Meanwhile, the United States warned that Russia may have added up to 7,000 troops close to Ukraine's borders despite Kremlin statements that they were withdrawing from the area.
Although a Russian invasion did not occur as feared by the United States and its allies, they maintained that the threat was still present, with Europe's economic stability and security in the balance.
According to Western estimates, Russia has gathered more than 150,000 troops in the east, north, and south of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he wanted a peaceful way out of the crisis. U.S. President Joe Biden said that the U.S. would continue diplomacy "every opportunity," but he was skeptical about Moscow's intentions. Biden said that Washington and its allies would never "sacrifice fundamental principles" in respect to Ukraine's sovereignty.
Russian Defense Ministry video showed an armored vehicle train moving across a bridge to escape Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed in 2014. It also stated that additional tank units were being loaded onto trains in order to return to their permanent bases following training exercises.
However, Russia was still playing war games on Ukraine's vast territory and near its borders.
According to a senior U.S. official, Russia has increased its presence in Ukraine by 7,000 troops. Some arrived as recently as Wednesday. There had also been an increase in false claims made by Russians, which the Kremlin could use as a pretext for an invasion.
According to the official, these claims include reports of civilians being killed by Ukrainian forces in unmarked graves, claims that the U.S. is developing chemical or biological weapons and that the West is funding guerrillas to murder Ukrainians.
The official was not authorized for public speaking about sensitive operations. He spoke to The Associated Press under anonymity. The official didn't provide any evidence to support the assertions.
Both the U.S.A. and Europe continue to threaten each other with harsh sanctions. The trust between East and West is still difficult to come by.
U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken stated to ABC News that "We haven’t seen a pullback." "He (Putin), can pull the trigger. He can pull it off today. He can pull it tomorrow. He could pull it off next week. If he wishes to renew aggression against Ukraine, the forces are available."
Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, stated that the U.S. has seen "more Russian troops than ever before."
When Price was asked why Russians claim they are withdrawing, he replied that commercial satellite photos, government intelligence and social media videos did not show any evidence.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the alliance had not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces, as multiple European governments. He said this before addressing a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels: "If they start to withdraw forces that's something that we will welcome but that remains to remain to be seen."
The alliance is currently examining this week when and how to quickly dispatch troops and equipment to countries closest to Russia and to the Black Sea region in the event of an invasion by Moscow.
The Russian withdrawal claims were also rejected by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President
"What is this?" He spoke of "rotations, withdrawal, and returning back again" during a visit in Mariupol, a southeastern city. It's too soon to celebrate.
During the crisis, the leader of Ukraine has sought to project both calm and strength. He declared Wednesday "Day of National Unity".
Zelenskyy stated that "We are united by the desire to happily live and in peace," in an earlier address to the nation. "We can only defend our homeland if we remain united."
Ukrainians of all ages held flags across the country.
Many people unfolded a flag measuring 200 meters (650 feet) at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium. Another flag was placed in the middle of a shopping center in the capital.
In the government-controlled part of Ukraine's eastern region of Luhansk, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014, residents stretched another huge flag across a street.
Olena Tkachova, a resident, stated that "this event, this large number of people united around Ukrainian Flag will show that We Stand for United Ukraine."
France and Germany brokered a 2015 agreement that ended the worst fighting in eastern Ukraine. However, implementation is still stalled. Many in Ukraine are opposed to the Minsk Agreement, which would allow for broad self-rule for the separatist territories.
In a television interview, a Ukrainian official stated that Zelenskyy would be open to holding a referendum about the Minsk agreement "if other options or instruments are not available." However, Vice Prime Minister Iryna Veshchuk claimed that she did not know that such an idea was being seriously considered.
Russia has complained repeatedly that NATO and the U.S. have not adequately addressed its security concerns in writing. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, stated Wednesday that Russia is currently in the final stage of preparing its formal reply to the West. She stated that a list of additional steps would be created after this.
The Kremlin demands that the West keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, stop weapons deployments near Russian borders, and reduce forces from Eastern Europe. These demands were strongly rejected by the U.S. and its allies, but they did offer to meet with Russia to discuss ways to increase security in Europe.
Russia is showing its strength for now. Russian fighter jets flew training mission Wednesday over Belarus, and paratroopers conducted shooting drills at the firing ranges as part of large war games. The West was concerned that these drills could be used to cover an invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Makei, Belarus' Foreign Minister, reiterated that all Russian troops will be evacuated from the country after the maneuvers conclude Sunday.
Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite imaging company, reported Wednesday that new photos showed heightened Russian military activity close to Ukraine. This included the construction of a pontoon bridge (Belarus) less than 6 km (4 miles) from Ukraine's border.
Russia mocks Western warnings about imminent invasion as "paranoia and madness" Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, pointed out that warnings could begin Wednesday. He said that Russian officials were well rested.
When asked by German newspaper Welt if Russia would attack Wednesday, Vladimir Chizhov (Russia's ambassador to Europe) replied: "Wars in Europe seldom start on Wednesday."
He stated that there won't be any escalation in the next week, the week following, or the month ahead.
Sky News was told by Ben Wallace, British Defense Secretary, that there has been no Russian withdrawal. Instead, there has been a continued buildup of strategic weapons systems and field hospitals.
Officials said that the White House will rely on Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, to assist with diplomatic efforts while Harris travels to Germany for this weekend's Munich Security Conference. Harris will meet Stoltenberg on Friday and have a multilateral meeting at the Baltic leaders of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. A major speech on Saturday will be given by Harris about the administration's efforts against Russian aggression. Harris will meet Zelenskyy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the speech.