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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

April 11, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, good morning, everybody. (inaudible) here. Just go through some basic stuff. I know it's been a couple of days since we talked.

Day 47 now. More than 1,500 missiles, which I know is roughly the same it was as when we talked on Friday. There hasn't -- there's been continued missile strikes over the weekend, but not many, and they're focusing their strikes -- they're striking mostly on the -- in the east, in the Joint Forces operation area, the Donbas. So we'll just kind of start there.

We have seen efforts by the Russians to resupply their -- resupply and reinforce now in the Donbas. You've all seen, I'm sure, open-source imagery of a line of vehicles heading down towards Izyum. We believe that this is an effort to reinforce and resupply their forces in the Donbas. They're still north of Izyum, but we assess that this line of vehicles includes a command-and-control element, a support battalion, basically, enablers, perhaps rotary-wing aviation support and other infantry support. So we do believe that this is a -- an early effort by the Russians to bolster their presence and their capabilities in the Donbas, but we still hold them north of Izyum. I don't know how fast they're moving. I don't know what their ultimate destination is. I don't know when they'll get to Izyum. We're seeing this unfold in real time, same to you, but it's clear evidence of what we've been saying for a while now, that the Russians are going to want to pour more of their assets into the Donbas.

We also have seen a further south in the Joint Forces operations area we've seen evidence that the Russians are beginning to reinforce some of their positions southwest of Donetsk. They're doing that largely with artillery units. Again, I don't have an exact number for you. I can't give that. I'm just telling you this is what we're seeing, that they are reinforcing now southwest of the Donetsk, again, all in keeping with these efforts that we've seen the Russians try to apply more resources in there.

Some of you will ask, "Well, is this, you know, the beginning of a new offensive in the Donbas area?" We do not assess that a new offensive has started, although it has been -- I hasten to remind that for eight years, there's been a hot war in the Donbas, and there is actual conflict, armed conflict, going on as you and I are sitting here talking. But we don't assess that that represents the beginning of a new offensive in the Donbas region. We still assess that while there is fighting going on, they are working to reinforce their capabilities and to add to it.

No major changes elsewhere throughout the country to speak to. In fact, really, the locus of everything we're seeing is on the Donbas region; still observing fighting near Izyum. In Kharkiv, we still assess that Russian forces remain north of the city, but they have not left totally. We have seen a continued effort by the Russians, the forces that were in the north that moved into Belarus. We have seen indications that they are starting to move to the east and we do see that they are looking to move some forces south from that town, Valuyki, that we talked about into the Donbas. In fact, our assessment is that this resupply line of vehicles that emanated from that part of Russia.

Let's see -- nothing new to report in the maritime environment. The Russians still have, oh, you know, about almost a couple dozen ships in the Black Sea, in the Azov Sea. We believe that they are largely designed to focus on resupply efforts, particularly in the south, although there have been continued -- some continued activity in terms of strike from the sea in -- into the Donbas region, but nothing, but nothing too significant.

Okay, we'll stop there and go to Bob.

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). Good morning. A couple of quick questions. One is just a clarification from what I heard you say about indications that the Russians have begun reinforcing positions southwest of Donetsk with artillery, I think you said. Were you referring specifically to southwest of the city of Donetsk, or are you talking about the region? And then I have one other question, if you --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, south -- southwest of Donetsk, the city.

Q: Okay. So my other question has to do with claims by the Russian government that they have destroyed, I believe they said four air defense surface-to-air missile launchers, and suggestions that this was the Slovakian system that was moved in recently. Can you confirm either of those claims? And -- and more broadly, does it look like the Russians are attempting now to go more aggressively after Ukrainian air defenses? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, well, I mean, we've -- what we have seen and were able to confirm is that we did see an airstrike conducted at the Dnieper International Airfield yesterday. We do assess that it destroyed some airport infrastructure, but we have no evidence to conclude that they destroyed an S-300 system, and we have no evidence to conclude that it was, in fact, the Slovakian one. You've heard the Slovakian government came out and denied it, but that's about all we know right now, Bob.

Q: And -- and the more -- the broader question about whether it looks like they are going to, as part of this buildup in the east, go after their air defenses more aggressively, I mean, any evidence of that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, that -- it -- we would -- we haven't seen -- again, I'm just talking about what we've seen. We haven't seen that happen yet; seen the reporting that that's what they're saying they want to do, but we haven't actually seen them work towards that goal in terms of trying to attack Ukrainian air defense systems. And Ukrainians have been very nimble and very agile in how they're -- where, and how, and when they're placing their air defense systems and we would expect that they would continue to do what they need to do to protect those systems.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yup. Tom Bowman?

Q: Yeah, a little more detail on what we're seeing around Izyum. You said those units are coming down from Vasylkiv. Are there any more Russian units up in that area?

And what about Kharkiv? Any moving south from Kharkiv?

And at this point can you give us an overall sense of how many units, battlegroups you're seeing so far in Donbas?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have anything new to talk about on Kharkiv. As I said earlier in my opening statements, they were -- Russian forces remain north of the city, we haven't seen a wholesale withdrawal there.

As I said earlier, we have seen some early indications that some of the units that were around Kyiv are starting to make their way to the east towards Belgorod and Valuyki. We believe that this line of vehicles that we talked about that are north of Izyum came out of the Belgorod/Valuyki region to -- from there to the south. We believe that, I mean, I don't have -- we don't -- not -- we don't have exact geolocation data on their points of origin. But we believe that they came out of that region.

Which is in keeping with what we talked about last week for that we were -- believe they were going to use Valuyki and Belgorod as refit and replenishment -- resupply stations.

And you had another question, Tom.

Q: Yes, as far as number of battlegroups or units that have recently come into Donbas, a ballpark on that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I don't have anything really much more than what we talked about last week.

The northeastern grouping of troops, which is being combined with the southern grouping of troops -- so the northeastern grouping of troops we believe they have just over 20 total BTGs and we believe of those 20 more than half -- or just slightly more than half -- are actually in Ukraine right now.

And that's an addition of two over the last few days. That's coming from the northeastern grouping of troops in Russia. So that's that area where we believe they are operating -- are in the area of the Donbas north of Luhansk, and east of Kharkiv and Izyum, so that area there.

In the southern grouping of troops, which the way the Russians have sort of laid out where these guys go, these are troops that you would expect to see all the way as far west as Kherson and as far up as Donetsk and Luhansk, and that southern grouping of troops the vast, vast majority of their BTGs are in Ukraine and they had more than 55 battalion tactical groups available to them. And we suspect that virtually all of them are inside Ukraine. There's been no major change in that; that's not a change.

The only change we've seen in terms of battalion tactical groups are really coming from that northeastern grouping of troops. As I said, 20 -- more than 20 total and more than half of that total is in the -- is in Ukraine now. And we assess that they added, you know, about two more BTGs over the course of the last couple of days.

So that's really the only net change.

Q: Okay. And just quickly, the combat effectiveness of these groups, do you have a sense of that? I think you mentioned --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we don't. I mean, there's been all kinds of estimates about how many are combat ineffective, you know, and it depends on -- we just don't have a good -- you know, I've seen on estimate of a grouping but I'd rather not get into that because it doesn't give you an accurate picture of all of them.

But there are -- we do assess that at least in the grouping that we're aware of that it's not an insignificant number of their BTGs are combat ineffective.

And what does that mean? It means a lot of things. It could mean that they -- they don't have the manpower that they need to effectively conduct the mission, or it could be ammunition and supply, it could be vehicles.

Depending on what the BTG does, every -- not all of them are just infantry BTGs. So I'm a little leery to get into quantifying that because it's -- it varies from BTG to BTG.

But in general, we assess that there are some BTGs that are combat ineffective. And it remains to be seen how many that's going to end up being.

It also remains to be seen how the Russians are going to refashion them and put them back into the fight. Or will they at all? As we talked about last week, will they just take some that have been so depleted and combine them into new units? We're just not sure.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hi, (inaudible) -- hi, sir.

Can you give us an update on the major enablers that were part of the Ukraine security initiative announced the other day? I'm thinking of the four counter-artillery and counter-drone tracking radars, and the four counter-mortar tracking radars, and the armored Humvees. Those are enablers that people don't focus on a lot.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, well, you named -- there's three -- there are three buckets right there, Tony. I mean, also, you know, night vision devices and thermal imagery systems and optics. There's a -- there's a lot of -- radios, communication gear.

Q: Right.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, you've heard the secretary talk about that. That is not an insignificant enabler to allow these guys to continue to communicate securely, and they are. The Ukrainians still have very good command and control over their forces, and again that's not by accident.

Q: Well, where are the deliveries or the orders being placed -- we're going to see contracts from these other major systems fairly soon?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, I don't have any update on contracting in that regard. I don't know, I can't answer that question for you.

Q: Maybe you can track it.

Hey, the other thing I need to ask you, Chairman Milley the other day before the Senate Armed Services Committee on three occasions referred to 60,000 anti-tank or anti-armor weapons we've provided. Can you clarify that? That's not all 60,000 U.S. provided, is it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, actually, the chairman was right though, it's more than 60,000 anti-armor systems. Not all of them came from the United States. And that number goes back before the invasion, that -- it's fewer than that since the invasion but not much fewer than that. So there's been a lot but it's been other nations as well.

Q: Okay. If there's a way for you to track then roughly how much the U.S. had provided the 60,000 to date that would be helpful to clarify.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Specifically on the anti-armor systems that the chairman was referring to, the United States has provided more than 10,000 on our own and slightly less than half of that have been provided since the invasion.

So the majority of our more than 10,000 was provided before the invasion. Just under half of that since the invasion. That was our -- that's been our commitment.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Howard Altman.

Q: Hey, thanks.

Question -- Can you talk about any tank deals from other countries that might be in the works? Do you know of any other countries that are going to or considering providing tanks to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There are -- as far as I know, there are several nations that are considering that. And some tanks by some nations have been delivered to Ukraine. These are tanks that they know how to use, largely T-72s.

But I'm not going to speak for those nations. I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that they are still making. I -- that's about as far as I'm going to be able to take that one.

Q: Can you talk about any other nations besides the Czechs that have provided tanks to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I cannot. Those are things that those nations have to speak to and we're certainly going to respect their own information requirements.

Dan Lamothe?

Q: Thank you. Good morning.

I was hoping to see if we could expand a bit on what you're seeing around Mariupol and Kherson and some of the other southern cities today.

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. I mean, in Mariupol, still a lot of fighting going on. And obviously this is a city that continues to be under siege and a large part -- not a large part -- but the efforts we're seeing in the Sea of Azov for replenishment and resupply that the Russians have a little less than half a dozen ships in the Azov Sea. Most of them are surface combatants, but we know that they are there to help resupply and replenish forces that are fighting over Mariupol.

But still being fought over. I don't have much more detail than that. I mean, it has not been taken by the Russians. That's not our assessment.

Not a whole lot to say in the -- over towards the southwest. There's just – we assessed that the Russians have not taken Mykolaiv. Most of their forces are positioned between Mykolaiv and Kherson. And there has been some contact with Ukrainian forces in that area between Kherson and Mykolaiv, but they have not taken Mykolaiv.

In general, we hold that Kherson is still in Russian control but Mykolaiv is still solidly in Ukrainian control and the contested areas are sort of in-between those two cities.

Did that answer your question?

Q: Yes, thank you.

Any reports of ammo shortages at this point with Mariupol in particular? It sounded like there's anecdotally some increasingly challenging situation for the Ukrainian forces remaining.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know what their status of ammunition is, Dan. I mean, that's -- I just don't have that level of detail, and even if I did, I don't know that I'd be talking about that. I'm -- we're trying to be careful that we don't put a lot of information out about the Ukrainians that the Russians could capitalize from. But I don't honestly know.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Heather from USNI.

Q: Thank you. I was wondering if that you've heard anything more on the report that the British are sending Harpoons to Ukraine, and on that -- what use they might be for the Ukrainian troops?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have anything on that -- on the British sending Harpoons. This is the first I've heard of that.

They have announced that they're going to be sending cruise defense -- sorry, coastal defense cruise missile. We welcome that publicly, but I'll let the Brits talk about what they're sending and when and on how many. That's really for them to talk to.

But I've not seen anything about Harpoons coming from the U.K.

Joe Gould?

Q: Hi there. Thanks for doing this, and good morning.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs testified last week that this new phase of the war lends itself to the use of more artillery armor, mechanized combat. Do you have any more details on how that might already be manifesting? And is the Pentagon in any way trying to get ahead of this phase and changing any -- changing equipment needs on the part of Ukraine? 

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, yes. I mean, sure. I mean, the chairman's right.

And you can see just in what we're seeing and what we talk about with you guys today, you know, artillery units positioning southwest of Donetsk, the Russians bolstering their artillery presence there. If you look at the vehicles that are coming down out of Izyum, you know, their armored vehicles and artillery assets as well as command and control and enablers. I mean, you can see just in these early stages of the Russians trying to reinforce and bolster their capabilities in the Donbas that the Chairman was right in terms of the kinds of capabilities they're going to be putting into the Donbas. Because it is a much more confined area, it's an area that they know and are familiar with the terrain, and that they know they're going to need not just long-range fire from the air but short-range fire capabilities inside that more confined space.

So we have actually started to see in just the last couple of days what the Chairman predicted would happen. You can start to just see that now beginning to manifest itself.

And I think you had another question that I totally lost.

Q: Yes. Yes, and this might link back to Tony's question earlier, but how is the Pentagon trying to get ahead of any changing, you know, needs on the part of Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh. Oh, yes, yes, yes.

So, I mean, look, I mean, I think I can point very easily to the drawdown package -- the most recent drawdown package that the president announced, this $100 million of Javelin -- Javelin anti-armor systems, which are on the move right now. Now, I can look and see. I don't think they're actually in Ukraine yet, but I know they're on the move. And that's a very specific example of how we were trying to help the Ukrainians in this particular new phase of the conflict.

Q: Is there a challenge there as the fighting concentrates on the -- you know, on the eastern side of the country? Is there a challenge in terms of getting equipment to the Ukrainians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thus far, no. We continue to use the same processes that we have been using for these many weeks now, and there are, as we talked about, many routes over land and a fairly sophisticated and a efficient trans-shipment capability that, again, we don't want to talk much about nor are we going to, but it is still moving.

I mean, you're talking about eight to 10 flights per day into the region and near-constant convoys on the ground of material that are moving into country, and that continues. And we want to preserve that, so obviously we're -- you know, we're going to be careful about how much we talk about it.

Q: Thanks so much.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Eric Schmidt?

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). Two questions.

The first just going back to Tom Bowman's question, following up, the senior defense official last week said the number of BTGs in the east had increased from 30 to 40. What is that number today? And are these new troops coming in considered combat ready or do you assess that they're just kind of throwing in whatever they've got to, you know, start building up this mass?

Then I've got a second question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. If you add the northeastern grouping of troops, so that's the basically the grouping of troops that are in that north part, north of Luhansk and Popasna and Izyum, and to the east of Kharkiv, and you add that to the southern grouping of troops, which everything south of that including all the way over to Kherson, you're talking a total inside Ukraine now of -- do I do my math here -- talking more than 60 BTGs total in that -- in those two groupings, so it's a lot.

Now, some of those were already there, Eric. We haven't seen a net delta change in the BTGs of very much. I talked about, you know, an additional two over the last couple of days. I don't know what the combat effectiveness of these units are. Again, most of them have been there for the whole time or most of the time.

And again, back to his question about combat effectiveness of the BTGs that are being refit, we just don't know. We just don't have it. They pulled out --

Q: When you were -- sorry --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: in the northwestern grouping of troops they had about 14, and we talked about that, that they're arrayed against Kyiv. And the north central grouping of troops that this was the grouping that was around Sumy and Chernihiv, they had about -- they had a little less than 20.

So of those two groupings, none of those BTGs are now inside Ukraine. Where exactly they are, what condition they're in, what's the next step for them, we just don't have that level of detail.

Q: But last week the senior defense official had talked about the number in the east specifically had been about 30 and that it had gone up to 40 by the time the briefer talked to us again on Friday I believe. That's a subset of this 60 or 70 you're talking about.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's a subset. Yes, sir.

Q: Okay. Okay, great.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Yes, that was a --

Q: And then -- and then just a second --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- that senior defense official was not talking about adding in the southern grouping of troops before.

Q: Right. Right, and that's -- so that 40 number is still roughly the same as what it was last Friday?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, I think so. Yes. And I haven't seen anything that makes it much different.

Q: Okay, and then the second question is to what extent is the Pentagon and its allies prioritizing long-range fires and intelligence that would enable the Ukrainian forces to actually strike Russian fuel, ammo, transport inside of Russia or Belarus to prevent this kind of second offensive that people are talking about happening?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In terms of the long-range fires, we are continuing to work with allies and partners to try to get long-range air defense systems into Ukraine, and the Slovakia S-300 announcement was an example of some of the work that we'd done.

Our goal is -- and in terms of intelligence, we are providing good intelligence to the Ukrainians to help them with their self-defense. I'm not going to get more detailed than that, but our goal is to help them defend themselves, and they should speak to their specific operations and the specific missions that they're conducting and the manner in which they're conducting and the geography with which they're conducting. Our job, what we focus on is getting them as -- the information that we think they need and the systems that can help them defend themselves. I think I'm just going to have to leave it at that.

Q: But would it make sense to read -- to hit these areas where they're resupplying and rearming so that these Russian reinforcements just can't even get back into the battle?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, that is a -- that's a Ukrainian strategy question, Eric. I'm not going to -- I'm not going to go there.

Idrees from Reuters?

Q: Two quick questions. Do you have a sense of how many troops are being sort of sent to resupply around the Donbas? And then secondly, over the weekend, obviously, you put out -- the Pentagon put out the images of Secretary Austin speaking with the Ukrainian troops. Now that they're all -- have left the United States, are there any plans to bring any more Ukrainian troops into the United States for training?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I know of no additional plans to bring Ukrainian troops to the United States. I want to remind that that group, which was less than a dozen, had been in the States since the holidays, and were here for long-planned training.

What was your first question?

Q: Sort of the scale of how many troops are being sent to resupply the positions in the Donbas.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know. I mean, I -- I've told you guys as much as I can right now. We're kind of going day by day here. We don't know -- we don't have visibility into the Russian planning and thinking here. We have seen indications that they are moving at least some of the BTGs they had in the north, moved them into Belarus and into Russia, and they're moving them towards Belgorod and Valuyki for refit and resupply. But I couldn't give you -- I couldn't enumerate that. I just -- we just don't have that level of fidelity. We don't know how many of them are fully-combat-effective or what they need to become combat-effective. We don't know if they're going to have to just eliminate some BTGs because they're so depleted. We're just not sure. I -- I'm trying to give you the best I can from what we're seeing, but it's very difficult for us to enumerate this with any great specificity.

Paul Shinkman?

Q: Yeah, hi, sir. So just to follow up on that question, are there any new policies or new considerations against allowing Ukrainians to come to the U.S. for training because that might be seen as provocative to the Russians? So specifically that.

And then more generally, can you kind of talk -- you said -- you've been facing questions about U.S. troops training Ukrainians anywhere, whether that -- on a depot in Poland or on a base somewhere else in Europe. Can you sort of talk more generally about what kind of consideration is going into both those specific interactions, but also how you talk about them? Again, do you see that as being unnecessarily provocative toward Russia?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So there's no policy decision about no longer bringing Ukrainian troops to the States. This group was here on a long-planned professional military education and training curriculum and they went home. They went home basically on time. We took advantage of a few extra days to get them some additional training, but there's no policy decision that we will no longer host PME for Ukrainians. It kind of follows that the Ukrainians are busy right now, and that they obviously will want as many hands on deck there in Ukraine -- pardon the naval language -- to fight this war. But there's been no policy decision that I'm aware of that would prevent them from coming to the United States. And it's not about whether that's provocative or not; there's just been no policy decision.

As for additional training on systems like the Switchblade, we are reviewing and thinking about and considering a number of different options for how we could manage to get more Ukrainians trained on that system. It's a small number of systems, as you know, but it's a new system that they're not familiar with, so of course, we're thinking about what the options might look like. But we've made no decisions about you know, exactly what that would look like, how long would it take, what -- where would it be, who would train. We're still working our way through that.

Q: I suppose my question is, why you need to specify that the Ukrainians who just left the U.S., that they were here as a part of a previously-planned training exercise, and that they arrived before the Russian invasion began?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Because it’s a fact, and I want to be honest with you guys.

Courtney?

Q: That's not because of any concerns about how that might look to the Russians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. It's because it's true, and I just wanted to put it into context. What I wanted to make sure is when we talked about the training we were giving them we didn't want you guys jumping to some conclusion that we flew a bunch of Ukrainians over here to give them Switchblade training, because it's not true, and I was afraid that that might be some of the reporting, so I wanted to make sure that I got out ahead of that, so I just told you guys the truth. I mean, I wish I was as clever as your question might surmise me to be, but I'm, frankly, not that smart. I was just trying to be honest with you guys at the outset so -- to get ahead of whatever questions you might ask. I assumed if I said we gave Ukrainians Switchblade training in the United States, that the first question I'd get from you is, "Well, when did they get here? How long have they been here? Did you fly them over for this?" So I was just trying to get ahead of it. That's -- there's no more magic to it than that.

Q: That's helpful. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yup.

Courtney?

Q: Has the U.S. done any -- trained the Ukrainians on anything else besides the Switchblade here in the U.S.? Is that the only system, as long as we're asking about this?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's the only system so far, Court.

Q: Okay. And then I am so sorry to ask this, and if you would rather we just do this off-line, I'm happy to do it if everyone hates me, but I still don't understand the numbers of BTGs. I'm sorry. So if everyone else gets it, I can ask afterwards. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Look, I'm giving you what -- I'm giving you daily numbers here, Courtney, you know. I -- I'm doing the best I can with the information we have.

Q: No, I'm -- I'm not -- yeah, I'm not being critical.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And we don't have a --

Q: I don't -- I don't understand.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I know that. I know that. We don't have a perfect idea. I'm telling you that of the grouping from the -- to the northeast that's -- that's covering both -- basically, the north part of the Donbas, we assess that they have more than 10, slightly more than 10 BTGs in Ukraine, but they have more than 20 total, so there's at least half of them that are not inside Ukraine right now.

Now look, they move, like, over the course of -- we haven't talked for two days, so it's very possible that over the course of the weekend, some of them moved out or moved to other places. I just don't know. I'm just giving you what I got on the chart, and maybe I should think about this going forward, about whether or not I should even do this, because it's going to change from day to day, and I don't want to be responsible for reporting out Russian troop movements and being held to that level of accuracy on this. I'm just trying to give you what I'm -- what I'm looking at right now on the map.

Q: Yeah. May -- I should have been more clear. I guess just very specifically, what are the number -- the estimated number of Russian BTGs that are around the Donbas right now I guess is specifically what I don't understand, right around Donbas.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Donbas to the north and it -- I don't have -- I don't -- the truth is I can't answer that question. I don't know exactly how many are in the Donbas. That's not the way we -- that's not the way we tabulate it.

We have a southern grouping of troops that goes -- that includes the Donbas but also includes the entire south of Ukraine, north of Crimea all the way out to Kherson. And then we have a northeastern grouping of troops that we look at that is largely, you know, from like that -- you know from Sumy all the way down to Popasna and they move.

That's how we're counting them and we're not counting exactly how many are in the Donbas proper. I just don't have that number.

Q: Okay. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry. David Martin?

Q: Back to Eric's question about disrupting the Russian reinforcing and repositioning, you said you're not going to get into Ukrainian strategy about attacking those lines. But the question -- my question is are you giving them any weapons that could be used to disrupt, for instance, that eight-mile-long convoy?

And my other question has to do with fuel. You said last week that you were in discussions or consultations with the Ukrainians about their fuel needs. Has anything come of that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No major changes to fuel assistance. Nothing to announce today.

And as for weapons to interdict this line of vehicles, I mean, again I would point you to the anti-armor systems that we have flown in and continue to flow in. Those would be certainly effective against of a line of vehicles.

Q: The anti-armor systems have a fairly limited range. They're not going to reach from Ukraine into these marshland areas, are they?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You said about interdicting the convoy that's coming down. That's what you talked about.

Look, guys, I'm not going to talk about -- let me just be very clear. I will tell you what we're giving them and what those capabilities are. I am not, not, going to talk about how the Ukrainians are going to use them in the field of battle. I'm just not going to go there.

Q: I got that.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I understand the interest in, well, what can the Ukrainians do to stop this, these -- this resupply on the other side of the border. That is for Mr. Zelensky to talk about. I am not -- not going to get ahead of their national security decision-making or operations. I just won't do it.

Q: Are you giving them --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What our job --

Q: Are you giving them any weapons that could be used to interdict their supply efforts on the Russian side of the border?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: David, we have told you what we're giving them. I mean, you can go on the website and look at the list of things we're giving them. We have been very transparent. So I think the best answer to your question is to go on the website and look at the systems we're giving them and you can see the capabilities that we're providing them.

Joe Tabet?

Q: Thank you so much for taking my question.

Is the Pentagon still asking Turkey to get rid of the S-400 missile system? And do you see any possibility that this system could be given to Kyiv?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Joe, I know of -- again, I'm not to speak for Turkey. I know of no plans to provide S-400 systems to Ukraine from anybody. This is not a system -- as you know, it's very, very -- much more advanced. It's not a system that the Ukrainians are trained on and know how to use.

And we're focusing our efforts on trying to get them the systems that they -- most of the systems that we're trying to get them are systems that the know how to use and are trained on.

Q: Okay, quick question: Could you confirm that Putin has appointed a General Alexander Dvornikov, aka The Butcher of Syria, to oversee the operations in Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Our assessment is that the Russians have, in fact, appointed him to be the overall commander. But it remains to be seen. Given the significant logistics and sustainment challenges, the operational maneuver challenges, the integration of fires challenges, the morale, the leadership, it certainly remains to be seen what sort of an effect he's going to be able to have.

They have high challenges to surmount and the choice of a general, it doesn't mean that they're poised for greater success here. We just have to wait and see.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. Mike Glenn.

Q: Thank you, (inaudible).

I was -- wanted to change subject a little bit. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the 2+2 meeting going on with the Indian delegation. And knowing India's, sort of, long history with Russia -- it goes back to the start of the Republic -- how difficult has it been to get -- for the administration to get them to sort of get onboard with the anti-Putin coalition?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I'm not going to get ahead of the meetings that haven't occurred yet, Mike. I mean, they're happening today and there'll be a press conference at the end of it I think. That will be the time to ask the leaders themselves what they discussed.

As you know, today the secretary met with his Indian counterpart here in an early meeting and certainly Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a topic of discussion. But look, the -- you know -- every nation has to make their own decisions -- sovereign decisions about what they're going to do or what they're not going to do about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

We have a strong defense partnership with India. We value that partnership. We want to improve that partnership going forward. You'll hear the secretary talk about more tangible ways that we're doing that this afternoon.

But we also, you know -- we also respect India's sovereignty and their nation decision-making process. And I think I'll just -- need to leave it there.

Q: Okay. Thanks (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Last question to Nick Schifrin.

Q: Hey, (inaudible). Thanks.

So just on Dvornikov, I know it's early and I know you said one person won't necessarily lead to success, but given that he's been in charge of the south and southeast is there anything you can say about what you expect him to do and whether you think that there's any version of lessons learned that the Russians have taken that he will apply? I know that's a little speculative, but if you could.

And then one of the very first things you said I want to reach back to. You said, you know, there is -- there's no assessment that there's a new operation that's been launched. Do you think that we will know when this new operation in the east begins or will it be more of a rolling start?

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, on Dvornikov, I really don't know, Nick. I mean, I -- he was the commander of the Southern Military District and in the early days and weeks of the conflict the Russians did achieve more success in the south than they achieved certainly in the north. I have no idea if that was a factor in his selection.

Things are pretty static now in the south and the Russian advances have been halted down there. They have been no closer to taking Mariupol today than they were last week. And they haven't been able to advance on Mykolaiv. So, if Mr. Putin's decision to pick Dvornikov was because he had some success, it was -- it wasn't that much.

And I don't know what his selection portents to -- for the rest of the fighting going on in the east or what that means. We're just going to have to watch this unfold in real-time.

What is clear is that the Russians continue to sink to new lows of depravity and brutality, as we saw with the missile strike on the train station last week. And their continued assaults in Mariupol.

I think we're all bracing for when the rest of the world gets to see what happens in Mariupol, what has happened. I think we're certainly bracing ourselves here for some potentially really, really horrible outcomes. So, that has not changed.

The other thing that hasn't changed is that Mr. Putin and his new general still have an opportunity to end this war. They could end it today. I know I say that all the time and it probably gets old for you to hear it, but it's true. They could end it today.

This is a completely unprovoked invasion that he had -- and he had diplomatic options on the table. We would call on Mr. Putin and the general to use those diplomatic options and stop the fighting rather than reenergize and reinforce, which is what they appear to be doing in the east.

And this gets to your second question. The short answer is, Nick, I don't know. We don't assess now that this new offensive has truly begun. And it may not be perfectly clear to us. I mean, we'll do the best we can every single day to tell you what we're seeing and what we think about we're seeing, and it's going to change from day to day.

But I just don't know if it's going to be blatantly obvious or it's going to be something that we're sort of observing over time. It's going to depend quite a bit on how the Russians refit, resupply and reinforce themselves.

It's also going to, quite frankly, depend on the Ukrainians and the degree to which the Ukrainians continue to claw back territory and to push back on the Russian efforts inside the Donbas. So, I mean, it's just difficult to know what that's going to look like.

Now, listen, just one last editorial point before I say good-bye for this session today. I do these because I think they're valuable and because I'm trying to tell you what we're seeing on a day-to-day basis.

I want to just go back to what my initial caveats from six weeks ago. There's going to be limits to what we know, and what we know may change from day to day because we learn more and we have better context.

I will give you as much as I can, based on the material I have in front of me and doing it in a way that is, as I think it is, responsible. So, your -- to answer your questions as best as I can but also to protect sensitive information so that the -- you know, we don't violate the Ukrainian OPSEC.

It is difficult for us to know exactly what the Russians are planning on any given day or in future days. We don't have insight into their -- into their planning processes such as they are processes.

So my goal here is to just give you a snapshot in time and it is only that, and it is going to be flawed based on the fact that we don't have perfect visibility in everything.

But I understand the questions today about strategy and about, you know, what the Ukrainians will or won't do. I will not compromise the Ukrainian operational security. I will not get ahead of decisions that they haven't made yet. And I think they are better suited to speak to their operations and their capabilities than we are. But first of all, they know more than we do, and secondly, it wouldn't do for us to put them in that kind of danger.

So I understand it was a little frustrating for you today, but I make no apologies for the fact that I'm simply not going to have all of the information or the forecast ability that I know you guys want. And I don't blame you for wanting it. It's your job. I totally get that. But I just need you to understand where we're coming from here and why I continue to do these.

Those are sort of my cardinal rules, and I'm just not going to break them.

Okay, we're briefing later today not too far from now, so we'll see you guys a little bit later. Bye.