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Putin retreating? Russian troops now leaving Kyiv

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Released)
March 29, 2022

During peace talks on Tuesday, a high-ranking Russian defense official announced Russian forces would sharply reduce combat actions around the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. The measure was presented as a trust-building concession during negotiations, and could be a sign Putin is backtracking on his invasion plan.

According to the Associated Press, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin publicly confirmed the Moscow government agreed to “cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” The move does not mean a ceasefire is taking place, however.

Video shared on Twitter on Tuesday showed what appeared to be Russian forces leaving the Kyiv area.

Fomin’s comments come just days after Russian officials said Russian forces have concluded the first phase of their invasion of Ukraine and would focus on the eastern part of the country going forward.

“The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out,” Sergei Rudskoy, deputy chief of the Russian armed forces’ General Staff, said Friday, BBC reported on Friday.

“The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas,” Rudskoy added, referring to Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Russia recognized a pair of separatist areas of Donbas, known as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR or DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR or LNR) are sovereign. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into these two separatist regions under the rationale of a “peacekeeping” mission on Feb. 21, just three days before ordering Russian troops to undertake a “special military operation” against the rest of Ukraine.

The exact goal of the Russian “special military operation” wasn’t clear from the start. Rather than focusing Russian forces primarily against Ukraine’s capital or the Donbas region, Russian forces attacked a variety of objectives throughout the country.

In the month of fighting since Putin launched the “special military operation” against Ukraine, both sides have seen thousands of people killed and injured and tons of equipment destroyed.

As of Tuesday, the Ukrainian side claimed Russia had lost around 17,200 personnel, along with 127 airplanes, 129 helicopters, 597 tanks, 1,710 armored personnel vehicles, 54 anti-aircraft systems, 96 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 303 artillery pieces, 73 fuel trucks, 71 tactical level drones, seven naval vessels, 21 pieces of special equipment, four short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) launchers and other 1178 ground vehicles.

Throughout the fighting, Ukraine has also seen support from the U.S. and other western nations in the form of military supplies, as well as punitive sanctions against Russia.

Stephen Biddle, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, told the Associated Press that Russia may be shifting its military focus away from Kyiv to change public perceptions about Russia’s success in the invasion.

“It’s plausible that they’re basically trying to ratchet their perceived war aims down to something they’ve already accomplished,” Biddle said.

Biddle also offered the possibility Russia began its war in Ukraine with the wrong approach and are now consolidating forces to the Donbas region, to win there before moving on to further objectives in Ukraine.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Washington-based Lexington Institute, also told the Associated Press that Russia may be trying to recalibrate its military to more achievable objectives.

“Moscow may be looking for a way out of its Ukraine quagmire,” Thompson said. “Focusing its military goals on control of the Donbas could be a way of scaling back without admitting defeat.”

A Ukrainian official told Bloomberg that Ukraine is now seeking security guarantees for territory that doesn’t include the separatist Donbas areas and Russian-controlled Crimea.