The grim truth behind Vladimir Putin’s shady withdrawal from Kyiv

Russia claimed earlier this week that it would reduce its “military activity” around kyiv and Chernihiv, which would be a much-needed reprieve for Ukrainians hoping for peace.

But the claims are likely a fake, according to senior US officials and lawmakers.

“They might back off a bit,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Beast.

But “the Russians are past masters in the art of deception. They’ve been doing this all along. We shouldn’t read this too much,” Moulton said. “We all want peace, but I don’t think the Russians are ready to give up.”

Russia has a long history of saying one thing and doing the exact opposite, Moulton added.

Moscow has already claimed that it is regrouping its forces, only to prevaricate and advance its aggressive military moves against Ukraine, for example. Last February, Russia said it was withdrawing some of its troops near the Ukrainian border. Officials at the time doubted Russia’s intentions.

Indeed, within days of Russia’s declaration, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an all-out assault and invaded Ukraine.

The Biden administration is likely considering a similar scenario now, warned Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“I’m not buying it,” Gallego told The Daily Beast. “We still hear about artillery and rocket fire.”

“We saw that claim, you know, not too long ago when they also claimed that they were backing down before the invasion. That ended up not being true,” Gallego added. “So , I’m quite sure about trust, but check when it comes to Russians.”

Residents carry food found at a supermarket in the town of Irpin, in the Kyiv region of Ukraine, on March 29, 2022.

Serhii Mykhalchuk/Reuters

This time around, President Joe Biden has thrown cold water on claims that Russia also intends to withdraw.

“We’ll see. I can’t see it until I see what their actions are,” Biden said Tuesday. [what] they suggested.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested the claims were dubious, noting on Tuesday that the United States had not seen “genuine seriousness” from the Russians on the matter.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the whole claim is likely a fabrication as well. “We are not ready to accept the argument that this is a Russian withdrawal,” Kirby said during a press briefing.

So far, all signs point to Russian regroupment, not withdrawal, according to the Pentagon. Russia has withdrawn 20% of its forces from kyiv to resupply and refuel, but is not returning home, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Russia’s assertion that it is withdrawing coincides with negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey, where Russia has said it will withdraw “to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for new negotiations “.

I think Putin is using this as a smokescreen, buying time to regroup.

And while the dubious claims may be part of a show to push negotiations, Russia isn’t doing a very good job of messaging about it. Even close Putin allies publicly note that the withdrawal request is bogus. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Wednesday “we are not doing any kind of retreat”.

And in the meantime, Russia has not indicated that it is stopping its bombardments in Ukraine. Russia continues to strike targets in eastern Ukraine, local authorities said, and Russian forces continue to shell the outskirts of kyiv, according to Reuters.

The future of the peace talks is muddy at this hour. Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday the talks failed to lead to any diplomatic breakthrough. Ukrainian lawmakers, however, do not seem to think that Russia is making a good faith effort to negotiate anything close to peace.

“We believe that these are not real peace talks at this stage,” Ukrainian MP Anastasia Radina said Wednesday at an event organized by the German Marshall Fund.

“I think Putin is using this as a smokescreen, buying time to regroup,” added another Ukrainian politician, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze.

As peace talks stall, talk has begun to swirl in the halls of Congress that Putin could be using the bogus withdrawal request as a way to test the waters to see what Moscow can get away with moving forward. before.

“I think they’re trying to see what kind of reaction they get internationally from this idea that they’re stepping down and they’re just testing to see what limits they can [cross],” Gallego told The Daily Beast.

Some analysts have suggested that Putin may be interested in pushing for a withdrawal from Kyiv and Chernihiv as a way to hide the losses they have faced from the domestic public, and instead give the impression that Russia is choosing to leave rather than to admit that they are having a hard time conquering these cities. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Monday that Russian forces are regrouping especially because they cannot advance, according to a Reuters report.

A DNR (Donetsk People’s Republic) fighter awaits extraction after being shot by a sniper at the Mariupol frontline on March 27, 2022.

Maximilien Clarke/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Ukrainians have been resisting across the country, taking up arms and fighting in the streets for weeks now. And only in recent days has some of the patriotic resistance begun to bear fruit: the northeastern city of Trostyanets and territories in the Chernihiv region were liberated from Russian troops this week. The Ukrainians also repelled the Russian forces from Irpin, according to the mayor.

Worse still for Moscow, Russian troops have been mired in setbacks in their invasion of Ukraine since day one. They were stuck outside the Ukrainian capital, waiting to attack and struggling with fuel shortages and sustainment failures, a senior US defense official said.

Part of Putin’s problem is that he can’t get his forces to win decisive victories in Ukraine.

However, Moulton isn’t sure the fake withdrawal claim is about sending a message home to save face.

“I suspect their target audience for the pullout is us and the Ukrainians,” Moulton said, adding that it could be about positioning themselves internationally. “They have plenty of other propaganda to lie to their own people – about how many young Russian boys have already lost their lives.”

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