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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

STAFF: Hey, good afternoon, everybody. This is [omitted] at the Pentagon. Thanks for joining us.

We're here today for a background briefing with our Senior Military Official.  For your identification purposes, our -- our Senior Military Official again today is [omitted], who is the [omitted]. We are -- so this -- all of the information from this call should be attributed to a Senior Military Official.

[Senior Military Official] will have some brief opening comments and then we'll open up to your questions. We've got about 30 minutes, so we'll get to it. [SMO], over to you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thanks, [Staff]. Hi, everybody, good afternoon. So 170th day of Russia's illegal and unprovoked large scale invasion of Ukraine. Let me just give you a quick rundown of what we're seeing from north to south on the battlefield in particular.

So, you know, across the -- across the area of operations, Russia is continuing to employ artillery and indirect fires indiscriminately. I'll talk on that here in a minute. In the north, in Kharkiv, we're actually seeing some Ukrainian gains. Again, these aren't -- these aren't large gains but they're -- they're certainly gaining, and in -- in many cases, have the Russians on their -- on their heels.

As you travel a little further south, Siversk, Bakhmut, the Russians continue to throw a bunch of things against the Ukrainians in an attempt to continue to gain ground in Bakhmut, and although they have made some gains, they're very small and -- and those gains have come at a pretty decent cost for the Russians. Very similar to what we saw in terms of those impacts on the Russians up in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, I think, six weeks ago or so, in terms of the impact that those very small gains are having on the Russians.

I would point out, as I was kind of alluding to earlier, since the last time I talked to you, the UN -- the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates 600 civilians that have been killed over the course of that time period. And again, that's largely due to the indiscriminate bombing or bombardment that -- that the Russians conduct, and that -- there's -- that number is probably higher, quite honestly.

In Zaporizhzhia, no particular updates on the nuclear power plant. It is under Russian control and I'd just point you to the IAEA's comments in terms of, you know, there's -- there's no immediate threat to nuclear safety, but that could change at any moment.

In vicinity of Kherson, we have seen Ukrainian offensive efforts. We assess that they're continuing to -- to press hard on the Russians in -- in Kherson. We know recently, as an example, that they continue to inflict damage on -- on bridging of the Russians. And -- and, you know, again, I'd -- I'd comment very similar to how they're working in the north, have the Russians on the defensive.

And then in Crimea, other than, you know -- and I -- and I know you'll likely want to talk about the -- about what happened in Saky. I, quite honestly, like you, don't have any answers for that, any -- any particular answers. I -- I can tell you that it was not an ATACMS, because we have not given them ATACMS. But -- but as you do know, they -- it was a pretty significant impact to -- to Russian air and -- and air personnel.

In the maritime environment, about a half dozen ships underway right now in the Black Sea, including some Kalibr-capable ships, and -- and, you know, we, like the rest of the world, have been pleased to see that the grain shipments are -- continue to flow out of Odesa and then south to -- to a good portion of the world that needs that grain.

So I will -- I'll hold there and I'm happy to answer any questions.

STAFF: Sir, thanks very much. And we'll start with Lita Baldor from the Associated Press. Lita?

Q: Hi, thank you for doing this. I realize you probably don't -- aren't able to take too much on the airbase, but is the U.S. able to assess or confirm that indeed this was a Ukrainian strike of some kind? And is there any way for you to tell if it came from the air or if it was some sort of ground attack?

And then secondly, you talked about Ukrainian gains around Kharkiv. Can you just give us a little bit more on that? What -- you said they're -- they have Russians on their heels, they're gaining. Are they -- give us a little bit bigger picture on what exactly is happening there.

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, sure, Lita. On the first one, you all are looking at the same picture as we are and -- and we haven't been able to make any determination as to was it some -- something that was fired or something that was detonated on the ground.

What we can tell you is exactly what you all are -- are reporting, as well, is that, again, there were a number of -- of Russian aircraft, fighters, fighter bombers, I think a surveillance aircraft, that were destroyed, in addition to a pretty significant cache of munitions for -- or ammunition dump, which my guess is led to, you know, the -- the worst part of that, and then some structures.

I think the -- the airfield was damaged, as well, certainly an impact to the Russians' ability to prosecute any kind of air activity out of that portion of the airfield, but again, those were all the things that -- you know, I'm seeing the same things you are in that regard and, you know, I -- so I don't have anything more on that.

And then on your second one, I'd just -- I'd give you an anecdote -- and I -- so I got this -- this is open source that I got, as well, and I was -- I was reading about the Ukrainian gains up to the east of Izyum, in a town -- and I'll -- I'm going to -- I'll butcher this -- but a town of Velyka -- and I think that's spelled V-E-L-Y-K-A -- Komyshuvakha -- and that's K-O-M-Y-S-H-U-V-A-K-H-A. So if -- if -- if you're of Ukrainian descent, I'm sorry if I just butchered that.

Anyways, what -- the open source I saw was that the Ukrainians had attacked Russian positions at that location -- it was an outpost located at the intersection of two -- two main roads -- and that the Ukrainians had isolated and surrounded the Russian position and that the Russians were unable to get any kind of artillery support.

I think what you're finding is you -- you've got Ukrainians who -- they are -- they are, you know, across the -- the area of operations, working to take it to the Russians. And as we've talked about in the past, you know, you -- the things that are going against the Russians, which is, as, you know, we all know, a pretty large force, the things going against the Russians are the continued impacts on their morale, their ability to sustain themselves, all of which have been impacted by the Ukrainians' ability to -- to get after command and control, ammunition locations, sustainment or logistics locations, all -- all really significant and I think that's having a large effect on the Russians on the front lines.

And I'll stop there.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. Next, we'll go to Idrees Ali of Reuters. Idrees?

Q: Thank you. Two quick questions. Just to make sure that I understand correctly, it's not that you can't tell us who carried out the attack on the airbase, you just don't know?

And secondly, just on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, can you say definitively -- or -- or maybe differently -- can you say that you -- you are not aware of any Ukrainian strikes in or near the nuclear power plant in recent days?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So on the first one, I don't know. I just flat out don't know. But if -- if you all find out and report it, I'll be happy to hear it.

The -- on the Ukrainian piece down in -- in -- at the nuclear power plant, I think there are -- I mean, there were certainly reports of -- of indirect fire around to the –sort of landed in the vicinity, the -- the power plant. We -- we know that the Russians have been there for some time. We also know that the Russians have fired artillery, I think specifically, rockets from around the power plant.

I don't have any belief that the Ukrainians, who know very well what the impacts of hitting that power plant would be, have an interest in hitting the power plant. It just doesn't make any sense. They -- you know, they, as -- as you know, if you go back, you know, I -- I -- back to the only major nuclear power plant issue in that part of the world, they're the ones that paid a huge price for that before. They certainly know the impacts of a nuclear disaster. So I've got to believe that the Ukrainians have no interest in doing anything that would cause any kind of disaster around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

STAFF: Thanks. Next, we'll go to AFP. Sylvie, over to you.

Q: Hello, thank you. The -- so I would like to go back to the -- the -- the Russian base in Crimea. You said that it was not an ATACMS missile. Would it be a problem if this base in Crimea had been struck by an American weapon? Would it be a problem for U.S.?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well, we haven't -- we haven't provided anything that allows -- or that would -- would enable them to strike into Crimea. You know, as I mentioned, I -- I say ATACMS very particularly because there've been a lot of questions about ATACMS, and -- and again, I'd just tell you, we've -- you know, we haven't given them to them so...

I -- I think, you know, what we want the Ukrainians to do is fight the -- the -- the fight against the Russians the way that they would fight it. And you know, we don't have -- we're not telling them how to -- how to do business. They're making it a choice as to how they want to fight. We -- we have told them in the past that we have given them munitions that allow them to fight Russians in Ukraine, and -- and you know, other than that, this is a Ukrainian war, so they're the ones that select the targets.

STAFF: OK, thanks, next we'll go to Jeff Seldin of VOA. Jeff?

Q: Thanks very much for -- for doing this. It seems, like, from a -- the last couple of briefings that we've done that, you know, the situation in some ways is kind of steady. Would it be fair to characterize the war as a stalemate? And if so, what more does Ukraine need from the U.S. and other allies to start tipping this more in its favor? Also curious if you have any updated assessments of Russia's use of cyber operations to support its efforts in Ukraine, or any new information on Russia's use of filtration camps. Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: On the last, I -- I'd tell you, no. I -- I don't have any information on the filtration camps or the -- or Russian use of cyber. And -- and I -- you know, I -- I mean, I hate to say I'll direct you to the Ukrainians, but I think the Ukrainians would probably be able to answer that better.

In terms of what they need, I -- I think, you know, the Ukrainians – and, you know, they -- I -- I saw that it was reporting today on the -- on the session that was -- that's ongoing in Europe right now in Copenhagen. As is the case when -- in our work with the Ukrainians and our allies work with the Ukrainians, they're -- they're telling us what they need based on how they want to prosecute the war. And -- and we're hopeful that we can meet those needs to help them in that regard. So other than what we have been -- we've been asked for up to now, I -- I don't know of -- of other things that they currently need.

STAFF: Thanks. Next we'll go to Oren Liebermann of CNN.

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking our questions here. Two questions, one on Ukraine, one on another issue. Does the Defense Department believe that -- that any documents related to the nuclear enterprise have been compromised, are missing or have not been accounted for in any way?

And then a Ukraine question: We've seen DOD track and count missile launches, especially at the beginning of Russia's invasion. Has -- has DOD seen any indication, or an I.R. signature, consistent with a missile launch towards Crimea?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So on the -- the first question, in terms of documents, I -- I -- I really don't know -- have any information on that. I -- I would tell you, you know -- first of all, we're -- we're pretty -- we're pretty sure about our nuclear state -- status, so I don't think there are any issues that -- that we have.

The -- the next one -- I'm just trying to get these in order for you, Oren. I think I -- you said, number one, Ukraine, and then went to a different one, but then led with that one. So I'm -- I'm just trying to get my notes here.

The other one is on tracking missile launches. We -- you know, again, we -- we don't have anything that indicates that there was any -- you know, we just -- I couldn't tell you there was or there wasn't a missile launch. I couldn't tell you there was or there wasn't any kind of sabotage. I just -- I mean, I frankly just don't know.

Q: OK, I appreciate that. Oh, go ahead.

STAFF: Nope. Thanks, Oren.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: We'll go to -- we'll go to USNI next. Heather, over to you.

Q: Thank you so much. I was wondering if you could talk about the grain ships that we're seeing, and what went into being able to clear that lane to allow for ships to be able to come to and from Ukraine.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: You -- you know, Heather, we -- we have not, as you know, been involved in that other than to encourage it. And you know, we -- we've been watching, like the rest of the world, the shipments and the movements of that grain down through the Black Sea and -- and out. I -- I wish I could give you better information on that, other than to say that, you know, again, there's some caution of -- cautious optimism here. You know, the world certainly needs the -- the grain that's coming out, and the fact the Ukrainians have been able to find a way to get those ships out safely, again, kind of speaks to -- to the -- to the abilities of the Ukrainians, this time, you know, at sea.

STAFF: Thanks. Next, we'll go to Jeff Schogol from Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. I'm checking -- I -- I just wanted to see -- are you seeing any evidence that the Russians are moving in weapon systems and other equipment from elsewhere in the world such as Syria into Ukraine? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Jeff, I -- I don't have any information on movement of weapons from Syria. I think you all have reported that they've been engaging with the Iranians on potential use of Iranian UAVs, but I haven't seen anything other than -- than that.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Folks, we've gone through all the -- all the folks on my list of people that have questions. Let me just ask once if anybody else is on the line that has a question. We'll try to get a couple more real quick before we wrap things up.

(UNKNOWN): Oh, lucky you.

STAFF: Going once...

Q: Hey, it's Nick Schifrin from...


Q: It's Nick from...

STAFF: Yeah, Nick, go ahead.

Q: Yeah, sorry. Thanks very much, [SMO], for doing this. So talk about Kherson a -- a little bit more, because obviously, that's what a lot of us are -- are trying to focus on right now. So a couple aspects of this. Do you see, even if this is not only the military, any attempts by Russia to prepare for a quote/unquote, "election", or an annexation or any kind of referendum there in -- in the next few weeks and months?

Number two, the Ukrainian counteroffensive, what do you rate their ability to launch that counteroffensive today? It seems like the shaping operations obviously have -- have already begun, as you discussed, but the actual counteroffensive, what's their capacity to do it today? And -- and then I guess related to that, number three, is, you know, what do they need moving forward for that operation specifically? Obviously, Colin Kahl detailed the latest shipments. Are those related to that Kherson counteroffensive? What else might they need for that? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Nick. The -- I thought I was going to get out of here early and then you asked three questions, Nick. It's going to keep me here a lot longer.

Q: I can ask more if you want.


SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: No, hey, so let me -- let me go backwards on you. So on the first one in terms of, you know, Dr. Kahl’s conversation with you all last week and mentioning, you know, adjustments or new things from the PDs, the presidential directives, you know, we continue to supply them based on things they have asked for. I am not going to -- you know, it would be irresponsible of me in terms of operational security for the Ukrainians to tell you if they had any particular notion as to how they're going to use them. I -- quite honestly, I'm sure that they're going to use them in operations -- across the area of operations, you know, from north to south. But I won't get into any particulars on that.

In terms of their ability to execute an offensive, if I've learned anything over the past six months, is that, boy, it sure is hard to put a number on, you know, if you were going rate them on a scale of 0 to 10 how good you thought the Ukrainians were, I think I'd probably put them at about a 12 just based on how impressive they've been to us in so many different ways. And I think, you know, we can all agree from the very beginning they have -- they have found ways to -- to do things that we might not have thought were possible. And so I, again, would hesitate to tell you whether or not I think, you know, the level of possibility in Kherson, I just think it's hard to rate them because they're so darn good. And -- and so I'm going to leave it at that. I'll just say they will be the ones.

And the last one on the referendum. My -- I don't have any particular information on the referendum. It would not surprise me. I think the Russians have a long history of trying to meddle in elections. The thought that they might do that in -- in Ukraine is not shocking to me.