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Senior Defense Official Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing

Senior Defense Official (SDO): -- since I know the first question by Bob is going to be, "Give us an update," I'll do the best I can, and then -- I promise I'll go to you, Bob. But I'll do the --

Q: (inaudible) to what extent have they intensified their offensive, in what ways, since yesterday?

SDO: So let me answer by just letting you know, again, what we're seeing, broadly speaking.

So we continue to see Russia's invasion advance along those same three lines of axis that we talked about yesterday. We are also -- well, let me go back -- just one point.

On those three lines, the one towards Kyiv, we assess is going slower than the Russians had anticipated it going. They're meeting more resistance than they expected, but I don't -- I can't give you an exact geographic location of where they are, but they are not moving on Kyiv as fast as what we believe they anticipated they would be able to do. That said, they continue to try to move on Kyiv.

In the Kharkiv area, that second line of advance that we talked about yesterday, we assess that that continues to be contested; still fighting going on there. No additional airborne drops to speak to over the last 24 hours, but that area is still being fought over.

Then the third line of axis that we talked about was from the south towards Kherson on the river. We do assess that they are -- that they continue to move in that direction, but we also think, based on what we're seeing, that in addition to moving from Crimea on an axis towards the northwest, towards Kherson, that they are also splitting off some forces to go to the northeast, sort of in the direction of Mariupol and the Donbas region. So if there's a change from yesterday, it's that on the southern axis, they seem to be now wanting to move in two northern directions, northwest and northeast.

We -- there is a water plant and a dam north -- or upriver from -- from Kherson, I apologize if I get the pronunciation wrong, but Kakhovka -- hydroelectric power plant. It's K-A-K-H-O-V-K-A. It's a dam and a hydroelectric power plant that sits on the river and controls a lot of electrical power to Crimea and southern Ukraine. And we have indications that there -- that that power plant and that dam are being contested right now. We have indications that there have been Russian cyber attacks against that power plant, and even the physical presence of some Russian forces there. I do not know what the status is. I don't know how -- what -- I can't tell you whether it's been captured yet or not, or what the status is. We just -- I'm just giving you what the indications are that we have.

We also have indications now that an amphibious assault is underway to the west, on the Sea of Azov, to the west of Mariupol. And the indications are right now that the -- that they are putting potentially thousands of naval infantry ashore there. You know, we can't say with perfect prediction what they're going to do in terms of where they're going to go, but I think the general assumption is that they will move again towards -- towards the northeast, towards Mariupol and the Donbas region.

Q: (inaudible) --

SDO: Wait, hang on.

Q: (inaudible)?

SDO: No, west, west, not in the city.

So just in general, based on all the things that we've talked about and what we've seen over the last 24 hours, we do assess that there is greater resistance by the Ukrainians than the Russians expected. I'm not able to quantify that resistance for you. I'm just telling you what we're seeing.

Q: Is it greater than what the U.S. expected?

SDO: We -- we didn't -- it's not like we had an estimate in mind, Jen. We took the Ukrainians at their word that they were going to fight for their country and they appear to be fighting for their country. No, let me take that back. It's not that they appear to be fighting; they are fighting for their country.

We also assessed over the last 24 hours that in general -- and I just talked about the three lines of effort -- that in general, the Russians have lost a little bit of their momentum. They are not advancing as far or as fast as we believe they expected that they would do that. A good indicator of that is no population centers have been taken, none.

We also assessed that Russia has yet to achieve air superiority over Ukraine. Ukrainian air missile defense systems are still working. Though they were degraded by strikes, they still have air missile defense capability, including aircraft, not just missile defense, but they also have aircraft in the air that continue to engage and deny air access to Russian aircraft.

We do continue to observe missile launches, so we're meeting here at 10:38 in the morning, and what I can tell you now is that we have observed more than 200 total -- not 200 since last time we talked -- 200 total launches as of this morning. Again, it's a mix of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. Some of these missiles we have assessed have impacted civilian residential areas. I cannot tell you at this time what the casualties are, and I cannot tell you at this time whether those civilian residential areas were deliberately targeted. All I can tell you is we have seen that they have been impacted by some of these missiles.

Q: So those were both land-based and air-launched?

SDO: Correct.

Q: Any sea-launched?

SDO: They were as of yesterday, Jim. I don't know whether there were additional sea launches of cruise missiles today. I don't know. I'd have to check.

We are now aware -- and I talked about cyber attacks on the Kakhovka dam and power plant. We also are aware of cyber attacks, which we have to assume are coming from the Russian side; have now spread to some Ukrainian media websites. Public lines of communication still appear to be operational and accessible. Again, we don't have perfect attribution, but the running assumption is that this is being done by Russia, so --

That's really all I've got for an update, and we'll -- I'll do the best I can with your questions.

Q: I'd like to do a quick follow-up on this. So with this -- the resistance that you're describing by the Ukrainians, do you see the Russians bringing more of their forces into the -- into the fray? And are they adjusting in some other way?

SDO: Again, I want to be careful, just talking about, you know, Russian tactical adjustments. What I would tell you is that we assess that they have about a third of their combat power in Ukraine right now, so they have not -- they have not committed the majority of their forces inside Ukraine.

Q: A third of what was amassed?

SDO: A third of what was amassed -- a third of what was amassed we now assess is in Ukraine. I cannot give you an exact number of troops, what that equates to. I'm not going to give you an exact number of battalion tactical groups that that equates to.

We -- our assessment is about a third of the combat power that they had assembled to do this operation is now committed in Ukraine. That does not mean that they will not commit more. I'm just -- again, I'm just giving you a snapshot of what we're seeing right now.

Q: Thanks.

SDO: Yeah?

Q: -- give us some more clarity on (inaudible) modified (inaudible) airports, going back and forth. Any sense of what's going on there?

SDO: I don't have an update on the airports, I -- I truly don't. Helene?

Q: You said that you -- that Russia's not advancing as far or fast as we believe they expected to? How do we believe what they expected?

SDO: We have lots of indications of what we anticipated their expectations to be. I'll just leave it at that.

Q: So SDO, (inaudible) are these expectations based on -- initially on the total number of troops that were advanced upon Ukraine or does it take into consideration what you just said that (inaudible) the Russian troops haven’t been committed yet?

SDO: I -- again, I think the way I'd leave this, Fadi, is that, you know, we certainly had indications of what we thought they thought they were going to be able to do. And we continue to have indications that it's not going quite -- in the last 24 hours, quite the way that they had anticipated.

I would also remind -- and I know I don't need to do it with this particular press corps -- but there -- there's friction and fog in war, and it -- the situation could change and could change rapidly. I'm giving you a snapshot in time. I am not predicting, nor any of us could predict, what it's going to look like three, four, 24 hours from now. I'm just giving you a sense of where we are now.

They have and have continued to have at their disposal significant combat power of a combined arms nature. They are meeting resistance but they have a lot of power at their disposal. So we're -- I'm telling you what we're seeing now. I'm not going to make predictions about where it's going to go.

Q: And (inaudible) conversation that the Secretary had yesterday with Ukraine (inaudible)? It's been reported that (inaudible) Ukraine (inaudible) the Ukrainian forces outside of (inaudible).

SDO: I'm not going to read out the call any more specifically than I did. I have said repeatedly, we have said repeatedly that we're going to continue to look for ways to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

So the comments attributed to the Secretary in the phone call are perfectly consistent with the things that we've been saying.

Q: Including training for Ukraine's --

SDO: It's perfectly consistent with what we've been saying. Dan?

Q: Yeah, ust basically a follow on that. Is there any discussion of expanding the different kind of arms that might be delivered or anything like that?

SDO: I don't have any new decisions on security assistance to speak to and I think you could understand, given the situation that Ukraine is in right now, that we wouldn't be very public about talking about the details, the eaches of what the support to the Ukrainians might be.

Q: Yeah can I just ask generally, is the military assistance to Ukraine continuing right now?

SDO: I'm not going to talk about specific assistance that's -- that's being provided. Again, the -- they're in -- in a now nearly nationwide hot war and I think we have to be respectful of their operational security concerns.

I know that's not a satisfying answer, Nick, but it is as honest as I can be today.

Q: Can I ask you a couple of specifics on Kyiv? Beyond the airport, we've obviously seen a lot of strikes in Kyiv. Do you have any assessment of the increased targeting of the city of Kyiv itself, whether from land missiles or air missiles?

SDO: I would say that, by and large, they continue to -- the bulk of the targets continue to be military-related, targeting Ukrainian defensive capabilities, targeting their supply and logistics capability, targeting their air and missile defense, which, you know, over yesterday, included trying to hit aircraft on the ground and trying to -- to target the physical -- where -- they know physically where Ukrainian Armed Forces are located.

I would mention today, again, as we see it right now, that Ukrainian command and control is intact. Gordon?

Q: -- and then Ukraine -- Russian forces in Kyiv, around Kyiv, or Russian hybrid forces, which the Ukrainians are suggesting that --

SDO: I again, I want to be careful that I don't get into a blow-by-blow, in terms of what's happening inside the city right now. What I will tell you is that we believe that their momentum, particularly as it comes to Kyiv, has slowed a little the last 24 hours. They have not achieved the progress that we believe they anticipated they would.

But I'm really reticent to get into street-by-street locations and sort of where they are. I -- we don't have perfect visibility on that, just that we have a general sense, from what -- the things we're seeing, that they are not moving on Kyiv as fast as they anticipated doing. Gordon?

Q: Can you give us a snapshot of what's happening on the western border with Poland and the U.S. troops that are amassed at -- there, wherever they are exactly, prepared to potentially help fleeing Americans and others?

SDO: I would -- so first of all, we do not anticipate -- we have not seen the western part of Ukraine seeing much in terms of action by the Russians. So our view right now is that the western part of Ukraine remains largely undisturbed. EUCOM can give you a much better, cleaner sense of exactly where our troops are in Poland. I don't have a map of it for you. There are several, what they're calling, assembly areas that they're working to make fully operational, if -- in case there's a need to assist in evacuations.

Q: (Inaudible) or --

SDO: I don't know, Gordon, and I tried to find out before this session, but I don't have a number for you, like how many people they're seeing coming through, if any. So I'll try to get more clarity throughout the day but EUCOM is probably a better place to go for that. They're -- I know they're setting up several, what they're calling, assembly areas, to assist in case there's a need for evacuees, to help them on their way.

I would tell you, though, and you guys, I think, probably know this as well as we do because you can see with your own eyes -- that there's tens of thousands of people that are leaving the country, and specifically leaving the country into Poland. I'll let the Polish authorities speak to how they're handling that. That is -- it's their country.

We assess that over the last 24 hours of those tens of thousands, roughly several hundred were American citizens or dual nationals.

Now, Gordon), that doesn't mean that those several hundred went through 82nd Airborne assembly areas. They could have gone through and driven themselves to a hotel or an airport and gone on their way. I don't have that kind of level of detail.

Q: SDO, since (inaudible) is largely disturbed in the west, any missile strikes in the west?

SDO: I would just say largely undisturbed. I can't say perfectly, Tom  that there were no, or three, I don't have that level of fidelity. But our assessment is that the western part of the country has been largely undisturbed. That is as of 10:49 today, right. So again, snapshot in time here.

Jim, I've already gotten you. Let me just work around the room a little bit if I could. Yes, Matt?

Q: Thanks, SDO. Yesterday Jen Psaki said that the U.S. is in touch with President Zelensky. Is there any role for the U.S. offering support to -- for instance, if he were to want to get out of the country, is there any room for U.S. assistance in something like that?

SDO: That -- I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question. I mean, specifically we are --

(CROSSTALK)

SDO: I mean, we are -- the U.S. government is in touch with President Zelensky, there is good communication there. I'm not going to speculate about specific personal assistance that would be rendered and what that would look like. I'm not in a position to talk to that. Sylvie?

Q: Just a clarification, I'm not sure I understand properly. So you said a third of the -- the Russian combat power is committed to Ukraine?

SDO: Correct.

Q: So can you tell us, where are the two-thirds that are still not committed?

SDO: I don't have -- I'm not going to give you GPS coordinates - but they continue to have a significant array of power in the same places that they did before they launched this invasion, to the south, to the east and to the north, including in Belarus.

Q: They still have a lot of --

SDO: They do. They do.

Q: A couple of quick follow-ups, so is it fair to say that 50,000 Russian troops in Ukraine --

SDO: I'm not going to give you a number, Idrees, good try. 

Q: On this -- this American citizens, there are several hundred who have left Ukraine in the past 24 hours, is that accurate?

SDO: Our assessment is several hundred in the last 24 hours, but again that's just an assessment and it's changing over time.

Q: And on Chernobyl, have you seen Russian forces retake or take that?

SDO: I don't have an update on Chernobyl, I don't. In anticipation of that question, I asked. We simply don't have very tactile information about what's going on at Chernobyl. Barb?

Q: You mentioned command and control still largely intact, air defense -- they haven't lost their air superiority, if I'm getting this right. They haven't lost air superiority yet and there is resistance to the Russians. On those three things, is that -- and I realize it's relative and at a point in time, but when you talk about those, are you talking about on a nationwide basis or are you talking in some areas?

SDO: I'm talking about predominantly those three lines of axis where -- where the Russians are moving. I mean, you would expect that resistance would be where the Russians are, and that's where they are.

Q: Thank you.

Q: SDO, regarding the command and control still being functioning, the Ukrainian, it seems a little surprising maybe that the Russians haven't focused on -- on denying that and destroying that. Is there any explanation for what's -- why that's the case?

SDO: I couldn't speculate, I couldn't.

Q: So they haven't -- they have not fully used the cyber capability --

SDO: We believe that -- as I said yesterday, we haven't -- you know, we haven't seen a full scale effort in -- in electronic warfare.

Q: Thanks.

SDO: Jim?

Q: SDO, do you have more details on the troops that are deploying to Germany? And a second question on the F-35s that deployed to the Baltic (inaudible) side, are they flying missions now?

SDO: I don't have additional details on the troops that we talked about yesterday. They are still making final preparations to depart. They have not departed yet. You know, when they're on station and we can talk about that, we'll certainly do that. The F-35s that were going to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have arrived and have started to fly some missions. Yes?

Q: And the Apaches that were going there from Germany -- or going to the region from Germany --

SDO: I don't think they're completely on scene yet. I don't have a tick-tock update about -- there's, as you know, 32 of them. I don't know where each of them are but I don't believe that they're all on station yet. Kasim?

Q: SDO, can you say that have the Ukrainians used any of the Javelins against Russians? And is there any visibility of the effectiveness of --

SDO: I can't speak with certainty about what weapons they're firing and how they're using them. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense would have better information on that than we would.

Q: And also, Zelensky making a speech yesterday, said that he was left alone by the West to defend its country. Do you agree with that statement?

SDO: We have been very clear that we continue to stand with Ukraine. I think press reporting from yesterday's discussions with members of Congress, I think, should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that here at the Department of Defense, we're still looking for ways to assist Ukraine in its ability to defend itself.     Yeah?

Q: Putin urged the Ukrainian Army to overthrow the government in Kyiv. Do you have any concerns regarding the military leader -- leaders in Ukraine? Do you see any political role of the Army?

SDO: I -- look, they're fighting back. We're seeing signs of them fighting for their country and I think those actions speak volumes.

Q: Is -- can you -- is (inaudible), like, have any impact on the future of the U.S. security assistance to --

SDO: I -- you know, all I can tell you is where we are today, and where we are today is that we're -- continue to look for ways to help Ukraine defend itself. That's an honest answer, that's where we are, and I'm not going to speculate about the future. President Zelensky is the President of Ukraine and he still has command and control over his -- over Ukraine's Armed Forces. And as the Secretary made clear not only to members of Congress but to a whole bevy of allies and partners -- we read it all out to you last night -- that he spoke to that we're going to continue to look for ways to support them. Bob?

Q: Do you know whether the NATO Response Force was activated in this -- just today, at the summit meeting --

SDO: I don't have an update for you. You'd really have to talk to Brussels about that. Nick? 

Q: Can I give you a chance to zoom out a little bit again? Ben Wallace on the BBC, I think his phrase today was the Russians intend to invade the whole of Ukraine. You've obviously talked a lot about the U.S. assessment. Has anything changed or what is the U.S. assessment of the overall goal of the Russian --

SDO: Nothing's changed about our assessment from yesterday about what we believe their overall goals are.

Q: -- Wallace lied about "invade the whole of Ukraine"? That doesn't quite sound like what you're seeing right now, right?

SDO: Yeah, I can only speak for us and what we're seeing. We continue to believe that -- as I said yesterday, that Mr. Putin's designs are to eliminate the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and to literally change its governance, to remove the democratically elected government and to install his own, and that - nothing's changed about that.

If you're talking about geography, Nick), again, I would just go back to what I said before -- we have seen, right -- right now largely, the western part of the country has been undisturbed from a military perspective. But I'm sure to Ukrainians, none of Ukraine seems undisturbed. I'm just talking about from a military perspective. Tara Copp?

Q: Thanks, SDO. I wanted to ask about any visibility you still have above Ukraine, with either manned or unmanned aircraft. Are you still flying those sorties? And just to follow up on yesterday's question, have you seen any cyber -- additional cyber warfare or any movements with space assets that have put communications at risk? Thanks.

SDO: Do you mean U.S. communications?

Q: Or Ukrainian, by the Russians, to either jam or, I guess, reduce visibility for Ukraine or for the U.S., on what's happening in Ukraine?

SDO: On your first question, we are not -- we have no U.S. aircraft in Ukrainian airspace, none.

On your second question, I kind of -- I sort of touched on this earlier. We have seen some cyberattacks on media sites and some public communications -- some, not all. It's not all shut down. You guys know that better than me. And as I said earlier, we have seen some cyberattacks on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant and Dam just up river from Kherson, but that's what I can -- that's what I know and can speak to today.

As for communications, as I've said just a little bit ago, President Zelensky and his military leaders still have command and control over their Armed Forces.

SDO: Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. This is an extremely novice question, so I apologize. What are the U.S. troops that have been sent to Poland, Romania and the Baltics doing? Or perhaps I should better phrase it as are they doing anything right now?

SDO: Jeff, we've actually talked about this quite a bit. I'm happy to revisit it. They are conducting joint training with the host nations and they will continue to do that.

In the case of the aircraft, of the F-35s I talked about with Jim, they are up flying as well, and they're there to not only conduct training exercises with host nations and NATO allies, but also to look for ways to improve our interoperability. So there is physical work being done, but they're also there as a reassurance, to make sure that it's very clear to our allies and partners how seriously we take Article 5. That might sound like empty rhetoric. It might sound like fluff. I can assure you, having just come back from the trip with the Secretary that it is not; that our physical presence matters, and our willingness to commit additional physical presence matters to our allies. So they are absolutely being usefully employed.

And then of course, in Poland, in addition to all that stuff that they're doing, they are also making themselves ready to support Americans if they need support in -- in terms of finding -- follow-on transportation into or out of the region. Jack Detsch?

Q: Hey, SDO. We reported on concerns that inside the U.S. government, that arming the Ukrainian resistance could be viewed as escalatory. I'm wondering if there are any concerns about that at the department, should the Ukrainian government collapse.

DO: Again, I'm not going to get ahead of where we are, Jack, and where things are on the field of battle. I just, I don't think that's useful. I would just point back to what I've been saying before, which is we continue to look for ways to -- to best support the Ukrainians as they defend their country.

Q: (inaudible), just really quickly, is there -- are there any non-lethal plans to support the Ukrainians at this point, just aside from the lethal aspect?

SDO: We have continued to provide both lethal and nonlethal assistance. And again, we're going to be looking at ways in which both those types of support can be rendered in the future. Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hey, SDO. Unmuted here. Can you speak to the level of Russian losses? The Ukrainian defense minister this morning puts out a press release saying 2,800 Russian soldiers have been killed, 500 armored vehicles destroyed, 80 tanks destroyed. Roughly, even though we know casual -- the truth is the first casualty here, roughly, do you have anything backing those up? And to what extent are Javelins being used to destroy Russian tanks?

SDO: (inaudible) I'm just not going to talk to tactical details in terms of what weaponry is being used on -- and with what effect by the Ukrainians. As I said from the very outset of these sessions I'm having with you, I'm not going to be able to read out daily operations with that level of specificity, and that goes to an equally-unsatisfying answer to you on Russian casualties. I -- we cannot quantify what casualties either side has endured, other than to say that we certainly have seen reports of casualties in Ukraine and we have no reason to dispute that. But in terms of quantifying them, I -- I simply can't do that, and I don't believe we'll be able to do that. Joe Gould?

Q: Hey, SDO. Thank you. Two questions here. One, if I could just ask you if you can get a little bit more specific about the ways that the Secretary's looking at -- there's been some reporting that he -- that he's considering ways to train Ukrainian forces. And then two, as Congress looks at a potential supplemental, can you talk about the kinds of -- you know, the categories of money that, you know, that the Pentagon might be spending on these operations so far that Congress might be in a position to replenish? Thanks.

SDO: Yeah, I don't have an answer for you on the budgetary stuff. And I think I would leave my answer to you, the same one I gave to Dan, which is, you know, look, nothing that -- nothing that the Secretary briefed members of Congress last night is any different than what we've been saying for weeks now. We're going to continue to look for ways to support the Ukrainian armed forces, and to help them defend their country. I just don't have any more granularity to offer today. This is something that -- everything is unfolding, as you can see for yourselves, in real time. And so just like everybody else, we're having to make adjustments and to better refine our own knowledge. And so we're going to continue to look for ways to do that. I know it's not a great answer to you, but it's an honest answer. It's as far as we go right now. Jeff Seldin, VOA?

Q: Hey, thanks very much for doing this. To the extent that you can, are you seeing any signs that the Russian battle plan is or will be creating and weaponizing refugee flows, perhaps directing them to places that they think will create the biggest headaches for countries like Poland, and for NATO? And also, are you seeing any indications Russia is starting to use or gearing up to use irregular forces like the Wagner Group or pro-Russian militias? And with the militias, is there any concern about the extent that they may be connected to white supremacists or extremist movements like some of the ones that the U.S. has sanctioned?

SDO: Well, there's a lot there, Jeff. I don't -- it is of a piece of the Russian playbook to use these special groups. I don't have specific evidence to speak to that we know they are, but it would not be surprising if that turned out to be the case.

On the weaponization of refugees, we've already seen Belarus do that into Poland, and you heard the Secretary decry that quite publicly when we were in Warsaw last week. So that is certainly a continued potentially disturbing outcome here, but I don't have anything new in terms of developments there to speak to, or any new evidence that that's happening in the last, you know, couple of days. But we have seen the Belarusians be all too willing to weaponize innocent life in that regard. And again, we'll watch this closely.

I wanted to -- because I keep trying to get -- this was two questions ago, and when I got asked about casualties, and it's true. I can't give you an exact number, but I do think it's worth reminding that what we have said for a while now, that this is not going to be bloodless conflict. And while I can't give you exact numbers, we certainly don't think that it -- that it has been bloodless in just the last 24 hours; that there have been -- there has been loss of life, there have been casualties. And each and every one of them could've been avoided if Mr. Putin had taken advantage of the diplomatic options he still had available to him. His war, his choice, and these are on his hands, and I think that's important to continue to remember. Demetri from FT?

Q: Hey. Thanks, SDO. Can you confirm if Russian troops are currently in control of Hostomel Airfield outside Kyiv and whether the runway's actually operational? And then just a second question, if I can -- what is the U.S./NATO thinking in terms of finding new ways to supply small arms to Ukraine, given that the airspace is closed?

SDO: On the second question, we've kind of talked about this before, and are continuing to look for ways to provide security assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, knowledgeable, of course, that airspace is not an option. That's as far as I'm going to go. We've talked about this even yesterday. That's as far as I can go on that. And I can't give you an update on that airfield north of Kyiv. We know that there has been fighting over it, but again, that's asking for a level of tactical detail that we just simply don't have. Mike Brest, Examiner?

Q: Hi, thank you, SDO. During the end of the Afghan -- U.S. military's time in Afghanistan, we saw three lawmakers take trips to Afghanistan, which you spoke out against. Have you heard any indication of lawmakers trying to go to Ukraine or neighboring countries?

SDO: I don't have anything on that, Mike. I'm not aware of any, certainly none that -- that we're tracking here, in terms of congressional travel. I'd point you to members of Congress to speak to whatever travel they might be endeavoring, but I'm not aware of any. Any more in the room? Barb?

Q: Okay. Can I ask you, is the Pentagon, the Biden administration, are you looking at any possibility of some kind of -- or do you have an update on it -- a deconfliction mechanism with the Russians in airspace? Do you see any utility in doing that? Do you want to do that?

SDO: I don't have an update for you on a deconfliction mechanism.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Mr. President Biden (inaudible) Austin and General Milley about preparing more troops to deploy if needed. Have any more troops been put on PTDO since yesterday?

SDO: I don't have any updates since yesterday.

Q: (Inaudible) just to understand basically where we are now in this invasion -- yesterday, we're talking about the initial phase. Do you still believe we're still in that phase or do you think the Russians are basically increasing their pressure?

SDO: Yeah, again, without getting into a timeline here, I'm not going to brief their battle plans. We still believe that they are in what they would consider sort of initial phases. And as I said today, it appears as if their momentum has slowed in that initial phase.

Q: And one more -- should we expect major announcements today from the NATO meeting of --

SDO: You'd have to talk to NATO.

Q: Thanks, SDO. I wanted to seek your reaction yesterday to an incident that's captured a lot of attention. President Zelensky read out an attack on Snake Island, where there was some Ukrainian border guards killed. Audio from that has circulated widely, it's been authenticated. Basically, it's -- you know -- the border guards digging in and saying "Russian warships, go F yourself" shortly before they died. Just seeking a Pentagon reaction on that and where that fits in --

SDO: No, I mean, we're certainly in no position to dispute the account. It's -- I would say that, from our perspective, it's both gut-wrenching and inspiring and certainly reflective of what we have seen in the last 24 hours, which is the Ukrainians being willing to fight for their country and do so bravely. Yeah?

Q: (Inaudible) just moments ago, Putin was -- has threatened Finland and Sweden of having consequences if they lean toward joining NATO. Do you -- in the department, is there a concern that Ukraine is not the last target of Putin, and other nations in the East are going to be --

SDO: I have not seen these reports. Obviously, you guys are more connected than me, clearly, so I can't speak to that particularly. What I would just tell you is a couple of things. NATO is a defensive alliance, always has been, always will be. It's not a threat to Russia. Number two, Russia doesn't get to veto who becomes a member of NATO or not. Russian -- Russia's -- Russia doesn't get to tell a country who it's going to associate with or not. That is for that nation and for the alliance. And number three, as far as our concern about what Mr. Putin's doing, I think the proof is in the pudding and that is what we're doing, including yesterday, when the President announced additional troops to go to Europe from the United States to bolster our allies and to make clear to Mr. Putin, as the President has said, that we will defend every inch of NATO territory. Got time for just a couple more. Matt?

Q: Yeah, just real quick, if the NATO Response Force is activated, are those 7,000 that were announced yesterday heading to Germany? Is it possible that they would be pulled into NATO use?

SDO: Well, let's not get ahead of an announcement. As I said yesterday, some of the -- some of the units that we announced yesterday could very well be earmarked for NATO Response Forces, should those response forces be activated, but I don't want to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet. The only other thing I'd say Matt, is regardless of if or when NATO activates the Response Force, or the Very Ready Task Force, as they call it, it's the Secretary's intention, and that's why he put those 8,500 troops on accelerated PTDO stature -- posture, was to make sure that, if and when it happens, our contributions are going to be ready in the shortest amount of time possible.

Q: (Inaudible) it's more than 8,500?

SDO: Is it more than 8,500?

Q: Is it more than 8,500 that have been put on heightened alert for --

SDO: I have already spoken publicly that there have been additional PTDO orders given by the Secretary since that initial tranche, several thousand of them, but I don't have anything new today to speak to. I'll take one more. Wafaa?

Q: SDO, do you have an assessment of the damage posed to the civil infrastructure in Ukraine? Ukrainians -- the Ukrainians are saying that Russians -- Russia is targeting this civil infrastructure. And I remember you said that you don't believe the Russian wants to destroy -- like, they want a working capital (inaudible) --

SDO: Yeah, I won't speak to Russian intentions. All I can tell you is what we've seen. I talked about this dam and the hydroelectric power plant. That is clearly a piece of infrastructure that obviously the Russians are trying to affect. And that controls, as I said, the vast amount of power to Crimea and to Southern Ukraine. And I've already talked about what we've seen in the cyber realm on some but not all media communications and public communications. Outside of that, I don't really have any infrastructure things to  speak to, okay?

All right, everybody, thanks very much. I am -- I think the department's plan is to have an on-camera briefing this afternoon, so stay tuned for that.