Russia starts moving a fraction of its forces around Kyiv, Pentagon says

Ukrainian capital still being attacked by air and ground strikes

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. AP
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Russia has started to reposition under 20 per cent of the forces arrayed around Ukraine's capital Kyiv, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, but cautioned Moscow was expected to refit and resupply them for redeployment into Ukraine, and not bring the forces home.

Russian forces bombarded the outskirts of the capital Kyiv and the besieged city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine on Wednesday, a day after Russia said it would scale down military operations in both cities in what the West dismissed as a ploy to regroup by invaders suffering heavy losses.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said some of the Russian forces may have already moved into Belarus, as opposed to their home garrisons.

"They are leaving Kyiv and heading more towards the north, away from the city," Mr Kirby told Pentagon reporters.

Troops leaving the area included some of those around Chernihiv along with those fighting near the town of Sumy, he said.

He added that Kyiv was still being attacked by air and ground strikes.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said some Russian troops were also leaving from near the Chernobyl power station. It was not clear if the troops leaving were departing the exclusion zone around the plant or the surrounding towns.

Military analysts say Russia has reframed its war goals in Ukraine in a way that may make it easier for Moscow to claim a face-saving victory despite a woeful campaign in which the Russian army has suffered humiliating setbacks.

Mr Kirby added that Russian contractor Wagner Group had deployed about 1,000 personnel into Ukraine's Donbas region, which Moscow has declared a priority.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in the past that Wagner and other private groups neither represent the Russian state nor are paid by it, though he says they have a right to operate provided they do not break Russian law.

The European Union imposed sanctions on Wagner last year, accusing it of fuelling violence, looting natural resources and destabilizing countries around the world.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Updated: March 31, 2022, 1:06 AM