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Senior Defense Official Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL (SDO): Good morning, everybody. It's SDO, sorry to be a couple minutes late here, spent the last five minutes just trying to figure out how to use the phone system and dial the 10 different numbers that needed to dial to get in here. Before I go in with the sort of situational update as we see it, I know that the first question I'm going to get asked is about this order by Mr. Putin to change his nuclear posture. We -- so, again, I'm on background to Senior Defense Official. We have no reason to doubt the validity of these reports. We believe that this is not only an unnecessary step for him to take but an escalatory one, unnecessary because Russia has not ever been under threat by the west or by NATO and certainly wasn't under any threat by Ukraine. And escalatory because it is clearly potentially putting at play forces that could that if there's a miscalculation could -- could make things much, much more dangerous. 

And the next question you're gonna ask me is, have we changed our strategic deterrent posture. And we do not talk about our -- the specifics of our strategic deterrent posture, so I'm not going to qualify that further. I would just tell you that we remain confident in our ability to defend ourselves and our allies, and our partners. And that includes in the strategic deterrent realm, and that is as far as I'm going to go on that question. 

Now, back to what we're seeing. We, overnight over the last time since we talked, we do continue to see Russian momentum slowed; they continue to face a stiff resistance. We continue to observe that they have experienced fuel and logistics shortages. This is most particularly acute in their advanced on Kharkiv. Although we believe that they are facing some logistics challenges as well on their advanced down north to Kyiv. We still, as of this morning, have no indication that the Russian military has taken control of any cities. But clearly, that continues to be, in our view, their goal. We have seen reports that, as I said yesterday that some reconnaissance elements were in Kyiv and, and we've seen reports that we have no reason to doubt, that some of these Recon elements are actually wearing Ukrainian uniforms to try to disguise themselves and what they're doing. 

But they have been in some cases identified by locals, and by the Ukrainian military, again, right out of the Russian playbook here. Geographically, we assess that the Russian forces still remain about 30 kilometers from the city center in Kyiv. So, when I say a number like that, I'm referring to the city center, not the suburbs, but 30 miles from the city center, 30 kilometers excuse me from the city center. Down in the south, where they have had a little bit more success, and aren’t facing quite the same sustainment challenges that they are in the north, we talked about this amphibious assault the other day; we believe that assault now has drawn those forces combined with ground forces that -- that have also moved up towards Mariupol that they've -- they've drawn themselves to within about 50 kilometers from Mariupol from the city center of Mariupol. And our assessment is that Mariupol is defended. And the Ukrainians will put up a resistance there. That's the assessment. 

The airspace over Ukraine is still contested. And that means that the Ukrainians are still using both aircraft, and their own air and missile defense systems, which we believe are still intact and still viable, though they have been, as I said yesterday, there's been some degradation by the Russians. 

As for Russian force posture, we today assess that, Mr. Putin has now committed about two-thirds of his combat power, the combat power that was arrayed against Ukraine, not total combat power of the Russian military, but the combat power that he applied to this invasion, about two-thirds of it has now been committed inside Ukraine, which means he still has a third outside Ukraine, which is not insignificant. 

As of this morning, we assess that they have launched now more than 320 missiles. Again, the majority of them are short-range ballistic missiles. And we have seen some indications that they have experienced failures in some of these launches, that not all missiles have launched effectively. I can't give you a hard number on that. But it's not the majority. But we do believe that some number of their launches have not been successful. The other thing that's a little bit, well, not a little bit, is something that's more concerning today is that we have indications that they are adopting siege tactics around the city of Chernihiv. Chernihiv sits just to the northeast of Kyiv. So, it's along that line. 

(Inaudible) making a move on Kyiv from northwest of Kyiv, as well as from northeast of Kyiv. So, on that northeast vector down towards Kyiv. They've had trouble around Chernihiv, and it appears that they are adopting a siege mentality, which any student of military tactics and strategy in history will tell you when you adopt siege tactics, it increases the likelihood of collateral damage to civilian infrastructure as well as to civilian life. Because a siege, it basically becomes an all-out effort to take a city without regard to civilian infrastructure. So, that's worrying, and that's concerning. And that's we're seeing the beginnings of that sort of tactical approach by the Russians. 

Continue to see reports of internet outages in Ukraine. But again, our assessment is the same as it was yesterday that there's intermittent and generally available internet access. And I think, I think that'll be it for my opening comments. 

So, I think, Lita, we got you there, right? 

Q: Yes, I'm here. Thank you. I'll just start with two things on the nuclear forces, can you say or be a little more specific about what, if anything, you may be seeing, are they putting bombers on alert or has some sort of alert status or something changed with their bombers? Or their nuclear submarines? And then can you give us just a little bit more clarity on the siege tactics? What are you seeing them doing that causes you to label this sort of siege tactics? Can you kind of explain that a little bit more? 

SDO: OK, on the first question, our knowledge of this direction that President Putin has given is not even, you know, an hour or so old here. So, I don't believe we have tangible representations that we would or could speak to right now; we have no reason to doubt the validity of this order, but how it's manifested itself, I don't think is completely clear yet. And even when we get indications, I'm not sure how much we're going to be able and willing to share on that. But we're obviously, again, have no reason to doubt it and believe it's escalatory and unnecessary. 

On the siege, what we're starting to see, Lita, is sort of increased rocket attacks inside the city. And as you know, rockets are not clearly the most precise weapon system available. And they may continue to sort of try to surround Chernihiv and are barraging it from outside, again, these are just early indications that we have, watching what we're seeing unfold and certainly picking things up in intel. It remains to be seen if that's exactly what they're gonna end up doing. But it's enough; the indications are enough in terms of how they're positioning their forces around the city, how they're beginning this barrage using rockets, that gives us concern. OK, Alex Ward. 

Q: Yeah, thanks, SDO. I guess the question I have here is what, so I know you don't want to talk more about nuclear forces? Is this just policy that you will not talk about changes in DEFCON or any other sort of strategy or homeland defense? 

SDO: That is correct. We do not talk about our strategic posture as a matter of policy. What I would tell you, as I said before, that we are confident that we have the ability to defend the homeland and to defend our allies and partners, and that includes through strategic deterrence. OK, Barbara Starr. 

Q: Hi, SDO, one clarification on the nuclear, and then I wanted to ask you about sustainment and logistics. On the nuclear, I mean, you guys can understand it concerns Americans, it concerns people around the world. Is there anything you could say that while the U.S. certainly is confident about its ability to defend, how much of a priority or urgency perhaps, is it to try and understand exactly what the Russians mean by this and to talk to your other nuclear powers around the world and consult on what this means? Would this be a priority right now? And my question -- on sustainment and logistics, if I may? It seems very puzzling that the Russians have run into this problem. So, can you say anything about what your assessment is? Why didn't they go with enough troops, enough fuel, enough spare parts? Have you seen those field hospitals move in? Have you yet seen any of the mobile crematoriums the British were talking about? How is it in your view of the U.S. military, that they may turn it around, but up until now, they don't seem to be going with sufficient sustainment and logistics, and it's not clear why. Thank you. 

SDO: OK, on the first question, of course, it is always a priority to be able to defend the homeland -- and to make sure that our strategic deterrent is capable, viable, and ready at all times. I would tell you that we constantly review the strategic deterrent posture, and we're always looking at factors and threats and determining whether the strategic posture of the United States is appropriate to the threat and to the challenge. This direction that we have seen from Mr. Putin again, we have no reason to doubt it. 

This direction that we have seen from Mr. Putin, again, we have no reason to doubt it. We are, we obviously want to understand it better. And I think you can take from that an understanding that we're doing exactly that. We're trying to assess what this direction from him actually means in tangible terms. And I don't think it should surprise you that we may not have all the answers right now. I mean, it's just an hour or so old. That said, we're constantly reviewing that posture. And we are confident that that posture is capable of defending the homeland, our American citizens, and, of course, our allies and partners. And I think I just have to leave it there. 

It is not something that we ever routinely talk about in terms of specific detail. And I'm just not going to break that precedent here today. On your second question, I think you ended your question with kind of how I want to start, which is to remind that he still has, he Mr. Putin, still has one-third of his combat power not committed to the fight. That's a lot of combat power. And the combat power that he has committed to the fight is a lot of combat power. And the Ukrainians are putting up a stiff resistance. It's heroic, it's inspiring, and it's very clear for the world to see. 

But the Russians have still have a lot of operational advantages, despite the shortcomings they've had with logistics and sustainment. And in some of their maneuver, they still have an awful lot of combat power, that is viable and arrayed in and outside Ukraine. I can't speak for Russian planning, Barbara; I couldn't begin to speculate how they factored in how they were going to flow fuel and sustainment. I would tell you that our best estimate is that they did not anticipate the level of resistance that they were going to encounter. And I would also, I think, you know, it bears considering that this is a major, major, conventional operation. That is rare in recent Russian history; they simply don't have a lot of experience moving on another nation-state at this level of complexity and size. I mean, they have three lines of access, all of which has to be supported. And they're, and the north and the northeastern are geographically close. But then you have a southern line of advance that is not at all geographically close to the main bulk of his forces. 

So, this is a fairly complex operation that they're attempting. We don't know whether it's a failure in planning. We don't know whether it's a failure in execution. But I think we can assume that they will learn from this and that they will adapt, and that they will overcome these challenges. And we have to keep that in mind, they have a very significant amount of combat power still available for them in and out of the country. The best I could do on answering those, I hope that was sufficient. Carla Babb. I'm sorry, Barbara, you have another one?

Q: Hey, no, I just was saying thank you. 

SDO: Yes, ma'am. 

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. Can you just explain a little more about if Russia were to hit Ukraine with a nuclear weapon? How would that change the military calculus of the United States? I mean, there are already critics out there saying that the U.S. and the U.K. should have gotten more involved because of their agreement in 1994 with the Budapest Memorandum, but Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, so it can't fight back in this instance, because of an agreement it signed with Russia, the U.S., and U.K. So, will that change the calculus? 

SDO: Carla, I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals. I'm really just trying to give you guys sort of the snapshot of what we're seeing right now. I am not going to speak about future operations; I'm not going to speculate on decisions that leaders haven't made yet. Our focus is on making sure that we can continue to help Ukraine defend itself. And I know the question on security assistance is going to come, that we are, in fact, continuing to provide lethal and non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. That is something, and you saw the Presidential drawdown decision from yesterday; we are working through the eaches of that now to be able to not only fulfill that package with lethal and non-lethal systems but to try to do it on an expedition expedited manner. 

Number two is to reassure our NATO allies, and you've seen just recently a supply of even more forces from the United States to the eastern flank. As I've said many times before, we're not ruling anything out in terms of additional potential deployments, either from the States or from inside Europe. That's our focus. And again, I know this does not answer your question, but I'm just simply not going to engage in hypotheticals. 

Q: If I can try it one more time? 

SDO: OK, go ahead. 

Q: I guess what I'm saying is if he uses a nuclear option, does the U.S. leave it open to change their calculus as well? 

SDO: Again, Carla, I'm simply not going to engage in that kind of hypothetical today. Caroline McKee?

Q: Hey, there; thank you for doing this. I just wanted to ask you if, in fact, there are peace talks, you expect that NATO would provide President Zelensky with security? 

SDO: I don't know the answer to that. That's a better question put to the folks in Brussels. We've seen the reports that there's some tentative agreement between Mr. Zelensky and Moscow to meet and discuss, and we really think it's up to those two governments to talk about the details of that. Obviously, we would favor a diplomatic, peaceful solution to this conflict, but I'll let them speak to the schematics and the framework and how that would play out. 

Q: Thank you, sir. 

SDO: Courtney. 

Q: Hi, I just want to be sure I'm sorry to ask you this. But can you smell, spell the town that you're saying has this all-out attack? Because I'm looking on the map, and I want to make sure the likelihood of siege tactics, is it? 

SDO: Yeah, I can't smell it. But I can spell it. 

Q: Sorry!

SDO: It's C-H -- C-H-E-R-N, as in November-I-H-I-V. I hope I'm doing justice in pronunciation. I'm calling it Chernihiv. C-H-E-R-N-I-H-I-V; and it is to the northeast of Kyiv. And just a little bit almost directly due east of Chernobyl. 

Q: OK, cool. The other thing I was I was wondering if you could tell us anything more about what's going on with Kyiv today. You said there's still reports that they're still a ways out from city center. But are you seeing any like new or different tactics? Are you seeing, like a large number of missiles, rockets, anything like that? Any kind of, like operational picture of what's happening specifically in the capital? Thanks. 

SDO: I don't have much more detail than what I've given you on that, Court. We do continue to see fighting inside the city center, which we believe is largely the result of these reconnaissance elements being in there. So, we're certainly not disputing that there's fighting going on in Kyiv, but it is at a fairly low level in terms of ground-type fighting, urban fighting, if you will. But the main advance force that was designated for Kyiv is the one that we assess is still 30 kilometers out from city center. And these were preceded, of course, by mechanized forces. And certainly, we believe that their advance was slowed both by resistance by the Ukrainians who have been quite creative in finding ways to attack columns, and number two, by the fuel source shortages and the sustainment issues that they have had. But again, as I said, Court, they will learn from this, they will adapt, they will figure out a way to overcome some of these challenges. And we have to presume that they will continue to make some progress. But that's about the most detail that I have. 

Q: Just to be clear, so that they -- you have not seen any signs that they're attacking like the Ukrainian government facilities inside Kyiv at this point, then right, any indications of that? 

SDO: I can't speak for where missiles are falling, and exactly what targets are. But we do assess that the Zelensky administration is still governing their country, still viable, still active, you see for yourself, Mr. Zelensky is out and about, and that he still has command and control over his armed forces. 

Q: Thank you. 

SDO: Yes, ma'am. Demetri? 

Q: Hey, SDO, good morning. Thank you. Has Russia made any attempts to bomb any of the convoys that are bringing arms into Ukraine from the west and if not, why do you think they might be holding back? 

SDO: I'm sorry, Demetri; can you repeat that? 

Q: Yeah. Can you hear me now, SDO? 

SDO: Yeah, no, I got you. I just -- I lost a little bit of it. Can you repeat it for me? 

Q: Yeah. Has Russia made any attempts to bomb or attack the convoys that are bringing arms into Ukraine from the west? If not, do you have any sense as to why they might not be doing that so far? 

SDO: I -- we don't have any indications that there's been a blockage or impediment to continued assistance coming from the west to Ukrainian armed forces. And as I said that support continues to flow not just from the United States, but from other nations as well. In fact, in many cases, and these countries can speak for themselves, but it's accelerating and it's increasing. And your question gets to exactly why I will remain reticent to talk about the methods in which and the ways in which we're going to look for ways to continue to provide our support, precisely because we want to make sure it gets into the hands of Ukrainian armed forces and Ukrainian fighters and we don't want that to be disrupted. But I can't speak to any. I've seen no indication that's happened yet. Fadi?

Q: Thank you, SDO, for doing this on Sunday. I think you covered many details, and you've been doing this so far in the last four days. But if you want to maybe step back and look at the situation, the big picture, what are your major observations or kind of lessons drawn from this Russian invasion or attempt to, you know, invade Ukraine? Thank you. 

SDO: Major observations? I mean, again, as we've said many times before, this was a totally unprovoked and unnecessary war that Mr. Putin has chosen to execute. He still had diplomatic options on the table; he decided to ignore them and to go in. And his speech last week made clear that he questions the very validity of the Ukrainian state and their sovereignty. In fact, he believes it should be nullified, which I think speaks volumes about what his eventual goals might be. 

And, again, we -- if there's a diplomatic path forward here, and if the possibility of talks can be pursued and can lead to a peaceful outcome here, then obviously the United States would support that. The other thing that we're going to be busy supporting is our NATO allies and making it clear to Mr. Putin that Article 5 is ironclad for the United States and that we're going to do everything we have to do to be able to defend ourselves and our allies. I don't know if that answered your question. But that's my best go at it. 

Q: If I can follow up, I meant in the military side of the operation itself. 

SDO: I'm sorry, what? I'm not sure I'm tracking the question, Fadi. 

Q: What I -- what I meant, like every day, you were giving us, you know, new pieces of information. Some of the difficulties the Russians have been facing the Ukrainians have been the type of resistance they've been putting up. But so far, what is your assessment of the totality of the military operation so far? Have they -- where did they succeed? And in total, is it is it a failure for the military forces and the political and military leadership? 

SDO: Fadi, we are on day four here. And unless a diplomatic path can be found, and we certainly hope that can achieve results, there are likely to be many more days ahead of us. Or not of us, but for the Ukrainian people in the Ukrainian Armed Forces many more days ahead of them, is a better way of putting that, of combat. The Russians have committed two-thirds of their combat power; they have a third of it that has not been committed, they have a significant amount of combined arms capabilities still at their, at their beck and call. 

The Ukrainians are putting up a very stiff and brave, and heroic resistance. But we are only on day four. And I would be reluctant to provide an estimate of how many more days there are here. And what those days are going to look like. The Russians have been frustrated. They have been slowed. They have been stymied. And they have been resisted by Ukrainians, and some of the -- and to some degree, they've done it to themselves in terms of their fuel and logistics and sustainment problems. But as I said earlier, we would expect them to learn from these issues and adapt to them and try to overcome them. So, I think we all need to be very sober here in recognizing that this is combat, and combat is ugly, it's messy, it's bloody, and it's not wholly predictable. And so, I think everybody needs to everybody needs to look at this with a bit of a sense of humility here. 

OK, apparently, there's some confusion over something I said about Russia not being under threat by NATO, and somebody says I used a double negative. And if I did, that was just misspeak. Russia has never been under threat by NATO. Ukraine did not threaten Russia. And that's what I meant when I said that this step of his was escalatory and unnecessary. So, just to clear that up. OK, Helene? 

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this, SDO. Two questions. First, we have reports that Belarus is massing troops along the border with Ukraine in preparation for joining the fight. Something that Lukashenko has (inaudible) said Belarus would ever do. Are you seeing anything along those lines? And second, can you get us something on the record on the nuclear readiness and putting these forces on nuclear alert? Because that does actually pertain to the U.S. I understand why everything -- why everything else is on background. But our response to putting his nuclear forces on alert I think we really need on the record. Thanks. 

SDO: OK, I'll -- when the call is over, I'll shoot around something on the record. It'll basically be what I said in background, but because I have to see what I said in background to see how eloquent or ineloquent my comments were. Thanks, if I used a double negative. I will do that. I will do that, Helene, let's just get through all these questions. And then on your Belarus thing. We've not seen that. I can't confirm that. 

Q: All right. Thank you. 

SDO: Yep. OK, Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy? 

Q: Hey, SDO, I'm wondering if the Department has seen any signs that Russia is making plans or bringing any additional combat power to the border beyond the 150 plus thousand that were arrayed, that I guess you're talking about two-thirds have come out of? 

SDO: No, Jack, I don't believe we've seen an indication that he is adding to the more than 120 battalion tactical groups that he had already assembled. 

Q: Got it. And has the Department been at all surprised by the commitment of Russian forces just given that you've said consistently, they have yet to achieve air superiority here, and typically, it's Russian doctrine to do that before large commitments ground forces? 

SDO: Yeah, it's difficult for us, Jack, to get inside Russian military planners' minds and try to assess what their plans specifically were, and how they've executed them. So, I mean, I'm not an expert on Russian doctrine. So, I'd be loathe to give a qualitative assessment of how much they've applied their doctrine to this. All I can do is tell you what we're seeing in real-time. And in real-time, the airspace is still contested over Ukraine. They have not achieved superiority over all of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Air missile defenses remain viable and active both in terms of manned aircraft as well as missile systems. And again, you know, we could make the same argument about fuel and logistics; it's difficult to understand what their planning mechanism was for how they were going to apply the logistics and sustainment. Clearly, they have had, at the very least they have had execution problems with that, particularly north of Kharkiv. But I can't explain that other than in execution that they have more resistance and creative resistance by the Ukrainians, you know, as well as, you know, perhaps sustainment. Prepositioning might have been a problem there, but we just, it's hard for me to say. Jen from Fox?

Q: Thanks, SDO. Back to Helene's question about Belarusian forces. There are also reports that they -- and this is from a Ukrainian defense official, saying that the Belarusian paratroopers, I think it is, are preparing an air assault into Kyiv. Are you seeing any evidence of that? 

SDO: Nothing that I've seen, Jen, nothing that I could confirm, no. 

Q: And in terms of the -- what you can, with Putin, suggesting that he's putting his nuclear forces on higher alert. Is there anything that that the U.S. is able to see that would indicate that it is more than just words? I mean, are there mechanisms in place that you can see if Russian forces are making any changes to their strategic arsenal? 

SDO: Yeah, Jen. I mean, we've talked about this a few minutes ago, we have no reason to doubt the validity of Mr. Putin’s directions, we are assessing that and reviewing it ourselves to try to get a better understanding of what that might look like. But I don't have anything specific to speak to right now. 

Q: OK, and lastly, has either the Defense Secretary or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs been able to reach their Russian counterparts? Are the Russian counterparts taking their calls? 

SDO: I have no conversations to speak to either in the past tense or the future tense with respect to Minister Shoygu or General Gerasimov, General Milley’s counterpart. There have been no verbal communications in recent days with them. And obviously, if that changes, we'll certainly read them out to you I have no conversations to speak to at this time. 

Q: But have there been attempts to reach out? 

SDO: I have no conversations to speak to you at this time. 

Q: Thank you.

SDO: Karoun?  

Q: Hi, SDO. So, two things. One, Ukrainians are also claiming that their (inaudible) drone took out a Russian convoy, like a full one today; I wonder if you can confirm if they're having that specific success or any of that level of successes right now with their air capacity. And then also, you made the point that, you know, the cities Chernihiv are under siege, and that the civilians can be caught in the crossfire and also talked about, you know, sometimes the missile systems on the Russian side not being as successful as they planned. But are you at the point right now where you would join some of these aid organizations in assessing that civilians are, in fact, the target of some of these strikes, and not just the crossfire, not just stuck in a bad position and probably going to get rained down on but actually the target of some of what the Russians are doing? 

SDO: Yeah, as I said, at the top, Karoun, we can't confirm whether the collateral damage that we're seeing being done to civilian infrastructure, and certainly, we have no reason to doubt Ukrainian claims that civilians are being hurt and killed. But we have no indications that it's being done deliberately for that purpose. But this is why we -- the preliminary indications that we're seeing around Chernihiv bother us, because in a siege, in order for siege, if that is in fact what they end up doing, to be successful, you basically, by design, are going to be targeting civilian infrastructure and causing civilian harm. 

So, that's what's so deeply concerning about that. But again, we just believe they're at the beginnings of what we what looks like a siege mentality here. And we can't confirm in the other strikes, we've seen that civilian targets are being deliberately hit. We just know that they are; I mean, you guys know that they are. You can see the video and the images yourself. But we can't make an assessment that they're being precisely targeted for that purpose. Marcus? 

Q: Sorry, the other question just about Ukrainians' claim on being able to take out, you know, Russian convoys with their drones. Is that something that you can confirm?  

SDO: I can't. We -- all I can say is, you know, we see them defending and resisting in very creative ways, and I think I would just leave it at that. Marcus? 

Q: Yeah. Thanks, SDO. There have been some reports over the last few hours that Turkey is, is calling this now a war, which means they could have the possibility of shutting down the Bosporus and access to the Black Sea. Do you have any indication of whether or not Turkey is planning to do this? And would do you have any assurances that U.S. ships would still have access to a couple of things? 

SDO: Marcus, I mean, I'd certainly refer you to Turkey for them to comment on this. We did note that they used the term war in referring to what's going on in Ukraine; clearly, we would agree that it is, in fact, a war. But as to how that would, how they would intend to apply the Montreux Convention is really for them to speak to, and I don't have anything more on that. And you had a second question? 

Q: Yeah, really quick. There's this very large Ukrainian cargo plane, the An-225, it's been used by the U.S. military; there's only one of them, the largest cargo plane in the world, there are reports it has been destroyed or damaged. Do you have any indication of whether that plane still exists? 

SDO: I don't. I'm have not seen those reports. Sorry. 

Q: All right. Thank you. 

SDO: Nancy Youssef?

Q: Thank you. I had two questions. Is Putin’s decision to put his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, deter the U.S. from sending weapons to Ukraine or demand any adjustments to how the U.S. supplies weapons and ammunition, other supplies to the Ukrainians? And then, I'd like to go back to some of your comments about the logistical challenges that they have faced and the resistance they faced from the populations and kids. I wonder if you could help me give readers a sense of the sort of proportionality of each, that is how much of their inability to move as quickly onto Kyiv has been shaped by logistical challenges, how much has been shaped by the resistance from the population? Thank you. 

SDO: Nancy, I couldn't possibly give you a quantification of that. We believe that the lack of progress has been a combination of factors, predominantly their own sustainment challenges, as well as a very stiff and determined and as I said, I described it as creative, a creative resistance by the Ukrainians. And we think those, both those factors have combined to slow them down. But I couldn't give you like a percentage on that, I just don't have that fidelity of information. I would remind, as I did before, we are on day four. The Russians will learn and will adapt and will try to overcome these challenges. I think we need to we need to be pragmatic about that. On the first question, again, we are in the very early phases here of reviewing and trying to analyze what Mr. Putin's direction on his nuclear forces, what that means. And I'm not going to get ahead of that. But secondarily, as I said at the top, and I'll say it again, we continue to provide assistance to Ukrainian armed forces, that support’s going to going to go forward. Naveed from Newsweek?

Q: Hey, SDO, thanks for doing this. I'd like to turn to NATO for a quick second. Specifically, their strategic nuclear deterrence mission, of which, you know, the U.S. is capabilities a strong part of that. Two questions. First, is, can you confirm, affirm whether that's still the priority, or the commitment to the U.S. to that mission? And then secondly, when you talk about the deployment of U.S. forces for NATO, is there any chance and/or -- has any NATO partner asked for additional U.S. resources to fulfill the requirements of that mission? Thank you. 

SDO: I would just tell you that the defense of our allies in Article 5 remains ironclad, across the realm of military capabilities, and I think I just need to leave it at that. Paul McLeary from POLITICO? OK, nothing heard from you, Paul, if I'm wrong about that chime in a little bit later. Phil Stewart? 

Q: Hey, thanks. What notifications – let me start over again. Did the U.S. learn about Putin's decision to put its nuclear forces on heightened alert through announcement? Or was anything detected that, that would let you all know that? And secondly, what were the mechanisms that went into play after that announcement? Was the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman, were they brought into a call? Was the President brought into a call? What was the kind of mechanisms that go into play when Russia makes an announcement like this? Thanks. 

SDO: We learned about it through the announcement, and the announcement came right before the Secretary was hosting one of his daily operations and policy synchronization meetings, which was held this morning at 8:30. He did one yesterday morning. He'll do one tomorrow morning. And at that meeting on VTC is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of course, the European Command commander, other combatant commanders, as well as senior policy leadership at the Department. So, we learned about it from the announcement. And yes, of course, that announcement was discussed in the context of that meeting with the Secretary this morning. Sam Lagrone?

Q: Sorry, was the President brought into a call with either of them? 

SDO: I have no discussions with the President to speak to here. He was not a part of that normal battle with a meeting this morning. What communications has happened at the White House you're gonna have to go to them for that. 

Q: Hey, SDO. Can you -- two things; one, we're seeing reports of merchant ships getting attacked in the Black Sea. Do you all have any assessment about whether or not this is deliberate in terms of, you know, a deliberate tactic or in terms of the Russians? And then the second question is, do you all have any indications of any amphibious movement towards Odesa? 

SDO: On the second question on Odesa, they -- we do not assess that they're moving on Odesa right now. But we do see some posturing in the Black Sea, south of Odesa, that is a little concerning, Sam. But it's difficult right now to understand what that means. So, I don't have much detail for you on that. 

On the attacks in the Black Sea, I mean, obviously, we believe they're deliberate. What the strategic goal here is, is difficult to discern, but we're seeing the reports of it. I don't have a lot of detail in terms of what is being hit by what - and by whom. But certainly, we have seen attacks on some merchant vessels in the Black Sea. And again, we're trying to figure our way through that as well. Sylvie from AFP? 

Q: Hello SDO, I would like to go back to the logistics problems that the Russians are encountering. Do you see more logistics and fuel coming from other parts of Russia? And also, do you assess these problems start having any impact on the morale of the Russian troops? 

SDO: We have seen reports coming out of Ukraine about potential morale problems in the Russian ranks; we can't confirm that; we certainly can't deny them either. So, I would -- we don't have any independent verification of that on our own, that they're suffering from morale problems. I think it's noteworthy to remind that -- that is, the Russian army is largely a conscript force. So, that means that -- that's just a fact. But I can’t independently confirm specific morale problems. And oh, shoot, I forgot your first one. What was the first one? 

Q: It was did you see any logistics, more logistics coming from other parts of Russia? 

SDO: We have not seen any indications that they are supplementing their logistics and sustainment from elsewhere in the country. Certainly, that could be an option that, that they might explore, to supplement some of the losses they've had, but we have not seen indications of that. And again, so we had reminded that you know, Mr. Putin still has a good third of his combat power that includes some logistics and sustainability that he has not committed. So, they have a significant amount of capability, not committed to the fight yet that they could use, and we would certainly expect them to pursue those options as well. But we haven't heard anything coming from elsewhere out in the country. 

Q: Yeah...

SDO: Go ahead. Go ahead, Sylvie. 

Q: Yes, I was asking that because you are speaking about a siege tactic. And in that case, it could last longer than what they expected. 

SDO: Yes, that is right, a siege, depending on what kind of resistance is put up a siege could last a long time. Again, we're only seeing the beginning indications of siege tactics. So, I don't want to get ahead of where we are today. And I want to be perfectly predictive. But yes, that could take a while. I would tell you, I mean, just look, we're on day four, which is early, but they have not achieved what we believe they intended to achieve by day four. So, in many cases, they're behind schedule; it varies from place to place. But again, I want to go back to what I said before. We expect them to learn to adapt and to try to overcome these challenges. OK, the last question goes to Tom Bowman. 

Q: Wait, SDO. You called on me. 

SDO: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry; go ahead, Tara; you're right, I did. I apologize. 

Q: Thanks. So, with this exodus of Ukrainians to the Poland border to other country borders, could you give us some additional details on what the forces we have sent are now doing to help with all those people who have fled Ukraine? Are they helping process visas? Are they helping hand out food? Just give us a sense of how U.S. forces are helping. Thanks. 

SDO: Yeah. We continue to see increased numbers of people who are who leaving Ukraine, a lot of them through Poland, tens of thousands continue to make their way across that border. In the last 24 hours, our best assessment is about 120 or so Americans were in that group. They did not need U.S. military assistance. They already had their plans, they already had transportation available. They -- we did not need to assist them. We are in discussions with the Polish authorities and, of course, the State Department about what the sharper needs might be in case it should there be needs for American military resources to help with this flow. But right now, and we, and the 82nd is poised at a couple of assembly areas farther back from the border, well beyond 10 kilometers from the border. They are postured to support if needed, but they haven't seen any customers today. 

But again, this will be an ongoing thing. And if there's a need for, you know, additional U.S. military assistance, as the Secretary has said, we'll be poised and trained and ready to do that. But thus far, the Americans that we've seen cross the border have been able to take care of themselves quite well and secure their own follow-on transportation to wherever it is they want to go. Tom Bowman, last one to you. 

Q: Hey yeah, thanks. Drilling down a little bit more on Kyiv, what's the status of the airports? Are they still contested? And then you mentioned the mechanized forces coming down from the north, any airborne troops or additional airborne troops? And also, what's coming from the south toward Kyiv? And then finally, in the southern part of the country, I think you mentioned yesterday four LSTs have been unloaded of the 10; any more of those LSTs? And lastly, do we get a sense those troops are heading toward Donbas, or are they heading up toward Kyiv? 

SDO: Yeah. So, on the airports, I don't have a blow by blow here, Tom. I do understand that the Antonov airfield is that status of the airfield remains contested. It does not  -- it's not operable right now. And it's not exactly clear to us who has control. But we understand that it's that there's some contestation going on there. I don't have anything for you on the other airfields. You know, I think you're talking about Hostomel. 

Q: Right. 

SDO: We have some indications that there are some identified forces that originally arrived there, but it's not clear who that is. And then, to your question about the SAT, we did believe that four LSTs were involved in that amphibious assault, but as I said, I couldn't be positively sure how many naval infantry that they put ashore. We're only comfortable saying several thousand. Those forces are making their way towards Mariupol. They are, as I said earlier, about 50 kilometers outside to the west, southwest of Mariupol, and Mariupol we believe will be defended, just based on what we know about Ukrainian Armed Forces displacement. And that seems to be the main thrust that is toward the northeast there toward Mariupol from that amphibious assault that was done, you know, landed, they landed about 50 -- well, I guess it was more like 70 kilometers to the west of Mariupol; so, they've advanced about 20 is our best guesstimate right now. 

Now, from the south, Tom, we also, as we said before, if you look at Crimea, and you do like two forks coming out of Crimea, you'd have a fork going to the northeast towards Mariupol, and then you'd have a fork going to the northwest going towards Kherson. And we believe that they're still trying to advance on Kherson as well; that wasn't from an amphibious assault, by the way, that was just out of Crimea. And they have not reached and taken Kherson at this point. But I know you guys have got, some of you guys, some of your outlets, I know CNN does, has reporters have been reporting out of Kherson and have seen for themselves the strikes that have been conducted there in their attempt to try to take Kherson. 

SDO: OK, everybody. 

Q: And as far as the LSTs, SDO, 4 of the 10, is that still it? 

SDO: As far as I know, Tom. All we knew was four were committed to that amphibious assault. I don't have an exact status on the remaining six or seven. It was 10-plus, so. You know, but I don't have an exact GPS lock on them and where they are and what they're going to be doing. I would just go back to what I said before. We are seeing some activity in the naval domain south of Odesa in the Black Sea. It's not clear what that is for. But we're watching that. OK, everybody. Yep, that's the best I can do today. We'll hit it again...

Q: You said Hostomel and Antonov, aren't those the same airport? I'm sorry, I'm confused because they have the same name. 

SDO: Let me check on that. 

Q: OK, thank you.