The Pentagon warned Tuesday that Russia’s announcement that it was “drastically reducing hostilities” in Kyiv and Chernihiv is not a real withdrawal and said Russian leader Vladimir Putin still hopes to take all of Ukraine.
“Nobody should be fooling ourselves by the Kremlin’s now recent claim that it will suddenly just reduce military attacks near Kyiv, or any reports that it’s going to withdraw all its forces,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.
Kirby said the Pentagon has seen Russia pull back “small numbers” of forces, “but we believe this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal.”
On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Russia would reduce its military attacks on Kyiv during diplomatic negotiations between the governments.
U.S. European Command Gen. Tod Wolters told Congress earlier in the day that his command had observed some Russian pullback, without providing specifics.
“The comments [Fomin] made with respect to the shifting dynamics in the ground domain in the vicinity of Kyiv are exactly what we see from a EUCOM perspective,” Wolters said.
Kirby said Tuesday’s announcement amounted to spin and “moving the goalposts” after Russia has faced a month of resistance, high casualties, and logistics and intelligence failures in Ukraine. He cited a similar statement by Sergei Rudskoi, Russian general staff head of military operations, who claimed last week that the country’s forces had accomplished their first objective and would concentrate on their only goal, “complete liberation of Donbass.”
In its initial invasion, Russia had come at Ukraine from three axes: from the north, targeting Kyiv; from the east, to include the separatrist regions, and from the south, coming out of Crimea, where some forces went west to take Mykolaiv and Kherson, and Mariupol to the east.
The northern advance has been stalled for weeks, symbolized by a stuck 40-mile-long convoy. Now the southern front is also stalled, Kirby said, noting Ukrainian forces repelling attacks in Mykolaiv and Kherson, and fierce fighting in Mariupol, where the city is still resisting despite a weeks-long siege.
“Mr. Putin’s goals stretch far beyond the Donbass. Russia Ministry of Defense’s recent talking points may be an effort to move the goalposts, moderating Russia’s immediate goals and spinning its current lack of progress as part of what would be next steps,” Kirby said.
The drawback of some forces from Kyiv likely means they will be repositioned to attack elsewhere in the country, Kirby said. “The Russians themselves have said in the same breath ….they’re withdrawing, that they’re reprioritizing the Donbass area in eastern Ukraine.”
The eastern Donbass region includes the breakaway territories that Russia took in 2014 and used this year as a pretext for war.
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