The West must prepare for a second cold war with Russia or face the prospect of a third world war, a former senior British Army officer has warned.
On Wednesday, Moscow ordered one of the biggest retreats of of the Ukraine war, as it withdrew its forces from Kherson - the only major city to have fallen to Russian troops.
Although Kyiv has remained publicly wary - warning that fleeing Russians could turn Kherson into a "city of death" - the move is being widely regarded as a significant military failures for President Putin.
The withdrawal came on the same day that the Russian foreign ministry said it was "open to negotiations" and followed reports that the US has held high level talks with Moscow about the nuclear risk in Ukraine.
However, a retired senior British Army officer has urged Western allies to ignore any Russian calls for a peace settlement. Major General Sir Richard Shirreff said the withdrawal does not signal hopes for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine – and warned that the West must not fall into the trap of believing a peace settlement is on the cards.
Shirreff told Times Radio: Assuming the Russians are withdrawing… it’s a major humiliation for Putin and it’s a strategic victory for Ukraine…
“But make no mistake – Putin’s longer term aims will be to continue the war and to rebuild the Russian empire and wipe Ukraine off the map.”
Shirreff said of any proposed negotiations to bring an end to the war: “All it will do is allow Russia... to have another go. We are going to have to fight a second cold war to prevent a third world war.
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"Any hint of negotiation is exactly what Putin wants."
Shirreff has previously stated that a “new cold war” had already started, warning Western leaders to prevent it from escalating.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in March, Shirreff said: “There has to be a recognition that there will be no peace in Europe while Putin is in the Kremlin.
“In Ukraine the war has gone hot.
“The task for the Nato summit today is to ensure that the necessary measures are put in place to prevent that war going hot in the rest of Europe, so we’re now in a new cold war.”
On Wednesday, America's top general, Mark Milley, said that the early refusal to negotiate in World War One had compounded human suffering and led to millions more casualties.
"So when there's an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved ... seize the moment," he said.
Putin’s humiliating withdrawal from Kherson, a key Ukrainian city, is expected to be presented by the Kremlin as a humanitarian evacuation rather than a military retreat.
But one Western official told the PA news agency that the move will result in “another uptick in pointed criticism of Russian national leadership”.
The assessment comes as one former Putin ally – the head of the notorious Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin – stepped up his criticism of the Russian leader.
In a statement earlier this week he pointedly praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – who is routinely denounced by Moscow as a neo-Nazi drug addict – as a “strong and confident leader”.
Officials said the Russians were running “critically short” of munitions for the war – including artillery shells with additional supplies even being sought from North Korea.
“Without the guns and rocket launchers being fired everything else is grinding to a halt,” one official said.