Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said that despite talks between Russia and Ukraine, the situation in the Donbas region and southern Ukraine “remains extremely difficult” with Russia focussing military operations in the separatist regions of the country.

The 44-year-old, in his nightly video address on Thursday, said that Russian forces were “trying to figure out how to consolidate their presence there [in Donbas],” while “accumulating the potential for strikes” in the region, and near the besieged cities of Mariupol in the south and Kharkiv in the northeast.

Zelensky had earlier expressed his mistrust of Russia, and had called ongoing talks between the two sides “only words,” vowing that Ukrainian defence forces would fight for “every metre of land” till Russia forces withdraw.

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Zelensky’s comments echo that of Pentagon press secretary John Price, who also said on Thursday that it was “clear the Russians want to reprioritize their operations in the Donbas area.”

Even NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday had said, “Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities,” giving an update on NATO’s assessment of the situation in Ukraine.

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Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Defence, earlier on Wednesday, had hinted that troops would re-focus on Donbas, with spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov saying that Russian forces were regrouping and rallying to “intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas.”

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Donbas has remained a hotly contested and highly militarised region, with the armed rebels of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic backed by Moscow.