Biden: 'No evidence' Putin is pulling troops from around Kyiv

President Biden said Thursday that there is "no evidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled troops from positions around Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv.

"It appears so far ... the idea he is pulling all his troops out from around Kyiv and moving south, there's no evidence that he's done that," Biden said following an announcement that he was authorizing the United States to release 1 million barrels of oil per day, for six months, from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to alleviate rising gas prices.

Biden's comment echoed that of Defense Department spokesman John Kirby, who said Tuesday that Russian troop movements represented "a repositioning, not a real withdrawal." Biden said he remained highly skeptical of Putin's intentions.

"The question of whether he's pulling back his forces depends on how you read exactly what's going on. Thus far, there is no clear evidence that he's pulling all of his forces out of Kyiv," he said. "There is also evidence that he is beefing up his troops down in the Donbas area."

The president added, "I'm a skeptic, but I don't have proof that he's taking a pause."

President Biden takes a question at the White House.
President Biden at the White House on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg offered a similar view of Russian troop positioning.

"According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning," Stoltenberg told reporters on Thursday. "Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region."

Meanwhile, Biden appeared to slightly back away from reports Wednesday about declassified U.S. intelligence that concluded that Putin had been misled by his military advisers who feared reprisals for their critical views about how well the Russian military was performing in Ukraine.

Asked by a reporter the extent to which he believed Putin had been misinformed, Biden sounded much less certain than other members of his administration.

"That's an open question. There's a lot of speculation, but he seems to be — I'm not saying this with a certainty — he seems to be self-isolating, and there's some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers. But I don't want to put too much stock in that at this time, because we don't have that much hard evidence."

On Wednesday, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield offered a clearer assessment.

"We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth," Bedingfield told reporters.

While NATO and U.S. officials have noted the shift of Russian troops to the eastern portion of the country, Ukraine's state nuclear company said Thursday that Russian forces were reportedly leaving positions at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which they seized at the beginning of the conflict. Those troops were seen marching toward the border into Belarus, according to Ukrainian officials.