Washington: Highlighting that Russian forces have moved away from Ukraine's capital Kyiv "in the last day or so," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Tuesday (local time) said 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 defense ministry said it was withdrawing forces as "a good faith" measure in the talks. However, Kirby said the move coincided with the Russian military's lack of success in its moves on the two northern cities.
"Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv. It's failed in its objective of subjugating Ukraine. But they can still inflict massive brutality on the country," he added.
Pentagon press secretary's remarks come a day after a U.S. senior defense official told reporters that Russian troops are "making really no efforts on the ground to advance on the city," and days earlier, the same official said the Russians were now "prioritizing 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."
On February 24, Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine after the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk appealed for help in defending themselves against Ukrainian provocations. In response to Russia's operation, Western countries have rolled out a comprehensive sanctions campaign against Moscow.