Russia’s pledge to scale back some military operations in Ukraine drew skepticism even as the two nations planned to return Wednesday to talks that could produce a framework for ending the war that has imposed an increasingly punishing toll.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there was no reason to believe Russia’s announcement that it would reduce military activity near Kyiv, the capital, as well as in the northern city of Chernihiv, given what’s happening on the ground.
"Ukrainians aren't naive," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, reacting to Russia's promise that it would scale down military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.
The pledge came after peace talks began on Tuesday between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul.
But a sceptical Zelensky said that while initial signs from the talks were "positive", they do not "drown out" the explosions of Russian shells.
Other countries also reacted with caution.
US President Joe Biden said, "I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are." US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was a difference between what Russia says and does.
Leaders from UK, France, Germany and Italy too have urged the West not to drop its guard against Russia.
"They agreed there could be no relaxation of Western resolve until the horror inflicted on Ukraine is over," they said, according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office.
The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces says the Russian withdrawal pledge is designed to mislead.
In a daily operational update posted to Facebook, the general staff said Russian units were continuing to move away from both Kyiv and Chernihiv. Russia has already said it will now focus on operations in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukraine's military believes the withdrawals "are probably a rotation of individual units" aimed at misleading Ukraine's military leadership and creating a "misconception" about the meaning of their deployment.
The update echoes statements made by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who said the threat to Kyiv remained despite Russian troop movements away from the city.
Additionally, the update noted that the enemy continued to "fire and storm" near Donetsk, in the east.
Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has said that Russia's focus on an offensive in the Donestk and Luhansk region is a "tacit admission" that it is struggling to maintain more than one axis of advance.
Units which have suffered heavy losses have been forced to return to Russia and Belarus to resupply and reorganise which has placed pressure on "Russia’s already strained logistics", it says. It added that Russian forces will likely compensate for reduced ground manoeuvre capability through mass artillery and missile strikes.
Western officials say Moscow is now reinforcing troops in the Donbas in a bid to encircle Ukraine’s forces. And Russia’s deadly siege in the south continues, with civilians trapped in the ruins of Mariupol and other devastated cities. The latest satellite imagery from commercial provider Maxar Technologies showed hundreds of people waiting outside a grocery store amid reports of food and water shortages.
“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.”