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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing, March 8, 2022

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay, good afternoon, everybody -- or I'm sorry, good morning.  Thanks for -- thanks for holding with us here during the -- during the delay.  I'll get right at it -- and again, this is a Senior Defense Official attribution.

Just first some administrative notes at the top.  Secretary Austin just spoke this morning with the Defense Minister from Slovakia as well as the United Kingdom Ben Wallace, and he is on the phone right now with the Defense Minister of -- of France.

These calls were obviously all centered around the war in Ukraine and what the -- what the United States is doing to continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine, as well as support deterrence and defense capabilities of -- of NATO.

Of course, he thanked each of these leaders for their support as well to Ukraine -- for their countries' support to Ukraine, and for the assurance and deterrence measures that they're all taking and -- taking to help strengthen NATO's Eastern Flank.  We'll have a full readout of all three of the calls here later today.  They're -- like I said, they're -- he just wrapped up U.K. and Slovakia and he's on -- he's on with France right now.

One small knit from yesterday -- I had told you yesterday that the KC-135 aircraft -- I said they were planned to go into Greece.  There -- there's now been a subsequent decision by General Wolters that he wants to move them to Spangdahlem, Germany.  So that's where they're going to go.

Again, as I said yesterday, the decision about where these enablers go is up to General Wolters and he made -- he made -- he made a decision to send them to Germany.  So that's where they're going.  I just want to -- just clear that up with you.

In terms of situational awareness here, we continue to see Ukrainian resistance efforts slow down the Russians, particularly in the north.  Near Kyiv, we still observe that Russian forces have not moved closer to the city center in the north and the northwest.  They're -- still seem to be the closest they've been able to get is at Hostomel Airport.  These are their advance ground elements that we're talking about.

Obviously, we see the -- the bombardment of Kyiv continue through long-range fires and we're certainly in no position to refute reports that there's some isolated fighting inside the city.  We think these are recon elements, as well.  So that -- they still haven't been able to -- to move any closer than the Hostomel Airport.

To the east of Kyiv, we do see Russian forces now trying to make an advance.  This is a -- this is a line of advance that we haven't -- haven't seen much of recently but we estimate that this line of advance -- this is a -- you all have seen reports of the violence in this town, Sumy.

Well, just to the north of Sumy, there's been a Russian advance from the northeast, kind of skirting Chernihiv and skirting Kharkiv and kind of moving on -- on Kyiv from that direction.  And we estimate that they're about 60 kilometers or so from the city.  So they're still further away than the main advance coming down on the north but -- but I did want to highlight that for you.

We do see, as you do, fighting and resist -- some Russian efforts to advance on and isolate Chernihiv, as well as Kharkiv, and then down in the south, if you -- well, coming out of Crimea, just turning to the northwest, Mykolaiv, we see fighting going on there.  The Russians still appear to remain outside of Mykolaiv, largely to the northeast, and the best estimate today is roughly 40 kilometers.  That's a rough estimate, but -- but the shelling and the -- the violence in Mykolaiv is obviously picking up, as, again, your outlets are reporting quite well.

So that's sort of that northwest advance out of Crimea.  They have not taken Mikolaiv, and we don't see any evidence of amphibious landings or -- and you know, a -- an imminent amphibious assault on Odessa.  Again, some of the thinking was that once they take Mikolaiv -- and again, we don't know this for sure, but one -- some of the thinking is they make a left turn out Mikolaiv and start to head down towards Odessa from -- on a ground route there, and they could be -- could be joined by an amphibious assault near Odessa from the Black Sea.  But again, we haven't seen that happen and we haven't seen that materialize, so the -- the big difference between today and yesterday is that the bombardment and the shelling of Mikolaiv has increased, but -- but they are not -- we don't anticipate that they're actually in the city.

So coming up out of Crimea to the northeast, we do assess that Mariupol is -- is isolated now.  There is still a stiff Ukrainian resistance there.  It's not taken.  We don't -- we don't see that Russian forces are in Mariupol in any significant way.  They -- but they have -- we assess that they have isolated Mariupol, and they continue to, again, the long-range fires in there.  And this -- this isolation of Mariupol is -- is basically from two directions:  the north coming out of Donetsk and the -- and then the -- from the south, or basically, the southwest, coming up the -- up the coast.  So that's -- that's the situation there.  Again, we think that, you know, they are making generally more progress in the south than they are in the -- in the north.

No appreciable difference in change in the combat power that Mr. Putin has in.  We still assess, basically, he's got nearly 100 percent.  There might be a battalion tactical group or two that he doesn't have committed, but -- but essentially, he's got 100 percent of his -- of his amassed combat power inside Ukraine.  We are not seeing indications that he is pulling from elsewhere in the country to add to that combat power.  That combat power is largely intact, quite frankly.  We would estimate, you know, the -- with all -- with everything he's got, he still has nearly 95 percent of the combat power that he started with.  So 100 percent of the forces are in, or nearly 100 percent, I should say, and the combat power available to him, if you -- if you count his estimated losses just in terms of aircraft and vehicles that are either inoperable or not moving or not available to him, he still has a lot of combat power available.

The same could be said for the Ukrainians.  I mean, they still have the vast majority of their combat power available to them, although they certainly don't have the -- the physical numbers that the -- the Russians do.

As of today, we've seen more than -- or all -- or nearly -- I'd put it nearly 670 missile launches from -- from the -- the Russian side in -- into Ukraine.  Almost half of them are being fired from Russia; the other half largely from inside Ukraine.  There's some coming from Belarus, a little bit more than 70 of them from Belarus, and only a half a dozen or so coming from the Black Sea.  So the -- the vast majority of missiles that are being fired into Ukraine are being fired from Russia, or from actually inside Ukraine.

And -- and that -- that brings up a -- an element that I -- I want to at least highlight for you.  You know, we still continue to hear talk about the potential for a no-fly zone, and I think it's just important to remind that nearly all of -- of the country of Ukraine is in some way or another under the umbrella of Russian surface-to-air missile capabilities.  Again, without quantifying that -- I'd rather not get into that level of detail, but the -- the -- much of the airspace of Ukraine, north and south, is under some umbrella of -- of Russian surface-to-air missile capability, and I think that's an important point to make.

And even for all that, we still anticipate that the Russians have not achieved air superiority over the entire country, and that the -- that the Ukrainians still have at their disposal viable and effective air and missile defense, and they are still able to and are flying aircraft in that very contested airspace.  But I thought it was important to make that point.

And then lastly, we observed yesterday Russian shelling that damaged a major gas pipeline in Eastern Ukraine.  As a -- as a result of that, 24 gas distribution stations were switched off, and about a million consumers in Donetsk and the Zaporizhzhia regions are currently without gas.  The largest regions with electricity outages continue to remain Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Donetsk, Kyiv and Luhansk.  Mariupol was still completely disconnected from the grid, and has been since March the 2nd, so there's a real impact from this shelling and this war just in terms of -- of power and gas.

And I think that's about all I had to start with, so we'll go to questions.  Lita.  There -- there you are.

Q:  Hi, thanks.  I know it's hard for you to get into the minds of the Russians right now, but when you're looking at Kyiv, do you see any -- do you see some signs that this suggests maybe Russia regrouping, trying to come at the city from different directions, or that they are getting closer to making what you would consider sort of an -- an all-out assault on -- on Kyiv?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We have not, again, with the caveat that we don't have perfect visibility into Russian military planning.  We've seen nothing that would tell us that they are not still interested in encircling and forcing the surrender of Kyiv.  We still assess that that is a -- a main objective of them.

You know, we've been -- we've been watching their moves in the northeast, so this -- this advancing elements that we see coming from the northeast, north of Sumy and -- and over -- over towards Kyiv from that direction, it -- it's not a new development.  We've been kind of watching this.  But they have -- they haven't -- they have made progress in the last day or so.  Again, they're -- they're, we assess, within 50 kilometers from Kyiv, you know, to the -- to the -- to the northeast.

They continue to be stalled elsewhere, as I said earlier, but largely right now, we see the advance on Kyiv coming from essentially three directions -- directly due north, on the west side of Dnipro -- that's where they've gotten to the airport, Hostomel, but -- but really no further -- to the northeast of Kyiv, on the other side of Dnipro, coming down from Chernihiv -- they're stuck at Chernihiv and can't get past it -- and then the third advance we're seeing right now is from the northeast that I just talked about.

So we still have every reason to assess that -- that their effort is to encircle and force the surrender of -- of Kyiv, and even as they have not made the geographic progress that we think that they believed they would, they have stepped up, as you all have seen, the -- the bombardment of the -- of the city through a -- a mixture of missile and rocket and -- and artillery fire, so -- as well as airstrikes, so -- or -- or air launch strikes.

So -- so they're -- they're increasing the pressure on Kyiv without question.  We -- we still anticipate -- we still believe that that -- that that's a major goal of theirs.

Q:  And (SDO), just one quick follow up on that -- can you give us sort of your assessment of foreign fighters in Ukraine, both on the side of the Russians as well as on the side of the Ukrainians?  Can you tell us sort of what you're seeing at this point?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We don't have good, hard numbers on that, Lita.  As I've said, we -- we know that they're trying to recruit some but we don't have more -- more detail than that.  So I -- I couldn't give you an estimate of how many might already be in the fight.

But we -- we know that they're exploring that as an option, for sure, as well as the use of -- of contractors.  We've talked about this earlier, the Wagner's interest in -- the Wagner Group's interest in employing contractors in Ukraine.  We still believe that's -- that -- that is a valid avenue that they're exploring, but I couldn't give you an estimate on numbers.

Okay.  Eric Schmitt?

Q:  I want to just come back to your assessment you made at the top about the -- he's got roughly -- he's got nearly 100 percent of his combat power in country but you're assessing he still has 95 percent of that -- is still usable.  So that would in -- that -- that five percent delta would include what the military would consider combat-ineffective units, not just those that have been damaged or destroyed but -- but are basically stuck in convoys, wherever they might be, or just not -- not usable in combat?  That's my first question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I -- I think it would be more either things are destroyed or are rendered inoperable, Eric.  I mean, if a unit is intact, maybe it's stuck, but it's intact, hasn't been attacked, hasn't been degraded militarily, we wouldn't count that as -- as degraded combat power.  It's still available, they just may not be using it.

Q:  Okay.  And are you seeing any indications they've had in this -- this -- this intensifying bombardment that you've talked about, that they've had to revert to older, more Soviet era missiles, perhaps indicating a shortage of more -- you know, more advanced-type missiles that might be, I guess, still stuck on some of these resupply convoys?  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No, Eric, I -- we -- we don't have an assessment of -- of the -- the make and models of -- of the different systems that they're using.  I just don't think we've got that level of fidelity.

But I -- I mean, again, without getting into specific numbers on the -- Mr. Putin still has the vast majority of -- of -- of tactical, surface-to-air missile capability available to him and as well as artillery.  Again, what -- what models they're using, I -- I couldn't tell you, but we're not -- I'm not -- I have seen nothing that -- that -- as we watch this, that tells us with great fidelity that they're somehow shifting to older, less relevant, less viable versions of weapons systems.  They still have an awful lot available to them.


Q:  Good morning, (SDO).  Two questions.

One, there were some reports yesterday, with the killing of -- of Gerasimov's nephew, that Russia was struggling with its secure communications.  And I was wondering if you've seen any evidence of that?  And if so, whether that's contributing to the -- the lack of integration between the air and ground forces?

And secondly, it sounds like there were 50 new missile attacks over the last 24 hours.  Could you give us a breakdown in terms of the targets?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I don't have their -- I -- I don't have their targeting plan, Demetri.  We -- we -- again, we don't -- we -- we -- we don't have access to their -- their targeting and planning process.  But they have -- they have continued a pretty steady beat, in fact, an increased beat here, with respect to air and missile attacks, as they have been frustrated on the ground, and they are -- we assess that they're -- they're hitting -- whether intentionally or not, they're hitting military, government infrastructure, as well as residential areas and civilian targets.  But I -- I couldn't give you -- I couldn't quantify that for you.

On the secure comms, I -- again, I -- I don't want to get into our assessment of their command and control.  I would just tell you that they -- they absolutely do have command and control over their -- over their assets and their resources.

And we continue to believe that they have not integrated all their capabilities in the manner in which you would expect a modern military to, particularly air and ground.  They do not appear to be integrating those.  But as we've said all along, we would expect them -- them to adapt and learn from these challenges, and -- and again, we'll -- we'll have to see how that bears out.

Q:  Thanks.


Q:  Two questions.

You -- one, you sounded like you used different language when you were describing the -- the air picture.  You -- you said "Russia did not achieve air superiority over the entire country."  You know, you -- previously, you've said how contested the airspace is.  Is -- is a -- is Russia increasing its air superiority over the country?

And this advance from the east, is this simply a -- a column moving down the road or is -- is this a -- you know, a unit and -- and combat formation, you know, moving much more deliberately?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, look, on -- on the air picture, I wasn't trying to be cute here with language.  I -- so let me try it again.  We -- we continue to assess that the airspace is contested, Ukrainians are still able to fly and to conduct missile defense on -- on their behalf.

The Russians continue to fly and also are capable of -- of missile defense.  As I've said, the -- very little of the nation of Ukraine is not covered by some sort of Russian surface-to-air missile capability.  And they also are conducting offensive airstrikes through missiles launched by aircraft as well as by mobile launchers.

It's a very contested airspace.  And as I've said before, the Russians have not achieved air superiority over the whole country.

But as I've also said, there are parts of Ukraine where the Russians have been able to be more -- to be more in control of the airspace, particularly, you might imagine, up -- up in the north more than anywhere else, but it changes.  It's very dynamic every day, which is why we're trying to avoid getting too bogged down in the details over the airspace.

But no real difference in the air picture than from yesterday:  it remains contested, Russians don't have air superiority, and both air forces are still flying sorties every day -- not to mention their missile capabilities.

On the advancing, I don't have a granular level of detail about what this advance looks like, David, in terms of how many vehicles and whether it's one column or two.

All I really wanted to flag for your attention is that they are starting to try to move on Kyiv from the northeast.  They have been frustrated coming out of the north, both in terms of anywhere -- any more progress out of the airport, Hostomel as well as Chernihiv.

And so -- and I said this last week that they were going to try to encircle Kyiv from multiple directions.  We're seeing that play out now with this northeastern advance.  But I don't have more detail on what that looks like in terms of how many vehicles or how many -- how many columns.

They are still -- I would hasten to remind, we anticipate that they're still about 60 kilometers from the -- from the city.  And the city remains defended by Ukrainian forces.

Tom Bowman?

Q:  Yes, the -- in the talks that Secretary Austin's having with NATO members, the Ukrainian officials keep pressing for air defense systems from the U.S. and the allies.  They have Russian systems now.  They seem to be working okay.

Is there any talk of providing such systems to the Ukrainians or it going to be, sort of, relegated to -- you know, small arms, anti-tank weapons, ammunition, et cetera, et cetera?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yes, I think we're having iterative discussions with the allies and partners as well as the Ukrainians about their -- about their needs.  I don't want to get ahead of where we are right now.  But -- but there's multiple conversations going on about -- about what capabilities Ukraine needs to defend itself.

Q:  Can you at least say if they're at least talking about the air defense systems?  Because the Ukrainians are really pressing hard for that.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No, I understand that.  And we -- we certainly are aware of that.  I really am not going to go into more detail than that.

We're having discussions with them about their -- about their defense needs and doing the best we can with allies and partners to try to address those.  And I think that's really where I need to leave it.

Q:  Okay, thanks.


Q:  Thank you.  I wanted to follow up on that.  You know, early on in this conflict and -- and after 2014, there was an initial resistance to send Ukraine, quote/unquote, "lethal aid."

And we've seen, kind of, gradually over time, the anti-tank weapons, the Stinger missiles -- and I wanted to see if you could just talk to us about the change in thinking behind this, in giving Ukraine more of the ability to do air defense, to be able to shoot down aircraft.

Did Russia's invasion really change and kind of loosen up what the U.S. was willing to provide?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I think -- look, without getting into an inventory list, which I'm not going to do.  We have in the just the last year provided a billion dollars worth of assistance -- security assistance to the Ukraine of both lethal and non-lethal variety.

And the 350 million, which the president approved a little bit more than a week or so ago, is nearly completely delivered.  Which is an unbelievable level of speed to get that into their hands.  And we've been -- we've been watching since the fall Mr. Putin's accumulation of combat power that just kept increasing week by week by week.

And -- and that plus discussions with allies and partners, that plus watching the intelligence picture, all of that led to -- led to decision -- decisions by policymakers here as well as in our allies and partners about -- about improving Ukraine's ability to defend itself.  This is -- this is something that we've been, again, watching for quite some time, Tara.

Q:  Okay, thanks.  Just to follow-up on that, just one quick follow- up.  You know, there has been this hesitation no no-fly zone, no sending aircraft because Russia would see that as an act of war.

But you've seen Putin say that even the sanctions are act of war and any country that sends these offensive weapons are in act of war.  How do you balance that?  How do you balance the risk that he would react as an act of war to say a steer missile versus a no-fly zone or an aircraft?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We -- I would just tell you that we -- we watch this every day, Tara.  Every day we're trying to make sure that -- that we're helping Ukraine defend itself at the same time not deliberately trying to find a way to escalate this into a broader, deeper, or more violent war than it already is.

It's a balance that we try to strike every single day.  Right now we are continuing to send them security assistance that can help them fight the -- fight Russia, and that effort continues.  But each and every day we look at it and try to make the best decision we can.

Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you very much.  Can the Pentagon confirm that Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, the two-star general who was killed is actually a nephew of chief of staff of the -- the Russian chief of staff Valery Gerasimov?  And if so has anyone from the Defense Department reached out to the chief of the general staff to express condolences?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Jeff, we cannot confirm that that general has been killed.  We know of no familial connection between him and the chief of defense.  And no, we've not reached out to the chief of defense.  

Jack Detsch.

Q:  Hey, (SDO), thanks.  I was just curious, you hinted at Russian elements in -- in the city of Kyiv.  Do you have any details on -- on what these people are and what they're doing?  Are these destabilization agents sort of any -- any details you have on that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yes, we've already kind of talked about these guys, Jack.  We -- we assess that they are largely recon elements, and there's some -- there's some speculation that -- that as part of their advanced reconnaissance elements that they -- that they intended to sow -- sow confusion, you know, begin to set the -- the -- the groundwork for larger ground forces to come in, and certainly to do what they could to disrupt normal live there in -- in Kyiv.

And we do think that the -- these -- these reports of street fighting in Kyiv are really the result of their efforts to -- to, again, sow fear and confusion and -- and try to set the stage, again, for what -- what could be coming later.

We don't have an exact picture of how many or who they are.  Whether they're spetsnaz, or traditional conventional forces, or a combination of that with contractors, we just don't know.  But we certainly believe that there are some advanced elements that are -- that are there in Kyiv.

Q:  Got it, so -- so it's a combination -- just from what you're saying -- of sowing confusion and also laying the groundwork, if Russian forces are going to advance into the city, to ease that advance?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  That's our best estimate -- our best assessment right now, Jack.

Carla Babb?

Q:  Hey, thanks.  You know, Russia has broken its own agreements for humanitarian corridors multiple times now.  What more can the U.S. do to stop Russia from shelling humanitarian corridors?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, it's really what Russia can do to stop shelling humanitarian corridors, Carla.  First of all, it -- it's disingenuous at the least -- at the very least to say that there's a humanitarian corridor but it goes north into Belarus or Russia.  And I think we can all understand the Ukrainians bristling at that.

There shouldn't be any shelling to begin with.  And short of stopping the shelling, the -- we and the rest of the international community call on Russia to -- to allow for the -- the safe passage out of city centers of Ukrainian citizens to other places in Ukraine, in their own country.  And we're going to continue to -- to make that clear.

Courtney --

Q:  Hey, it's me again.  Sorry, but -- so since I asked about the U.S., so there's really nothing the U.S. can do to stop the shelling?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Carla, if you're asking, should the United States military get involved to -- to stop the shelling, I mean that is a question we have dealt with, now, every day for the last 13 days.  The United States is not going to become militarily involved in this fight in Ukraine.


Q:  Hello, thank you.  Oh, excuse me.  Sorry, we've got feedback here, just give me a sec.

I just wanted to be clear on the naval presence.  So the roughly 100 percent of Russian troops that were amassed are inside Ukraine, but that doesn't count the Russian ships that were amassed, right?  Because I was struck when you said that only -- like, such a small number of missiles have been fired from the Black Sea.

So do you have any sense of how many Russian forces may be aboard the ships that are in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov who haven't been brought in?  Because I'm assuming that those are not counted when you talk about roughly 100 percent of the forces amassed are -- are in, right?  Am I making sense?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I -- I -- I think you are.  I don't know, Court, how many naval infantry are on any of the amphibious ships that -- that we assess that the Russians still have available to them in the Black Sea.

We saw -- when they landed south of Mariupol, we estimated several thousand.  That was the best we could do.  We just don't have good fidelity on who they've got on board.

They still have about 10 to 11 LSTs available to them inside the Black Sea.  But again, we don't know -- we just don't have a sense of how many they have on board or -- and, you know, on the -- on the missiles the -- just to be clear the half or dozen or so that we have seen supplied from the Black Sea are cruise missiles, surface-launched, ship-launched cruise missiles.

And again, half a dozen or so.  They do have roughly a dozen or so surface combatants up in that part of the Black Sea.  So that would be our assumption from where they're -- they're coming from.  I don't know if that answers your question or not.

Q:  It does -- I guess what I'm trying to get at is it seems as if even though we're all talking about they have this like the vast majority of the -- the forces and mass around Ukraine are now inside.

But it does actually seem like there is still this one large potential pocket of force that's not been tapped into for the most part, right.  I mean, is that fair to say that 11 -- 10 or 11 LSTs with an unknown number of infantry and surface -- and cruise missiles on board.  And that really hasn't been tapped into yet, right?  Is that -- is that fair to -- is that a fair assessment?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We don't -- we -- again, without knowing exactly how many naval infantry we're talking about, when we -- I said nearly 100 percent, I didn't say all 100 percent has been inserted into Ukraine.  We would consider the naval infantry combat power that he has available to him as part of that -- part of that total force.

Q:  As part of the total force that's already been committed to Ukraine you mean?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Part of the -- part of his total forces, not all of it is inserted, and -- and as I said, the -- we think -- we think nearly 100 percent but not -- not fully 100 percent.  And certainly, he has available to him as the remaining forces not in Ukraine, he certainly has available to him naval infantry.

Q:  Okay.  Thank you, I appreciate it.


Q:  Hey, (SDO), thanks.  One of the common themes in these backgrounders has been that Russian forces are largely stalled in the north.  It seems like there's been very little progress.  I'm wondering what you're actually seeing on the ground in terms of these troops.

Are they just sitting in their vehicles all day, sleeping in their vehicles?  Are there any signs that they're setting up bivouacs off the side of the road?  Or any signs that they're hunkering down to be there for a little while?

And also by way of clarification you've talked about how there's indications that some of these Russian troops were unaware that they'd be heading out on an actual combat operation.

Do you mean to say that they were unaware that they'd be going on this invasion up until the point that they were given that final order to go across the border?  Or that some of these troops may have actually been unaware until they were receiving return fire from Ukrainian resisters?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I mean, on the second we've -- we have anecdotal evidence that -- that some soldiers have -- have said that -- that they weren't told they were going on an invasion of Ukraine, that they believed that they were on a training exercise.

I -- I can't speak for every single one of the 150,000 plus that are in there what they were told and what they expected their orders to be.  I offered that anecdotal evidence as an indication that -- that -- that the Russians haven't been fully integrated.

And that they -- that they have demonstrated some -- some planning -- stumbles in planning mistakes of their own going -- going forward.  And I -- I can't -- I can't speak to every unit that is now inserted in Ukraine, and where they are, and how they're spending their days and their evenings.

I just -- I -- we just don't have that level of fidelity.  What I can tell you is we assess that nearly, not all but nearly 100 percent of the forces that they had amassed are inside the country now, and clearly they're inside the country with the intent to move along these multiple lines of axes that the Russians have been trying to -- to push forward on since the very beginning.

And again, it's -- it -- it's largely three, but I think if you wanted to, you could add a fourth -- this -- this northeastern push that we talked about earlier.  But -- but along these lines of axes, I mean, that -- that seems to be where, you know, how -- where they're concentrating their -- their efforts, to the degree that you can argue that somebody's concentrating on four different lines of axes.

But -- but again, where -- where they are geographically on the map and -- and how they're spending their days, I just don't have that level of detail.

Q:  And are you seeing any other signs of flagging morale among those forces or desertions, anything at that level?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Nothing -- nothing additional than what we talked about over the last several days.

Q:  Thank you.


Q:  Hey, thank you, (SDO).  I wanted to see if we could get confirmation -- the New York Times, my colleagues over there had a line in their story last night suggesting that conservative U.S. estimates had 3,000 Russian soldiers that have been killed since this operation began.  Does that sound fair, does that sound reasonable?

And -- and then on the corridors, are -- do you see any signs that things may ease there and corridors could reopen?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, on the -- on the -- on the casualties, we're scrupulously staying away from estimates on this, Dan, because we just don't have great fidelity on that and -- and a whole lot of confidence in the numbers.  So I -- I -- I can't corroborate anybody's estimates in -- in terms of what casualties the Russians are taking.  Clearly, we know they are, and so are the Ukrainians, but in terms of quantifying that, we, here at the department, just don't feel comfortable validating a -- a given estimate.

And on the corridors, look, I mean, we're -- we're -- certainly, it's a -- a welcome step that corridors are being offered.  We have seen, in the last few days, where they haven't been observed, but, you know -- and I -- and I -- from my -- what I understand, the -- the -- the ones that were just announced they're -- they're ending here soon, if -- if they haven't already, in terms of the timeline, but -- but the Russians have not proved to be reliable when it comes to observing the corridors that they themselves have agreed to.  And clearly, we understand why Ukrainians are bristling at the notion that the only way they can leave cities is to head towards Belarus or Russia, the very nations who -- who have invaded Ukraine.

Whether this -- whether they're -- the two sides are able to continue to work out these kinds of agreements, we'll -- we can't -- we can't know for sure.  We certainly -- again, short of a -- short of a complete halt to this invasion, we certainly would like to see humanitarian corridors continue to be established and observed so that innocent people can find their way to -- to safety.

I -- I know that's not a -- a great answer but -- but we're not involved in negotiating these corridors.  And -- and so that -- it's -- it's really about the best we can do right now.


Q:  Hey there, (SDO).  Super quick, on the -- the naval side, there have been some claims -- claims that Russian warships may have been destroyed by Ukrainians.  Have you seen any Russian warships or naval assets being -- being hit or destroyed?

And -- and just on the -- the convoy outside Kyiv, do you still believe it to be 40 miles long or have they spread out a bit more and reduced the length of it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I'm -- I'm sorry, Idrees, can you say your last question again?

Q:  Yeah, just on the convoy outside Kyiv, your -- your -- your favorite topic, is it still 40 miles long or have they kind of spread a bit more and reduced the length of the convoy itself?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I do not know what the length of the -- I've -- I've -- just to -- just to be clear, I -- I never corroborated 40 miles.  We've not talked about this thing in any great detail and I don't have any additional detail on how long it is or how many pieces it might be, and I just don't know.

What -- all I can tell you is we still assess that their efforts coming out of the north has stalled, we still assess that this convoy is -- is also essentially stalled and not making progress.

On the naval stuff, we -- we did see some reports earlier in the week that there was some naval engagements between the Russians and the Ukrainians but we don't have -- I mean, all we saw was reports that we certainly couldn't refute that there was some naval engagement, but what was hit and with what effect and who came out on top of that, we -- we just don't -- we just don't have any more detail on that, I'm afraid.

Dan LaGrone?

Q:  Hey, (SDO).  Can you talk a little bit, if there's any interaction or deconfliction with the Russians over the -- the NATO presence patrols over Romania and some of those other areas?  Can you -- can you give us a sense on how those patrols are going and whether or not there's any friction with -- with the Russians?  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We're -- we are obviously participating in the Baltic air policing mission, as well as other air -- air -- air support operations to NATO's Eastern Flank.  In NATO airspace, we are flying missions with our allies.  And as you saw, we have added to that F-35s and some Apache helicopters and some -- some F-18s are now involved on NATO's Eastern Flank.

There has been no incidents to speak to at all with respect to the Russians, with -- with -- with regard to this, no -- no need to deconflict, no need to communicate with them about that, no -- no intercepts, no hostilities, nothing significant at all to talk about, but we do continue to fly in NATO airspace.

The -- we have maintained -- you didn't ask this but we have maintained communication with the Russians on that deconfliction channel.  There's root -- routine check-ins basically, just to make sure that it's working, and so since it's been established, I think there's been about a dozen calls with the Russians, really, again, administrative in nature, just to make -- make the phone call, see if somebody's picking up on the other end, and then acknowledging each other's presence and then hanging up.

So no content passed, no -- nothing like that, but -- but in general, the -- the deconfliction phone line is working and we want to keep making sure that it's working so that if there ever is an incident to talk about, we -- we know we can -- we can use it.  But that's about as much as I can give you on that.

Mike Glenn, Washington Times?

Q:  Thank you, (SDO).  I was wondering if you could -- if you had a -- a status report about the 3rd ID's Armored Brigade Combat Team?  Have they drawn their tanks and other combat vehicles from the (inaudible) sites there?  And are they up in their fighting positions or -- or what are they doing now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Mike, as far as I know, and they're -- they're still on the way over there.  They haven't -- they haven't arrived in full, so safe to assume that they obviously haven't necessarily fallen in on all their equipment and -- and vehicles.  As far as I know, they are still en route and should be getting there within the next week, week and a half, something like that.

Q:  Okay, thanks, (SDO).


Jen Griffin?

Q:  Yeah.  Oh, hi, (SDO).  Let's see.  I think my question was answered, but you -- you -- oh, I know.  There's a data miner saying now that U.S. defense officials are, in fact, confirming that General Vitaly Gerasimov was killed.  Is that accurate or not accurate?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I -- I haven't seen anything to corroborate that, Jen.  I -- I don't know who -- I don't know who the defense officials are.  It ain't -- it -- it's not me, and I -- I checked on this this morning because I figured this question was going to come up, and what I was told was we can't confirm it.  So if somebody else was confirming it inside the department, I'll have to go track that down and find out, you know, how accurate that is.

Q:  Yeah, I believe it's a tweet from Caitlin Doornbos, if she's on the call.

Separately, you were asked about the 2,000 to 4,000 dead Russian soldiers.  That is what DIA chief, Lieutenant General Scott Berrier said to the Open Threats hearing before HPSCI.  Do you -- again, do you have that information, or it -- because it's a low -- he said there was a low confidence in the assessment.  Is that why you're saying that you can't confirm that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  That is right.  The general himself said it was low confidence.  We certainly would -- we certainly would support that assessment.

Q:  Okay, thanks.


Paul McLeary?

Q:  Thanks, (SDO).  Two things:  one, the Russian logistics issues, have they gotten any better from their point of view, or they -- are they still struggling?  And two, I know you don't -- you don't talk casualty numbers, but as far as Russians surrendering, are you seeing this -- entire units surrendering, or just ones and twos here -- here and there, or kind of what -- how large is -- is that issue?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I -- I can't quantify the surrenders.  I mean, right now they're not making a lot of progress, so you know, it's not -- with the exception of in the south where they have made progress, they're not making much progress elsewhere, so I don't believe we've got a lot of anecdotal evidence of unit surrenders in the last several days.

And then as for whether they're overcoming, again, we would -- we -- we're trying to just give you a day-by-day assessment.  They still seem to be plagued by logistics and sustainment challenges.  They still are -- they still are struggling to overcome fuel shortages, food shortages and making sure that they can -- in terms of ground troops, that they -- that they are able to -- to arm themselves and defend themselves.  And so they're still working their way through that.  We have every expectation that they will try to overcome those challenges.  But as to how much progress they're making and what changes they've made, you know, we don't have visible evidence to -- to suggest that -- that they've put in place and implemented specific fixes.  But we do see indications that they are working their way through that and trying to do that.

Tom -- oh, I already got Tom Bowman.  Nevermind.

Barbara Starr?

Q:  (SDO), going back to what you were mentioning about an -- Russian -- essentially, a Russian air defense umbrella, if you will, being extended over much, if not most of Ukraine, can we assume from that that what you're also talking about, that umbrella extends to -- essentially through Western Ukraine to the border of NATO's eastern flank?  What -- assuming that it does by what you described, what kinds of concern does that raise for NATO's eastern flank, which includes your efforts inside those countries now?  And --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, some of -- some of that umbrella existed even before he decided to invade Ukraine.  So we're always mindful of the potential threat to NATO airspace, which is, again, why the Baltic air policing mission has been so important, going back several years, and it's why we have, in addition to ground elements that we've added to the eastern flank, we've also added air elements, as well.

Q:  Could I just follow up?  How much of -- could you describe, or your view, how much of the U.S. military effort that has been put into the eastern flank for reassurance and deterrence, to some extent, is that to be ready, should there be an Article 5 mission, should there be further activation of NATO defensive forces?  How much of this is to be ready if NATO has or perceives a threat to itself?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  A hundred percent.  We -- we've -- we've talked about this from the very beginning, that -- that the additional elements that we have added from the United States, the additional elements that we have moved from elsewhere in Germany is all designed to bolster NATO's defense and deterrence capabilities, which is to say all designed to better enable us, should Article 5 be triggered, should there be an armed attack against a NATO ally to allow us to -- to be able to -- to meet our collective security requirements.  So it's very much in keeping with that -- with that -- with that potential.  Obviously, nobody wants to see it come to that, but it is about being ready.

Q:  Thank you.


Q:  Hi, (SDO), thanks.  I wanted to go back -- the DIA general's assessment, 2,000 to 4,000, he said low confidence.  But can you go back to DIA and ask whether that's low confidence in a lower number or a higher number?  And that's -- that's now going to become a benchmark for the public, to people asking you about it.  Can you keep on top of this with DIA to get the rough estimates as these things unfold?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No, Tony, I will not do that.  The -- the general was asked in a -- in a congressional hearing and he -- and he gave the most honest answer he could.  It is a range.  It is a range of -- of 2,000, and it is a range in which -- specifically, a range in which in totality that we have low confidence.

I said from the very beginning, we are not going to get into estimating casualties.  We're not going to get into estimating exact figures, when it comes to aircraft loss or shutdown.  We're just not going to go there, and -- and the reason why is precisely because there's low confidence, and I'm -- I'm not going to be responsible for putting out data that I can't honestly tell all of you we believe, and I'm just -- so no, I'm not going to ride herd on DIA, and I don't believe you're going to see DIA putting this number out on a routine basis.

This was in response to a legitimate question from a member of Congress in an open hearing, and the general did the best he could to answer it.  But we're just simply not going to get into that numbers game.  Especially on an operation that we aren't -- we aren't conducting.

Q:  Okay, fair enough.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay, last -- thank you.  Last question goes to Fadi.

Q:  Thank you, thank you for doing this.  I have two quick things.  The first one is based on your estimate and what you can see.  What is the closest point the Russian forces have reached so far from the center of Kyiv?

And then the second one on this push from the -- new push from the northeast can you help us understand what it might mean for the defense of Kyiv itself?  And based on your assessment will this push be able to advance faster than the one from the northwest do Ukrainians have enough defenses on that side as well?  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I -- again, our assessment is they -- they've really gotten from the northwest there, they've gotten really no closer than the Hostomel Airport, which is I guess 20 or so kilometers from city center.

So they -- they still -- we attest that they're still basically where they were and that -- and that there was advanced elements coming from the -- the north.  Again, this northeastern element they're still 60 kilometers away, Fadi.

I -- I can't -- I don't have a rate of advance, and I don't have an accurate picture of how Ukrainians are arrayed to defend Kyiv from the east.  But I'm -- I'm confident that they are -- that they are more aware of these movements than we are.  And that they will continue to defend the city.

But what it means for the defense of Kyiv really is a question for the Ukrainians to speak to not the United States military.  It is -- it is of a piece of what we have said, and we've been saying now for days that we would anticipate that the -- the Russians would try to encircle Kyiv from multiple directions so that they can force the city's surrender.

This is of a piece of that, it's aligned with that, it certainly supports that -- that early assessment and indicative of their efforts to try to -- to try to do that.

Okay, thanks, everybody. (inaudible).