Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby (L) told reporters Wednesday that they believe Russia is not withdrawing troops from Kyiv as Moscow said it was doing but planning to redeploy them elsewhere in Ukraine. File photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE
March 30 (UPI) -- In the last 24 hours, a small percentage of Russian troops surrounding Kyiv have started to relocate northwest of the besieged city, in a move the Pentagon described as a "repositioning" to deploy them elsewhere in Ukraine.
The amount of troops and the battalion tactical groups relocating is less than 20% of those that were deployed around the capital city, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday during a regular press conference with reporters, stating some of them are repositioning into Belarus.
"They are beginning to reposition," he said.
The comment came after Russia said it has agreed to "reduce military activity" around Kyiv and Chernihiv, two cities that have been bombarded over the last few weeks of the war.
Kirby said despite the movement of troops the Pentagon still assess the cities have been targets of military artillery and missile strikes, and that they believe the troops that have been moved are to be refitted, resupplied and redeployed elsewhere though they have yet to see this process begin.
"We have seen none of them reposition to their home garrison, and that is not a small point," he said. "If the Russians are serious about deescalating -- because that's their claim here -- then they should send them home, but they aren't doing that, at least not yet."
The Pentagon has also seen Russia intensify its focus on the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine as it attempts to control more area of the the separatist-held territory.
Kirby said the Russian military has prioritized Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv for airstrikes in the north, Mariupol in the south and Donbas in the east.
For Donbas, the Pentagon believes Russia has deployed about 1,000 military contractors of the Wagner Group.
The contractors have been used by Russia since annexing Crimea eight years ago and has experience in this area, Kirby said, stating it highlights the difficulty Russia has had in its war.
"We think it's a reflection of the very tough fighting that continues to go on there in the Donbas and Mr. Putin's desire to reinforce his efforts there," he said.
Kirby also addressed reports of White House officials stating Putin has been misinformed by his military advisors, saying he didn't want to reveal intelligence information but the Pentagon agrees with that assessment.
"We would concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin has not been fully informed by his ministry of defense at every turn over the last month," he said.
Putin being misinformed about his military is of concern to the United States and its European allies as it could impede negotiations on ending the war.
"It's his military. It's his war. He chose it," Kirby said. "And so the fact that he may not have all the context, that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine -- that's a little discomforting, to be honest with you."
"And it's certainly one outcome of that could be a less than faithful effort at negotiating some sort of settlement here," he said. "If he's not fully informed of how poorly he's doing, then how are his negotiators going to come up with an agreement that is enduring and certainly one that respects Ukrainian sovereignty."
Ukrainian service members stand beside a damaged building in a residential area after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo