“What they probably have in mind is a restoration to prioritize elsewhere.”
The Pentagon is keeping a “small number” of Russian troops north of Kiev, but Russia is not considering withdrawing as a feature. Instead, it believes troops could be used to attack elsewhere in Ukraine, most likely in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
After talks with Ukrainian negotiators in Turkey, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it was withdrawing troops from around Kyiv and Chernihiv as a “good faith” measure in the talks. However, the move coincides with the lack of success of Russian military action in the two northern cities.
“We now see a small number moving away from Kiev,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday. “It’s the same day when the Russians say they’re withdrawing, but we’re not ready to call it a retreat or even a withdrawal. Perhaps what they have in mind is a restoration to prioritize elsewhere.”
“This is certainly not a significant part of the multiple battalion strategic group that Russia has set up against Kiev,” Kirby said. Around the Ukrainian capital, “it’s almost nowhere near what they’ve arranged.”
He noted that the Russians had said in recent days that it preferred the Donbass area.
“We believe it is more likely to be used elsewhere in Ukraine. We do not know exactly where,” he said. “We must all be prepared to see a major offensive against other regions of Ukraine. This does not mean that the threat to Kiev is over.”
Kirby expressed similar doubts about the Russian declaration from other top Biden administration officials, including President Joe Biden.
“We’re not taking what they say at face value,” Kirby said. “We are not prepared to buy the Russian argument that this is a withdrawal. Again, our assessment is that their purpose is to restore forces and strengthen their efforts elsewhere.”
Although Kirby said that Russian troops had repeatedly failed in their military objectives in Ukraine, especially in the occupation of Kyiv, he refused to mark Russia’s move as a defeat.
“I don’t think we’re ready to put a bumper sticker on this thing right now,” Kirby said. “I mean, people are still dying. Bombs are still falling. Missiles are still flying. And they’re still giving and taking on the battlefield. So I don’t think we’re ready to say anything different here.”
Earlier on Tuesday, General Todd Olters, the US military commander in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia’s attack was “an important moment in Europe with a generational impact” that has strengthened the NATO alliance.
Olters said the attack increased the number of American troops in Europe from 60,000 to 100,000 and that more troops could be needed.
“My suspicion is that we still need more,” Olters said. “And, of course, there is always a mix between constant vs. rotation requirements and each has its pros and cons. We need to keep testing our European contributions to make a smart decision about where to go in the future.”
During his press conference on Tuesday, Kirby announced that some Marines who had recently taken part in NATO’s Cold Response exercise in Norway would be redirected to Lithuania and Eastern Europe. Marine units included a command and control unit sent to Lithuania with 10 FA-18 fighters and several C-130 transport aircraft.
Walters praised Ukraine’s military and its ability to suspend Russian military operations across the country, especially through the weapons provided by the US military.
“I think we can, and we will continue to support the Ukrainian armed forces,” Olters said. “… We’ve made dramatic improvements in our information exchange and intelligence sharing.”
The support includes key supplies of American-made javelin anti-tank weapons and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that have helped the Ukrainian military halt the advance of Russian troops across Ukraine.
Olters said the Ukrainian arms supply line had been successful and had not been attacked. “They’re getting to the right place at the right time,” Olters said.