WATCH: U.S. Defense Secretary Austin says there’s still time for diplomacy amid Ukraine tensions

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday said there was “still time and space for diplomacy” as tensions between Russia and the West continued to heighten.

Watch Austin’s remarks in the player above.

Austin’s remarks come as NATO allies accuse Russia of misleading them by saying it was returning some troops to bases, charging that Moscow has instead added as many as 7,000 more troops near its tense border with Ukraine.

“We see some of those troops inch closer to that border, we see them fly in more combat and support aircraft, we see them sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea”, the U.S. Defense Secretary said.

Austin said that as a former soldier himself, he knew from “firsthand” experience that “you don’t do these sort of things for no reason”.

Austin said the US and its NATO partners “will closely match Russian words to Russian deeds”.

Russia denies it is plotting an invasion but says it’s free to deploy troops wherever it deems necessary to counter threats from NATO.

Russia wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back forces from Eastern Europe, demands the allies have flatly rejected.

There have been some suggestions Ukraine could decide to abandon its hope of joining NATO — something written into its constitution — as a way out of the crisis.

While the U.S. and its allies have roundly rejected Moscow’s demands to bar membership to Ukraine, they offered to engage in talks with Russia on limits on missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures.