Ukrainian officials say they aren’t fooled by Russian talk of withdrawals from major areas of fighting, such as the capital city of Kyiv, saying they believe it could simply be a tactic to regroup and mount future attacks in the east and south.
The United States and NATO have said much the same thing.
Earlier this week, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would reduce hostilities in the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky scoffed at that excuse on Tuesday, saying “We know that this is not a withdrawal but the consequences of being driven out. But we also are seeing that Russia is now concentrating its forces for new strikes on Donbas and we are preparing for this.”
“According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.
“At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities. So we can expect additional offensive actions, bringing even more suffering.”
Russia’s military claims that “phase one” of its operation has been completed, Newsweek notes, and that “phase two” is the liberation of the breakaway region of Donbas. But Western observers see that as an effort to justify some sort of win after an embarrassing failure in what Russian President Vladamir Putin had expected to be an easy victory.
Russians “will now regroup and move these forces to Donbas and attack Donbas,” Andriy Ryzhenko, a retired naval captain and former deputy chief of staff in Ukraine’s navy, told Newsweek.
Russia’s main goal still appears to be surrounding or even destroying Ukrainian forces in Donbas, where they have been fighting Russian loyalists since 2014, Newsweek said. Should Russia succeed it would give Putin leverage in the peace talks.
Former Ukrainian officials told Newsweek that the West must keep up and increase economic pressure on Putin.
“The West must press on Putin, and not let him make money,” Ryzhenko said. “If they can make money, they can pursue this idea of a ‘Soviet Union 2.0’.”
“Russians honor agreements only if their violation has dire consequences,” he said. “So they’re trying to portray their retreat as a sign of goodwill.”
Reuters contributed to this report.