The US continues to express doubts that Russia is curtailing its military ambitions in Ukraine despite new statements by the Kremlin that it is ending activities around Kyiv and has made progress in talks. peace talks with Ukrainian negotiators.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday confirmed the country was withdrawing from population centers in the north and west of Ukraine, including Kyiv. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said Russia was carrying out a “planned rotation” out of Kyiv and Chernihiv, a city further north, after “achievement of all major tasks”. in that area of the country.
Russia’s latest statement comes as US officials say there is ample evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin feels “misled” by his military commanders about how the war in Ukraine is going. .
A US official said classified intelligence showed that Putin had no idea the Russian military was using conscripts in Ukraine, a sign of a “clear break” in the flow of information. exactly to the Kremlin.
John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said: “We concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin was not fully informed by the Department of Defense in all aspects last month.
Putin initially denied conscripts were fighting in Ukraine – only for his Defense Ministry to admit a day later they were there. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters that the President had ordered Russia’s military prosecutors to find and punish the officials responsible for the deployment of conscripts, allegedly disobeying his orders.
“We believe that Mr. Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about the poor performance of the Russian military and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because the His senior adviser was too scared to tell him the truth,” the US official said.
Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said: “One of the Achilles’ heels of autocratic regimes is that you don’t have people in the system who tell the truth to power or people who are able to tell the truth to authority. force. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in Russia.”
Konashenkov also said that the Russian military is entering the “final stage” of operations in eastern Ukraine, a move aimed at “completing the operation to completely liberate Donbas”, the predominantly Russian-speaking border region. in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s Zvezda military TV channel also reported on a Russian ceasefire in the heavily shelled southern city of Mariupol, starting at 10 a.m. local time on Thursday. Humanitarian corridors will be opened to allow people to evacuate into Ukrainian territory, the report said.
But Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the United States believes Russia is only repositioning “a small percentage,” about 20 percent, of the forces it has deployed around Kyiv.
He added that while those troops are moving out of Kyiv and some have entered neighboring Belarus, none have returned to their home bases – a signal that Russia may not commit. long-term withdrawal.
“If the Russians are serious about de-escalation. . . then they should send them home,” Kirby said.
In addition, Ukrainian officials say Russian forces are continuing to bombard neighboring areas on the outskirts of Kyiv and Chernihiv, despite claims that military operations there have ended.
“Kyiv is still very much under threat,” Kirby said.
The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry is the latest in a series of statements by Moscow signaling Putin has scaled back his ambitions in Ukraine after more than a month. invasion was thwarted by fierce Ukrainian opposition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said negotiators had made “significant progress” in recent peace talks with Ukraine, but Kyiv cast doubt on the assertion saying the Kremlin remained insistent on the claims unacceptable territory of Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Lavrov told Russian state media that he had seen “positive movement forward” in the peace talks that began in Istanbul on Tuesday, although they were “not final results yet.” “.
He said Ukraine’s negotiators “confirmed the need to ensure Ukraine’s denuclearization, [neutral] its status and security outside Nato” and “understands that the problems of Crimea and the Donbas have been satisfactorily resolved”.
But Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said Kyiv was only ready to discuss the final status of Crimea and the Donbas – the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine where Russia annexed the territory – once Kyiv “restore sovereignty over them”.
U.S. officials said Putin’s lack of access to accurate information could affect ongoing negotiations.
Kirby said: “If he is not fully informed about how poorly he is performing, how will his negotiators come up with a long-term deal and certainly a deal? agreement to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty?”
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Ukrainian officials acknowledge that Russian negotiators have changed their tune in the peace talks in Istanbul. Mykhailo Podolyak, top adviser to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskysaid the initial “ultimatum” issued by the Kremlin had been “quietly set aside” and that negotiations were now focused on “a well-defined list of specific issues”.
Podolyak said Kyiv was still looking for specific security guarantees that could be enforced by “identified guarantors” with “strong armies”, including the US and a number of Western allies. .
“Practical-wise, we need allies who will stand by us when we need help here and now,” he said.