Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby claimed on Tuesday (local time) that Russian forces had moved away from Ukraine’s capital Kyiv “in the last day or so,” but that he believes this is a “repositioning,” not a “real withdrawal.”
“Has there been some movement by some Russian units away from Kyiv in the last day or so? Yeah. We think so. Small numbers,” said Kirby during a briefing. “But we believe that this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine,” he added. Kirby spoke several hours after a member of the Russian negotiating team announced that the Ministry of Defense had decided “to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the city of Kyiv and Chernikyiv direction.”
The Russian defence ministry announced the withdrawal of troops as a “good faith” gesture in the discussions. Kirby, on the other hand, said the move corresponded with the Russian military’s failure to take control of the two northern cities.
“The Russian attempt to capture Kyiv has failed. Its goal of subjugating Ukraine was not achieved. They can, however, continue to inflict immense cruelty on the country,” he added.
The Pentagon press secretary’s comments come a day after a senior US defence official told reporters that Russian troops are “making really no attempts on the ground to move on the city,” and that the Russians are now “prioritising the Donbas” region.
The Pentagon’s latest assessment is in line with the White House, where communications director Kate Bedingfield described the moves around Kyiv as a “redeployment” and not an outright “withdrawal.”
“Everyone should expect that we’re going to continue to see attacks across Ukraine,” Bedingfield said.
“Obviously, a key message that the president delivered on his trip to Europe last week was that we are in for a long slog, that our allies and partners need to remain, that our resolve needs to remain strong, and that we need to continue to execute on the strategy of inflicting significant costs on the Russian economy, and again, strengthening Ukraine on the battlefields and at the negotiating table,” Bedingfield added.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia cannot be trusted. He said it was Ukrainian troops who forced Russia’s hand, adding that “we shouldn’t let down our guard” because the invading army still “has a great potential to continue attacks against our country.” Ukraine will continue negotiations, he said, but officials do not trust the word of the country that continues “fighting to destroy us.”
US President Joe Biden, asked whether the Russian announcement was a sign of progress in the talks or an attempt by Moscow to buy time to continue its assault, said: “We’ll see. I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.”
After the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk requested assistance in protecting themselves against Ukrainian provocations, Russia initiated a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24. Western countries have launched a broad sanctions campaign against Russia in reaction to the operation.