Kyiv still being ‘pounded’ by Russian strikes despite ‘nice rhetoric’: senior US defense official

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Kyiv continues to be pummeled by Russian airstrikes despite claims from Moscow that it would amuse troops from the capital city amid peace talks with Ukraine, the senior US defense official said Thursday.

Russian defense officials said this week they would move troops away from the capital city of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust” in its peace talks with Ukraine.

But the US and Ukraine have voiced extreme skepticism about Russia’s true intentions.

Ukrainian soldiers carry a body of a civilian killed by Russian forces under a destroyed bridge in Irpin near Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 31, 2022.

Ukrainian soldiers carry a body of a civilian killed by Russian forces under a destroyed bridge in Irpin near Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 31, 2022.
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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“That’s very nice rhetoric,” the senior defense official told reporters Thursday. “But it doesn’t mean that Kyiv is under any less threat from the air – it continues to get pounded.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that the US estimates Russia has “repositioned” roughly 20% of its ground forces around Kyiv.

But Kirby also warned that US security officials believe this is a tactic to “refit” these troops with new supplies and position them elsewhere in Ukraine.

The official senior defense could not confirm what Russia’s plan is for the Donetsk region as speculation has risen that Moscow will focus its forces on eastern Ukraine after failing to make significant advances in other strategic parts of the war-torn nation.

Russian ground forces have been stalled around the capital city for weeks following Moscow’s invasion five weeks ago, and Ukrainian forces have made advances by pushing Russian troops back from cities in the north and south.

Volunteers and soldiers collect bodies of civilians killed by Russian forces at a destroyed bridge in Irpin, near Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 31, 2022.

Volunteers and soldiers collect bodies of civilians killed by Russian forces at a destroyed bridge in Irpin, near Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 31, 2022.
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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But its inability to make ground advances has meant Russia has increasingly relied on missile strikes to hit not only military targets but civilian shelters.

More than 1,400 missiles have been launched since the start of the invasion, including more than 300 strikes Wednesday.

The US has pledged more than $2.5 billion in security and humanitarian aid, but Washington has faced some criticism for providing military defensive equipment too slowly.

“There’s nothing slow about the pace,” the senior US security official said Thursday.

A damaged building is seen amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022.

A damaged building is seen amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022.
(REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn)

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The official said that the US has been sending aid to Ukraine at “unprecedented” speeds and pointed to an announcement earlier this month when President Biden approved $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine – then bringing the total amount of aid provided to $2 billion.

“That $800 million was signed out on the 16th of March. The executive order was released the very next day, and the first delivery arrived on the 20th. Just four days after the President signed it,” the senior defense official said. “Never been done that fast.”

Kiyv, Chernihiv, Izyum and the Donbas region continue to be hit with heavy Russian shelling.

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