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«It's a betrayal!» The news of troops withdrawal from Kiev sparks indignation in Kremlin supporters and distrust in independent analysts

There seem to be significant developments in the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations. Russia has promised to significantly reduce its military activity at Kyiv and Chernihiv. For its part, Ukraine proposed an agreement not to resolve the Crimea issue militarily for 15 years. Prior to this, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed Russia was reconsidering its goals in the war and now intended to «focus on Donbass.» Political analysts interviewed by The Insider agree that Russia's move could be a political maneuver and that it will only be possible to draw any conclusions about a possible cease-fire after Russian troops stop bombing Ukrainian cities. Meanwhile, withdrawal of troops has yet to be seen on the front, our correspondent reports.

The main tasks of the «special military operation» have been completed, which allows us to focus on the main goal, the liberation of Donbass, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on March 29, appearing in public for the first time after a long absence, apart from a ten-second questionable appearance in a video filmed during a Security Council meeting on March 24. Shoigu's words were taken as a confirmation that Russia was reconsidering its goals in the war. In fact, the minister said nothing new; he only repeated verbatim the statement of Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Main Operative Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, who spoke on the same topic on March 25.

Shoigu: «In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been accomplished. The combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has been significantly reduced, which makes it possible to focus the most attention and the most efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.»
Rudskoy: «The combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has been significantly reduced, which allows us, once again, to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.»

Shortly after Shoigu's speech, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said following the Russian-Ukrainian talks that «a decision was made to drastically reduce military activity in the Kiev and Chernihiv areas. He was followed by the head of the Russian negotiating team, former Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, who said Russia had received proposals from the Ukrainian side for a peace agreement and was taking two steps towards Ukraine to de-escalate. According to him, Russia also received Ukraine's written proposals confirming its desire for a neutral and non-nuclear status.

For its part, the Ukrainian delegation spoke about international security guarantees for Ukraine: «The implementation of this treaty will proceed according to the following procedure: first an all-Ukrainian referendum, then ratification in the parliaments of the guarantor states and the Ukrainian parliament. As for Crimea, the Ukrainian side proposes to fix the position of Ukraine and Russia and to conduct negotiations on the status of Crimea and Sevastopol for 15 years. During this time, both sides will not resort to using their armed forces to resolve the Crimean issue. As for the territories of the self-proclaimed republics, those issues will be dealt with in a separate paragraph, which will be negotiated between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia. All the issues in dispute have already been more or less discussed,» says Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the presidential office.

Readers of RT's Telegram channel met Russia's statement with indignation: «Betrayal!», «how???? have you lost your mind?» etc:

At the same time, The Insider's correspondent reports from the scene that no Russian troops have yet been observed retreating from the front lines. «There is a rotation going on from the direction of Belarus, from Yelsk to Brest and to the north. In Yelsk, Russian troops are in the open. Further to the West, Russian conscripts with Republic of Belarus Armed Forces chevrons are sitting in Belarusian tanks. Moreover, the Russians started to arrive the night before yesterday,» he says.

Following Sergei Rudskoy's statement last week, Ukraine officials and Western experts began saying Russia would withdraw troops from the Kiev and Kharkov areas and move them to Donbass in the near future. «They realized they would not be able to seize the big cities, they announced the end of the first phase of the «special operation» and the beginning of the second phase, the «liberation of Donbass». They now have three tasks: to surround our troops in the Joint Forces Operation zone, to fully occupy Mariupol and to hold the South. If they lose Kherson, their entire Mariupol occupation will collapse. And that's it... There will be no seizure of Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa,» Oleksiy Arestovich, advisor to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, said at the time.

«According to military analysts, Russia has reformulated its military objectives in Ukraine so that it is easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a redemptive victory despite a deplorable campaign in which his army has suffered humiliating setbacks,» Reuters says.

Political analyst Pavel Luzin told The Insider there is no reason to trust Shoigu's words:

«We know that the original goals of the war were to destroy the Ukrainian state and install a puppet regime that would take further steps to integrate the country into some kind of a union state. It is clear that no puppet government is possible in the long term, so the goal was to bring all or most of Ukraine under control. If some enclave remained in western Ukraine, it would probably be fine. What the objectives are now, it's hard to say. There is clearly some bargaining going on inside the Russian government about the need to get out of the war somehow. Shoigu says he will focus on liberating Donbass, which means he will focus on expanding the DNR and LNR to the border of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Normally offensives are not announced in real time here. I believe this is probably not true. We need to judge by what they actually do. Missile strikes are being performed all over Ukraine. If you want to focus on Donetsk and Lugansk, why bomb Lviv and Lutsk? Why bomb Kyiv? Why are Russian troops in Kherson? Why are battles continuing in the Nikolayev region? If the focus of the operation shifts to a specific location, the rest will stop, but so far it hasn't happened.
Russia still has an opportunity to attempt a big second offensive to break Ukraine's will to resist and force it to beg for peace on terms that would be acceptable to Russia. And I see no signs Russia is going to stop.
The seizure of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is certainly a seizure of territory, and it will not lead to the lifting of the sanctions. If so, why would Russia limit itself to those territories? Russia will get ravaged territories from which the entire population will have fled. What good will it do? That's nonsense.
Maybe it's an attempt to save face, and an attempt on the part of the military to get through to the Kremlin, but I wouldn't pay much attention to it just yet. It coincides very well with the next round of negotiations in Istanbul, and it may just be a part of the psychological tactics for tiring out the enemy with promises of peace followed by nothing. It's a kind of psychological swing. You shouldn't believe anything until it is confirmed by deeds, until Russia withdraws troops or stops bombing.
As for the claims that Ukraine's air force and air defense system were destroyed, it is also debatable; some parts of them were destroyed, some were not. If the Russian air force had gained air supremacy, they probably would not have suffered any losses or those losses would have been minimal, there wouldn't have been planes and helicopters downed every day. It is clear that Shoigu cannot say, «You know, we bombed for a month but failed to finish the job.» It is clear that Ukraine has something left, but Shoigu cannot admit it for political reasons.
Negotiations are under way. Will they be able to agree on something? When we see the results, we can proceed from reality. If they stop bombing, we'll take that into account. If they stop bombing refugee convoys, we'll take that into account. But those words by Shoigu are nonsense. Who is Shoigu now? Is he some kind of a commander? He is in command of nothing. We haven't seen him for two weeks. He is not a military man in a normal sense, he is just a minister whose job is to control financial flows and the loyalty of the top brass, that is all. I see no point in listening to him anymore.»

Ukrainian military expert Oleg Zhdanov told The Insider that Shoigu's words were a political maneuver:

«This is a maneuver, more political than military. They are reverting to the original plan to launch a major strike on Donbass and break through our defense in the Joint Forces Operation zone. If they don't succeed in Donbass, the rest will collapse by itself, and Kyiv will simply be objective number two. Therefore, this is simply a disguise or a refocusing of the main effort to achieve the original goal. One must understand: the goal of this whole war is the destruction of Ukraine and the elimination of the Ukrainian nation. Putin does not accept the existence of the state of Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation. For him there is only the Russian world and the one nation, nothing else. That's why he started this war. No matter what they call it, the goal is still the same.»

Meanwhile, the Pentagon estimates that the latest maneuvers of the Russian army in eastern Ukraine show that the capture of Donbass has indeed become a priority for the Russian command. The most rapid advance has been observed in the Kharkiv region. Over the past weekend, Russian units crossed five kilometers deep into territories southeast of Izyum.

According to the US military, the focus on Donbass can be explained by three objectives:

  • The intention to cordon off AFU units in the area and prevent them from moving to other combat areas;
  • acquiring a powerful trump card for future negotiations;
  • a change in the overall military strategy as Russian troops still haven't made any attempts to attack Kyiv.

Now, according to the Pentagon, Russian troops are stationed 15-20 kilometers northwest and 55 kilometers east of the center of Kyiv.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military is already seeking to undo Russia's successes as Moscow shifts its focus to controlling parts of the country's south and east, The Wall Street Journal reports. On Sunday, March 27, they said they had pushed Russian troops out of Trostyanets in the northeast near the Russian border, potentially opening the way to the city of Sumy, which is surrounded by the Russian army. On Monday, Ukraine reported its military managed to regain control of the town of Irpen in the Kiev region. Western officials see signs that Russia is fortifying its position to resume its offensive, and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky called on the West to provide his army with heavier weaponry needed to fight the better-armed Russian military, the paper notes.

Kirill Budanov, head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate, said Sunday that Putin may try to impose the so-called Korean scenario on Ukraine, which consists in separating the occupied and unoccupied regions.

«After his failures at Kiev and his inability to overthrow Ukraine's central government, Putin is already shifting his main areas of operation to the south and east. There is reason to believe that he is considering a Korean scenario for Ukraine. That is, he will try to impose a dividing line between the unoccupied and occupied parts of our country. In fact, it is an attempt to create a North and South Korea in Ukraine. Because he is certainly not able to swallow the entire country,» he said.

Prior to the military invasion of Ukraine, Russia also announced the withdrawal of troops, justifying their presence at the border by exercises. As far back as February 15, Sergei Shoigu assured that units of the Western and Southern Military Districts were beginning to return from the exercises to their military garrisons, and that the remaining exercises would allegedly end soon. However, those statements turned out to be false, and on the night of February 24, Putin announced the start of a «special military operation,» whereafter Russia launched combat actions.

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