Yesterday morning it seemed like a pressure valve had been released, even if just slightly when Russia announced it was “withdrawing” some troops who had been carrying out “drills” on the Ukrainian border.
After weeks of escalating tensions and a constant flow of European leaders travelling to Moscow to demand Vladimir Putin back down, it appeared Russia had blinked.
The Kremlin were claiming it as a victory over the West, but either way, the threat of an all-out invasion with Ukraine appeared to recede. But only hours later, western officials were warning against seeing this as a sign of Russian withdrawal.
In fact, one official told The Times there was more “reinforcement” on the border, with troops coming in and out and preparing field hospitals close to the border as they await a final decision from Putin. The Russian leader has said he is willing to hold a “dialogue” with the west, where Putin will demand Nato never admit Ukraine.
The Kremlin will need to decide if it is willing to sacrifice its economic interests in favour of a dream of a new Russian empire. Arguably, their financial position is stronger now when they took a similar gamble on the annexation of Crimea.