Ukrainian forces have continued to hold off Russian attempts at invading the Ukraine capital of Kyiv by about 15 km to the northwest and about 30 km to the east in the past 24 hours, according to a senior Defense Department official, who added there have been "no real changes by the Russians on the ground near Kyiv," in a briefing today.
The official said the United States assesses the Russians have launched more than 1,100 missiles since they invaded Ukraine 27 days ago on February 24.
The Russians are coming down out of Kharkiv, Ukraine, toward Izium, to the southeast of Kharkiv which is believed to be an attempt to cut off the joint force operations area that's basically the Donbas, he said. "That's one reason — not the only reason — why we think [the Russians] are so interested in Mariupol; so they can come up from the south and down from the north from Izium," where the Ukrainians are fighting hard to take back the city from the Russians, he added.
"We observed over the last 24 hours that the Russians have likely been firing into [Mariupol] from the Sea of Azov," the official said. "Just to the south of Mariupol, we assess that they've got about [seven] ships in the Sea of Azov and we think some of them — at least the surface combatants … have been shelling into Mariupol and that wasn't the case yesterday."
Not all of those seven ships are surface combatants, he said, adding that a minesweeper is amid the fleet with a couple of tank landing ships. A change from yesterday.
"We continue to observe a number of Russian forces inside the city. We think at least some of them are separatist forces that came from Donbas, and the Ukrainians are fighting very hard to keep Mariupol from falling," the official said.
There has also not been much change in the airspace, he said. "[We] did not observe shelling of Odesa from the Black Sea over the last 24 hours, but we still assess that they have several warships that are in the northern Black Sea. [It's] like all maritime environment — it changes, so I can't say with certainty that it's the same number of ships, or that they're in the same location as they were yesterday."
But the United States assesses naval activity in the northern Black Sea and no indication there is an imminent amphibious assault on or near Odesa, he added.
Today, DOD has assessed for the first time that the Russians might be slightly below a 90% level of assessed available combat power, the official noted, emphasizing that number comprises Russian combat power assembled in Belarus prior to the invasion in Ukraine, and it is not an assessment of all Russian military power.
There also are no tangible indications of Russian reinforcements coming in or foreign fighters that have flown into the country, he said, adding, "We do assess the Wagner Group [Russian mercenaries] is active in Ukraine [and] we think that activity is largely in the Donbas area."
"[But] we do continue to see indications that [the Russians] are having these discussions about reinforcements and foreign fighters and they are making those kinds of plans, both in terms of resupply and also reinforcement. It's just that we haven't seen that actually take place," the official said.