in weeks.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova suggested Tuesday's news would show it was the West that had been ratcheting up tensions with its claims.

"February 15, 2022, will go down in history as the day Western war propaganda failed. Humiliated and destroyed without a single shot being fired," she wrote on social media.

Moscow has repeatedly blamed the crisis on the West, saying the United States and western Europe are ignoring Russia's legitimate security concerns on its doorstep.

Ukraine said deterrence efforts against Russia appeared to be working but that it would watch to see if any Russian withdrawal was real, as Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said "don't believe what you hear, believe what you see."

READ MORE: Ukraine declares 'day of unity' for February 16 over possible 'invasion'

Source: TRTWorld and agencies