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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing, March 7, 2022

March 7, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everybody. 

I'll just -- I actually don't have a whole lot of different, or new material to put out today that we didn't give you yesterday. There's a few small updates. I'm going to provide them at -- and at the risk of saving your time, I won't go through -- I won't repeat the same things that I would have -- that I gave you yesterday that are essentially the same.

So what's different is we now assess that Mr. Putin has committed nearly 100 percent of his combat power into Ukraine, and by "combat power" I mean that combat power that he had amassed along the border with Ukraine and in Belarus -- nearly 100 percent. I'm loathe to quantify it more than that because as you might imagine, as we get down into the -- you know, in -- into the onesie-twosies on battalion tactical groups it gets a little bit more difficult for us to see with specificity, but that's -- that's our best estimate right now.

Since the beginning of his war on Ukraine, he has now launched more than 625 missiles, again, a mix of short-range, medium-range, close-range ballistic missiles, as well as surface-to-air missiles and cruise missiles. Our assessment is the majority of the 625-plus are -- are the mixture of medium-range, close-range, surface-to-air missiles and cruise missiles. In other words, the short-range ballistic missiles, which had been the majority for quite some time, is no longer the majority. But that's actually been trending in that direction for the last few days, but I just throw that out for what it's worth.

The -- the airspace is still contested, but we do and -- but -- but we do continue to assess that President Zelensky has the -- the vast majority of his fixed-wing aircraft available to him to -- to fly, and they are flying and they're -- they are continuing to use surface-to-air assets to defend the airspace, but it is still contested.

There's a bunch of stuff that I'll just wait for you to ask, maybe, that we can't corroborate, but I'm sure you're going to want me to, so I'll just wait for the questions to come. The only other thing that I want to add is that over the weekend, Secretary Austin did order the deployment from the United States of an additional roughly 500 U.S. military personnel to locations in Europe to augment existing forces that are there. These additional forces are -- are going to be positioned to respond to the current security environment in light of Russia's renewed aggression against Ukraine, and again, to reinforce deterrence and defensive capabilities of -- of NATO, particularly the eastern flank. As always, these are not permanent moves, and we're going to adjust the posture as conditions evolve. We've said that from the get-go. And to remind, nothing has changed about President Biden's very clear direction that we will not be putting U.S. troops in Ukraine. These additional forces are going to be going to -- to NATO to shore up capabilities that are already there.

So what are we sending? We're sending KC-135 refueling aircraft. They will be deployed to Souda Bay, Greece. I do not know exactly how many aircraft. I do not know where they're coming from. The -- the services are still sourcing this requirement.

And Air Support Operations Center, which will deploy to Poland and Romania, again, I don't have sourcing on that. I don't have exact numbers. We're going to be briefing you guys later this afternoon, and we'll probably have a little more context for you. And an ordinance company and a maintenance company to Germany to provide additional logistics support to the First Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, which is already deployed there. So these are enablers, as you can see: refueling, Air Operations Center support personnel, ordinance and maintenance company personnel. These are enablers that the secretary ordered over the weekend.

With these additional deployments, the United States will have on rotational or permanent orders roughly about 100 -- 100,000, now, U.S. military personnel again, either permanently stationed in Europe, or deployed, with these additional forces. And of course, we believe that this represents our long-standing commitment to European security.

All right, so with that, we'll open it up. Bob, I think you're first.

Q: Picking up on your -- your initial comment about, you assess that nearly 100 percent of the pre-staged Russian forces have now come in -- now been committed inside Ukraine. I'm wondering whether you see any signs that the Russian military is preparing to move additional forces in -- in that direction, to go beyond what they had already, you know, set up before they started this?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we -- we have not seen indications that -- that they are -- that they are preparing to move additional battalion tactical groups from elsewhere in the country -- that -- to shore up what they've put into Ukraine.

We -- obviously, if we see that happening and we can report it, we will, but we have not seen any indication that he is going to go beyond the -- the amassed combat power that he had already developed.

Q: Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. Jeff Seldin, VOA?

Q: Two questions.

In the past, Russia has sought to take advantage and leverage refugee flows during conflicts and to the disadvantage of European countries. Are you seeing any signs right now, with everything that's gone on with the refugees, that Russia has opened that part of its playbook in -- in Ukraine, to weaponize the refugees?

And -- and second question, there have been a lot of reports and a lot of speculation about Russia bringing in mercenaries from Chechnya, Syria, Africa, elsewhere. Does the Pentagon have any sense of how many mercenaries Russia's bringing into Ukraine? And -- and to what extent are these mercenaries skilled fighters or just more cannon fodder? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, Jeff, I don't think we've seen indications that Mr. Putin is trying to weaponize, if you will, a flow of refugees. Clearly, he is creating a flow of refugees. The UN, I think, estimates now one and a half million. But we haven't seen any indication that he's -- like his Belarusian counterpart, deliberately trying to weaponize them.

On the mercenaries, we -- we do believe that -- that -- we believe the -- the reports are accurate, that -- that the Russians are trying to recruit Syrians, in particular, to -- to sign up and fight in Ukraine. We find that noteworthy, that he believes that he needs to rely on foreign fighters to supplement what is -- what is a very significant commitment of combat power inside Ukraine as it is.

We don't have an estimate on the numbers. I mean, that -- they -- they are on a recruiting mission. It is not clear to us whether they've set a quota for that and what that would be or how many they've gotten so far but we do -- we do corroborate -- can corroborate reports that the Russians are trying to supplement their -- their fighters with foreign fighters.

Again, we'd just -- we don't know how many. And how good they are, again, I think we -- we couldn't speak to the quality of each individual that they -- that they're going to try to recruit or what -- where they would get them from or how they would prepare them, if they would even prepare them.

We just think it's noteworthy that he's indicated a -- a willingness to rely now on foreign fighters to fight his war in Ukraine.

I think that answered all your questions.

Tony Capaccio?

Q: A couple of questions.

One, over the weekend, Secretary Blinken talked about the possibility of giving Poland F-16 fighters if they send MiG-29s down to the -- to Ukraine. Any insight into that, in terms of is it the DOD's role?

And then secondly, on the -- on Stinger missiles, Mara Karlin last week did acknowledge Stingers were going over. Can you give any sense of the effectiveness of those weapons to date?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, Tony, on the Stingers, we -- I've got nothing more to add on that. We're not going to talk about the -- the list of -- of specific weapons systems that Russia's getting. I'm not even going to do that on background.

And on the F-16s, I -- I would just tell you the administration is discussing what options might be available, in -- in terms of potential backfill, should a country like Poland want to provide fighter aircraft to -- to Mr. Zelensky.

We've made no decisions, and therefore, it's putting the cart before the horse to get in -- get ahead, in terms of if something like that were to happen, how would it be sourced? I mean, we're -- we're -- the administration is considering those kind of potentials but I -- I don't have a lot of detail for you.

I would point back to what I said earlier, though, that -- just to remind that the Ukrainian Air Force still has the vast majority of their fixed wing combat aircraft available to them.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Fadi?

Q: So just to clarify, I heard you saying that the reports about Russians seeking to enlist foreign fighters in Ukraine are accurate. Are the reports about Syrians specifically accurate? And is this based on your assessment of the reports or you have -- the Pentagon has intelligence on that specifically? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I wouldn't corroborate it if I didn't feel comfortable that we know it's true, and that it's Syrians I talked about, Syrians. We know that they're -- they're trying to recruit Syrians for the fight.

Barbara Starr?

Q: Can you explain of -- this point -- and I know you might address it later -- but do you have anything more you can explain about what led to having to deploy another 500 personnel? What did you see in the -- what did the Secretary see in the overall picture that led him to that decision?

Can you explain a little bit more about what this Air Support Ops Center to both Poland and Romania would do? And just to flesh that whole thing out, how much of this do you -- is to -- you've said, I think, it's given to respond to this security environment and reinforce deterrence. How much of this is to have the things in place to be ready to fall in on it, should you come --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You dropped off, Barb. "Should we come" to what? Barb?

Q: Should you -- should you come to an Article 5 situation?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. So let's -- just to put this 500 in perspective, it is -- it's only 500, small units, enablers. We said at the get-go, when we were deploying forces, that we would not rule off the table additional forces, to include enablers, and -- and these -- these units are very much in support of forces that were already sent forward and it was determined, based on conversations with the -- that we had -- the Secretary's had with the Chairman and with General Wolters, that these additional enablers would be useful for the forces that are already forward, as well as those that -- that were being repositioned inside Europe.

One of the things we've talked about is how important protecting NATO territory is and that includes NATO airspace. And now that the air space is contested in Ukraine, again, I think it's safe to assume that these -- these assets, not all of them, the ordinance company, for instance, but that these assets will prove helpful to our ability to make sure that we're protecting NATO airspace.

So I think I think I'd just -- I think I'd just leave it at that. 

Tom Bowman? --

Q: Can I just follow-up super quick? Was -- was any of this a result of General Milley's discussions over the last several days with his counter parts in Europe? Did -- did -- did those discussions contribute to this decision?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. No. And I would -- I would walk you away from the notion that this was somehow some sort of a spring loaded decision that we made over the weekend, you know, because of what we saw on the ground.

This was -- factoring in additional enablers was always part of the plan and it was just deemed that now that we got -- we've got some of those additional forces are in place, you know, following them would be necessary, aviation enablers just makes a lot of sense.

It is not based on something that we saw over the course of the weekend. It wasn't the basis of a conversation that General Milley had on his trip. These enablers were already kind of queued up to go and, again, fully in support of our -- of our efforts to help be able to defend NATO airspace if needed. Demetri, Financial Times.

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). Does the fact that you don't have many updates today suggest that Russia's actually struggling even more than we previously thought. And then secondly, if Russian troops fail to take Kyiv, how detrimental do you think it would be their overall campaign in Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's -- you know look, I want to be careful about giving report cards to the Russians. And since it's their operation, their war, and I -- and I -- we're -- we're just trying to tell you what we're seeing. And we're not seeing a lot of progress, at least over the course of the last couple of days. They continue to have some progress in the South, as we've talked about.

But elsewhere in the country they are not. And they -- they continue to be frustrated by a stiff Ukrainian resistance as well as their own -- as well as their own internal challenges. As for Kyiv, I mean all I can tell you is that Mr. Putin has made it clear that toppling the current government and replacing it with one of his own is a core strategic goal of his.

In order to do that he has to take Kyiv. He has not taken Kyiv. So I leave it to -- I'd leave it to others to presume what that -- what that means for his -- so far his -- his success rate. But also want to remind, Demetri, as we have in the past and I'm going to just keep doing it, he has an awful lot of combat power available to him and he has it in -- in numbers that -- that are superior to the numbers that the Ukrainians arrayed against him.

And I just don't think we should -- we should underestimate that or the fire power that he is so clearly willing to -- to increase his use of. 

Q: Have you seen any more movement on Odessa?  There have been reports of attacks on the port city of Olvia, which is south of (Nikolayev ?), I think.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we have not seen -- we haven't seen any evidence of -- of a movement on -- on Odessa.

Q: Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yep.

Q: All right, thanks for -- thanks for taking my question --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry, who was that?

Q: It's Tara.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, go ahead, Tara.

Q: Before you forget me. Can you confirm reports that Russian forces are not recovering their dead and has Ukraine put in any requests for any sort of mortuary assistance? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I know of no request by Ukraine for mortuary assistance. And we have anecdotal reports that, you know, at places and at times the Russians have not recovered their dead.

But we can't say that that's some sort of wholesale decision by the Russian Ministry of Defense. We -- we certainly have seen reports that at times and at places they have failed to recover their dead soldiers. 

Nancy Youssef.

Q: Thank you. Can you give us any sense on the pace of the U.S. defensive weapons shipments to Poland or, excuse me, to Ukraine? That is a few days ago you said it was 70 percent of the total 350 million, do you have an updated figure?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have an updated figure, Nancy. Well, we'll try to get that for you but it might -- I won't guess but we'll -- we'll get an updated figure.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Wafaa.

Q: Hi, thank you for taking my question. So on the assistance --security assistance Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the sending military assistance to Ukraine may become more difficult in the coming days. So do you share the same assessment or same concern?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I could tell is that -- that -- that we have certainly in recent days continued to flow things into Ukraine and not just us but 14 other nations are doing the same thing. It's, obviously, moving in on the ground. And it's getting in there through numerous venues.

We have not seen those -- we haven't seen those avenues closed or threatened. But it's certainly possible that over time it could -- it could become more difficult. But we just haven't seen that be an impact yet.

Q: And on the recruiting of Syrian fighters do you have any indications that these fighters or these Syrians are inside -- already inside Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We don't.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Phil Stewart.

Q: Hey, just following up on that last question. Have you seen any indications that the Russians are starting to move west given that that's where a lot of these transfers are taking place?

And -- and are there -- are there certain, you know, new or are there any kind of agreed-upon rules about transfers particularly related to fighter jets that would prevent them from being moved by air into Ukraine if that transfer does happen? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Prohibition on the transfer of aircraft by air?

Q: Yes, the Russians have said that they would -- the Russians have said that they would take any -- they would view any aircraft departing from NATO countries airstrips into -- heading into the theater for attacks on Russia as that country's involvement in the war.

So I was wondering how, you -- you know, folks in -- in the -- in the government were thinking through that problem of -- of transferring aircraft --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, what our -- our position, Phil, is that we would not stand in the way if a country like Poland wanted to contribute aircraft to -- to Ukraine. That's a sovereign decision that they -- that they can make.

As for the proposal of a potential backfill from the United States to -- to a -- a third nation, like a donor nation, we're still working our way through that but we pose no objection to another nation that has -- wants to make a sovereign decision to contribute aircraft to Ukraine. That's up to them.

Q: But you see no problem with flying those aircraft into Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It -- it's not for us to say, Phil. It -- it -- it -- that would be a sovereign decision by a -- a country like Poland, to make that decision for themselves, in terms of whether they believe that that was the best course of action, the right course of action. That -- that's -- that would be up for them to -- to -- to make that decision.

Q: And indications on going west?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry?

Q: Apologies. I had asked also about whether the -- you saw any indications the Russians were starting to move westward in any way? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We -- we have not. The -- he vast, vast majority of -- of missile strikes and air activity, as well as ground activity, continues to remain along those three lines that we've been talking about now for over a week -- from the north down towards Kyiv, from the south, up -- up from Crimea, towards the -- towards Mykolaiv and towards Mariupol, both of which we believe are being contested, and then sort of a northeasterly thing, a -- a route towards Kharkiv. We've -- you see no significant activity in -- in the west of Ukraine.

Courtney?

Q: I have two quick follow ups and then one question.

Now that you say about 100 percent of the troops are inside, do you have any sense of how many that is, the number? It was sort of, like, between 150 and 190 at one point?.

And then I know you said you -- you can't say where the 500 additional troops are coming from but are they coming from the United States or are they already inside Europe?

And then I have one more question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't give you a number of -- of his total force strength. We've, as you know, stay away from numbers, but, you know, of the -- of the 127 battalion groups or so that we assist -- assess that he was -- was putting in the fight, he's got almost all of them in. I think that's as far as I'd go.

On -- on the enablers, yes, it's our understanding that they'll be coming from the United States.

Q: Okay, great. And then one more. It -- it's -- can you talk a little bit more about what you guys are seeing going on around Kyiv? Can you say, like, how far out the advance -- the -- has the column moved at all or -- or that it hasn't but, like, there's -- there's a lot of reporting from on the ground that the fighting has gotten really close to Kyiv. I -- I mean, can you just give us any -- any kind of operational picture of what's happening up there? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, clearly, there's fighting in Kyiv, I mean, as they continue to bombard it and hit it, but we -- we still -- we still believe that they are -- that they're outside -- the main advance is still stalled outside the city.

And I'm trying to look and see if I've got something more specific but I don't think I do. No, I don't have a distance today of how far out from Kyiv they are, but -- but we don't assess that they're -- we don't assess that they are in -- the advance elements are in the city.

They do continue to try to make progress, there is fighting there, but I don't have a -- I don't have a distance for you today. I'm sorry.

Q: All right. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Mike Brest?

Q: Good morning. I was wondering if you guys have seen anything from Belarus or if you could talk a little bit about any movements you've seen in that regard? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We still don't have any indication that the Belarusians are making preparations to join the fight and we -- we have seen no Belarusian units inside Ukraine.

Mike Glenn?

Q: Just a quick question -- any movement on this request by some of these other European countries for the U.S. to have a more permanent presence in countries like Poland or Romania?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nothing to report in that regard, Mike, no -- no deliberations, no decisions, no -- you know, no serious discussions about changing the permanent footprint in -- in Europe, but as Dr. Karlin testified a week or so ago, I mean, certainly, you know, as a result of this renewed invasion, I think, you know, we -- we certainly are open to looking at European posture in the long term, but there's nothing in the short term to speak to, no -- no active decisions or meetings or anything like that to -- to indicate that we're moving towards some different permanent posture in Europe.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yep. Hailey from Task & Purpose?

Q: I'm just wondering if there's any update right now for the troops that -- the paratroopers, in particular, in Poland, as far as their mission, if they've been requested to assist by the State Department or anything like that that's changed their objectives right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No change to their mission set. They're still poised and ready to assist with the evacuees as needed, American evacuees, and again, they have not had a huge demand signal for that, but they're still there doing other training -- training events and no -- no -- no specific change to speak to.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yep. Joe Gould?

Q: I wanted to ask you about the cyber mission teams. Can you tell us, one, you know, what the makeup and job of those teams are? And two, given that there's some cyber funding in the Ukraine package that's being requested, what's the potential future use of -- of, you know, DOD's cyber assets? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have -- so this is going to be really, really disappointing for you, Joe -- I'm not going to talk about the -- the things that we're doing in cyber and I'm not going to talk about the resources that are applied to that.

We acknowledged, just before the invasion, that we had been providing some cyberspace advice to -- to the Ukrainians, and I just -- I think I just need to leave it at that.

Q: Are you able to say whether some of the -- that work is being done in Eastern Europe or locally, as opposed to here in the United States?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nope, I cannot.

Q: All right, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Jen Griffin -- yep. Jen Griffin?

Q: Can you tell us if you've seen any evidence that Russian forces have moved on additional nuclear facilities? There was obviously that first night, where the firing -- we all know about that -- that original nuclear facility. Then there was a second one, you know, several dozen miles from there. And then there was also a report yesterday about a facility in Kharkiv that has some nuclear material. Can you update us on where that -- all that -- that stands?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No -- no, we haven't seen anything that we can corroborate in terms of additional moves on other nuclear facilities. We did see the reporting coming out of the region that they had launched rockets at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology. We're still looking into those reports, but we're not independently able to verify them.

Q: Okay. And is there any discussion of the U.S. participating in a no-fly zone over humanitarian corridors, if they can actually be established with the ICRC in the lead?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Karoun, Washington Post?

Q: Just a few little ones for me. I know that you're not confirming yet the backfilling, the proposed backfilling, but in a potential -- with the planes, but in a potential situation --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's not that -- it's not that -- let me -- let me say, it's not that I'm not confirming it. We -- there -- there's a discussion inside the administration about whether this is an option that -- that we can -- we can pursue. That discussion's ongoing, and that -- that I can confirm, that we're having that discussion, but it -- it's not as if there's a decision made that we're simply not going to talk about.

Q: Okay, I -- I was going to ask something, you know, related to that, which is that if -- so a few little ones. If there is a decision to go ahead with that potential backfilling of F-16s, how does that affect the pecking order of kind of who's supposed to get next shipments? Would Taiwan get knocked back, or others?

Also, just, can you give -- the Odessa mayor has been saying that they are bracing for an -- an amphibious invasion. So are we adding anything like harpoons or anything to the mix of -- of weapons that we're sending over to the Ukrainians right now? And then just finally, can you give any more detail about components of the -- the column, the convoy, and if that's changed at all as its been stuck and as -- as we've been waiting to see what's going to happen with it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Too soon to tell on what the backfill -- what -- if -- if there was a backfill, what that would look like in terms of how many aircraft and where they would come from. We're just not there yet in the decision-making process.

I won't talk about weapons systems specifically that are going to Ukraine. We have -- have not seen indications of -- of a amphibious assault underway on Odessa. We have not ruled out, certainly, the indications of -- that -- that we -- we believe the Russians want to take Odessa, and an amphibious assault would -- would certainly not be something we -- we would rule out as an option ahead of them. We also think it's possible that they would want to double that, or reinforce that with ground troops perhaps coming down from Mykolaiv, but they are not -- they haven't taken Mykolaiv yet. But I don't have an update for you on -- on what that -- what that looks like, and I'm -- and I'm certainly not going to talk about specific munitions and weapons that -- that the -- that we continue to flow to Ukraine.

And then on the convoy, I don't have an update for you. We believe it's still stalled, still not moving, and that it was principally designed as a resupply convoy. There were some combat elements in there, but again, the -- the convoy's not going anywhere and did -- hasn't gone anywhere significantly over the weekend.

Last question to Matt from ABC.

Q: Hey, thanks. We've talked in the past about civilians being hit, and sometimes targeted, at least in the case of media towers and -- and government buildings. I wanted to ask if you're seeing any uptick in residential areas being hit deliberately, or even any signs of the Russians trying to impede refugees from leaving some of these population centers.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we've seen the same sort of imagery that you've seen; certainly not disputing that -- that civilians are being hit as they attempt to flee, and we have seen increased bombardment of Kharkiv, Kyiv and Chernihiv, and now we're seeing, you know, bombardments around Mykolaiv down in the south, as well as Mariupol, which continues to be under assault.

They -- it appears as though the Russians are increasing their use of long-range fires to supplement or to make up for the lack of ground movement that they have had, and the lack of air superiority that they don't enjoy. So we certainly have noticed increases in -- in long-range -- what we call long-range fires, right? Bombardment, rocket attacks, artillery, as well as missile -- missile strikes, and we do assess that -- that these strikes are hitting civilian targets, civilian infrastructure, residential areas. It's not clear to us because we don't -- we're not in the targeting loop, so we don't -- we can't access with specificity how much of those strikes on civilian infrastructure and -- and residences are deliberate, and how much of them are -- are simply the result of -- of imprecision. Clearly, it's happening. It's happening at a greater rate and with -- on a greater scale, and all the more evidence of the reckless nature with which the Russians are propagating this invasion.

Okay, guys --

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I want to thank you, everybody.

Q: It's Tom Bowman. I think you skipped over me. A couple of quick ones?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I didn't have you on the list, but go ahead.

Q: Okay. Getting back to Kyiv, are -- they seem to be making more progress in the northeast part coming in there, as opposed to the northwest where that convoy is. And also, you talked earlier, and others have, about, the strategy seems to be coming down from Kharkiv, and then coming north from Mariupol to kind of block in Ukrainian forces. Do you still believe that will happen, or perhaps are the Russians moving west to help in the Kyiv assault?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We still believe that they want to -- that they want to seal off the eastern part of the country, to -- to fix Ukrainian forces there so that they can't come to the relief of their colleagues over near Kyiv. We still believe they want to do that, to seal off the -- the east.

We also believe, as we've said before, that another strategy of theirs could be that they, once through Kharkiv, to divert some of their forces to the west to try to encircle Kyiv. That -- that is certainly a possibility, but they have not made significant progress on Kharkiv, Tom, so they -- they don't even have Kharkiv yet. So it's difficult to know with certainty what their plans are post-Kharkiv. They are still fighting it out to try to get Kharkiv. They have not done that.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Anything -- anything more on the northeast, though, besides --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I -- I don't have any updates -- I mean, that's why I didn't really lead with the whole thing. I mean, they've basically been stalled throughout the course of the weekend. They just have not made any significant progress on the ground towards Kyiv, in Kharkiv or Chernihiv. The -- the Ukrainians are putting up a very stiff resistance, and they just have not -- they have not made much progress, and that could be -- this -- this frustrated effort of their's on ground could certainly be one reason why they are trying to recruit Syrians to come to their assistance.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Anybody else have one more?

Q: Yes, Dave Martin? I somehow didn't make the list. You -- you say you've seen no indications that Putin is sending reinforcements from the interior of the county.

The latest update from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry says that to fulfill the goal of the increased bombardment, which you were just talking about, the aviation units of the central and eastern military districts are being transferred to the territory of the Republic of Belarus. Have you seen any indication of that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have not. I have not.

Q: Okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We would still assess -- in fact, we do assess that -- that Mr. Putin still has the vast majority of his aircraft fixed and rotary wing that -- that he had amassed over the last few months, he has the vast majority of them still available for use, even though we know that some of the aircraft have been shot down by the Ukrainians and we assessed that he's also had some sustainment issues of his own in terms of his ability to maintain his aircraft.

But the vast majority of the fleet that he had assembled is still available to him. That is -- that is our assessment as of today. We have seen no indication that he is self compelled to flow in from elsewhere in Russia additional air -- Air Force capability.

Okay. I know that wasn't a whole lot of new stuff but it's -- it's really what we've seen. There just hasn't -- there isn't really a lot of new stuff -- new to talk about today. We'll be briefing this afternoon, I think at 3 o'clock, 3:15 -- 3:15 --

Q: Sorry, can I ask a question? Hello?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Who are you?

Q: Habi.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry who -- who is this --

Q: Habi, from Al Sharq News.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, go ahead.

Q: When was the last time you sent supplies to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: When was the last time what?

Q: You flew supplies to the Ukraine? You delivered supplies to Ukraine in the last 24 hours?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We continue to deliver on a security assistance package over the course of the weekend. I owe an answer back to Nancy and all of you on sort of what percentage we're at in the 350, we'll find that out for you.

But over the course of the weekend they were -- they were getting additional stuff from the United States as well as from other countries. I think we've made it very clear that we are not flying things into Ukraine given that the air space is contested.

Q: And on more question -- one more --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay everybody, we'll -- we'll see you later. Bye-bye.