Russia promised to pull back but here's what's really happening in Ukraine
On March 26, Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the country would "drastically, exponentially reduce military activity" around the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv in Ukraine. Four days later, however, that doesn't appear to be the case. Facts on the ground show that yet again, it appears to be a false claim by Moscow as it continues its all-out assault on its neighbor.
A day before Fomin's statement, General Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of Russia's General Staff said that the focus of the war would now shift to the Donbas region. At the time, it was widely seen as an acknowledgment that Russia would never be able to take Kyiv or other cities. Shortly after Fomin's statement, rumors began to emerge that Russia would support neutrality for Ukraine and was also exploring a Korea-like situation.
The announcements were also seen as an attempt by Russia to cut its losses, after equipment, men, and supplies were far more diminished than Moscow admitted. However, it appears that is not the case entirely.
Reality of drawdown
Even as Fomin claimed military activities would reduce, Ukrainians on the ground are seeing a vastly different situation. Artillery and rocket fire is still heard in and around Kyiv, Chernihiv, and other cities. To make matters worse, it appears as if Russian troops on the ground are contradicting Fomin's statement. "we are not making any kind of retreat," declared Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on March 30.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was quick to shoot down hopes of a Russian drawdown, saying, "Ukrainians are not naive people. Ukrainians have already learned that you can trust only concrete results." Even hours after Fomin's announcement, shelling continued on the outskirts of Kyiv, so much so that Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, "The whole night we listened to sirens, to rocket attacks and we listened to huge explosions east of Kyiv and north of Kyiv."
So if the Russians aren't drawing down as Fomin claimed, what exactly are they doing? US and Ukrainian officials seem to know the answer. Rep. Ruben Gallego told The Daily Beast, "I think they're trying to see what type of reaction that they're getting internationally from this idea that they're pulling back and they're just testing to see what limits they can cross." He wasn't the only one.
US, Ukrainian officials skeptical
Across the board, many officials were skeptical of Fomin's claims. "I think that Putin is using this as a smokescreen, buying time to regroup," noted Ukrainian politician Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze. Gallego also highlighted Russia's claims that it was drawing down troops in February 2022, just days before it launched its all-out assault. "So I'm all about definitely trust but verify when it comes to Russians," he added.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby also weighed in, saying, "We're not ready to buy the argument that this is a Russian withdrawal." Even President Joe Biden refused to take Russia's claims seriously, saying, "I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are." So far, it seems that skepticism is warranted. The shelling continued, but troops do appear to be walking away, which many believe is for a vastly different reason.
The "withdrawal" is actually a regrouping, Reuters reported on March 28. It appears that soldiers are now being redeployed to eastern Ukraine, particularly the Donbas. During an address on March 30, Zelenskyy said "there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas." Of course, nothing is crystal clear for now, but it certainly does appear as if Russia is moving away from Kyiv and other cities it failed to take.
If that is indeed the case, it doesn't mean that the war is over. Shelling could still continue, at least until a deal is hashed out. With sanctions continuing to bite Russia, the prospect seems closer than ever.