What has the US and Europe said about the Russian military de-escalation?
Russia announced that it would pull back troops from Kyiv and a strategic city north of the capital, but experts think Moscow is just reorganizing.
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held their first peace talks in two weeks on Tuesday after which Russia said that it would reduce its attacks on Kyiv and a strategic city north of the Ukrainian capital, Chernihiv. Moscow said that it wants to "boost mutual trust" in peace talks.
Although it would be a welcome de-escalation in that theater of the Russian invasion, Western nations and Ukraine remain wary of Moscow’s intentions. So far, no major withdraw of troops from either area has been seen and the governor of Chernihiv told the BBC that attacks continued throughout Wednesday night.
"We're going to continue to keep a close eye on what's going on"
Despite the Kremlin saying that it would reduce military activity in the north of Ukraine, Western leaders have “agreed there could be no relaxation of Western resolve until the horror inflicted on Ukraine is over,” according to a joint statement. Pentagon officials said that Russia is most likely repositioning after failing to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and not withdrawing.
"We're seeing a small number now that appears to be moving away from Kyiv,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday. “We're not prepared to call this a retreat or even a withdrawal." He emphasized that, "It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over,” and that major offensives in other parts of Ukraine could be possible.
President Joe Biden also expressed wariness about Moscow’s intentions. "We'll see if they follow through with what they're suggesting," he said. "We're going to continue to keep a close eye on what's going on." Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters that the US is focused on Russia's actions, not its words.
“What I can say is this: There is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter,” Blinken said “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people. And that continues as we speak.”
Zelenskyy says talks “positive” but sanctions must continue
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators are set to hold more peace talks, this time via videocall, on Friday. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine called the talks in Istanbul on Tuesday “positive” but called on Western nations to continue to apply pressure on Moscow through the crippling sanctions that have been imposed.
"We can say that the signals we hear from the negotiations are positive, but those signals do not drown out the explosions or Russian shells," Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian military is also aware that the supposed withdraw of Russian troops from around the capital and Chernihiv may be a ruse. They recognize that it could be the Russian military reorganizing to rotate troops and probably “aims to mislead.” This is a tactic that Moscow has used before calling for a ceasefire, only to take advantage to go on the offensive as it did in 2015 in the Donbas region.
A former Ukrainian ambassador told BBC News that the shift in tactics was Moscow being forced to accept realities on the ground. The Russian military has taken heavy losses since the start of the invasion with large numbers of equipment being damaged, destroyed or even abandoned by troops.