Hope fades for resolution as Russia orders fresh strikes

Any potential hopes for an impending resolution to Russia’s war in Ukraine faded on Wednesday as Russian strikes were reported in areas where Moscow suggested the day before it would scale back those offenses.

The White House viewed the Russia declaration with a high dose of skepticism and was therefore not surprised by the fresh attacks reported near the northern cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv. Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian officials have been meeting in Turkey for peace talks, but those conversations have yet to yield any breakthroughs. 

Russia has sent mixed messages about its intentions over the last 24 hours, further fueling doubt over whether any breakthrough is imminent in its assault, which is about to enter its sixth week. 

The war has left thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead, spawned a growing refugee crisis, and triggered crushing Western sanctions that have decimated the Russian economy. 

The Pentagon said that Russia has started to move some troops away from Kyiv, but said those forces would likely be redeployed to other areas — signaling a shift in Russia’s strategy as it endures heavy losses.

President Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday for nearly an hour. The two men discussed the latest negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, and Biden pledged continued humanitarian, economic and military assistance.

The White House has thus far not gotten involved in talks between Ukraine and Russia, instead leaving it up to other European leaders to deal directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“We are not negotiators in that process. We are obviously in close contact with the Ukrainians as they work through this process,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters on Wednesday.

“Again, our role is to do everything we can to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield… and also to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table by continuing to apply incredibly severe costs and sanctions on Russia.”

The New York Times reported that the Kremlin’s top negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, suggested on state television that Ukraine was making key concessions about neutrality. But just hours earlier, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the talks in Istanbul had not produced anything promising.

Meanwhile, the Institute for the Study of War said that the Russians have not abandoned attacks on Kyiv, despite their declarations. It assessed that the Russian military “have given up on encircling or seizing Kyiv at this time.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that Russia has started to move less than 20 percent of its troops around Kyiv away from the city in the last day, including sending some to Belarus. The Pentagon’s assessment, he said, is that Russia will refit the troops and then deploy them in other areas of Ukraine. 

“We have seen none of them reposition to their home garrison,” Kirby said. “If the Russians are serious about de-escalating because that’s their claim there, then they should send them home. But they’re not doing that, at least not yet.” 

Analysts and officials say that the Russian military has underperformed in Ukraine and faced serious resistance.

Biden administration officials have revealed that U.S.intelligence has assessed Putin feels “misled” by the Russian military and that military officials “misinformed” him about how poorly Russian forces are doing on the battlefield. 

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, said the Russians have “failed totally” in their original plan of trying to capture Kyiv and other cities. He predicted the Russians would return to where they have the most advantages to try to solidify the territory they control and intensify attacks on Mariupol to try to strengthen their negotiating position. 

Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether peace talks can make any progress. Ukraine said Tuesday that it would adopt a neutral status, forgoing its desire to join NATO, if given security guarantees. 

Experts and lawmakers have said any talks of a ceasefire from Russia should be approached with a degree of skepticism given the Kremlin’s track record.

“I wouldn’t trust anything Vladimir Putin suggests,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “If I was President Zelensky, I would keep fighting as ferociously as they have been fighting until such a time that Putin himself proposes something that’s acceptable to Zelensky. In my view, that should be nothing short of withdrawal, full withdrawal from the country.”

Hodges argued that the U.S. needs to provide Ukraine with more military assistance to push out the Russians, including the means to destroy Russian long-range rockets and artillery and bolster their air and missile defense capability. Without more urgency on the part of the U.S., he said, “this can last forever.” 

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