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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing

Feb. 28, 2022

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL (SDO):  Okay, guys.  Can -- can -- just anybody just pipe in and say you're hearing me okay?

(CROSSTALK)

SDO:  All right, good.  All right, thanks, everybody.  A little technical difficulty on our part.  Apologize for that.

So -- so we'll do this again, "senior defense official", as before.

So day five, some things remain unchanged.  We still anticipate -- we still believe in the air domain that airspace over Ukraine remains contested.  The Russians have not achieved air superior -- air superiority over the whole country.  Ukrainian air defenses remain intact and viable both in terms of aircraft and -- and missile defense systems, and they're engaged.

In the maritime domain, really nothing to update you from yesterday, no -- no new amphibious assaults to report.  There are no significant naval activity to -- to speak to.

On the ground, we estimate that the Russian main advance on Kyiv remains -- remains slowed.  We estimate that they might have now -- the main advance might have advanced about five kilometers from yesterday, so roughly 25 kilometers out of Kyiv, but that is an estimate, and it is not a big muscle change.  So I'd just offer that.

They -- their -- their -- their advance on Kyiv still appears to be their -- their -- their main line of effort, and -- and we expect that they're going to want to continue to -- to -- to move forward and try to encircle the city in coming days.  The -- they are not there yet.  That's not happening yet, but -- but that's what it appears to be, what they're -- what they're interested in doing.

Still heavy fighting in and around Kharkiv.  Kharkiv remains an objective for them, and -- and in the south, they continue to try to advance on Mariupol.  The -- the -- the current belief is that if they can get Kharkiv and then get Mariupol, if you draw a line between those two cities, you can see that that would allow them to section off the eastern part of Ukraine and -- and fix whatever Ukrainian armed forces are in the east and keep them there.  Again, that's -- that's what -- what it appears to be -- for -- for us, appears to be their -- their planning assumptions.  But again, they haven't taken Kharkiv and they haven't taken Mariupol yet.

We count now more than 380 missile launches, again, of all types in the last time that -- that we chatted with you, and we estimate that now, Mr. Putin has committed nearly 75 percent -- not quite, but nearly 75 percent of his pre-staged combat power into Ukraine and across the border.  So 75 percent of his -- almost 75 percent of his combat power that he had assembled there has now been committed into Ukraine.

Let's see, what else?  I think that's probably it for an update.  Not -- not a whole heck of a lot of -- of -- of changes.  So with that, we'll start with Lita.

Q:  Thanks.  Two things.  Can you talk a little bit about this air superiority issue?  Have they cut it off in certain parts of the country?  And does it appear as though they -- Russia has tried to take out air defenses and failed?  Can you -- is there any even small bits of additional clarity that you might have on that?

And on the nuclear issue, have you all seen any even measurable change in Russia's nuclear forces or -- at all?  Thank you.

SDO:  On the nuclear thing, I mean, obviously, we're still monitoring and watching this as closely as we can, given President Putin's announcement yesterday.  I -- I -- you know, I don't believe we've seen anything specific as a result of -- of the direction that he gave, at least, not -- not yet in -- in -- in terms of appreciable or -- or -- or noticeable muscle movements.  And again, what I said yesterday is we -- we remain comfortable and confident in our own strategic deterrence posture.

On the -- on the air -- on the air issue, the air domain, I mean, there are parts of -- of -- of Ukraine that at -- at -- at one point or another the Russians will have dominance, and then at another point, another, the Ukrainians will have dominance.  I mean, it's -- it's very shifting.  I couldn't give you, you know, a -- a -- spots on the map where I'd -- you know, where -- where I could say definitively one or the other has some sort of dominance.  It's contested airspace, and it's a very dynamic air -- airspace right now.  And yes, we have seen the Russians, since the very early hours of this, target Ukrainian air and missile defense capabilities, but we still believe today, on day five, that the Ukrainians have significant air and -- and -- and missile defense capabilities available to them.  And it's -- you can see it for yourself just in the fact that -- that that airspace is contested.  The Russians have not been able to dominate the airspace.  But of course, they're -- we would expect them to try to -- to target those defensive capabilities for -- for the Ukrainians, and I -- I suspect we'll continue to see the -- those elements being targeted.

Eric Schmitt?

Q:  (inaudible) There have been reports, and you've addressed some, I think, yesterday about Belarusian forces readying to come in.  Can you -- do you see any signs of that happen, any readying of those kind of forces?  And there've also been reports of Chechens that have been introduced on the battlefield as kind of front-line forces.  Can you confirm that -- any sightings of -- any reports of Chechens fighting anywhere?

SDO:  We don't have reports of Chechens that -- that -- that we can confirm independently.  We've seen the same reports that you have, but we have seen nothing that gives us confidence that we can report that they're there.

And on the Belarusian thing, we have seen no indications that Belarusian troops are being readied at -- to -- to -- to move into Ukraine and certainly no indications that they are, in fact, moving or are in Ukraine.  Our -- our -- our best information is that the -- the -- the forces inside Ukraine are all Russians, and as I've said, they comprise about just under 75 percent of the combat power that he had assembled.  So no indications that Belarusians are getting involved at this point.

Q:  But are they remaining in their barracks?  Is -- I mean, can -- are you watching them for any signs of movement?

SDO:  I -- I -- Eric, I don't have that level of fidelity.  Knowing that this was going to be an issue today, I -- I -- I did due diligence and tried to find out and the -- the best we have is that we've seen no indications that they are preparing to get involved or are involved, and that's -- I -- I -- I know it's not totally satisfying to you but that's -- that's an honest answer and that's as far as we can go right now.

Tony Capaccio?

Q:  Hi - a couple questions.  One, can you confirm that the U.S., in this last tranche of arms to Ukraine, has -- has included U.S. Stingers?

SDO:  Tony, what I would tell you is what you've seen us say before, that the -- that in -- that -- that in the drawdown package that the President just authorized and then we are -- are going to execute, there will be capabilities in there to help them with -- with -- with both their ground defensive capabilities as well as airborne defensive capabilities, and that's as far as I'm going to go on that.

Q:  All right.  Can you -- and Russia, they're -- they're -- you've -- you've talked about their combined arms prowess, or at least their capabilities.  Are their armored forces basically outrunning their supply chain, their -- their logistics chain right now?  Is that an assessment?

SDO:  What I would tell you is that the -- you know, clearly, they -- they advanced first with mechanized forces.  Mechanized forces obviously do require quite a bit of fuel and sustainment.  And that -- as I said yesterday, we -- we have indications and still today that they -- that -- that fuel and sustainment are unique challenges to -- to them right now.

Whether they outran it or whether they just didn't plan properly for it or whether they just simply didn't execute their plan for it, I don't know.  I -- I -- I couldn't get into that level of thinking on the Russian side.

But what we anticipated -- or what we said yesterday was that we -- we thought that -- well, our indications are that they ended up having to rely on fuel and sustainment capabilities earlier in the process than what they -- than what we believed they had planned to.  So on day four, they're running out of gas and they're having logistics problems.  Our assessment was that they did not believe that they would be having those kinds of problems that early on.

Again, what led to that, I -- we can't say with certainty.  We -- we do believe that at least some of the factors that led to that was Ukrainian resistance, you know, including, you know, disabling at least one major bridge over an interstate, that -- that we know definitely slowed them down.

But, I mean, it's -- it's likely a combination of factors, Tony, and we don't -- we just don't have more fidelity than that.

Q:  Okay, thank you.

SDO:  Yeah.

Dan Lamothe?

Q:  Thank you.  Two -- two questions please.

One, are you seeing any kind of multiple rocket launch system, particularly in Kharkiv, or any cluster munitions?

And -- and then two, if you have any update on the siege tactics that you mentioned the other day?  Thank you.

SDO:  No updates on that stuff, Dan.  We still believe that they -- that they are trying to encircle Kharkiv and -- and to employ long range fires into there.  I -- I couldn't tell you exactly what systems they're using.  I don't -- I don't think we have that kind of an order of battle here.  But we do believe that their -- their plans are to encircle the city and -- and to try to take it that way, the -- be -- because that has really been where the -- the -- the heaviest fighting has been.

I think we would assess the same sort of approach -- we're start -- starting to see the same sort of approach being applied to Kyiv that they -- that they're still a ways out from the city center, but as I said in my opening comments, we believe that they -- they want to be able to approach Kyiv from multiple directions and put pressure on Ukrainian defenses all around Kyiv.

Now, whether that ends up being a siege of Kyiv, we -- we don't know yet, but we -- we expect that they'll probably employ similar -- a similar approach as they get closer to -- to Kyiv.  Again, what exact systems they're -- they're using, I -- I just don't have that level.

Luis Martinez?

Q:  Hi.  Thanks for doing this.  The -- before -- before this invasion, a lot of emphasis was placed on the tanks and, you know, how they could cross country and go over frozen terrain and all of that.  Have you seen any indications that they're actually going off road or are they still just using main roads?  And have there been any major, like, conventional tank battles?  I mean, what -- what's -- what is this all that we're seeing?  Is it really small unit conflict that we're seeing right now?

SDO:  Most -- most of the -- the -- the transit that we've seen have been along established lines of -- of maneuver, so roads, highways, that kind of thing.  I -- I can't -- we don't have, you know, perpetual and -- and constant view overheads, that I can't -- I can't discount that they might be -- that there might be some advances that they're making off road.  But most of what we're seeing is the same that you're seeing, which is highways and -- and roads and bridges and -- and those kinds of advances.

And again, the Ukrainians have proven very creative in how they're -- in how they're resisting -- you know, blowing up bridges, for instance, and -- and attacking them with -- in -- in small numbers and with -- sometimes lightly armed but effective -- but an effective approach, and -- and -- and of course from the air.

So, I mean, it's -- it's a -- you know, we talked about the combined arms capabilities of the Russians that the Ukrainians have proved pretty effective with their own combined arms approach here, in terms of putting up a resistance.

And it's -- it varies from place to place, based on where they are, where the Ukrainians are and can be, how fast they can get there and what they have at their disposal, but they are -- but they're using pretty much everything that they have in their arsenal, from small arms all the way up to surface-to-air missiles, just to try to slow down the Russians.

Tom Bowman?

Q:  On -- you know, you mentioned yesterday, I think, that there was some concerning movement off in the Black Sea, perhaps pointed toward Odessa.  Any update on that?  Do you still think they'll move on Odessa?

And also, as far as the U.S. arms tranche, the latest and -- from NATO, I know you can't get into great detail, but do we -- ballpark and when we expect those arms to arrive?

SDO:  On the -- on the naval front, as I've said at the top, no changes to the maritime environment than what I said yesterday.  I -- I -- I -- we've seen no -- nothing new in and around or south of Odessa to speak to, Tom.

Q:  Okay.

SDO:  And I -- I would just tell you, on the -- on the -- on the security assistance, it continues -- it continues to arrive and continues to get to them, including in just the last day or so.  I think I -- I think that's about as detailed as I'll get.

Q:  Okay, thanks.

SDO:  Yes.  Barbara Starr?

Q:  To go back to the situation of a potential large-scale attack against Kyiv by the Russians, so you do yet see or can you shed light on what you are seeing in terms of them assembling a potential air attack, long-range missile strike attack capability against Kyiv if, in fact, they're having such problems on the ground with sustainment and logistics?  Do you see foresee them going to something much more severe like air and missile strikes?  And are you seeing that begin to assemble?

SDO:  We haven't seen that yet.  But, obviously, we're watching as closely we can

Understanding we have those limits to what we can know, certainly they have been -- they have been slowed and they have been frustrated by their lack of progress on Kyiv.  And one of the things that could result is a reevaluation of their tactics and the potential for them to be more aggressive and more overt in both the size and the scale of their targeting of Kyiv.

Again, we haven't seen that yet, Barb, but we're certainly mindful that the frustrations could lead to a more aggressive approach by the Russians.  But again, we just haven't -- we haven't seen that.

Q:  Can I just follow up for second?

It is the U.S.' assessment that in order to take Kyiv, if that is still obviously a priority for them, which I'm assuming you believe it is, would they have to shift tactics?  And could the Ukrainians hold out against that larger, more severe operation?  But do you think the Russians will have to shift those tactics in order to do it?

SDO:  We still believe that Kyiv is an objective for them.  It's impossible to speculate as to how they may or may not change their plans going forward.  We don't have perfect understanding of plans that they -- that they had in place to begin with.

All we can do is tell you what we're seeing in real-time.  We have every indication that they still want to take Kyiv; that they are advancing on the ground and trying to get closer to Kyiv to do that; that they clearly want to encircle Kyiv from multiple locations, not just the north, but to move around it as well from the south.  And how they do that and how they execute those plans, I mean, I think we're just -- we're going to have see in real-time here.

As I said, I mean, they have been frustrated.  So it is certainly possible that -- and we talked about yesterday, right, that they're going to learn, they're going to adapt and they're going to try to overcome.  And as that do that adaptation, it's possible that they could change their plans in how they want to go after Kyiv to be -- to be less discriminate than they have been thus far.

Again, it's possible, Barb, but I -- we can't possibly know for sure if that's how this is going to unfold.  The Ukrainians are putting up continued and sustained and stiff resistance in and around Kyiv, and we certainly don't see any slackening off on their part either.

Q:  Thank you.

SDO:  Joe Gould.

Q:  Hey there.  Thank you. With, you know, with the Russians frustrated as you just described, and, you know, we've been talking a little bit about Russian Nuclear Forces or this order from -- to put Russian Nuclear Forces on some sort of heightened status.

Is there any assessment about the possible use of nuclear weapons or is the view that this is just to put pressure on negotiations or sabre-rattle with the west?  Thanks.

SDO:  Yes, it's difficult to know what Mr. Putin -- what was behind Mr. Putin's direction yesterday.  We're still reviewing it, still trying to analyze that.  As I said earlier, we haven't seen anything specific come of it.

But -- but -- but it's hard to know, Joe, I mean, and, obviously, any discussion of the use of nuclear forces or threats of the use of nuclear forces are as I said yesterday, unnecessary, and very escalatory.  Russia has never been the victim here, not once.  There's been no threat to Russia by NATO, certainly no threat to Russia by Ukraine.

Certainly, no substantiated reason for Mr. Putin not only to -- no substantiated reason to attack Ukraine but, certainly, no substantiated reason for him to even bring the -- the issue of nuclear forces into discussion.  It -- it's -- it's condemnable for sure.  And I'd leave it there.

Abraham Mahshie?

Q:  Yes, hi, thanks.  Two questions, first there's been some talk of -- of this war being the first information war.  And Russian disinformation campaigns have involved the United States going back to 2014 to 2016 election.  Is the U.S. already involved from an information warfare standpoint?  And then I have a second question.

SDO:  I'm not sure what you mean by the U.S. involvement in information warfare.  I would -- I would push back on the notion that it's the first information war, that's just not the case.

I mean, we can -- we can go back not -- not even that long ago, just a few years ago and you can see how information has become a real factor in -- in both tactical and strategic success on many fronts.  The fight against ISIS in Syria.  The way the Russians used information in 2014 when they went into Ukraine the first time.

The way they used it in 2008 in Georgia.  The -- the use of information in the Gaza War of 2014.  I could go on and on, I mean, it's not a new -- it's not a new field here in -- in warfare.  And I, you know, we -- the United States is not a belligerent in this -- in this conflict.

But clearly information, the use of it you continue to see its importance.  Not just in terms of -- of shaping perceptions but, in fact, of actually shaping outcomes on the battlefield.

Carla Babb?

Q:  How's that going?

SDO:  Carla Babb?

Q:  Hey, thanks for doing this.  Two questions.

First of all, with every -- with the announcement and the changes -- the nuclear changes -- posture changes for Belarus, have you seen Russia place nuclear weapons in Belarus at all, have you seen that?

And then secondly, when you were talking about the aid getting to the Ukrainians as -- you know, in the last 24 hours or so, can you talk a little bit about what the U.S. is doing to help get this aid from not just the U.S. but from all of the -- the NATO countries to the Ukrainians?

SDO:  The first answer to your -- the first question is no.

And the second question is, I mean, lots of nations are trying to find ways to get security assistance to Ukraine.  I -- I -- I don't know of a single unified sort of body to -- to -- to pull that together.  Right now, countries are doing what they can, when they can and where they can, and that includes the United States.

And I -- as I've said before, we're not going to talk about the specifics of how stuff is getting in, so that we can continue to help get stuff in.

Q:  And just a quick follow on that -- hey, can you still hear me?  Just a quick follow on that -- is the U.S. just responsible for getting U.S. aid or is the U.S. assisting other NATO allies in helping get the aid to Ukrainians?

SDO:  Our -- our -- our focus right now is on the security assistance that we're providing to Ukraine, but certainly we have been and will continue to work with allies and partners, and if there's -- if there's things that we can do to assist, we certainly will.

Um, Wafaa?

Q:  Hi.  Just to clarify, did you say that Ukraine received, in the last 24 hours, a shipment or security assistance from the United States, or I got it wrong?

SDO:  What -- what I said was we continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine, and that includes in just the last day or so.  Those are my exact words.

Q:  Okay.  And my second question -- do you have an assessment of the damage caused to the Ukrainian defense capabilities, especially in the last 24 hours?

SDO:  I -- I -- I -- Wafaa, I -- I think I've given you guys about the best estimate that I can.  You know, they -- they are still putting up stiff and determined resistance, particularly in and around Kharkiv and around Kyiv itself.  They -- air -- their air and missile defense capabilities are viable and effective and engaged.  The airspace over Ukraine is contested.  And -- and they're -- they -- they are very much in the -- in the fight.  They have command and control, President Zelensky still has command and control over his forces.

And in the information environment, all -- although I didn't say this at the top, you know, we -- we -- we've seen some intermittent outages, in -- in terms of media communications and access, but -- but in general, that also remains available to the Ukrainians.

Q:  And do you still have communication with the --

SDO:  Go ahead -- go ahead.

Q:  Yeah, do you have, like, communication, like everyday communication, with the Ukrainians?

SDO:  No, we're -- we're -- we -- we have the ability to communicate with President Zelensky and we've done that, not -- not from a military perspective but the U.S. government has, and I'd leave it at that.

David Martin?

Q:  If Russia has committed 75 percent of the forces it had amassed around Ukraine, have you seen any sign that they are starting to bring additional forces up from the interior?

And on the -- the NATO and U.S. arms resupplies, have you seen any effort by the Russians to interdict those -- those resupply -- I guess they're convoys or -- moving overland.

And -- and one last -- has -- has the hotline been used?

SDO:  The -- the answer to your first two questions is no.

And the -- there's no hotline established with respect to the crisis in Ukraine.

Karoun Demirjian?

Q:  Hi.  Two questions from me too.

First, can you shed any light on these reports of Russian mercenaries entering Kyiv looking to assassinate Zelensky and his Cabinet?

And then second, just jumping off what Dave -- David was saying, hotline or no hotline, has there been any additional contacts in the last 24 hours between U.S. officials and their counterparts in Russia defense -- defense --

SDO:  No official -- no -- no -- no contacts or communications to speak to in the last 24 hours.

And we've seen the reports about the mercenaries.  I -- I can't -- I -- we have said that there are reconnaissance elements in Kyiv --

Q:  Right.

SDO:  -- and -- and we still believe that's the case, and when you see some of the fighting in there, that's what we believe is -- is causing that.  But as for their, you know, taskings and orders to assassinate Mr. Zelensky, we can't confirm that.

Phil Stewart?

Q:  Hey.  Just a quick...  I'm just -- could you please elaborate a little bit on this whole issue of the nuclear alert posture?  I mean, do you -- if you haven't seen any muscle movements, does that mean that it's bluster?  Does that mean that you're just not able to detect whether there's anything going on there?

SDO:  It -- it means that we're continuing to evaluate and review the direction that Mr. Putin announced yesterday and -- and we're still -- we're still -- we're still analyzing it, Phil.

Q:  And then -- and -- and as someone, you know, who -- who understands Russian nuclear policy, what did that policy, in the U.S. view, actually mean?  What was the alert -- what did the alert mean in -- in the U.S. view?

SDO:  It's not a doctrinal term, the way he characterized it -- "special combat duty alert," I think he called it, something like that -- it -- it -- it -- it's not a term of art in what we understand to be Russian doctrine.  So that's why we're still analyzing it and reviewing it, to try to understand what exactly it means.

Q:  Thanks.

SDO:  Tony Bertuca?

Q:  Yes, this was a -- following up a question from yesterday on the $3.5 billion the White House is telling Congress it wants to give the Defense Department -- do you have a breakdown yet on that or where -- where it's going to go, what you do with it?

SDO:  I -- I do not, Tony.

Q:  Do you know when it's going to be available or is there -- the reason we -- we don't know yet?

SDO:  I -- I -- I don't -- I -- I don't have a timing on it, I don't have more detail, and obviously, this is something we'd be working out with OMB.

Q:  Okay.

SDO:  Haley Britzky?

Q:  Hi, thank you.  Has there been any update with the U.S. troops who are in Poland, as far as if there's been an official request for them to help with any of evacuation efforts for those who are fleeing Ukraine?

And then I have a follow up question, as well.

SDO:  One of the missions that they're there to do is to -- to help with any evacuated assistance that -- that might be needed.  There's been discussions with Polish authorities and with the State Department about what that could look like going forward, but there's been no change to their posture.  They still remain well away from the border, at -- at the very least, 10 kilometers in a couple of assembly areas.  They are ready to support.

As I understand it, Haley, over the last 24 hours, they've -- they've maybe seen a handful of Americans who -- who were looking for a little bit of assistance, and -- and -- and by "a little bit," I mean some food, some water, a chance to sit down and Internet capability to make -- to make some flight plans, that kind of thing, but nothing of a significant nature, certainly not a significant number.

It is, I mean you know it's Poland, so they -- when people evacuate from Ukraine and then they get into Poland there are -- there's good transportation, there's good roads, good railroads, good airports, lots of ways to work your own follow-on plans.

And by a far cry more that that's what most -- we're seeing most Americans who are -- who are going to Poland doing, just doing it on their own.  Again, very, very small numbers have availed themselves of the support that U.S. troops are able to provide.  And again, the support is -- it's really transitory, food, water, place to sit down and take a break and get on the Internet.

Q:  Got it, thank you.  And a quick follow-up, is -- has there any conversation or can you give us any update on the timeline for the 82nd and the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters who are there?  I mean, I realize they were sort of the immediate response, but as we're looking forward over the next few weeks and maybe months, will they be replaced by other units?  Will they redeploy eventually?  Or are they going to be there for the foreseeable future?

SDO:  No decisions yet to speak to in terms of the length of the -- of their deployment over there.  They're just -- that we don't have any updates for you on that.  We're going to, whether it's with them or with another element I can't say, but the secretary's committed to being able to help using DOD assets as much as -- as much as we're needed.

Q:  Thank you.

SDO:  Courtney?  Yes.  Courtney?

Q:  Hey, just a couple of quick follow-ups.  So, I wasn't clear on your answer to Dan earlier about the siege tactics.  He -- were you saying that you're starting to see tactics in Kyiv, because you said the same sort of approach was being applied to Kyiv?  Did I understand that correctly?

SDO:  What I said was that we know that they've -- we believe they want to encircle Kyiv and it's possible that they could adopt siege tactics there.  They have not yet.  They are still 25 kilometers north of the city.  So, we're not seeing that happen in Kyiv.  And as you might expect, the Ukrainians are focusing a lot of their defensive efforts around Kyiv, as you would expect them to.

So, I -- all I was doing was saying that we have indications that they're thinking about encircling Kyiv, not unlike the way they are trying to encircle Kharkiv.  We are certainly see them adopting siege tactics around Kharkiv.  We have not seen that in Kyiv, but we're just saying we're not ruling out the possibility that that could be something that they might employ there.

Q:  Okay, great.  And then just one other follow-on, when -- I don't remember whose question this was, but when you said that your -- that the -- what you're seeing in side Ukraine is Russians, that -- not, you know, Belarusians or whatever, are you -- have you seen any indications that they -- the Russians have brought in private contractors, like the Wagner Group?

And then, on the pre-staged ones that have moved in, in addition to the like 25 percent or so of the personnel who've not come in, are there any major capabilities that you -- that Russia has not yet committed inside Ukraine?  Or is just really personnel?  Thanks.

SDO:  On their capabilities, I mean, they -- they've -- they have combined arms capabilities in Ukraine.  I mean, when you employ nearly three-quarters of your combat power there's now a whole lot you're -- you know -- that you're leaving off -- you're leaving out.

Now, obviously, he has all kinds of -- he has other capabilities he's not using, don't get me wrong.  But, I mean, in terms of the combined arms capabilities that we saw them assemble, they are -- they are employing nearly all of those things.  I couldn't give you a laundry list, but I mean, they've got mechanized forces.  They are using -- obviously, they're -- they're launching missiles, medium-ranged, short-ranged, cruise missiles.  They're using artillery.  They're using rockets.  They're using manned aircraft.  They're -- you know, they've got infantry in there.  I mean, they're -- they're -- they're throwing a lot at the problem.  I couldn't give you inventory of -- of -- of what everything they have in -- in their arsenal writ large that they -- that they're -- they're not putting in there, but they're -- they're using a lot of combat power, nearly 75 percent of what they had assembled.

And as for the -- the Wagner Group, we've seen some indications that -- that Wagner Group could be involved in some places.  We don't have -- it -- it's not exactly clear where or how -- or how much, but we've seen some indications that -- that they're being employed.  My question was -- the question asked of me was, have you seen Belarusians go in?  And the answer is no.

Meghann Myers?

Q:  Can we get an update on the number of U.S. troops who are mobilized, who've made it -- made it to where they're going in Europe?  And are there any -- have there been any moves on the 7,000 who were supposed to go to Germany in terms of spreading them out to other countries?

SDO:  No moves to spread them out to go to other countries at this point, Meghann, and I'll take the question in terms of a -- a sharper laydown of what is actually in place, where.

Jack Detsch?

Q:  Hey.  The Ukrainian military's been a little bit more explicit, saying that some of the shelling they're seeing around Kharkiv and -- and civilian areas may be deliberate.  I'm curious if -- if the U.S. has changed your assessment at all.  Because yesterday, you were saying you hadn't assessed that was deliberate.

SDO:  No change to our assessment.  We -- we can't -- we're not -- we're not -- we're -- we're not saying it's -- it's not, Jack.  Don't get me wrong.  We're not making apologies here for the Russians.  We're -- we're just saying we don't -- we -- we obviously see that residential areas and civilian targets are being struck.  There's no question about that.  You can see it -- your -- with -- just in plain sight in terms of the -- the imagery that's coming out of Ukraine.  It -- they -- they are -- they are causing civilian harm and they are -- and they are striking civilian targets.  Whether it's intentional and directed, that's -- we're just not in a position to be able to confirm that.

Q:  Got it.  And then one other thing.  Do you -- have you seen any efforts that -- of the Russians to block U.S. and European military aid potentially by military means?  The Ukrainians mentioned that that may be a possibility with the targeting of airfields, other infrastructure and -- and just trying to -- to knock the U.S. and -- and, I guess, allies out of that -- that space.

SDO:  Well, David already kind of asked this question.  Are we seeing efforts by the Russians to interdict security assistance?  We have not seen that.  And obviously, if -- if you're -- if you're going to try to take control over a country and -- and replace its government, you know, you can -- you can understand, particularly when the capital city has three airports around it, that -- that you're going to want -- you're going to want control over those air -- airports.  So it was no -- it was no surprise to anybody that -- that -- that they would try to make move -- moves on the airports, just -- just in terms of strategic goals, not -- not -- not simply trying to, you know, eliminate the shipment of security assistance to -- to -- to local forces.

Paul McLeary?

Q:  Hi.  As far as the Russian troops that are in Belarus, I know a lot have -- have gone into Ukraine.  But specifically, the ones that are up near the Polish border including, look, the S400 and things like that, have they moved south, or are they still in place in Belarus along the -- the Polish border there?

SDO:  I don't know of any movements towards the west in Belarus near the Polish border.  I don't have any movements to speak to or -- or that we're tracking.  What we've seen move out of Belarus is really that -- that northeast vector coming out of Palieski area in southern Belarus on the -- you know, basically coming in to the west of the Dnieper River towards Kyiv.  That's the movement that we've been seeing coming out of Belarus.  And -- and again, I just don't have anything more on the -- on what's going on out west.

Okay, last question goes to Mike Brest of the Examiner.

Q:  Thanks.  You've talked a lot about, so far today, Russia being frustrated with their lack of progress, even though they've still moved about five kilometers closer to Kyiv.  Is it the U.S.'s expectation that Ukrainian forces will be able to hold down the city, or -- or is this really just sort of more of a delay than anything else?

SDO:  All -- all I can tell you is what we're seeing now, Mike, and what we're seeing now is that the Ukrainians are -- are still putting up a very stiff and very effective set of defenses around their capital city, as you expect them to, and they're -- they're -- they're fighting hard for it.  The -- the -- the slowness of the advance, we -- we believe, is certainly due to that resistance, but it's also due to logistical and sustainment issues that the Russians have had.  Again, I can't account for that.  I -- I can't say whether it's because they didn't plan properly or whether they had a perfect plan and they just didn't execute it properly.  But I -- we -- we suspect that the -- the -- the slowness of the advance is -- is based on those two factors, Russian logistics and sustainment issues and, of course, the -- the defense being put up by the Ukrainians.

Now, what that's going to look like in coming days, Mike, I think you and I are both going to kind of learn in real time, and we'll be talking about this every day.  But I -- I -- I can't be perfectly predictive.  All I can tell you is what we're seeing, and -- and we are seeing the Ukrainians come to the defense of their capital city and -- and focus on that very, very hard.

Okay, everybody, I think that does it.  I think I got through everybody, and we'll -- we'll keep doing these.  Look -- look -- look forward, again, tomorrow midmorning again -- "senior defense official", and -- and I think the Pentagon's going to be doing an on-camera briefing this afternoon.

Thanks.  Out here.

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