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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing, March 16, 2022

March 16, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK, good afternoon, everybody. Good evening to those of us here in Brussels. Don't have a whole lot. Again, we're back on background to senior defense official. So, I just -- I'll try to be quick here because there's really not a whole lot of new stuff to talk about. 

Advances continue to be generally stalled near Kyiv. Still observe Russian forces have not made any significant advances toward the city, to the north and northwest. But we do continue to see them move rear forces forward but no tangible progress from -- from yesterday; same to the east of Kyiv. Still maintain that Russian forces to the east of Kyiv are about 30 kilometers away. I know we said 20 to 30, it varies but roughly 30. I don't want you to read more into that, that it's some sort of retreat or anything. It's a mixed picture. But the bottom line is they haven't made any appreciable progress coming to the east. We still maintain that the Ukrainians are in control of Brovary that town right to the east, that we've been talking about for the last few days. 

No change with Chernihiv. Still, we hold it as mostly isolated. The reason I say mostly it's because we still see the Ukrainians trying to develop lines of communication to the south and with some success, but it's essentially isolated. No apparent progress on the ground in and around Kharkiv, again, no change there. No change -- well, let me -- I'll back up here. No change to the east when we talked about that progress that they were making down towards that town called Izium. They still are outside that town, but there is fighting going on there. So, we know that they want to take it. And again, our view is, our assessment is that they -- what they're trying to do is cut off the JFO, the joint operations area there in the East, in the Donbass to prevent Ukrainian forces from being able to move to the West in defense of Kyiv. 

Mariupol remains isolated, you guys have seen for yourself just how much and how deadly the long range fires, the effect that they're having there. But it remains isolated with Russian forces both north and east of the city. And then, again, no major changes to Mykolaiv. We've observed that the Ukrainians continue to defend the city, still have the city. Russian forces are still outside the city mostly to the northeast, again 10 to 15 kilometers, like we said before, so no major changes there. 

I know there's a lot of interest in Odessa, there's been press reporting of shelling from ships, so we do see increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea. And we observed, as we said, some Russian LSTs there, some surface combatants. We also have observed on our own the shelling of some cities, some towns, outside Odessa, near Odessa, but not in Odessa. And we believe these are again from Russian warships in the Black Sea. 

So, there does appear -- that does appear to be one area of change from yesterday is it appears that there's some naval shelling in places near Odessa. Now whether this is a precursor of you know, a looming amphibious assault, we just don't see that yet. But obviously, that's a change in the maritime environment and in the southern part of the country. No significant strikes to the West -- nothing really to speak of there. 

As of today, there's more than now 980 missile launches. And again, the only other change really of any significance is that Russian Navy shelling of cities near Odessa. 

So, I think I'll stop there. And I got Bob here. So, Bob, go ahead. 

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). In President Biden's announcement today about additional security assistance to Ukraine, he said a couple things I want to ask you about. First is that the United States is helping Ukraine acquire additional long range air defense systems. And the other thing was the 100 tactical -- excuse me, tactical UASes. 

On the first point about longer range air defense systems, are those the F300 systems we've been hearing about? And can you confirm that there's a preliminary agreement by Slovakia to provide those? On the drones, are those (inaudible) 300 systems you’re referring to? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so these going to be unsatisfactory answers to you I'm afraid. I'd say what the President said is what -- is perfectly in line with what we've been saying as well for the last few days, that we are talking to allies and partners about providing the Ukrainians some systems that we know they know how to use, that they're already trained and equipped to use, that they are using with effect. And that, you know, we ourselves necessarily wouldn't be the best donor for. 

So, that includes air defense systems, I'd rather not get into specific systems. But there are air defense systems, mobile systems, that that we know the Ukrainians know how to use, and we also know that there are allies and partners who also possess them and might be willing to provide. And so, we're actively having those discussions. Again, without getting into a specific system I mean, when we go to Slovakia tomorrow, I think it's safe to assume that the Secretary will also be talking to the Slovakians - about assistance that they can provide to Ukraine. In that general vein. 

I have seen the press reports on Slovakia saying that they are willing to do that. We can't independently corroborate those reports. I mean, as you know, we're heading there tomorrow. So I'm sure that this will be a topic of discussion, and we'll see what comes out of it. But I can't independently confirm those press reports that they're willing. Clearly, that they would be willing to provide additional air defense assets to Ukraine would be very welcome. But again, I don't want to get ahead of meetings that haven't happened yet. 

And on the tactical UAS, I think I'm just gonna leave it as it was left in the -- on the White House factsheet and not get into specific brand names and systems. I think I'm just going to leave it the way it was. 

OK, Cami? 

Q: Two questions. One about Secretary Austin said in the statement, a short while ago that the Department of Defense was working expeditiously to get this assistance to the Ukrainians, a lot of assistance. I mean, how realistic is it? I mean, what is the timeframe? I know you can't give an exact timeframe but how do you see this playing out? And will it get to the Ukrainians soon enough, do you think? 

Secondly, on the other side of things, what's the latest you're seeing on the Russians, their logistics? Are they able to resupply, and their morale issues? And are they bringing in other Russian troops? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, on the security assistance, as you know, this $800 million that the President talked about today is on top of $200 million that he just announced a few days ago over the weekend. And that EXORD has been signed, and out. So we are actively now filling out that $200 million. 

We are just at the very, very end of the $350 million security (inaudible) that was two weeks ago. So, that's almost all complete, there's a few odds and ends that are still being shipped over. 

We're at -- we've already started actively working on the $200 million. And so, now, of course, with today's announcement, we'll get to work on the inventory list that the White House released. 

I can't give you an exact timeline of when every one of these shipments is going to go. All I can tell you is that obviously we certainly knew this was coming. So, we already started working on how to source all these items and get them there as quickly as possible. 

And there have been things arriving even as we've been on this trip. I mean, so it's not like there's been a pause. But we'll just keep going as much as we can as fast as we can. 

And thus far, things are still getting into the hands of the Ukrainians. Again, we've been very careful about talking about the physical means by which it's making its way in, but those routes are still open. Those things are still flowing. And as far as we're concerned, there's not going to be like a pause here, where we're just going to keep executing on all of this material. 

Now, your other question was you know, will it be there in time? I mean, all I can say is time -- we understand that time is also an enemy here. And so, we're going to be working as fast as we can. And the Ukrainians are using these things, we know that from our conversations with them. And we know that they're using them effectively. So, they have really been key in preserving the aspect of time and the ability to use these things. 

(Crosstalk)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The Russians, thank you. I knew there was something I was forgetting. It's a long, long day today. 

We have seen indications that the Russians are considering discussing deliberating the degree to which they need to bring in resupply from outside the theater. And by theater, I mean, the Ukrainian -- the -- Ukraine. So, they are there -- they're -- we know that they're thinking that through. We haven't seen tangible proof of that, as if we haven't seen them move supplies from elsewhere in Russia or even outside Russia to get into Ukraine. We still assess that they have the vast amount of their combat power available to them. But they are expending, you know, every day. And they every day, they're experiencing losses of equipment, of aircraft, of people. So, they are -- we definitely have seen them begin to have discussions about what they might need to do to resupply, and that would include manpower. 

But again, I haven't seen any tangible ramifications of that, or, you know, that they're physically moving people and/or supplies from outside Ukraine, you know, elsewhere in Russia to the Ukraine.

Q: OK, thank you. First, on the long range anti-aircraft systems, Bulgaria also has S-300s? Is that a conversation that you will have? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We will be having a conversation in Bulgaria, again, about lots of things, not to mention just thanking them for hosting -- as you know, they're hosting a Stryker company there; we're grateful for that. And they are an ally. So, I think it's safe to assume that the Secretary will be talking to the Bulgarians about not only ways in which, as a NATO ally, we can work together to improve the defense of NATO territory, but also, you know, on a bilateral basis, what if anything they'd be willing to help Ukraine with. 

Q: And one more quick one. On the 100 drones that Biden is sending to Ukraine, are these all armed? And would it require any American contractors, for example, to help the Ukrainians operate them? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, I don't want to get into too much specifics about the systems, they are -- they're tactical, unmanned systems. And I would say that it was certainly -- safe to assume that the -- one of the purposes of these unmanned aerial systems would be to deliver a punch. 

Does that answer your question? 

Q: Yeah. No American contractors would be with Ukraine...

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There's not -- there's no plans at all to put U.S contractors into Ukraine. 

Mosheh?

Q: A day or so ago the question was asked about Turkey’s airspace, the fact that Russia can still fly over it. (inaudible) meeting today with Secretary Austin and his Turkish counterpart, did that come up in their discussions today? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: About? 

Q: Russia being able to fly its planes over Turkish airspace? I was wondering if that came up in the bilat today? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That was not a part of the discussion with his Turkish counterpart. 

Q: And then one quick one on foreign fighters that Russia has been looking to recruit. Is there any indication or sense that there have been any recruits? That people come in? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We've seen the Russians themselves say that they've recruited some thousands of foreign fighters. But we have not seen indications that there are any inside Ukraine right now. 

OK, Pierre. 

OK, Tom Bowman. 

Q: Yeah, getting back to Russia sending more troops in from elsewhere. There's reports that Russian troops are be heading toward the fight from Georgia. Have you seen anything along those lines? And also, the Ukrainian say they have mounted a counterattack in Kyiv. Are you seeing anything along those lines? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We've not seen Russians flow from Georgia into Ukraine. I'm not tracking any indication that's actually happened. All I can tell you is we know that they are again deliberating about replacements for some of the troops that they've lost. But I'm not seeing anything specific with respect to Georgia. 

And then I'm sorry, the other question, Tom? 

Q: Yeah. Ukrainians are saying they're mounting a counterattack in Kyiv... 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, a counterattack. 

Q: Have you seen anything along those lines? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I can say we've seen is a is a continued very stiff resistance in Kyiv. And that is true. I mean, they are -- they've not made any progress towards Kyiv and we believe that that is deliberately because of the stiff resistance that they're getting from the Ukraine. I don't really know, I mean, how to speak about a counter offensive; I'm not aware of anything separate and distinct from what is already a very spirited defense of their city.  
Q: OK, thanks. Appreciate it. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Haley,Task & Purpose. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Hi, thank you. Yeah, so we're, I mean, obviously entering the fourth week here. And so far, I mean, we haven't really heard from any commanders on the ground, we obviously know that U.S. media access to troops on the ground is still not approved. And then just last week, there was a change of command both for the 82nd Airborne and the 18th Airborne Corps. But there hasn't really been any announcement, no press releases, no photos about those incoming commanders given that they are in Europe. 

I'm just hoping to get some clarity. I mean, it sounds like they're just in some pretty serious reluctance here on giving any kind of information on what U.S. troops are doing on the ground. And I'm wondering if, you know, if all they're doing there at this point is conducting training exercises with their allies? Why is there reluctance to provide more access information to what the U.S. troops are doing there? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Haley, I don't have an update for you on changes to the media posture. I appreciate the question and I certainly appreciate your interest in that as well as everybody's interest in that. I don't have any changes on media posture to speak to. 

I can't speak to press releases about the change of command, I would refer you to those commands to speak to that. There was -- I can assure you, there was no admonition not to do press releases about the change of command. So, the degree to which it was covered or not, or publicized or not, is really, that was not -- that was not a decision that was made at our level. I'd refer you to those commands to talk to that. 

And look, we're doing the best we can to provide all of you as much information and context as we can. I do understand the interest. And I, frankly, understand the frustration. Again, I would ask you to bear in mind that we're doing the best we can, and that, you know, there are considerations that we have to factor in when it comes to media access. It's not that there hasn't been any, there has been some, and to the degree we can continue to do that, we absolutely will. 

Fadi? 

Q: Thank you. I have two questions. So, previously senior Pentagon officials have been, you know, reluctant to provide specifics about some of the weapons like the stingers and other systems. Why was the decision made today to actually put it there? On the record, what type of systems are being provided to the Ukrainians? 

And the second question, some of the ideas that are being floated during the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, security guarantees to Ukraine; how much is the Pentagon involved with the Ukrainian counterparts on this issue? And is there any discussion about the possibility of providing such guarantees to Ukraine? Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not -- Fadi, I'm not going to get ahead of discussions that the Russians and the Ukrainians are having. I mean, I've seen those press reports. But, you know, that's -- those negotiations are still ongoing. And I -- we are not going to insert ourselves into that process right now. And look, there's been a lot of interest in detail about what we have been providing. And so, we provided some additional detail today. 

Tuna from Turkish Radio. 

Q: Thank you, SDO, for doing this. My question is about the U.S. security assistance for Ukraine. I know you said that you don't want to get further details about this assistance. But will the 100 tactical unmanned aerial systems are armed or not armed? Because we know that not all armed UAS or UAV are tactical. Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think I dealt with that one just a few minutes ago, I said, look, I think it's safe to assume that these systems will be there. They're designed to do to deliver a punch, and I'm just gonna leave it at that. 

Q: Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Travis from Military.com. 

Q: Hey, thanks. I just wanted to echo Haley's concerns about media access. And I hope that you guys will decide in the very near future to open that up. 

I had a couple questions. The first one, and I know you've been asked about this in the past, but Ukraine is claiming that a fourth Russian General has been killed in the fighting. Do you have any updated intel on these accounts of Russian generals being killed? Are these accounts trustworthy? And can you say anything about if they are, what that means for Russia? I mean, having a general officer killed would be very rare for someone like the United States. 

And my second question is, Stoltenberg announced earlier today that NATO is looking at a major buildup of its military presence. And they're going to be examining that in the coming months. Can you talk at all about the U.S. role in that process? And how we might be involved? Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Travis, I can't confirm reports about generals being killed in action. You know, we just can't independently corroborate those. And as for the NATO presence, of course, first of all, we have in the last several weeks, we have added to NATO's defensive and deterrence posture, you've seen it for yourself not only repositioning troops in forces and assets from inside Europe, but also bringing forces forward from the United States. 

I don't have any changes to speak to you today. No announcements today. But the Secretary's always going to keep on the table options to continue to look at the conditions inside the eastern flank, talk to allies and partners about capabilities they might need, and make the appropriate decisions and recommendations going forward. So, to the degree that there will be a NATO process to review posture in light of what Mr. Putin is doing in Ukraine, obviously, the United States look forward to being an active part and participant in that decision making process. 

Oren, CNN. 

Q: A few days ago, senior defense official had said the Ukrainians weren't flying all that many sorties, about five to 10 a day. And I was wondering, in the intervening days, about six days ago or so, has that number changed? Are they flying anymore? And the missions they are flying can you describe whether those would be these sorts of combat air patrol or air to ground missions? Or is any more detail you can get into on that? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, I would we haven't seen any appreciable change to the number of sorties that the Ukrainians are flying on a given day. We still assess it's between five and 10. And without, you know, without detailing their air operations here and publicly I mean, that's something for them to speak to. But, you know, we are seeing them fly missions in I would characterize them as self-defense, either in support of their troops on the ground or, you know, actively striking, you know, Russian targets. I think, really, that's about as much detail as I would be comfortable going. 

Q: Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Dan, from Washington Post. 

Q: Hey SDO two questions, please. Can you provide any additional information or clarity on that naval shelling? In particular, sort of the areas or towns that have been hit? And then on the drone front, a lot of those tactical drones tend to be single use? Is it likely that we're going to see continued deliveries of those systems, the same way we do with the javelins and some of the others? Thanks. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I won't get ahead of the President's decision today where we specifically announced, you know, 100 of these. So, that's what our focus is on right now is getting those 100 on their way to Ukraine; whether there'll be additional shipments of that particular type of system going forward. I couldn't begin to speculate to your point about javelins, which continue to flow as you well know, I wouldn't rule it out that that additional tactical UASes could be part of additional security assistance. But right now, our heads are down, our pencils are on the paper, and we're working out how to get to get this latest package into Ukraine as fast as we possibly can. 

On the naval shelling, sadly, I don't have much more information than that, this is a new development today, we just see more naval activity in the northern Black Sea, to include LSTs. These are landing ships and to include surface combatants, which we know are shelling cities and towns around Odessa, but I don't have a -- and maybe by tomorrow, I'll have a clearer picture of where that's occurring. We don't  assess that it's happening, you know, in Odessa proper, but rather, suburbs around Odessa. But again, I just don't have any more details in terms of, you know, what those what those towns are. 

Hopefully, I'm going to do right by your name here. Anumita from LA Times. 

Q: Hi, yes. It's Anumita, thank you. I was just wondering, does the Pentagon have an estimate as to how much of Russia's total military force has been dedicated to Ukraine? And then my second question would be yesterday's statements that were sent out, the Pentagon said that it had indications that, you know, Putin is, or the Kremlin is looking at moving around some forces. I haven't seen any movements and I'm just wondering, is that still the case? Has the Pentagon seen movements of forces? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so again, I think I get that question a little bit ago, we have seen them deliberate and discuss the possibility of resupply to include replacement troops. But we don't have -- we haven't seen any indications that anything is moving right now outside of what they have already in Ukraine. But we know they said that they are suffering losses everyday losses of people, losses of equipment, losses of aircraft. And so, it certainly stands to reason that they would want to be exploring options to replenish those losses. Again, just haven't seen an indication. 

And as for, you know, how much of his total military that he has dedicated to this fight? We would estimate it's around 75 percent of his total military committed to the fight in Ukraine. 

Q: Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nick Schifrin, PBS. 

Q: Hey, SDO, thanks very much. Going back to Tom Bowman's question about a counter offensive. In addition to Kyiv, we saw a rare strike in Kherson, the city in the south that Russians have taken over. That strike was on the air strike. And -- sorry, the airport in Kherson targeting Russian planes. Do you have anything on that? And if so, how unusual is that kind of strike from the Ukrainians on Russians who have occupied some territory? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry, Nick, I don't have anything on that one. I can try to ask I just wasn't -- I'm not tracking a particular airstrike. But if we can get anything on it to pass on, we will. 

As I said to the question, whoever asked a few minutes ago about the -- oh, it was Oren. You know, we have seen, you know -- they said we have seen the Ukrainians use their -- their fixed wing aircraft to support their folks on the ground, but also to conduct strikes on Russian targets. So, again, without confirming that particular one, it is in keeping with the way we've seen them use their aircraft in the past. 

Q: We've been asking about the S-300 obviously even before that, you know, we all know as NATO calls them SA-6, SA-8, SA-10s; that can be sent to Ukraine. I know you don't want to talk specifically about actual systems that can be sent to Ukraine. But can you talk about the discussions ongoing with these countries that have these systems that Ukrainians are already trained on? What the U.S. and what NATO would need to backfill these countries? It's a lot more complicated to backfill an S-300 than it is an SA-8. Can you just talk in general about the challenge of backfilling some of these surface-to-air systems and how that's going? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, the focus right now, Nick, is on talking to countries that have systems that we know that Ukrainians need and can use, and we're doing that actively. And, you know, for some countries, it's harder to give those kinds of systems away just because of what you know, how dependent they are on them, or how many they might have. And certainly, we respect that. 

I won't get ahead of discussions with independent or individual nations in terms of backfill requested, at this point. You can imagine that each discussion with an ally or partner with respect to air defense systems would be an individual discussion because of, again, their inventory and their dependency on that particular system. So, it would be difficult to answer that question in the aggregate. But these are all active discussions that we're having. 

And again, I don't want to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made by some of these nations. But again, we're actively having those kinds of talks right now. 

Q: And forgive me for asking this last one. Sorry, just forgive me, just one last one. Just having -- just gotten back. One question that I had was about intelligence sharing. I know you've been asked this. And I know you can't go into great detail. But can you explain at all how much, kind of, tactical and operational intelligence sharing the United States is providing the Ukrainians? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, Nick, I think you can understand I'm going to be careful here. I would just tell you, that we absolutely are sharing, we are actively sharing information and intelligence with Ukrainians that we believe can be helpful to them in their fight every day. And by helpful I mean helpful, and I think I really, I'm just gonna leave it at that. 

Q: Thanks. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Tara Copp? 

Q: Hey, thanks so much for doing this. Can you hear me? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I gotcha. 

Q: Great. I just wanted to make sure and clarify a statement you made a few minutes ago, when you talked about the forces that Putin now has dedicated to the Ukraine invasion. You said 75 percent of his total military. I wanted to make sure that was correct, because I believe in previous conversations, we discussed that it was about 50 percent of his total military. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't remember saying 50 percent. Again, we have guessed that he's got about three quarters of his military dedicated to this fight. 

Q: OK. And then the second question, also backfilling question but on the U.S. side. Are these stocks that are being sent to Ukraine, are they -- were they in prepositioned warehouses for DLA? Are they being pulled from bases? And at some point, will the units that are sending these forward, need to get back filled, on their own, too? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK, again, we're sourcing these as fast as we can, Tara. I don't have nor will I anticipate ever talking publicly about, from what stocks and from what particular the units and or installations these these items are going to come from. But obviously, we will do everything we can to replenish them for ourselves. The focus right now is on making sure that the things get to the Ukrainians as fast as possible, because we understand the tyranny of time here. So, we're going to work that, that's where our heads are. That's what we're going to focus on. The President's been very clear. That's what he wants to see us do. We will work the back end of it at the appropriate time, clearly. But right now, we're focused on getting that stuff there as fast as we can. 

Q: Yeah. And thanks very much for doing this. Two questions; earlier today NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said one of the lessons in all this was the need to support countries at risk early on. You mentioned Georgia in particular, is the U.S. or the U.S., along with any of its allies and partners, considering any additional military support right now for non-NATO countries like Georgia, which the Secretary mentioned, that could be targeted or have been targeted by Russia in the past? 

Second question; have there been any concerns or any indications about Russia specifically targeting U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, with disinformation or influence operations, like they've done at times in the past? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We haven't seen any overt efforts by the Russians in the information space in terms of propaganda or information ops aimed at NATO or the United States. So, nothing to report there. And nothing -- no specific discussions that I'm aware of with, with the, you know, with non-NATO nations about additional measures, or even requests. 

Our focus right now is on Ukraine, and making sure that this is the United States speaking, that we're doing everything we can to help them better defend themselves. And then on the NATO front, which is a big part of the discussion today was how do we, as an ally, continue to look for ways to improve the defense of the Alliance? That's where that's where we were today. 

Phil Stewart.

Q: Sorry for the delay. So, really quick, on the 75 percent. I'm trying to understand how that math works, because I thought there was only, you know, somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 Russian forces in Ukraine involved in the war. And I think that the Russian overall force structure, you know, as an order of magnitude, much, much bigger, just to the active-duty forces not including a couple million reservists they've asked. Could you explain the 75 percent? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I was talking -- I appreciate that. I'm talking mostly about battalion tactical groups, which is the units that he has primarily relied upon in the structure he's replied upon -- or relied upon. Again, this is an estimate. So it's an estimate. 

Q: So it's 75 percent of the BTGs that's what you're -- OK. And then my other question --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: No problem at all. And then another questions I had were the embassy and U.S. embassy for Kyiv and (inaudible) I guess, put out a statement today saying that 10 folks were shot by Russians when they were waiting in line for bread. Just wondering whether that's something that that the Pentagon has observed or that the U.S. military has any sight of?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. And I saw the statement by the Embassy. I -- were not able to, you know, to independently corroborate. We're not pushing back on it, we just -- we're not able to independently verify that.

Courtney NBC.

Q: Hi. OK, three quick follow-ons. Do you have the missile launch breakdown and if not, do you even know, can you say just how many have been fired from the Black Sea to know if there's been more with this increased naval activity there?

And then do you also have the change in the number of -- any change in the number of Russian sorties being flown since you've given the number on the Ukrainians? And then I have one other.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have the number of Black Sea missiles that have -- I just don't have that breakdown with me today. I don't have an update on Russian sorties. As a few days ago we said they were roughly flying around 200 sorties a day. It goes up and it goes down but I don't have an exact estimate today.

Q: Have either gone up in their -- just in the operational tempo the firing of missiles from the Black Sea or Russian authorities without giving numbers?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, Courtney, I just don't have that data with me today.

Q: OK. And then just one other quick one. On the S-300s, does the U.S. even have any S-300s in their inventory, the U.S. Military? And then one more time on the back fill. Is the U.S. looking at any options for potentially back filling any allies, missile defense systems with Patriots? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, we already kind of talked about this. So I'm not going to get into backfill discussions. We're focused on trying to talk to allies and partners about what they have that the Ukrainians have and know how to use and try to get them to them.

And these are individual conversations we're having with countries. But our focus is on talking to these allies and partners about these kinds of systems. I know everybody is focused in the S-300 but there's lots of different air defense systems and we're talking to folks that have them and might be willing to give them to Ukraine. And again, these are all individual nation by nation discussions. And I think that's really as far as I can go.

Q: I -- just the reason that we're -- everyone's so focused on the S-300 though is because people on the Hill are saying it on the record, that the U.S. is going to provide them. That's why I was asking -- I mean is it possible to just say whether the U.S. even has any to provide? Like can we just -- can you say that --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Our focus on these air defense systems, without getting into specific systems, I'm just not going to do that. Our focus is on talking to allies and partners who may have these kinds of systems that Ukrainians can use. I really just need to leave it at that. I understand we're -- people are saying on the Hill but that that's as far as as we're going to go today.

Q: OK.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Paul from US News.

Q: Yes. Yes. Hi, SDO. There have been some reports about Russian forces using sort of masses of civilians on the scale of hundreds as human shields. There's been some reports of them being sort of held as hostages and Ukrainian officials are given some specifics about some sort of incident that took place at a theater in Mariupol.

Have you seen any specifics on that or do you have anything about the Russian military in general sort of actively using civilians as human shields on that kind of scale? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. I mean we've seen the press reporting on that but we don't have anything to independently verify those reports. I mean the shelling of this theater where some Ukrainian refugees were hiding. Again, I can't -- we can't independently verify that. But if it's true it's difficult to come up with the words to describe how that makes one react. But again, we just can't independently verify.

Nancy, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thank you. I'm actually here with Sylvie from AFP and she's going to ask a question because we had logistical problems here.

Q: Yes. Excuse me but I didn't have a microphone here. So I have, again, a question on the S-300. You say you are talking with allies and partners. Are Bulgaria and Slovakia the only countries you are speaking about or are there others? And can we expect an announcement after the talks the Secretary will have with them in the next two days?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, there are other nations besides Slovakia and Bulgaria that we're talking to about all manner of systems that might be of use to the Ukrainians. And I'm not going to get ahead of those discussions that we're having on this trip.

And so I'm not going to preview what the Secretary and his counterparts are going to say over the next couple of days.

Anton from the Economist.

Q: Thanks, SDO. What sort of time scale are we talking about in terms of getting these air defense systems to Ukraine, assuming the negotiations go as you hope they do?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The best I can give you is as fast as possible, Anton. I mean, again, you -- it's difficult to get pinned down on a timeline here when some of these decisions haven't been made yet and for every other nation that's providing things and they're doing this on their own, you know, bilaterally.

Obviously we're talking to them but it's ultimately their sovereign decision to provide this stuff or not. And then to the degree to which they're willing, it's really up to them about how fast they'd be willing to -- to move them.

And I know everybody is focused on their defense systems but there's 14 other nations that are providing a lot of other stuff. And that aren't of that same magnitude.

So it's -- these are individual decisions that each of these nations have to make. And obviously all of us share a desire to get as much as we can to the Ukrainians as fast as we can, but the as fast as we can is going to vary depending on each nation and what they're willing to give and then how it -- you know how it can best get into the hands of the Ukrainians.

So it's not a great answer but it's an honest one we -- it's simply going to depend on the system we're talking about and on the nation that we're talking about.

Jennifer from Fox. Jen, are you there. OK. Sam, USNI.

Q: Hey, SDO. The Japanese MOD reported earlier, I guess, late yesterday that four Russian amphibious ships might be in route to Ukraine, bringing material from the Pacific. Is that something that you all have seen or is that something that you all could confirm?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. We can't confirm that.

Q: OK, so you all haven't heard that at all?

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

Q: OK. Cool. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Paul from POLITICO?

Q: Thanks, SDO. Given that 75 percent of the Russian BTGs are committed to this and, you know, these guys have been deployed since -- you know, for a couple months now before the invasion, do you have an assessment of how long the Russians can keep this up or when they reach kind of a breaking point here for morale and equipment?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, the question presupposes -- well not presupposes, but it -- when you say keep this up it depends on what you mean by this. I mean, they are obviously fully engaged in Ukraine or almost fully engaged in Ukraine, and they're -- and they have increased their level of long-range fires certainly through fairly (inaudible) as you're seeing for yourself.

They have not made a lot of progress on the ground, and that's, again, because of a stiff Ukrainian resistance. It's difficult to be able to predict right now based on where we are, and every day you're not seeing a whole lot of change. And yet, the Russians still have, we would assess, the vast majority of their combat power available to them inside Ukraine. 

Of the force that they assembled over the fall and have committed now to Ukraine, of that power, of that capability, they still have the vast majority of it. So it's difficult to say, and I think any -- if anybody tried to predict I think that would be a bit of a fool's errand. I mean, they are -- they still have an awful lot of capability left to them.

And I know we're -- we've talked a lot today about the fact that they are considering resupply and replacing some of their losses. Again, that is to be expected after three weeks now of suffering losses every day, but let's not forget that they still have an awful lot of combat-credible capability available to them inside Ukraine, and they're using it every day.

Now they're running into a stiff resistance. No doubt about it. And the Ukrainians still have the majority of their combat power available to them, but it's difficult to predict how long things are going to go. I think we've all been impressed. Everybody's impressed with how the Ukrainians have fought back and slowed the Russians' progress. They continue to be frustrated and not making much progress on the ground.

Q: Thanks, sir.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Mike Glenn, Washington Times.

Q: Yes. Hi, SDO. Thanks a lot. Some of my questions have already been answered, but one of them is about the Black Sea naval activity. And I realize you can't get into the head of a Russian (inaudible), but any thoughts or any ideas about why they're shelling the suburbs of Odessa rather than Odessa proper, which I assume would be their main target?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. I can't. I mean, Mike, again, I want to be careful as I have been not to speculate about Russian intentions or Russian plans. We would just put it this way. We would not be surprised to see them interested in taking Odessa given its strategic location. That would certainly not come as a surprise to the United States that they would want to pursue that. And why -- you know, why they are shelling outside Odessa, it's difficult to know with great specificity why they're doing that.

It could be to prepare for -- to prepare the way for a ground assault on Odessa. I mean, I think all of us have in our mind, everybody’s been talking about this like it's going to be some amphibious landing, and it might still be that, but you remember when they did an amphibious assault from the Sea of Azov to the southwest of Mariupol -- Mariupol, sorry, they did it in a largely undefended area of coastline, not in the city proper.

So again, I'm -- I really don't want to speculate, but it could be that they are simply preparing the way for -- to make it easier for some sort of ground assault on Odessa. Whether that comes from amphibious forces that are landed or comes from ground forces that are fighting to get into Mykolaiv with the intent of moving through Mykolaiv down to Odessa, that could be possible, too. But again, I have to be really careful. All that is speculative, and we just don't know.

Q: OK, thanks a lot.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. John Ismay, New York Times?

Q: Yes, hi. Regarding the security assistance fact sheet, I was wondering with the small arms like pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, et cetera, and the mortar and artillery projectiles that are mentioned here, are all of these weapons NATO standard calibers or are they, you know, the type chambered for the former western -- or sorry, former Warsaw Pact...

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. John, I mean, some of it's non -- what we would call nonstandard, which is what I think you're getting at, and we have been providing nonstandard arms and ammunition through the -- well before there was an invasion because we know that's what they use. And so, it's -- there's some of that in there, too.

Q: So it's a mix then?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK. That's my understanding, John.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. OK. So I think we got through just about everybody. I apologize for not doing it earlier in the day, but as you can see it was a busy day here in Brussels and a busy day there in Washington, so we'll find a way to do this again tomorrow. Thanks. See you.