A column of Russian armoured vehicles, with the USSR flag (Picture: Russian Ministry of Defence).
A column of Russian armoured vehicles (Picture: Russian Ministry of Defence).

Russian troops withdrawing and risk attack from Ukrainian forces, UK military chief says

A column of Russian armoured vehicles, with the USSR flag (Picture: Russian Ministry of Defence).
A column of Russian armoured vehicles (Picture: Russian Ministry of Defence).

Russia's bid to take all of Ukraine during its invasion looks to have "fallen apart" as Vladimir Putin's troops retreat away from Kyiv, the head of the UK military has said.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said the Russian president had been "misled" about the effectiveness of his country's armed forces, with "early indications" suggesting Moscow was withdrawing troops – a move that has opened them up to counter-attacks by Ukrainian defenders.

In a speech and follow-on question-and-answer session at an Institute for Government (IfG) event, the Chief of the Defence Staff said Mr Putin was a "weaker and more diminished figure today" than he was before the invasion started on 24 February.

He announced that the UK was "incredibly cautious" about believing Russian claims of ground troops withdrawing from Kyiv but said there did appear to be signs the Kremlin was preparing to focus its efforts on the east and south of Ukraine.

Sir Tony said: "I think we are seeing that Russia's ambitions to take Kyiv and Russia's ambitions to take the whole of Ukraine, and do that in a very swift and impressive fashion, those ambitions have fallen apart.

"And it looks now that less emphasis is being placed on Kyiv and more emphasis is being placed on the east and the south.

"We are starting to see the early indications of those forces being moved back from Kyiv and retreating to both Russia and Belarus.

"That, in itself, is a difficult evolution for Russia because they are doing that under contact, so Ukraine armed forces will attack those Russian forces as they retreat."

Sir Tony's comments come after the Ministry of Defence (MOD), in its latest intelligence assessment, said "significant Russian shelling and missile strikes" had continued around Chernihiv – which lies between Kyiv and Belarus – despite the Kremlin stating it would de-escalate fighting in the area.

The department predicted "heavy fighting" would continue to take place in the Kyiv suburbs in the coming days.

The MOD said that while the city centre of Mariupol, the besieged southern port which has been a key target for Moscow's forces, remains under Ukrainian control, it is coming under fierce attack.

During his opening remarks on Thursday, British military chief Sir Tony said the coming weeks would "continue to be very difficult" for Ukraine before adding: "But in many ways, Putin has already lost.

Watch: Putin's 'misjudgements' must be 'crystal clear to the regime', GCHQ chief says.

"Far from being the far-sighted manipulator of events that he would have us believe, Putin has damaged himself through a series of catastrophic misjudgements."

He added: "Like all authoritarians, he allowed himself to be misled as to his own strength, including the effectiveness of the Russian armed forces.

"What is very clear is that Putin is a weaker and more diminished figure today than he was a month ago.

"And, conversely, NATO is stronger and more united today than at any time I can remember."

Sir Tony, who replaced General Sir Nick Carter in the top military job late last year, would not say whether he believed the Russian armed forces were in mutiny.

He instead said there was "disquiet at all levels" of Moscow's military.

He branded it "insane" and "morally bankrupt" that Russian officers, according to Western intelligence, had led troops into battle without informing them that an invasion had been ordered.

The Kremlin's plans "haven't gone well" and the way senior commanders had prosecuted the invasion "looks to us like it has been very poorly conducted", Sir Tony added.