While Ukrainian officials were skeptical about reports of an imminent Russian military withdrawal from Kiev, the deputy mayor of the capital said. news week that his country’s troops preferred a harder exodus after more than a month of deadly fighting between the two sides.
“If you ask soldiers whether they believe this, you will hear a fairly direct answer,” said Kostiantyn Usov, the deputy head of the Kiev city administration. news week†
“Our military would also argue that the only proper way for Russians to withdraw from Ukrainian soil is to put them in body bags,” he added. “Our generals are not interested in anything less than that.”
He also warned that the apparent Russian pivot, reports of which have emerged during negotiations between the two sides in Turkey, posed a potentially precarious situation for Ukrainian politicians. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation”, now well into its fifth week, has generated a fiery response across a wide range of Ukrainian society resisting giving up an inch of the country’s territory.
“As for politicians, it’s thin ice. One wrong move, just one hint that negotiations are about selling even the tiniest part of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and another Maidan would appear here,” Usov warned, referring to the revolution of 2014 that overthrew pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and brought a West-oriented government to power.
The operation also failed to deliver the swift victory to Russia that some had expected in the months-long lead-up to the conflict, which saw an estimated nearly 200,000 troops gathered along Ukraine’s borders. In addition to the Russian border, troop build-up has taken place in neighboring Belarus and on the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia during the 2014 uprising, when two Russian-backed separatist states also emerged in the eastern region of Donbas.
Now, for the first time since the Russian invasion began on February 24, signs have emerged that Moscow could turn its focus to these eastern breakaway republics as the largely stalled forces reverse their advance towards the Ukrainian capital.
Russia’s defense ministry announced on Tuesday that it had decided to drastically reduce hostilities around the capital and Chernihiv in the northeast of the city. Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the shift was intended to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations”.
This story was supported by a Kremlin operative and Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky, who told reporters that the change of strategy was one of two de-escalating steps alongside an offer to hold a meeting between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart. Volodymyr Zelensky, who has long sought such a strategy. a meeting.
According to Medinsky, the Ukrainian side came up with a “clearly worded proposal” that included a rejection of weapons of mass destruction and foreign military bases, with indications that Kiev also would not seek a military solution in its attempt to retake Crimea.
Medinsky also stressed in comments to the state-run RT agency that Russia’s de-escalation “is not a ceasefire.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chaly also spoke to reporters after the latest round of talks and said his country is exploring options to declare itself a non-nuclear and non-bloc state, and is abandoning its bid to join the US-led western military alliance. in exchange for security guarantees.
Such guarantees could be given by members of the UN Security Council, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy, Israel, Poland and Turkey, according to Ukrainian negotiator and head of the ruling People’s Party Servant David Arakhamia.
Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the Crimea issue is a separate dossier that could be resolved in the form of 15-year bilateral negotiations with Russia. However, the status of the Donbas would be assigned to yet another track, one that will be addressed directly in a future meeting between Putin and Zelensky.
A Ukrainian intelligence official, who spoke with news week on condition of anonymity, Russian forces north of Kiev said they would indeed withdraw. However, the official warned that the move could be a feint intended to regroup the invading forces.
The official dismissed the military capability of Russian forces around the capital, who have faced fierce and successful Ukrainian counter-attacks in recent days.
“They don’t know how to fight,” the official said. “They can only fire missiles and cannons from a distance.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also expressed his suspicions about Russia’s apparent shift, which he said was still in the “early stages” and seeing only a “very, very small number” of troops so far. move out of the capital. †
“We should not be fooled – and no one should be fooling ourselves – by the Kremlin’s now recent claim that it will suddenly reduce military strikes near Kiev or by reports that it will withdraw all its troops. Kirby told reporters.
“We believe this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we should all be prepared for a major offensive against other parts of Ukraine,” he added. “It does not mean that the threat to Kiev is over.”
And Kirby noted that “the Russians still have a significant majority of their accumulated combat power, including logistics and endurance, in Ukraine.” This includes both around the capital and “the vast majority of the troops they have gathered around Kiev are still there.”
The Donbas region that now appears to be central to Moscow’s designs was the first gateway to Ukraine for Russian troops deemed “peacemakers” in late February, when Putin recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Shortly after the invasion began, Russian troops soon became stranded around major Ukrainian cities. Advancing units to the north and east were reportedly hampered by Ukrainian resistance and logistical problems. In the south, Russian formations found more success as they advanced from the Crimean peninsula, but encountered heavy resistance along and beyond the Dnipro River.
Russian forces advanced into Kiev from the northwest and east and crossed into Ukraine from Belarus. Fierce fighting devastated the suburbs of Kiev, including Gostomel, Irpin and Bucha. Russian troops reached within nine miles of the capital’s city center, according to the Pentagon.
Logistical problems reportedly forced Russian troops to move to what the Pentagon has described as a “defensive stance”. Moscow’s attempts to resupply them — most notably via a 40-mile convoy stretching from the border with Belarus — have been deemed unsuccessful by Ukrainian and US officials. Ukrainian defenders armed with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons produced in the West have taken serious casualties using asymmetric tactics.
As the situation deteriorated, advanced Russian units risked being surrounded by Ukrainian counter-attacks. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian army said it had recaptured the important Kiev suburb of Irpin, although the settlement was almost completely destroyed in the fighting.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had already claimed that “the main tasks of the first phase” of the operation were “completed”, as “the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has been significantly reduced”. That achievement, he argued, would allow Moscow to prioritize toward the “main focus” of the operation, which is “the liberation of Donbass.”
Russian and separatist forces have so far made no significant progress on the Eastern Front. From the south, Russian forces advancing from Crimea were able to capture Melitopol and the port city of Berdyansk while surrounding and bombing the port city of Mariupol in an attempt to secure a land corridor bordering the Black Sea from Donbas to Crimea.
The United States has also expressed some skepticism about early signs of a Russian withdrawal from the offensive against Kiev.
“We’ll see,” US President Joe Biden said Tuesday in response to a reporter’s question about signs of Russia’s strategy shift. “I’m not reading anything into it until I see what their actions are. We’ll see if they follow through on what they suggest.”
The US leader said he and the allied leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom had reached a “consensus” in which they “will just see what “Russian officials” have to offer; we will find out what they do’.
“But in the meantime, we will continue to maintain strict sanctions,” he added. “We will continue to provide the Ukrainian military with their ability to defend themselves. And we will continue to closely monitor what is happening.”