Is Russia pulling back? Expert says Kremlin will strike again

(NewsNation) — Despite Russia’s claims it is de-escalating its attack on Ukraine, an international affairs expert denies this, saying that the Kremlin is repositioning not retreating, and will strike again.

Russian troops handed control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant back to the Ukrainians and left the heavily contaminated site early Friday, Ukrainian authorities said. The withdrawal took place amid growing indications the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation in Ukraine as cover while regrouping, resupplying its forces and redeploying them for a stepped-up offensive in the eastern part of the country.

“I think the U.S. intelligence is correct, this is not a retreat or withdrawal. It’s a repositioning,” Brian Whitmore, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council said. “The Russian war plan did not go according to plan, they failed to achieve their objectives as the war moves into its sixth week. But they’re clearly having logistics problems and they’re pulling back a bit.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian withdrawals from the north and center of the country were just a military tactic and that the forces are building up for new, powerful attacks in the southeast.

“We know their intentions,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. “We know that they are moving away from those areas where we hit them in order to focus on other, very important ones where it may be difficult for us.”

“There will be battles ahead,” he added.

Whitmore said that Russia is far from done with its invasion of Ukraine but is instead going to focus on the Donbas region to build a land bridge between Russia proper and the newly occupied territory.

“The original objective was for this blitzkrieg that the Ukrainians weren’t going to work in a fight and the Kyiv was going to fall like a house of cards very quickly in a matter of days,” Whitmore said on “Morning in America.” “Now Russia is kind of is changing its war plan. The troops need to be refitted, resupplied and regroup. They’re having logistics and supply and morale problems. The war plan is probably going to change now to focus on the Donbas region. Russia really would like to capture Mariupol and establish this land bridge between Russia proper and the occupied Crimean peninsula.”

The Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region of eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014 and have declared two areas as independent republics.

Russian forces have subjected both Chernihiv, a besieged city in northern Ukraine, and the capital of Kyiv to continued air- and ground-launched missile strikes despite Moscow saying Tuesday it planned to reduce military activity in those areas.

This comes amid an impressive military showing by Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka, south of Chernihiv and along one of the main supply routes between the city and Kyiv, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.

Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counterattacks to the east and northeast of Kyiv, the ministry said.

“Ukrainian forces are showing us that they are, they’re fighting one of the largest armies in the world to a standstill right now, which really says something about the Ukrainians,” Whitmore said. “Yes, they are armed to the teeth with U.S. and Western weapons. But nobody expected them to be able to do this. They’re fighting Russia to withdraw. Nobody saw this coming, including them.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

War in Ukraine

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