Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Officials skeptical Russia reducing military campaign

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Washington is skeptical after Russia announced that it would reduce its military campaign in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv. 

More on that, plus a reported hours-long gap from White House records given to the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.   

For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Write to me with tips at jwilliams@thehill.com.  

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Russia says it will scale back military campaign 

Russian state media reported earlier Tuesday that Moscow would “drastically reduce military activity” near the capital Kyiv and Chernihiv near the Belarus border.  

The developments fueled some tepid optimism that Russia’s nearly five-week assault on Ukraine could be winding down in some places.  

It also comes as negotiations between Russia and Ukraine picked up this week in Turkey.  

Really a ‘repositioning:’ In response to the developments from the Kremlin, Pentagon press secretary said that Russia was really “repositioning” those troops.  

“We ought not be fooling — and nobody should be fooling ourselves by the Kremlin’s now recent claim that it will suddenly reduce military attacks near Kyiv or any reports that it’s going to withdraw all of its forces,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. 

“We believe this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine. It does not mean the threat to Kyiv is over,” he added. 

Biden not convinced yet: President Biden expressed skepticism at the announcement, saying “we’ll see” when asked about the developments.  

The president acknowledged that negotiations between Russia and Ukraine picked up this week in Turkey and noted that the subject came up during a call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom earlier Tuesday morning.   

“There seems to be consensus that let’s just see what they have to offer. We’ll find out what they do,” Biden said. 

Possible cease-fire talks begin: Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia held their first face-to-face talks in two weeks on Tuesday in Turkey to discuss a possible cease-fire as well as Ukraine security guarantees. 

Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s top negotiator, said Ukraine presented “a clearly formulated position from Ukraine.” He also added that “the possibility of making peace will become closer,” the news outlet noted. 

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken was skeptical of the talks.  

“I would leave it to our Ukrainian partners to characterize whether there is any genuine progress and whether Russia is engaging meaningfully,” Blinken told reporters, according to CBS News. 

“What I can say is this: There is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter. And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people. And that continues as we speak.”   

 

White House logs show gap in Trump phone records 

White House logs that were given to the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol have a gap of more than seven hours in former President Trump’s phone records on Jan. 6, 2021, documents obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News reportedly show. 

The news outlets reported that the gap in Trump’s communications stretches from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. on the day of the attack, contradicting reports on several phone calls Trump had during that time period.   

Two unidentified sources told the Post that the committee is looking into whether Trump used his aides’ phones, a disposable phone or used back channels to communicate with others on Jan. 6. 

Who was called?: Phone conversations that reportedly occurred with Trump during the gap of 7 hours and 37 minutes gap include conversations with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), whom Trump called in order to get in touch with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), the Post noted.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped a question on reports that he declined a call from Trump on Jan. 6. The Post reported that the then-president called McConnell that day, based on internal records.  

“I’ve said repeatedly the last time I spoke to the president was the day after the Electoral College declared President Biden the winner. I publicly congratulated President Biden on his victory and received a phone call after that from President Trump, and that’s the last time we’ve spoken,” McConnell said when asked why he did not take Trump’s calls the day of the Capitol riot. 

Pressed on if he tried to call Trump back that day, McConnell said, “I just answered your question.”  

A burner phone? “I have no idea what a ‘burner phone’ is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term,” Trump said in a statement Monday, referring to a disposable phone.  

However, one unidentified lawmaker on the Jan. 6 panel told the Post the White House could have engaged in a “possible coverup” of the records, with another source saying the gap is of “intense interest” to several lawmakers.  

Raskin ‘curious’ about the gap: Jan. 6 House committee memberRep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” that he is “very curious” about the reported gap.   

“I’m very curious about these sudden and very long gaps in the record of phone calls,” Raskin said. “You know, one possibility when a gap like this exists is that the president or whomever we’re looking at is using a different phone.”  

“That could be a different office phone number. Then we have it could be a burner phone, for we all know. There’s the possibility that somebody is deliberately suppressing the release of these materials. We just don’t know and that’s something we want to look to,” he added. 

 

GENERAL: US NOT ‘CURRENTLY’ TRAINING UKRAINIAN FORCES IN POLAND 

The head of U.S. European Command said Tuesday that the U.S. is not “currently” training Ukrainian forces in Poland, a day after President Biden appeared to imply that Washington was doing so.  

“I do not believe that we are in the process of currently training military forces from Ukraine in Poland,” Gen. Tod Wolters, who is also NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. 

Who said we were? During a trip to Poland on Friday, Biden appeared to suggest that American troops would be in Ukraine when he told troops there that “you’re going to see when you’re there,” referring to how the average Ukrainian citizen was fighting for their country amid Russia’s invasion.  

On Monday, Biden was asked about implying that American forces would be in Ukraine, the president said, “you interpret the language that way,” adding that he was talking about “helping train the troops — the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland.” 

He followed up by saying that he was referring to “being with and talking with the Ukrainian troops who are in Poland.” 

White House pressed again: White House communications director Kate Bedingfield was asked if Biden accidentally revealed US troops were training Ukrainians. 

“The troops that he met with in Poland routinely interact with Ukrainians,” Bedingfield said. “That is something that’s known. That is in no way revealing compromised information.”  

 

 

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That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

Tags Adam Smith Antony Blinken Donald Trump James Clapper Jamie Raskin Joe Biden John Kirby Kate Bedingfield kathleen hicks Kevin McCarthy Mike Lee Mike Rogers Mitch McConnell

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