The Russian troops stationed near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv are being regrouped to focus on the “main goal” of the special military operation: Donbass, the Kremlin said.
“In the directions of Kyiv and Chernihiv, a planned regrouping of troops is taking place,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
“The purpose of regrouping or Russian armed forces is to focus on key fronts and first of all to complete [the] operation of total liberation of Donbass,” he added.
Pentagon confirmed the move of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.
Russia has started to reposition under 20 percent of the forces arrayed around Kyiv, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
The Russian troops may have moved into Belarus in preparation for redeployment instead of being sent back to their home garrisons, he said.
Kirby also told a news briefing Russian contractor Wagner Group had deployed about 1,000 contractors into Ukraine’s Donbass region.
It indicates that the Kremlin is carrying out the previously announced redeployment plan and reinforcing forces in the Donbass area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 which the Kremlin called “a special military operation.”
The United Nations said that as of March 29, 1,179 civilians have been killed and 1,860 injured in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion and over 4 million people have fled Ukraine.
The two sides appeared to make some progress after weeks of talks, though Moscow denied there were breakthroughs.
However, there are several hurdles that still have to be cleared before a potential ceasefire deal.
Ukraine is seeking a territory security guarantee from the United States, Great Britain, France, China, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Germany, Canada, Italy, Poland, and Israel.
It’s unclear how many countries will opt-in for this arrangement.
The two countries are also still disputing the arrangement of Donbass and Crimea.
Ukraine proposed to set these two areas aside in the ceasefire deal, exclude them from the territory security guarantee mechanism, and try to solve the issue through further negotiations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Ukraine understood that the issues of Crimea and Donbass “have been permanently resolved,” Russian state media RT reported.
Lavrov’s remarks were rebutted by a spokesperson from his Ukrainian counterpart.
“Lavrov demonstrates [a] misunderstanding of the negotiation process. The issues of Crimea and Donbas will be settled for good after Ukraine restores its sovereignty over them,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko wrote in a Twitter post. “During the talks in Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation presented its proposals on how to achieve this goal.”
Reuters contributed to the report.