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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing, March 11, 2022

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, good morning, everybody. So let me just go over changes, and if I don't mention it here, you can basically assume that the -- the situation is -- is unchanged.

We have continued to see, over the last 24 hours, some, you know, additional Russian advances. They are moving their forces -- they -- they are -- they haven't advanced any closer to Ukraine -- I'm sorry. I'll try this again. They -- they -- northwest of Kyiv, they have not moved any closer than where they were yesterday, so the advance elements we assess are still about 15 kilometers from city center. But what we have seen is them -- these are the advance elements -- but they have moved rear elements up and closer to the advance elements, so they're still trying to make some progress there. That's the northwest line.

So let's -- in fact, what I'll do is use that clock scenario. So let's say, you know, Kyiv is 12, so we'll kind of go around the clock. So at the 1 o'clock position you've got Chernihiv. We still assess that Chernihiv is isolated. They are right outside the city. There's obviously some fighting in the city, but they -- we don't -- we don't assess that they have moved beyond Chernihiv and further down -- you know, down beyond it south towards Kyiv. So they're still in and around Chernihiv, and again, we assess Chernihiv is isolated and under increasing pressure.

Then we swing around to the 2 o'clock position, from 2 to 3 o'clock, where we've got those two -- two northeastern vectors that we talked about. The northern one of those vectors, we -- we do assess that they have moved closer now. They're somewhere between 20 and 30 kilometers from city center. This is the -- the -- some of the fighting you guys have seen around the town of Brovary. So that -- that northern-most of those eastern advances seems to have definitely made progress over the last 24 hours. Again, we estimate they're -- they're around between, depending on what unit you're talking about, we estimate any -- that they are within 20 to 30 kilometers east of Kyiv.

Then at the 3 o'clock position that we have, we talked about that southern-most vector that -- that -- that emanated out of Sumy, and I talked to you yesterday about how some of them had -- were repositioning to the east. So we continue to see that repositioning, and in fact, the -- we assess that many of them -- I can't give you a figure, I can't give you a percentage, but we -- we think many of those forces have, in fact, repositioned back to the vicinity of Sumy. It is unclear to us why they did this. It -- it could be as benign as -- as they're making progress on that northern leg and -- and they didn't feel they needed another leg going or they're going to combine what's left with that southern-most leg with the northern-most leg. It could be -- it could be just that benign or it could mean that they're wanting to focus back towards Sumy for some reason. We -- we just don't know, I'm just telling you what we're seeing.

As we keep going down the clock, then you get to, you know, Kharkiv. Our assessment is that they are on the outskirts of -- of Kharkiv, that we're seeing more reports of Internet outage there, which seems to be part of the playbook, right? When you circle a town, you surround it, you start shutting off the communications so that people can't communicate outside it.

We've seen them made that play in Kherson. And so this is -- seems to be the same kind of play but a lot of fighting still there, they haven't taken Kharkiv, it's being well defended, but they -- but they are closing in on it, if you will, from a geographic perspective.

Not a lot to report coming around the east now -- now, the four to -- 4 o’clock position on the clock -- you know, Luhansk, Donetsk. Not a lot of push out of eastern Ukraine but we do continue to see them push down south from Donetsk towards Mariupol.

So Mariupol, at that 5 o’clock position, is under increasing pressure today. We've -- we -- we're saying, we're assessing isolated. It's getting pushed from -- from the north out of Donetsk, as well as -- again, we've talked about that -- that line along the coastline, up the Sea of -- of Azov. So Mariupol also is being defended, they're fighting back, and we continue to see heavy bombardment there as the Russians try to increase their pressure.

Keep going around the clock, so we'll go down -- down towards the -- that northwest advance out of Crimea, the 6 o’clock position. We -- we continue to assess that they have Kherson. They are still to the northeast out of Mykolaiv, they have not taken Mykolaiv. Mykolaiv is coming also under increasing pressure. We've observed the Ukrainians are continuing to defend the city and the Russians are -- are -- are just outside the city, again, mostly to the northeast. So not a lot of change there from yesterday but continues to be heavily fought over.

Somebody else asked -- I think it was Court yesterday -- about the nuclear plant at (Kostyantynivka) -- I think I said that right -- and nothing -- nothing -- nothing to report in terms of them moving on that nuke -- nuclear plant, just in case you guys were going to ask. So that's 6 o’clock.

Now, the one thing that's different today and -- well, another thing that's different today is -- and you guys have reported this -- you know, airstrikes on a -- a place called Lutsk -- L-U-T-S-K -- and another -- another place in -- in western Ukraine called Ivano-Frankovsk -- I'm probably butchering that -- but it's a -- it's a hyphenated name -- I-V-A-N-O-Frankovsk -- that's F-R-A-N-K-O-V, as in Victor, S-K (sic).

And what we assess they've done here is strike a couple of airfields. In fact, the Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledged as much. I mean, we're -- we're -- we're not confirming anything that they haven't confirmed, that they -- they said they've struck some military airfields there with -- with, they claim, long range, high precision munitions.

I -- I can't verify the high precision and the -- and, you know, what -- what exactly -- what munitions they -- they used. Clearly, we assess long range is accurate, cause it's out in western Ukraine, but these are two airfields that -- that -- that we -- we are not -- we -- we also assess that they did this. I mean, we're not refuting the -- the reports that they -- that they did this.

I -- I'm sure you're going to ask me why. These are airfields, so obviously they're -- they wanted to eliminate the Ukrainians' ability to use these airfields. I don't know how -- how much Ukrainians had been using them, I don't know what assets the Ukrainians might have there, I don't know what the damage is. All I can do today is confirm for you that -- that -- that we've -- also believe that -- that -- that they were struck.

And -- and what's unusual about it is that they haven't been striking in -- in western Ukraine. Again, I -- I can't get ahead of the Russian plan here and whether this is indicative of more strikes to come or what -- what the next step for them is going to be but we're -- we're trying to call it like we see it, and that's what we see today.

On -- on the -- nothing -- nothing to report on the maritime side, no -- no -- no major developments in the air. The only thing I would say is that we are now up to nearly 810 missile launches cumulatively since the beginning -- not 810 but almost 810. So if you said "more than 800," you'd be accurate, as well -- missile launches, again, of all stripes, wide varieties, and sizes.

Today, we would -- we would -- we -- we would -- that the -- the majority, nearly 400, of these missile strikes -- so almost half -- have been fired from inside Ukraine. Again, that's cumulatively since the beginning of the -- of the invasion. Just under half have -- have been fired from Russia, more than just over 80 from Belarus, and again, no more out of the Black Sea, so still just six.

So if you add the Russian missile launches to the Belarusian missile launches, you pretty much get half and half, you -- you pretty much get almost an even split of missile launches from -- from inside Ukraine and from outside Ukraine, as the -- as the math shows me.

There was one other thing I was going to say. Now I can't -- oh, I know what it was. In case we're -- in case I'm asked, we still estimate that the Russians have about 90 percent of their available combat power available to them. It's a -- it's a -- it's a range but it roughly is 90 percent.

And we would say this -- we would say that the Ukrainians have just a -- just a tad more than 90 percent of their available combat power available to them, as well. Again, that's a percentage. Obviously, the Russians have the advantage in -- in sheer numbers across all different combined arms capabilities.

Okay, I think that's enough for today. Bob?

Q: Oh, it's Lita. Sorry.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, sorry, Lita. I'm sorry -- I'm sorry.

Q: Oh, no, that's fine. Bob is in the building.

So you sort of talked in -- in the -- in great detail about the -- what's going on around Kyiv, but just sort of to step back, does it appear as though -- your favorite topic, the convoy -- that they are hiding, spreading out? What -- what does it appear that they -- that the Russians are preparing to do with the convoy? We hear -- heard about, sort of, armed -- armed vehicles kind of moving into positions and things like that, so if you could address that.

And then foreign fighters from Syria, there's a lot of discussion about that. Are you seeing them flow in at all?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the convoy, I'm so glad you asked. I've been -- I was hoping I'd get asked about the convoy. Actually, the truth is we don't really have anything additional to add, Lita.

The only thing that I would say -- we -- we -- we still -- we do not believe that the convoy has made any progress towards linking up with other elements, or being able to resupply, or contribute in any meaningful way.

The only thing that we have seen is that, in some places, some of their vehicles have moved off of the road that they were on and into tree lines. They're not going anywhere. It's not like they're off-roading their way to Kyiv.

But we believe they've moved off into the tree lines to try to better disguise the vehicles because, again, the Ukrainians continue to try to find ways -- actually continue to find ways to attack vehicles. So we believe they did this as a force protection measure and not as some tactical move to advance the convoy's progress.

On foreign fighters, no, I don't have any additional detail or context on this. You may have noticed that Minister Shoigu publicly talked about their efforts and desires to recruit what he said was 16,000 people from the Middle East.

I don't know of any other countries that they're going to try to recruit from. We are aware of recruiting efforts, as we've talked about, in Syria. The way he couched it was Middle East.

Again, I -- we don't have additional context on that. And we haven't seen indications that their recruiting efforts have borne fruit and resulted in the actual arrival of -- of foreign fighters from that part of the world.

But you know, it was several days ago we -- we said we believed they were moving in this direction. And -- and of course, now they're publicly acknowledging it and putting a number on it.

How many of the 16,000 they've gotten, we don't know. We don't know if 16,000 is really a -- is really a target or just a talking point for them. It's hard to say. But we'll keep watching it.

Tom Bowman?

Q: The Ukrainian Air Force says Russian aircraft have fired on Belarus from Ukraine. Can you say anything about that? And do you -- if true, do you get a sense it's a pretext for the Russians?

And also, getting back to more forces coming in, any sense of Russian conscripts heading in?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, nothing to speak to in terms of Russian reinforcements of their -- of themselves. You know, we're watching for that as well, Tom. But we haven't seen, you know, any -- any indications, at least not tangible indications that -- that they are trying to plus-up their manpower from -- from elsewhere.

Again, we basically assess that they've got a -- you know, all of the available resources that they put to -- to the task are in Ukraine in terms of ground -- ground units. And so, we just haven't seen them -- we haven't seen them pull from other manning, at least not yet. Now, that can change, but nothing yet.

And I -- I'm not sure I completely understood your question about air strikes, but -- but let me -- let me just stress a couple of things. I mean, our -- our current assessment is that the Russians writ large are flying, on average, 200 sorties per day. Not all of those sorties are emanating in or even -- or even all -- or -- or even -- or even crossing into Ukrainian airspace. I can't give you a -- a day-by-day blow because we don't have access to their air operations plan, but our -- our best assessment is roughly 200 sorties a day, and some of them -- some of them we know never really enter Ukrainian airspace, nor do they need to. You can launch cruise missiles from aircraft from a great distance away, and if your target is close to -- is -- is -- is relatively close you -- you don't need to enter the airspace.

They -- we continue to see, as I have said before, a general risk aversion and a cautiousness in the air, which the Russians, we see them continue to display even -- even -- even given that they have SAM coverage over most of the country, even given the fact that they vastly outnumber the Ukrainians in terms of fixed-wing and rotary-wing capability. But there's a -- there's a general cautiousness, and so not all of their sorties have to or do, in fact, cross into Ukrainian airspace.

That said, a lot of them are. A lot of them are in Ukrainian airspace and -- and -- and there are parts, as I've said, parts of Ukraine on any given day that the -- that the Russians dominate in terms of the air, no question about it.

Q: -- sorry.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know if that answers your question, but I wanted to at least get that out.

Q: No, no, the -- there was an alert that the Ukrainian Air Force is saying Russian aircraft is firing on Belarus from Ukraine. That's -- that's the question. Have you seen any evidence of that? Can you confirm it? And if so -

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have not.

Q: -- is this kind of a pretext?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have not, Tom. I don't have anything on that.

Q: Okay, one last thing. Any Russian troops in Belarus or Belarusian troops heading into Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No -- no indications that Belarusian troops have headed into Ukraine.

Q: Okay, great, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Demetri?

Q: Morning, (inaudible). Two kind of related questions. Now that we're almost at the three-week mark, can you give us your kind of best stand-back assessment of -- of why Russia is not doing as well as it had expected? And just more specifically related to your comments on the -- the air power a moment ago, why do you think Russia has not been able to inflict more damage on Ukraine's Air Force?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. So on -- on -- you know, three -- well, I guess we're two weeks in, right? So this is day 16. I -- I think we would, from -- from where we're sitting -- again, we don't have perfect visibility and knowledge in every Russian plan, but from where we're sitting, we would chalk up the challenges that the Russians have had to a -- a -- a few factors, and none of these'll be shocking to you. We've talked about them before.

One is the Ukrainian resistance, which is stiff and determined and -- and frankly, they're being very strategic about how they're defending. They -- they are putting resources, they are -- where they are most needed. They are doing it quickly. They are being adaptive and nimble and -- and almost, I mean, almost sort of a hit-and-run kind of a -- kind of a style here. They're being -- they're being very effective in that regard on the defense, really applying the pressure where they believe they need to apply it and slowing the Russians down.

And we don't believe -- so this is a number two factor -- we -- we don't believe that the -- that the -- that the Russian intelligence apparatus fully factored in the degree to which they were going to be resisted. We don't believe that they got -- that they figured that out.

Number three: We don't believe that they have properly planned/executed to logistics and sustainment of an expeditionary force. And this is a (sic) operation that they have never conducted before, never, I mean, not since World War II. We're talking about a massive, large-scale, largely ground operation supported by air, so it's combined arms -- you -- what we would call a joint operation against -- in a conventional way against another nation-state. And this is -- this is not something the Russians have experience at. And -- and I think what you're seeing is experiencing -- what you're seeing is -- is -- is poor planning running up against actual execution. And -- and so I -- I think they -- again, we've said they're going to work through these challenges, and we're beginning to see them do that, but we don't believe that they properly planned and resourced this for the scale that they were operating on.

Again, this is not a military that has great expeditionary experience or capability. Yes, they -- you know, they flowed some forces into Syria to prop up Assad, and yes, they've flown some -- from some -- some folks, mostly special operators and contractors into Libya, and yes, they moved against the Donbas in 2014 and against Georgia in 20-8 -- 2008, but nothing on this scale, so experience is running up against them here, I think.

And then lastly -- and this kind of gets to the -- to the -- to the third piece, the one I just mentioned -- is jointness. We don't believe that for -- for all their advanced capabilities -- and they have resourced their military to a -- fairly well. They have bought sophisticated systems, but it doesn't appear, again, from our perch that they have developed the proper operational concepts to use these modern capabilities. Jointness is suffering. They are not integrating air and ground operations.

And when they did that amphibious assault they did it at a piece of beach that they knew that -- was not going to be contested because they don't have a lot of amphibious experience, and there was no great air support for that amphibious landing. It was uncontested, and that was by design. They wanted to go where they -- nobody would shoot back at them to get them ashore. So they don't -- they don't do a lot of air-ground-sea coordination jointness the -- the way we would think about it in our own terms.

And look, it's hard stuff. It's hard stuff for us, and it's -- and -- and -- and I think what we're seeing over the last couple of weeks is -- is -- is just how much harder it is for the Russian military.

That's a long answer, but I believe it's a fair one.

On the -- on the air force, they're -- they're -- why haven't they been more effective against the Ukrainian Air Force? Okay, couple of things here. One, the Ukrainians, again, have been very creative in how they're defending themselves and how they're using the air power that they have available to them. And they -- they have made effective use of drones, which are cheap. They're trained on how to use them. They can fly below radar coverage by -- by -- by the Russians. And again, it's -- it -- it's a very nimble platform, and they're using them with terrific effect, particularly against Russian ground movements.

Two, they -- even though they don't have -- they -- the -- anywhere near the SAM coverage over Ukraine, they have used the SAM capabilities that they have, the surface-to-air missile capabilities that they have with great effect. They're being careful about what they're shooting at. They're -- they're moving stuff around. They -- they're being very nimble, and -- and -- and it's proven effective.

And I'm not just talking about, you know, mobile launchers, I'm talking about the use of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile capability as well. You guys have seen the videos yourself; you can see that. They are -- they are -- they are making the caution of the Russian pilots warranted by the way they're using the capabilities that they have.

They are not using their fixed-wing fighter aircraft very much. They have about 56 fighter aircraft in - remaining on the ground. That -- that is the -- the majority of their fleet. It -- you know, it's what –greater than 80 percent of their fixed-wing fighter aircraft capability they still have intact. And they're -- they're only flying them about five to 10 sorties per day. I -- I told you earlier, the Russians are flying roughly 200 sorties a day, so the Ukrainians are not flying very much in terms of fixed-wing aircraft.

And, frankly, they haven't proven that they need to do more than what they're doing. They've been very effective with the other tools that they have, very creative -- creatively so. And those are having a good effect on -- on Russian airpower.

So I'll stop there.

Tara Copp?

Q: Good morning.

So just as a follow-on from a briefing yesterday on the false flag chem or bioweapons potential by Russia, has the U.S. already flown in MOPP protective gear for Ukraine forces? Are there discussions underway that there might need to be some sort of chem-bio gear sent in, like gasmasks, in case this does become an issue?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We'll continue to work with Ukraine on their security assistance needs as required.

I -- I know of no effort now to -- to -- to supplement any MOPP gear that the Ukrainians have. I don't know of any demand signal for that by the -- by the Ukrainians at this time.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Courtney? Courtney?

Q: Hi,(inaudible).

Do -- the Ukrainian defense intelligence twitter this morning said that Putin's preparing a terrorist attack on the Chernobyl power plant and seemed to indicate that it was another effort at a false flag. I was wondering if that's something that you guys are tracking.

And I know that we -- we covered this a lot yesterday, but just in case there's any updates on anything about any indication that you're seeing of actual movement of any kind of chem-bio, equipment forces, whatever it is into Ukraine by the Russians.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. I have nothing -- nothing to speak to in terms of chem-bio -- specific chem-bio movements from the Russians.

On Chernobyl, I've seen the -- I've seen that public reporting, but we can't corroborate it independently.

Q: Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Jeff Seldin.

Q: Hey, thanks very much for doing this.

A quick follow-up on the -- on the foreign fighters being recruited by Russia. I heard a lot about Syria, but there are also some videos now emerging from Africa, places like the Central African Republic. Are you tracking anything there in terms of recruiting efforts or preparations for travel there?

And then also, is there any concern that -- you know, we heard a lot about how the ladder of escalation and the U.S. involvement in transferring the MiGs might be perceived as an escalation. Is there any concern that if U.S. volunteers, former military veterans, are -- are on the ground fighting with Ukraine that Russia would perceive that as -- as an escalation, as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No -- nothing on Africa, Jeff. I -- I -- I've seen nothing -- any information that we have that -- that indicates they're trying to recruit in Africa but, I mean, I'm not -- I'm not saying it couldn't happen, just saying I can't confirm it.

On -- on veterans, look, I -- I -- I just want to stress again we -- we've been nothing but clear that Americans should not be traveling to Ukraine and Americans that are in Ukraine should be leaving Ukraine.

If -- if a veteran or any other American citizen wants to support the people of Ukraine, the best way to do that is to donate to the Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization that's trying to put together aid and assistance for Ukrainians. It is not -- the answer is not to go into Ukraine.

I -- I couldn't -- I don't -- I don't know and we haven't seen any indications of how Russia would treat foreigners coming into fight on behalf of Ukraine but I think, given the Russian history here for complete disregard of the international rule of law and the law of armed conflict and just human rights in general, would lead one to speculate or would lead one to assume that -- that if -- that no matter who you are, if -- if -- if you're in Ukraine, involved in combat, you -- you're -- you're not -- you -- you -- you can't count on any just treatment by -- by Russia. But I -- I know of no proclamations they've made one way or the other.

Again, kind of beside the point. The point is you shouldn't be going. There's other ways to help the people of Ukraine.

Travis?

Q: Hi, (inaudible). Are there any specific biological agents or weapons that we know the Russians have and -- or concerned that they may use in Ukraine?

And secondly, the decision to talk about Russia's disinformation on the bio labs seems to track with -- with what you've been doing, which is trying to shine a light on this type of disinformation when -- when the Russians make it.

But is there a risk in releasing -- you know, releasing all of this detailed information about these kind of complex U.S. and DOD programs? Is there a risk that that kind of gives oxygen to this Russian disinformation, like, "oh, hey, you really were helping the Ukrainians on these labs"? Can you just talk a little bit about the calculation in why you decided to talk specifically about this disinformation? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On your first question, I don't -- we -- we -- we know that the Russians have had and we assess that they still have a sophisticated chemical and biological weapons program. We have -- I -- I -- I -- I'm not going to talk about intelligence assessments about what they may do with that program or -- or -- or what -- you know -- or -- or what, if any, designs they might have on Ukraine in that regard.

On -- on your second question, it -- it kind of gets to the same question Tara asked yesterday -- we're -- we're talking about it because they're lying about it. Our -- our -- as our special guest briefer yesterday laid out for you, this -- this is bio research -- with regard to two things -- one, helping Ukraine over the years decrease the -- the -- the pathogen inventory that they had under Soviet years, and then to develop strategies to -- to defeat pathogens going forward.

It's scientific research, it's not bio weapons capabilities, and we gave you a fact sheet this morning and it -- it's not -- there -- there's nothing secretive about this, Travis. It's not like we -- we felt like, in having the -- the -- the -- our briefer yesterday or that fact sheet go this morning that we were somehow dancing on -- on the head of a pin here, in terms of classification. This is all unclassified information, and -- and frankly, you -- you can go on webs -- you -- they -- our embassy in Ukraine has a whole page on their website about this. It -- it's publicly available information, it -- it's -- it's scientific research.

We're not hiding from anything and we have nothing to hide. And the only reason why we -- we elevated the discussion is because the Russians and the Chinese decided to lie about it, just flat out lie. And so we -- we're answering the lie, that that -- that's -- that's why we ended up talking about it.

Otherwise, had there been no ridiculous lie about it, we probably wouldn't have felt the need to talk about it because it's not something we've ever hidden before. It's just -- it's -- it's a matter of public record.

Jen -- Jen Griffin, Fox News?

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). Can you confirm that either a second or a third Russian general has been killed? Going back to the reports on March 8th, that Vitaly Gerasimov, separate from Valery Gerasimov, was killed near Kharkiv, there's a new report this morning that a third Russian general was killed. Can you confirm any of that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we cannot, Jen. We've seen the reports on it but we -- we just don't have that level of detail.

Matt Seyler?

Q: Hi, (inaudible), thanks. I wanted to ask about one other report we've seen. Ukraine's intelligence agency yesterday warned that there are signs that Russia could be planning to blow up a large ammonia stockpile in eastern Ukraine also as a -- a possible false flag pretext. Is that something that you have any of your own intelligence on that you could speak to or is it something you're keeping an eye out for it at any rate?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. Look, if I had had some specifics on false flags, I -- I would have already talked about it. I wouldn't have waited for you guys to ask. I -- I don't have anything. I -- I -- I -- you know, we -- there's a lot of rumors out there and we still believe that the harping by the Russians on the threat of biochemical weapons from the -- from Ukraine, assisted by the U.S. -- what -- that -- that -- that this -- this harping, this ridiculous narrative of theirs, we think could be -- as I've said before, could be building a -- a pretext for some sort of false flag event, but I don't have any more granularity beyond that. We're not saying it definitely is, we're saying it could be. It -- it's of -- of their playbook.

You saw Zelensky last night, you know, in his nightly address, saying, you know, he's worried about that because, in his experience, what the Russians -- what the Russians accuse others of is often what they will -- they're planning to do.

This is part of the playbook but we -- I -- I -- I don't have -- I don't have -- I just don't have more detail than that. We -- we -- we think it's possible that this could be the play they're trying to make, but -- but how and where and when and what that's going to look like, we don't have more detail at this time.

Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy?

Q: Hey, (inaudible), just had -- had a similar question to Jen on -- on the -- the Russian G.O.s. I know you can't confirm their deaths but are -- are you seeing any indications that -- that Russian G.O.s are -- are fighting closer to the front lines or there are problems with communications or -- or anything that could be leading to these types of reports?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We know they've got senior leaders in the field, Jack, but I -- I -- you know, I -- I -- we don't have a roster, and we don't know where they are on any given day or at -- at what level they're in -- in the -- in the field. And I -- I -- I know, I -- I understand why you guys would think we would have, you know, knowledge of a -- of a -- of a general officer being killed. And again, if we had something that we felt comfortable confirming, I -- I certainly would do that. There'd be no reason why not to. But we just don't have independent verification of these reports.

Q: No, understood.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And --

Q: And I know the fidelity's somewhat limited, as you said, but just in -- with -- with what you said about senior leaders in the field, does that mean they're -- they're closer to the front lines than they would normally be? Like, do you have any other context? It would be helpful.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I -- I -- I wouldn't get into characterizing that. I mean, we -- this -- this is a massive conventional military operation that they are conducting on multiple lines of axes, so the -- the fact that they would have senior leaders in the field should not come as a surprise to anybody. But -- but -- but who they are, at what level they are, where they are, we just don't -- again, we don't have that kind of visibility into the Russian manning and -- and task organization.

Haley Bull from Newsy?

Q: Hi. I had the same question about the reports of the Russians firing into Belarus, and I understand there's no confirmation on that, but I guess I would add onto it, is -- is there -- what is the level of concern that the Russians will look to draw in Belarus in -- in that similar fashion?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, it's -- it's difficult to say. I mean, you know, yesterday you -- you saw reports of Lukashenka (sic) saying publicly, saying -- you know, in state media saying that, you know, "We, Belarus, need to be prepared to -- to defend the Russian rear lines if -- if they're attacked by Ukraine." That was the first time that we had seen Lukashenka (sic) actually talk about becoming potentially involved in this to any extent.

Now, has that happened? No, because the -- the Ukrainians haven't hit the supply lines from the rear, if -- if you will. They certainly have hit this convoy, but I mean, it's not like they're -- they're going much beyond that right now. And so it's difficult to know with what sincerity Mr. Lukashenko said that, but it was notable that he did.

But as I said earlier, we -- we haven't seen them move any forces close to the border. We haven't seen them move -- certainly, go inside. They -- they have -- you know, they -- they -- they just haven't been drawn in. This -- I -- I -- I can't -- you know, back to Tom's question at the top. I -- I -- I can't confirm this report as a potential false flag. I -- I -- I just -- we just haven't seen it. So I mean, we're watching every day. I know you guys are going to ask every day, but that's really where we are right now.

Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. I had a follow-up to one of your previous answers where you mentioned that given how Russians have treated prisoners in the past, any Americans who go to fight for the Ukrainians can't count on being treated humanely. Can you say -- are you saying that any Americans who go to Ukraine and get captured by the Russians are at risk of being tortured and killed?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I am saying, Jeff, is that Americans who want to help the people of Ukraine can find lots of other ways to do that aside -- in lots of other ways than -- than going to Ukraine and trying to fight on the ground. We continue to urge Americans not to go to Ukraine for any reason, and we continue to continue -- to urge any Americans who remain in Ukraine to leave. That's what I'm saying.

Dan Lamothe?

Q: Hey, good morning, (inaudible). I'm hoping we might be able to expand a bit on the discussion of -- of weapons transfers and what else the United States might send. Understand you might not be in a position to -- to label any systems at this point, but I -- I just, in light of you saying yesterday that, you know, there's a discussion of -- sending something more sophisticated than MANPADS and the discussion on the Hill from Senator Romney, of others, and sort of people vying in the United States needing to do more, can -- can you kind of just outline a bit the line you all are walking on -- on how to help the Ukrainians, the limitations the Ukrainians have with training and understanding and experience on these things, and -- and -- and sort of what's feasible here? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, actually, that's a really great question, Dan, and I -- I think -- so just a couple of points. A, we continue to flow security assistance to Ukraine. There's another shipment on the way in the next 24 hours in -- into Europe. So it's happening even as we speak, and we're going to continue to -- we're going to continue to flow resources to Ukraine as fast and as much as we can. That's number one.

Number two -- and I -- I know I say this all the time and -- but I'm going to say it again. It's not just us; fourteen other nations are also providing in a bilateral basis and on their own, providing resources to -- to -- to Ukraine. We are -- we are helping coordinate that as -- as -- as the other senior defense official mentioned to you last week, or maybe it was earlier this week. I can't remember. We are -- we are helping coordinate that, and we're going to continue to do that, again, for as long as we possibly can.

Number -- number three: The kinds of things that we are working to get them are the kinds of things that we believe, and frankly, we know because we're talking to them, we know they need, we know they need most, and -- and that is largely, right now, air defense and anti-armor, in terms of munitions. Now obviously, they continue to get small arms and ammunition and grenades and RPGs and all that kind of stuff. But -- but in terms of what they need most, it's -- it's really anti-air and anti-armor, and -- and we are working very hard to get them.

If it's stuff we don't have -- because we don't have, but we know they need because they're trained on it and they're equipped for it and they're ready to receive it, we're -- we're working with other allies and partners who might have inventory that -- that could be useful to them.

So it's -- it's -- it's taking a look at what's -- of how they're defending themselves. And -- and I talked about this earlier, so I don't want to repeat everything I said, but the -- the manner in which they are defending themselves, which has been very effective and -- and we're -- we're trying to -- to -- to help them further that defense in -- in -- in ways and with systems that they know how to use already, they're good at it and it's having effect on the Russians. And -- and that's why, again, our -- our focus is on anti-armor and -- and anti-air. And I -- I can't get into the -- the inventory list much more than that. We've been very careful about that. I hope you can continue to understand why.

But if it's -- if it's something that -- that -- that we have and can get on our hands on and get it to them, we're -- we're working to do that. If it's something we don't have but they need, we're working with other people who have them, whatever that is, and -- and -- and to try to get that to them as -- as quickly as possible.

As I said -- and -- and the hold-up -- the -- the -- I understand the debate over the aircraft. We're not -- just to -- just to level set -- you didn't ask this -- but just to level set, we're not -- we're not vetoing another nation who might want to send aircraft to Ukraine. That is a sovereign decision that another nation can make.

What we didn't want to entertain was the idea that they would get transferred to us for us to send in. That's point -- point one. Point two, as I said earlier, it's not clear to us that additional fixed-wing aircraft are actually going to be a contributing factor in helping the Ukrainians mount the defense that they've been mounting so effectively.

They have 56 available to them now, fully operational, and they're only flying them five to 10 hours a day. That's not a -- that's not a criticism. Given the SAM coverage that the Russians have over the country, given the -- the -- the manner in which the Russians outnumber them in fixed-wing aircraft, I think we all understand that they're being careful in marshaling their fixed-wing inventory. Nobody's criticizing them for that but it makes little sense to us that additional fixed-wing aircraft is going to have -- somehow solve all of this problem.

What -- what they need are surface-to-air missile systems, they need MANPADS, they need anti-armor, and they need small arms and ammunition because -- and they need these -- these -- these drones because that's what they're using with great effect, and so that's what we're focused on.

I -- it was a great question, I probably piled on too long and I apologize for that, but I'm glad for the opportunity.

Phil Stewart?

Q: Hey, (inaudible). Here -- you're probably not going to like this question as much but on the -- on the --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I probably won't.

Q: Yeah --

(Laughter.)

-- on the surface-to-air missiles that are being sent in, any concern from the U.S. or from NATO that these could, you know, fall into the wrong hands? And -- and do you have any idea about any Russian seizures of -- of Western weapon -- weapons shipments so far? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Actually, Phil, that is a good question. We haven't seen any inventory falling into the Russian hands at this time. And clearly -- look, you know, whenever you -- you flow in security assistance in a situation like this, I mean, that -- that is a -- that is a potential risk, but frankly, we -- we believe that risk is -- is worth taking right now because the Ukrainians are fighting so skillfully with the tools at their disposal, and they're using them so creatively, we want to continue to help them be able to do that.

Q: And any idea if the Russians are targeting weapons shipments or no signs of that yet?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There's been no signs of that.

Rio, from Nikkei?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Hi. Thank you very much for taking my question. I want to ask you about the relationship between Russia and China. As you mentioned, China promoted Russia's claim that the United States is carrying out some sort of military biological activities in Ukraine. Is it the DOD's assessment that Russia and China are closely coordinating their disinformation strategy and messaging on this issue or does the DOD assess China is unilaterally spreading the Russians' claim without any coordination? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Rio, I -- I don't think we know whether and to what degree there's information coordination between the Russians and the Chinese. I -- I've seen no -- no indications in the information that we have that -- that there's some sort of a collaboration between them in -- in terms of messaging, or at least not -- nothing organized.

That said, it is striking to note that the Chinese, even just recently, just -- just today, I think, or maybe it was yesterday, the -- the Premier, in his annual press conference, continuing to voice opposition to unilateral sanctions against Russia.

It is interesting to note that the Chinese Foreign Ministry, just a couple of days ago, parroted the Russian line about Ukrainian chemical, bio -- biological weapons' potential use and the threat of that. And -- and -- and it's interesting to note that they also decided to say that the -- that, with the United States -- that we -- that the Ukrainians were developing this bio weapons program with our help, very much parroting the Russian line.

Again, to what degree that was coordinated, we don't know, but it -- it's just a -- a further indication of the degree to which China continues to offer tacit approval for what the Russians are doing. And the -- this -- you know, this from a -- another member state of the UN Security Council.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.

Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hi, (inaudible). I had a couple things.

One, on -- on Kyiv, can you review the bidding here? I -- I got a little confused at the beginning of -- well, your -- your wonderful tactical assessment -- but how -- and how -- how encircled is the city? Is it nearly encircled or half encircled?

And a couple tactical questions. When you say "they're being effective in the use of drones," are these kamikaze kind of drones, reconnaissance drones, or drones that drop weaponry?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: These are drones that can -- can help them with ISR as well as the -- the delivery of munitions.

I -- I -- I -- look, I -- Tony, I can't give you a percentage of encirclement here. I -- I -- I tried -- I -- I just tried to give you what we're -- what we're seeing. From the northwest, they're still about 15 kilometers from city center. Kyiv's a big city, so 15 kilometers from city center, you know -- they're -- they're basically, you know, in and around the suburbs there, but they are still in the vicinity of that Hostomel Airport.

What -- what we've noticed in the north -- northwestern leg is that they are flowing rear elements closer to the advance elements. So that's the movement there. And then on the northeast and the east, they continue to make a little bit of progress. They -- they moved to within 20 to 30 kilometers now on that eastern leg. Yesterday, we said 40. So they've made, you know, rough -- anywhere between 10 to 20 kilometers distance. Again, it depends on the unit you're looking at.

So they -- what we're -- what -- what -- what we're seeing today that's different than yesterday is -- is a -- a -- a closer pincing attempt from the northwest and from the -- and from the east. Where they have struggled is in that -- in that -- in -- in that northeast vector, coming down out of Chernihiv.

They've really not made any progress there. They are still bogged down, if you will, in Chernihiv. They've isolated Chernihiv, there's a lot of fighting going on, the Ukrainians are defending, you know, Chernihiv. They are continuing to hit it with long range fires and bombardment but they have not moved out -- they have not moved out of Chernihiv. They're -- they're not even in Chernihiv so they haven't moved south of it.

So that's -- that's the best I can do. I can't give you a percentage of encirclement.

Q: That's good. Hey, one quickie too -- also -- is it fair to say that the Russians, at this point, have not executed a full-blown suppression of enemy air defense tactics to take down the SAMs, the -- the Ukrainian SAM systems? And would you expect to see that kind of a seed campaign in a final push toward Kyiv?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, I -- again, I -- I -- I can't get into the Russian head here. They -- one of the things, you know, back to -- I don't -- can't remember who asked me the question to go over the -- maybe it was Demetri. You know, one of the things that we did not see them do in the early stages was seed, and we kind of -- I think everybody expected to see that, and they did not. Whether they've learned from that and are going to apply that in Kyiv, you know, I -- I just -- I just don't know.

Hey, listen, guys, I've got time for one more. I'm sorry I'm not going to be able to get to everybody, but I have a noon commitment that I absolutely cannot be late for.

So David Martin, CBS?

STAFF: David had to drop off, so you can give it to someone else.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Eric Schmitt?

Q: Hey, thanks, (inaudible). Just a couple quick things. You -- you mentioned a new arms shipment and a weapons -- weapons shipment is on its way to Europe now. Is that part of the $350 million package, or is this part of a new package? That's question one.

And then can you give us any better sense of how many places along that miles-long convoy you're seeing vehicles pulling off the road, as the way you described how widespread that practice is? And is this convoy attached to the -- is it the same movement that you're now describing these rear elements of them advance on -- from the northwest in Kyiv that's moving up toward the -- the rear elements moving --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I -- I would not say -- I -- I -- no, I don't think we assessed that the convoy's part of these rear elements. The rear elements that we're talking about are -- are combat forces that -- that they're moving up to --

Q: Right, so separate things.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But the convoy's not really gone anywhere. I -- I don't -- I -- I -- I'd have to see if we have more context about how many vehicles are moving off into tree lines, and where. We just know that we've seen those -- we've seen -- we can verify on our own reports that -- that they're -- they're moving some of these vehicles off the road so that they can -- so that they can, you know, better protect themselves from Ukrainian attacks. The -- the -- the -- it's hard for me to quantify that. I'll see if -- if we have a way to do that, but -- but I don't -- I don't know that we'll have much more detail.

And then your last -- your -- your first question is, yes, this is part of the original $350-, the latest drawdown package. It's not part of a new drawdown or anything like that. It is -- it is part and parcel of the -- of the $350-

Q: (inaudible) --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, listen, guys, I'm --

Q: Is that -- (inaudible), is that package now closed with this latest shipment?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, it's not fully-closed yet.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. And so there will be more.

Listen, guys, I'm going to have to go. I apologize. I know we got started a little bit late, but we'll continue to do these, and there will be a Pentagon briefing on camera here, I think at 1:30 today, so we'll see you later. Bye.