Russia's talk of Kyiv withdrawal is probably acceptance it 'failed' there, U.K. defense ministry says

Russia's Defense Ministry said Tuesday it will "drastically reduce military activity" around Kyiv and Chernihiv following peace talks with Ukraine in Turkey, and deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin affirmed that announcement on Russian state media, characterizing the move as a decision to "radically, at times, reduce military activity" near the two cities.

Few people outside Russia seem to believe Russia is voluntarily giving up its month-long assault on Kyiv.

The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said Tuesday there are signs Russian units are "regrouping to focus their efforts on eastern Ukraine," but "the so-called 'withdrawal of troops' is most likely a rotation of individual units and is aimed at misleading the Ukrainian military leadership" into thinking the attempted siege of Kyiv was over.

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Pentagon spokesman John Kirby made similar comments, saying the U.S. believes the withdrawal of "small numbers" of Russian forces in the north "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. It does not mean the threat to Kyiv is over," and Russia continued airstrikes on Kyiv "even today," he added. "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."

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield reiterated Tuesday afternoon that "no one should be fooled by Russia's announcement."

Britain's Ministry of Defense agreed "it is highly likely that Russia will seek to divert combat power from the north to their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east," but suggested this decision wasn't taken willingly. "Repeated Russian setbacks and successful counterattacks by Ukrainian forces mean it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv. Russian statements regarding a reduction in activity around Kyiv, and reporting indicating the withdrawal of some Russian units from these areas, may indicate Russia's acceptance that it has now lost the initiative in the region."

"Color me skeptical" that Russia is abandoning Kyiv as a willing strategy shift, CNN military analyst retire Col. Cedric Leighton agreed, running through the assessed state of the Ukraine battlefield including Ukrainian counterattacks and Russia's advances in utterly destroyed Mariupol. Russia covets Mariupol, he said, but capturing Kyiv remains "Russia's main strategic goal."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.