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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

March 2, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, good afternoon, everybody. So I’ll be on background; as always, "senior defense official".

I don't actually have a whole lot of changes to speak to, so I'll just walk through what we're seeing, but the bottom line up front, if you will, is that there hasn't really been a lot of significant change on the ground since yesterday. That's kind of the bottom line.

So in terms of committed combat power inside Ukraine, yesterday, I said it was around 80 percent. Today, we're estimating about 82 percent. So again, not a significant influx of additional combat capability into Ukraine from what was staged over the last few months.

To the north near Kyiv, we continue to see Ukrainians resist Russian advances on the city, and we would assess that there essentially has been no appreciable movement closer to the city than what we briefed a couple of days ago. I say "appreciable movement" because we don't have perfect visibility on every unit, every tank, every truck, but basically they remain stalled outside the city center.

In Kyiv, we've observed, certainly as you have all observed, an increase in missiles and artillery targeting the city.

And this increasing aggressiveness in terms of just the iron that they're lobbing into the city certainly aligns with open-sourced reporting that the Ministry of Defence has decided to become much more aggressive with it's targeting in Kyiv to include infrastructure right there inside the city.

We're actually seeing sort of similar situations bear out in and around Chernihiv to the north and Kharkiv to the northeast. Both cities are continuingly under assault, but with no appreciable movement by the Russians to take either one.

They appear to be stalled outside of those two cities as well, and they are clearly meeting with resistance. And again, that's not anything different than what we talked about yesterday.

In the south, we have continued to see Russian forces make an advance. They have been achieving more progress down there. It's measured, I don't want to talk about it in dramatic terms here.

But we've seen reports about Kherson. The Russians have claimed that they've taken Kherson. The Ukrainians are counterclaiming that they have not. Our view is that Kherson is very much a contested city at this point.

They have not moved on Mariupol. But the only difference between today and yesterday is what we have seen are some preliminary indications that the Russian forces are going to now try to come down towards Mariupol from the Donetsk area, from inside that JFO. So we hadn't really seen that materialize yesterday so -- in advance, so we're seeing that today.

And that combined with their advance up the coast of the Sea of Azov would lead one to assume that their approach on Mariupol will be from multiple directions with, again, what could likely be an attempt to encircle the city.

It's just a preliminary move we're seeing today. We'll see how this bears out. Mariupol, we do continue to assess, will be defended.

In the maritime environment, nothing to update you on today -- no movements, no indications of an amphibious assault coming or happening. No moves on Odessa that we can speak to either from the ground or from the sea.

In the air, again, we believe that the airspace over Ukraine remains contested. The Russians have not achieved air superiority over the whole country. The Ukrainian air and missile defense capabilities remain intact and viable; but, then again, so do the Russian's.

As of this morning, we can count more than 450 missile launches by the Russians -- and again, all stripes and sizes: short range, medium range, surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles. It's the full menu that they have. And they've launched, now, 450 since the beginning of this operation.

In the information environment, again the Russian Ministry of Defence -- you've seen -- has warned that it would conduct strikes in Kyiv on targets responsible for what they are calling, quote, "information attacks" against Russia.

You guys have seen for yourselves the tower that they've hit and the media outlets that they're going after. That is of a play that they are familiar doing, and certainly in keeping with what they've said publicly.

Again, we've observed continued degradation of Ukraine's Internet. Though again, we still believe as we did yesterday that communication and media access is generally -- not uniformly, but generally available.

And I think I'll stop and we'll go to questions. Lita, you're first.

Q: Hi, thanks. So just a couple things. There continues to be chatter about cluster bombs. Can you address what, if anything, you all have seen and what you can or can't verify on that?

And have you seen, or can you verify, reports of Ukraine shooting down any Russian planes, specifically claims that they did so around Kharkiv?

And then are you still seeing, sort of, the same kind of logistical -- fuel, food, et cetera -- problems with that large convoy? Or do they appear now just to be doing some sort of strategic pause?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We cannot confirm the use of cluster munitions. I do not have any information about the shooting down of a Russian plane or planes near Kharkiv. We just don't have that level of fidelity.

And we still assess that they are experiencing logistical and sustainment issues much in as what we saw yesterday, both in terms of fuel and food. We don't believe that that has been alleviated by the Russians.

We obviously have indications that they are certainly aware that they have these problems, and they are trying to overcome them. But our assessment is today that they continue to be bedeviled by these logistical and sustainment issues.

Tara Copp?

Q: Thank you for doing this. Actually, a follow-up on that, specific to the big convoy -- the 40-mile-long convoy. Eliot Cohen yesterday at CSIS thought that it might be more of a traffic jam than an actual convoy and they were just absolutely stopped by lack of food and fuel.

And the Ukrainian Security Service put out on its Facebook page that Russians were sent with only three days of food for this.

Does that gel with what you all are seeing based on reporting? Do you think that the Russians were only sent with three days of food? And is the convoy just basically stopped at this point? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We believe that the convoy is stalled. It's a long convoy, so I can't be perfectly predictive, Tara, on every mile of that, whether they're moving or not.

But they are not moving -- they are not moving at any rate that would lead one to believe that they've solved their problems. So we would characterize it as stalled. Again, we don't have perfect visibility into what's going on on the ground there.

But we believe that there's numerous factors for this.

One, the Ukrainians have been conducting a stiff resistance north of Kyiv. And we have some indications that they have also, at places and at times, tried to target this convoy.

Again, I can't tell you what that looked like. I can't quantify that. I'm just saying we have indications that they have also tried to slow that convoy themselves.

And as for the food and fuel, again, our assessment is that they are suffering shortages of both. I've seen nothing in the reporting that gives me confidence that they packed, you know, three days' worth of food. I can't corroborate that. But they continue to have significant logistical and sustainment challenges.

I will say again, as I've been saying now for many days, that we would expect that the Russians will, again, learn from these missteps and these stumbles and will try to overcome them. And I think our belief is that that is still the case.

Heather from USNI?

Q: Thank you so much. I was wondering if you could talk about anything that you've seen in terms of the Belarus' president talking about a planned amphibious landing on Odessa, and if you have any comments on Turkey issuing warnings to warships to not pass through the straits leading to the Black Sea.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You broke up there, but did you say that you want me to comment on reports that Belarus is going to do an assault on Odessa?

Q: Sorry. The -- just, the president mentioned during one of his conferences or talks that they're -- showed a map with a planned invade -- amphibious assaults on Odessa.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, I got you, I got you. Yeah, so as always, I'm going to be reluctant to talk about Russian planning because we just don't have insight into that. All I can tell you again, a snapshot in time. What we're seeing today is that there's no operations afoot either from the sea or from the ground on Odessa. But you know, we're watching this as closely as we can, and if that changes and I'm able to provide some context, I will. I can't predict what the future's going to look like. All I can do is tell you what we're seeing now.

You had a second question, I think.

Q: Yes, I was wondering if you had any comment on Turkey's warning to warships to not cross the straits into the Black Sea.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we've seen the press reporting on this. I would let Turkey speak to their administration of the Montreux Convention. As we understand it, they are still working their way through what, if any, Montreux Convention applications they intend to put into place. We're not aware of any concrete changes to that.

Demetri? Okay, nothing heard from Demetri.

Fadi?

Q: Thank you, sir. So I have a couple of questions. First, I know you talked about Mariupol, and you're seeing preliminary indications that the Russians will try to advance from Donetsk. But are you able to say whether the Russian forces are now in full -- in control of the coastal line of the Sea of Azov?

And then second issue: Are you able to confirm what -- what has been announced by the national security advisor in Ukraine about this plot on the president's life by Chechen elements that were sent by Russia? And there's this strange twist that they were tipped off, it seems, by the FSB, the Federal Security Service in -- in Russia. Are you -- are you able to offer anything on this? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, Fadi, I can't confirm that. We've seen the report that you're talking about, but we can't independently verify them, the assassination plot, that is, or how that information was shared with Ukrainians. I just don't have anything on that.

And on the coast, I mean, all I can tell you is, again, what we're seeing. We saw them move through this town of Berdyansk on the way to Mariupol. They are outside Mariupol on the coast, and we see today that they are attempting to go down from the north towards Mariupol to the south on the ground. How much of the Sea of Azov coastline they, quote/unquote, "control", I don't know. They used that coastline to move north out of Crimea, northeast of Crimea toward Mariupol. Whether they are holding coastline available to them, I don't know.

I think it's important to remember that it's our assessment that they continue to want to move on population centers. You know, we've been talking about these three axes of movement. They are all sort of aggregated towards major population centers. Mariupol is a major population center that we know they want, and so that seems to be their goal. I've seen nothing to indicate that their goal is to hold coastline, and it wouldn't be clear to me why they would do that anyway. There no maritime threat that they're facing from the Sea of Azov. So I don't know. To be honest with you, we don't know that they're holding the coastline, but what we have seen them do is consistent with a move on population centers like Mariupol.

Barbara Starr?

Q: Hey, it's Demetri. Sorry I didn't unmute a second ago.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nope, it's too late, man. I went past you. I'm just kidding. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks. On the -- on the nuclear front, have you seen any changes that nuke -- that Russia has actually changed its nuclear posture over the last 24 hours?

And then secondly, on -- you said several, you know, several days in a row that the airspace is still contested. Do you have any sense as to whether Russia is getting closer to air domination over the past few days, or is it basically a status quo?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think actually, on the airspace question, Demetri, it's neither. It's still very contested, and it's very dynamic airspace. It's a very large airspace, and the degree to which one side or the other has dominance literally changes throughout the course of the day geographically. So I think the best and most accurate way that we can describe the airspace is contested.

And on the nuke question, I would just put it the same way I put it yesterday. We've seen nothing that gives us pause to reconsider the strategic deterrent posture that we have in place for the homeland and the defense of our allies and partners. We're watching it every day with -- after Mr. Putin's announcement, but we've seen nothing that would give us less comfort in our own strategic deterrence posture. I think that's the best way I can put that.

Okay, Barbara?

Q: A couple of questions. You've mentioned it in several places, the Russian sort of slowdown, the convoy to Lviv, Kharkiv. How much of this slowdown do you assess is due to the Russians not putting their first-rate troops and equipment into the fight from the beginning? Did they start off with, you know, hoping they could make it work with their C team, so to speak? And do you see evidence now, separate from the heavy attack -- missile attacks and all of that, that they are preparing to put in more capable troops in these -- and more capable equipment in these locations where they’re slowed down?

And my second question -- you mentioned the MOD. I'm wondering what your current view is on how involved Putin is specifically in the campaign -- his campaign itself? Should we assume if he's isolated that he's aware of the kinds of targets being hit? Is he directing traffic, so to speak, on target selection? Is he heavily involved or is he removing himself from the day to day? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Barb, on the second question, we don't have that level of fidelity of intelligence on the decision making at Putin's level. Historically, he has been a very active leader at the top of the military chain of command and very engaged, and we've talked about this on various other issues, whether it's Syria or Libya or obviously what he's done in Georgia and Ukraine.

I mean, this is a man who historically has had a very hands-on approach. What that approach has been looking like in the last seven days, we have less tactile intelligence and information. So I can't answer the question specifically about the degree to which he's involved and at what level. Clearly, he's involved, I mean, because he commands his military, but how much over the last seven days, you know, he's been involved at a tactical level, I just don't know.

And I've seen these reports about him being increasingly isolated and on -- we, at the Department of Defense, are not making an assessment about Mr. Putin's degree of personal isolation or not. We're simply taking a look at what's going on on the ground and we're focusing on trying to make sure that Ukraine gets the things that it needs to defend itself.

On the C-Team question, again, we don't have a detailed understanding of the whole Russian order of battle. We've had a pretty good general sense and we've talked about that, but in terms of what units are commanded by what leaders and the mix of conscripts versus volunteers, we just don't know, except to say what we've said in the past, which is that this is a military largely made up of constricts. That's just the way that the national defense is staffed in Russia.

So it's not at all surprising to us that you're seeing a lot of conscripts, draftees, if you will, in this -- in this flow of forces. And -- and now, I would remind you, as I've said today, earlier, he's got 82 percent of the combat power that he had assembled for this war, 82 percent is already in Ukraine. So I don't know that it's a very valuable comparison to go by "well, it's whether that you've got less experienced and now more experienced" -- he has the vast majority of the combat power that he set out to use already inside Ukraine. So they're there.

Now I can't say how many of the leading elements were ill-trained conscripts versus more experienced soldiers.

Q: Just very briefly, do you see any evidence of the Russians preparing to send in reinforcements, backup, assembling further things back in Russia to be ready to reinforce?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we are not. And again, when I say that he's got 82 percent in there, I hope that we're not conveying to anyone that that means we think, you know, he's spent, like he's dwindling his options. Quite the contrary -- he's continuing to add to his options.

So please don't take away from the fact that he's got that much already in Ukraine, that somehow, you know, that he's in extremis when it comes to the combat capabilities that he has available to him. I will add, though, one of the things -- and this kind of gets to your question, I think -- is one of the things that we have been observing is that they don't appear to be integrating their combined arms capabilities to the degree that you would think they would do for an operation of this size and scale and complexity.

So, you know, all along, we've been talking for weeks about the combined arms capabilities -- armor, artillery, infantry, special operations, combat aviation, logistics sustainment. You know, he assembled all that stuff.

On the face of it, as we watch things unfold, in addition to seeing stiff and determined courageous resistance by the Ukrainians, in addition to seeing some logistical and sustainment issues, in addition to seeing a little bit of risk averse behavior, as we talked about yesterday, we are also seeing that the integration of these elements appears to be lacking.

And I don't know if that kind of gets at your question, but that's the best I can do.

David Martin?

Q: Yeah. Three -- three things. I think two of them are probably real quick.

Any sign yet that Belarus is committing troops to this?

You said yesterday that you had seen launchers for thermobaric weapons inside Ukraine but had not seen any evidence of the actual munitions or their use. Does that remain the case or has that changed?

And could you expand on what you said when you said "there were indications that the Ukrainians were attempting attacks on that 40 mile convoy"?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. On Belarus, no indications or evidence that they are moving or positioning, and are certainly not in the fight now.

I have nothing more on thermobarics from what I said yesterday.

And -- and on the convoy, again, I want to be careful about how we know what we know. Again, I was very careful on how I answered it, David. We've seen indications that, at times and at certain places, the convoy may have been resisted by Ukrainian forces, and I really think I have to leave it at that, but we've seen indications that we are in no position to refute.

Tom Bowman?

Q: You’ve been giving us daily updates on the missile strikes. You said 450 today. You talked about the increase in artillery strikes, as well. Can you quantify that in any way or percentage increase?

And also, as far as targeting, you said they're now going after the TV tower, maybe the information networks. Besides this non-military target, have you seen them go after other non-military targets? And, of course, some civilian infrastructure's been hit. Is that the result of striking, like, military targets that are near, let's say, apartment buildings?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Tom, we don't have perfect visibility into their targeting process. We see what you see: that civilian targets are being struck, and in the case of media, that's very deliberate. There's no doubt about the deliberateness of that. They basically said they were going to do it and they did it, and those are civilian targets.

And then on artillery, no, I can't quantify that for you, Tom. Most of the strikes have been missile and airstrikes and really mostly missile, but as they get closer to targets they have been using artillery. There's obviously a range dependency there, but we are in no position to dispute the reports coming out of Ukrainians about shelling, meaning artillery.

And I think that you're going to see that. Our anticipation would be that you'll see those use of artillery increase as they get closer to these population centers and as they try to surround them. All, again, part of what would be classic siege behavior. If you're trying to encircle a population center and subdue it, force it to surrender, you know, your artillery becomes a very powerful weapon in that regard.

So we would expect to see artillery strikes increase as they get closer to population centers, but I can't quantify it.

Q: And also the media strikes, the TV tower, any other civilian targets beyond that do you see?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We know that civilian targets are being hit, Tom. Otherwise they're being --

Q: Well, being hit. I'm talking about being targeted.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We have seen again, the media stuff clearly has been deliberate, and we're watching this as closely as we can.

It's not always clear when a civilian target gets hit whether it would be an intended target or not and whether or not they were trying to hit something close by and missed it. I mean, we just don't have that level of insight -- specific insight into their target. But clearly --

Q: Okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIALS: -- they are hitting civilian targets. Clearly they continue to cause civilian harm. And certainly we see indications that at least in the media space they're doing it deliberately.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Kellie Meyer? Kellie Meyer?

Q: Yes, thanks for taking my question. Can you hear me okay?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, ma'am.

Q: My question is just following up on the convoy. I know you mentioned the Ukrainians conducting stiff resistance. Are there any other reasons for this slow pace? And I know you said it went from 80 to 82 percent combat power in the last 24 hours. Is there a reason why this is so slow and is strategic or is this resistance if you could tell us?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I don't think I can give you any more context than I did, Kellie.

I understand the strong interest in this particular convoy of vehicles, but you know, we can't confirm the number of vehicles in it or the length of it or the speed of it.

Clearly it's an attempt by the Russians to add to their striking power against Kyiv and to provide some relief to the sustainment issues that they had. But again, we think that there's lots of reasons why they're not making the progress that t they wanted to make.

And I think we should zoom out away from this convoy for just a second, zoom out and look at the advance on Kyiv, because this convoy appears to be part and parcel of that larger effort.

And on that larger effort, we would assess that it is slowed because of resistance from the Ukrainians, which has been effective, and quite creative.

Two, it has been because of their own logistical and sustainment problems.

Now, as I said before, we don't know whether that was bad planning or just bad execution or both. We also believe that they have had morale problems that have led to, you know, less than effective operational success north of Kyiv.

And so there's likely a bunch of factors here that are probably at play. And logistics and sustainment -- anybody who's covered the Pentagon for a while, you know both how vital that is and how hard that is.

And so we think that all of that is probably contributing to the lack of progress against Kyiv.

I will say it again, at the risk of sounding like the broken record that I am, but we have to be clear-eyed about this and pragmatic about it. They will learn and they will adapt. And they will try to get past these challenges and these missteps that they have had. We should just be honest about that.

Let's see. Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy?

Q: Hey, just with regards to the forces arrayed on the border and more coming, I know you said more weren't coming, but I guess, when we had one of these calls last week, you indicated there might be further mobilization of reserves.

I'm wondering if that's still something that you're seeing that the Russians might be able to contribute to the fight?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We haven't seen any -- I've seen no indications of the actual call-up of additional reserves or national guard. We just know that it's an option that they have -- that they have made clear they want to look at. But I don't have any -- I can't quantify that, Jack.

Q: Got it, thanks. And then, when you -- when you talk about the Russians having, you know, lessons learned from their early supply problems and other resistance they've encountered from the Ukrainians, have you seen any adaptations on the battlefield so far or any further mobilizations of supplies to, I guess, alleviate the troops that are bogged down right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I think -- I mean, we think, to some degree, that the purpose of this convoy is to help with resupply as well. So I think they're going to try to alleviate the food and fuel shortages that they have experienced. And they'll continue to adapt.

Luis Martinez?

Q: Hi there. Do you think it's -- you've talked about the line of effort toward Kyiv. Do you think it's feasible that it may take a week for the Russians to complete that line of effort, coming in from both sides and encircling the city, and that then, after that, it could become a prolonged conflict inside?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know, Luis. We're going to stay away from predictions, in terms of timeline. Clearly, the Russians are not making the progress that we believe that they had anticipated making, that they are behind schedule. And with each passing day that they are stalled, they fall further behind.

But again, I want to remind, they have an awful lot of combat capability at their disposal, and they will attempt to overcome these challenges. How long the fighting's going to go on in any one place is impossible to know. It's impossible for the belligerents to know.

I would just add, if I might, that a very simple solution here would be for Mr. Putin to engage in serious discussions with the Ukrainians about a ceasefire and stopping this war of choice that he has conducted. That's a very obvious way of reducing the timeline here on war, is to stop it.

And he still has that ability, should he be willing to engage in meaningful discussions about a ceasefire and stopping the war.

Nancy Youssef?

Q: Thank you. I was hoping if you could clarify one point for me. Is the convoy, from the U.S. perspective, is the intent for it to encircle Kyiv or is it intended to go into Kyiv? Do you have an assessment?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I -- Nancy, I -- I think we have to assume that it's both. I mean, he's been -- Mr. Putin's been very clear about his designs on Kyiv and -- and what their efforts to -- to supplant the Zelensky administration with a government of their own choosing.

And so I think we have to assume that they want to go into Kyiv and topple the government but encircling the city is a potential method of doing that, of getting to that ultimate goal.

Q: And in the event that they encircle, will that limit the ability of the U.S. and its allies to provide weapons and other supplies to the Ukrainians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We are going to continue to flow security assistance to the Ukrainians and we have done that in just even in the last 24 hours and we're going to continue to look for ways to do that to the maximum effectiveness possible. And I think I'd leave it at that.

Alex Horton?

Q: Yeah, I mean, my question was kind of three quarters answered about the convoy's kind of makeup and characteristics, like, you know, is -- are you seeing more logistical vehicles, like fuel and supply, in that convoy? I mean, there's going to be some combat elements in that, but is it your assessment that it's more for protection of the convoy itself or, you know, just talking about that relationship of the supply problems of the convoy itself. Like, is it because -- are they having larger issues because the convoy slowed or are they having issues and the convoy slowed because of just general problems?

And second, I mean, I think you've seen that the casualty numbers for Ukraine and Russia are a mess, with all kinds of different numbers coming out. So today, do you have a better assessment of how many killed in action and -- for Russians and Ukrainians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, on the casualty numbers, no, we honestly don't. And that's why we're being very scrupulous about not putting numbers out there, because we have no confidence in the various ranges and numbers that are coming from all the kinds of different sources, at least not confident enough to espouse them. So no.

I know that you guys are getting bombarded with different figures from all over the place, and I know that that's not an enviable position for reporters to be in, but we don't want to contribute to the confusion by putting out numbers that we just can't be sure of. And I apologize with not being more helpful but we're really trying not to contribute to the sense of confusion on that issue.

And on the convoy, we don't have perfect visibility into each and every vehicle that's in this thing. It clearly was an effort to continue their advance on Kyiv. So it's likely that there is both combat power as well as logistics and sustainment capability in that convoy because you would do that anyway. If you were trying to reinvigorate a move on a major population center with additional troops and resources, you would do it with combat power and sustainment.

So we have no reason to doubt that that there's a mix of that capability in there, but again, we're not looking at each vehicle specifically enough to be able to tell you what they're doing and how many people are on it and what they've got -- what they're carrying in -- in their holds.

It is clearly a -- a piece of their effort to move on Kyiv. That's the most important thing. And -- and it's being held up, again, the -- we believe because of the resistance, it's being held up because of their own sustainment issues, and because of the lack of progress by all the elements ahead of it, the advance elements. They're held up outside of Kyiv, so if they're held up, the mechanized movements -- the early movements in the early hours, they're being held up outside Kyiv, it follows suit that vehicles using the same roadways would also be held up in the rear of them.

So lots of reasons why they haven't made that progress. Again, we think they're going to work to overcome those challenges.

Tony Capaccio?

Q: Sorry, a quick question. You made a pretty interesting claim, that the -- there's been no indication that the Russians have been able to use their combined arms in greater fashion. Can you give an example of what would be an integrated approach? I'm thinking of the National Training Center where the Army practices this all the time, in terms of cyber, air, and air assaults paving the way for an armored breakthrough. I mean, what's an example of --

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Without armchair quarterbacking every single --

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- every single piece of the map here, what -- what I would say is a good example of what we've not seen about good integration is the integration of air and missile defense suppression and support from the air of ground forces, in advance of the movement of them.

So we've seen, you know, not a lot of great air to ground integration of effort. That'd be a good example there.

Q: Okay. And are --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: -- fixation on nuclear weapons. Are you tracking the movement of tactical nuclear warheads to the front? I mean, is that an area you guys are paying attention to?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We are, as closely as we can, Tony, monitoring any strategic threat and we continue to do that. Again, I would just go back to what I've said before -- we've seen nothing that would cause us to have less comfort in the strategic deterrent posture that we have in place. That's really as far as I'm going to go on that one.

Q: Fair enough. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yep.

Idrees?

Q: So super quick on civilian casualties again. We've heard a number of officials on the record say they believe these are war crimes. You've talked about the Russians being more aggressive in their targeting. I'm just trying to understand how it could be possible that those things are true and these might be accidents?

And -- and secondly, I know you can't give numbers but is there a magnitude when it comes to civilian casualties? Are there tens or dozens or hundreds when it comes to the Ukrainian civilians killed? Not a specific number, just the magnitude?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I appreciate the question, Idrees. I'm simply not even going to provide a magnitude because the estimates are all over the map. Some are very low and some are pretty high, and I just don't think it'd be useful for me to even quantify it that way. Again, I appreciate, I know it's important. In fact, it's because I know it's important to you and to the world that we are not going to add to the speculation about it because we recognize that each of these numbers represents a human life, and we're just not going to -- we're not going to get there.

And as for -- I don't know if I completely understood your first question. I think it was that basically, you're asking if they're -- how is it possible that they could accidentally be hitting civilian targets? Is that right?

Q: Yeah, if they're being more aggressive in their targeting, how is it that it could be accidental?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I --

Q: I guess --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Just because -- just because one is being aggressive doesn't mean that one is becoming more discriminant and precise. In fact, the -- the -- the worry is that as they become more aggressive, they will become less precise and less discriminant. That's the concern.

Q: Can I ask a quick follow-up? The Russian Defense Ministry put out what they say are their numbers for -- for Russian troops killed. Do you have any comment on that? I think -- yeah, they just put it out not too long ago.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not going to comment on Russian estimates. My advice to anyone would be to be extremely skeptical over any information that the Russian Ministry of Defense puts out there. I would be extremely skeptical. 

Courtney? I think, Courtney, you will be the last one for today. No.

Q: (inaudible) --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nope, sorry. We've got a couple more, but go ahead, Court.

Q: Okay. Just two quick follow-ons. I just want to be clear. When you said that -- you were talking about civilian casualties -- I don't remember whose question it was -- and hitting civilian targets. You said, "In the media space, they're doing it deliberately." I don't -- can you -- what exactly do you mean by the "media space"?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry. Bad choice of words. I mean, we -- we see them targeting media facilities.

Q: So the TV tower, basically? That like that kind of thing?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, ma'am.

Q: Okay, great.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.

Q: Okay, great.

The other thing I just wanted to clarify -- when you were talking about Chernihiv and Kharkiv, you said that there was increasing efforts at, like, artillery as they get closer to the city, I think. I just want to be -- it's like, you -- you were kind of going back and forth between Kyiv, and then -- and then all three cities. I just --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I just -- so again, apologize if I'm not being clear. The question was Tom's, like, you know, can I quantify the use of artillery? The answer is I can't. All I was trying to say was that as they get closer to these city centers, one could expect them to increase the use of artillery because they'll be within range, and because if in fact, the attempt is to encircle a city and to subdue it, that is one classic way for ground forces to lead to that outcome, is the use of artillery. So I wasn't -- I probably didn't handle it as best as I could.

Q: No, no, no. I -- I just want to --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't quantify the numbers. I just -- it's just a tactic we would expect them to use.

Q: Okay. I just wanted to be sure you were talking about all three cities there. And then the -- and the only other thing is when you were talking about Chernihiv and Kharkiv, you said that both cities are continually under assault, but with no real appreciable movement of Russian forces at the same time, and I was wondering if you have any idea why that is. Is it specific to those cities, why they are -- like, it seems if they're pounding them from the air --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: -- and ground, and so why aren't they also moving in towards the city at the same time? And that's it. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The main reason, Court, is we assess that the resistance is particularly strong in both places, and of the two, Kharkiv in particular. I mean, you might remember, from almost day one or two, we've been talking about the ferocious fighting in and around Kharkiv, which continues.

We also also would say, Court, that in addition to the resistance, that their sustainment problems are not just north of Kyiv. I mean, we have indications that they are experiencing sustainment issues, as well, in these two other northern population centers that they're trying to take.

Abraham?

Q: Thanks. Two quick questions.

President Biden obviously talked a lot about reinforcing allies in NATO. I wondered if you could give us an update on movements of jets, ISR, troops on the eastern flank?

And then secondly, Foreign Minister Kuleba is asking the United States for additional weapons, especially with the Air Force. I wondered if you could talk about weapons deliveries, air -- air defense? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No updates on U.S. troop movements since yesterday. Nothing to speak to.

And on the second question, we continue to flow security assistance to the Ukrainians as recently, again, over the last 24 hours. We're not going to detail the specifics of that, for obvious reasons, and certainly not going to talk about the manner in which we're trying -- we are getting it into the hands of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

I would just tell you, in the conversation that the Secretary had yesterday with the Defense Minister Reznikov, he specifically thanked the Secretary for continued support that the United States is providing him and acknowledged yesterday that, in fact, they are getting these resource shipments, including the ones just over the last day or two.

Last question to Jared?.

Q: Hi. You mentioned a number of these factors which are contributing to the bogging down or slowing down of Russia's encroachment. To what extent can the U.S. attribute any of the relative success to the Ukrainian resistance so far to advising provided by the United States since the start of invasion -- the invasion or shortly prior? And I'm wondering if you can provide any specific examples if so? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, again, we're limited on specific examples. I mean, we just don't have perfect knowledge of the battlefield, Jared. There's lots of factors to take account for the resistance that they're meeting.

One is President Zelensky still has command and control of his forces.

Two, as they've said themselves yesterday and Minister Reznikov said yesterday in his call with Secretary Austin, they continue to get a lot of security assistance not just from the United States but from other nations. So things are getting into their hands that they can use.

Three, they have marshaled their assets quite well. I mean, every day that you and I have talked, we've talked about the fact that the airspace is contested and that their air and missile defenses are still intact and viable. That's a credit to the way they've marshaled their resources.

And then three, how do you account for will? The will to fight is very strong, both in terms of their Armed Forces but also in terms of their civilian population. And you don't need to hear me say that. You guys can see it for yourself playing out every single day. So the will to fight is very strong.

Okay, I'm going to stop there. I believe the Pentagon will be doing a briefing this afternoon normal time. And so -- 3:00, I'm sorry, I've been told that's not normal time, 3:00. So we'll see you guys later this afternoon. Thanks very much. Out here.