Position of weakness Wallace tears down Putins withdrawal as Russia tries to save face

Russia: Putin 'could face a big problem' says Bergen

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Earlier this week, the Kremlin announced they would pull back their forces around the capital and the northern city – a declaration met with scepticism by the West. Russian deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said Moscow would cut operations in the cities to “increase mutual trust” during peace talks with Ukraine.

But Western officials have been hesitant to believe Moscow’s promises, with one commenting it “seems to be more of a tactical exercise” for regrouping and relaunching new offensives.

They added: “Nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that President Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Defence Secretary on a visit to Norway, who rejected the idea of a military withdrawal by the Kremlin.

He said: “Russia must think we were born yesterday.

“Putin wants to crush Ukraine, it’s what he’s said.”

He told The Sun: “I think the Russians are looking for an off-ramp but they’re trying to package their position of weakness as a position of strength.

“Judge Russia on actions, not words, because there’s a big gulf between the two.”

The Pentagon detailed “some movement of small numbers” has been detected moving away from the capital, but they termed this a “repositioning – not a withdrawal”.

US President Joe Biden told reporters: “We’ll see if they follow through.”

Boris Johnson similarly commented that Vladimir Putin could simply be seeking to “twist the knife” with the conflict.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s office said a number of Western countries “agreed there could be no relaxation of Western resolve until the horror inflicted on Ukraine is over”.

Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, added it was a “positive sign” but not one which could “drown out” the sound of explosions.

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A statement from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces denounced the move as misleading, saying the Russian withdrawals “are probably a rotation of individual units”.

Sergei Shoigu, Fomin’s superior, added that although Russian forces would move back from Kyiv and Chernihiv, the same would not apply to more eastern cities.

The Kremlin Defence Minister said forces would focus their efforts on the “liberation” of the eastern Donbas region.

Rechannelling Russian efforts into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is a “tactic admission” that the Russian military is struggling to maintain multiple offensive fronts, the UK Ministry of Defence said.

It added that Russia’s “already strained logistics” could not withstand heavy losses, nor units returning to Russia or Belarus.

This came as a fresh round of peace talks got underway in Istanbul on Monday evening.

The head of the Russian negotiating cohort, Vladimir Medinsky, said Vladimir Putin would meet with Mr Zelensky if the countries’ foreign ministers could draw up a peace agreement.

He added that the Russian withdrawal from around Kyiv and Chernihiv did not amount to a ceasefire.

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