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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: OK, thanks. All right, well thanks very much for joining us. This is [Senior Military Official], I will be your briefer today. Of note, our advisory indicated a senior defense official, but it will be me. As a reminder, our briefing will be on background with attribution to a senior military official. 

Obviously, Ukrainians continue to engage in the fight on the battlefield, a very dynamic battlefield and I will remain cognizant of operation security and refer you to Ukraine for tactical level details. But what I'd like to do today is just provide with a quick overview of the battlefield and then I'm prepared to take your questions.

As many of you have already heard, in the Kharkiv region to the north, Ukrainian forces have entered the city of Lyman, east of Izium and now control the city after Russian forces ceded that territory. It's our assessment that many of these Russian forces have moved back towards Crimea, which is east of Lyman, and are likely prioritizing that location to hold the line and robust further Ukrainian advances. 

Notably, Lyman was being employed by Russian forces as a logistics hub, so its liberation by Ukraine is a significant operational accomplishment. 

Also, in the Kharkiv region further north we assessed that Russian forces continue to fire artillery into the area around Kupiansk, which Ukrainians have continued to defend. 

A little further south near Bakhmut, we see heavy fighting continuing as Russian forces have tried to push west, but no significant shifts on the ground have occurred as Ukrainian forces continue to hold the line there.

In Zaporizhzhia, we have no new updates to provide, although we continue to observe shelling in that area. 

Moving to the vicinity of Kherson, we continue to see deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians as they continue their counter-offensive. Over the weekend we saw additional villages liberated, as announced by President Zelenskyy, which included Arkhanhelske and Myrolyubivka, northeast of Kherson, east of the Dnipro River. 

And with that, I will go ahead and take your questions. We'll start with AP, Lolita Baldor.

Q: Hi, thank you. Can you give us an assessment of the Russian forces at this point? Are you seeing a large number of the new conscripts coming in? And are you seeing any efforts to rally Russian troops somewhere in order to mount their own counteroffensive?

And then just secondarily, are there concerns that the Ukrainian forces are, by focusing both on the east and in the south may get to the point where they're fighting too many battles.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks Lita. So, in terms of Russia, we have not seen a large-scale reinforcement of forces at this stage. In terms of whether or not any of newly mobilized forces have moved into Ukraine, all I would say at this stage is not in a large scale. As far as Russian operations, again, as highlighted in my opening comments there, really in terms of any offensive action we see that primarily up near Kupiansk, where they are, as mentioned, firing artillery into the area near the city and down near Bakhmut. Which is, again, appears to be the primary area of offensive operations by the Russians trying to take that town. Again, which the Ukrainians have held their ground there. 

In the Kherson region, primarily defensive in nature, as Ukraine has pressed the counteroffensive. 

As far as Ukraine and whether they're overextending themselves, which is I think what you were asking, obviously that's a question for them to talk to about their own operations. What I would say is, clearly, this is a coordinated effort on their part. 

It's no surprise as they've demonstrated physically on the battlefield that they're continuing to conduct counteroffensives in those two regions and have integrated their forces and are conducting operations in a way that continues to enable fire and maneuver and good lines of communication. So, I don't want to speculate other than to say that they continue to make deliberate progress in both of those regions.

All right, let me go ahead and go to the next question. Tom Bowman, NPR. 

Q: Yes, could you -- I know that Secretary Austin has said he doesn't see anything right that would lead him to believe that Putin has made a decision on the nuclear angle here. "The Times of London" is reporting that a train operated by what they call the Secretive Nuclear Division in Russia, is heading towards Ukraine. Are you guys seeing any movement of any nuclear arsenal? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, Tom, I'm aware of those press reports. I don't have anything on that. I think what you heard Secretary Austin say in terms of, you know, that we've seen nothing to compel us to change our posture, is still the same.

Q: So that still stands despite the report by the Times of London?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We've seen nothing at this stage that would compel us to change our posture.

Q: OK. Great. Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: OK. Let's go to Joe Gould, Defense News.

Q: Hi, thanks. Question, I -- kind have two there. One is have you seen any activity by the Dnipro River, anything where Ukrainians are pushing back against the Russian bridge head, one. 
And then two, wondering if you could say a little bit about the strategic importance of Wyman as a rail hub for supplying Russian troops. Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Joe. In terms of that level of tactical detail, I'd refer you back to the Ukrainians and I don't want to get into that level just again for opsec reasons. 

Obviously a lot of fighting continues down in the Kherson region there. So we'll continue to watch that in the days ahead. In terms of the significance as a logistics hub, you know, by pushing or by the Russians, you know, falling back into Kreminna and by denying them the use of that location as a hub, it impacts the ability to resupply forces along the ford line of troops, right.

So Russia in the Kharkiv region along down near Bakhmut and, you know, as far south as Kherson; any time that you remove any type of C2 hub like that, it's going to impact your ability to respond quickly.

It's going to impact your ability to essentially drive the pace of the operation. So that in essence is the significance, I would say, from a logistic stand point. OK.

Q: Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Let's go to Phil Stewart Reuters.

Q: Hey there. Thank you. Sorry about the delay. Real quick, a couple of questions. Do you believe that -- or how many troops right now do you assess that Russia has on the West Bank of the Dnipro River and how exposed do you think they are militarily.

And lastly, do you think they're running short of supplies because of the Ukrainians being able to take out the bridges, thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Phil. So what I can talk to broadly speaking across the battlefield is what we've seen and what we've said previously when it comes to Russia and some of the logistic challenges they have, which includes supply challenges.

I'm not going to get into intelligence as it pertains to specific areas of the battlefield. In other words, you know, I'm not going to be able to provide numbers on Russian forces in those areas and what specific supply issues they may or may not have. What I will say is down in that Kherson region where Ukraine is conducting their counter offensive, as I mentioned, the Russians essentially are in a defensive crouch.

Right. They are fighting, obviously but they're in a defensive crouch as opposed to further north up near Bakhmut where it's more offensive in nature. So sorry I can't be more specific than that but hopefully that -- that provides a little more context.

Right, let me go to Tom Squitieri from Red Snow.

Q: Thanks. Thanks for doing this. My question -- quick question, has -- have the Ukrainians gained back any land they lost after the 2014 invasions by the Russians? If so, how much and where please? Thanks a lot.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Tom, I don't want to give you bad info here. Clearly the Donbas region has been contested for a while now. And you know, in the vicinity of Bakhmut, again, this is where you see Russian forces trying to push toward that city.

There has been a back and forth in terms of territory there for a long time, as you highlight, since 2014. But I don't want to give you bad info and say yes or no other than to say that area there remains contested for all the reasons that you know.

Q: OK. Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thanks. All right, let's go to Heather from USNI.

Q: OK. Thank you so much. So on Thursday the head of the Romanian Navy was talking about the need for minesweepers in the Black Sea to keep those shipping lanes safe. Does the U.S. have any plans to send any minesweepers to the Black Sea to assist with the efforts by other NATO countries?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Heather. I'm not aware of any plans at this time. All right. Let's go to(Kasim from Anadolu, are you there?

Q: Yes, General. Thank you very much. On nuclear potential -- yes, I'm here. Can you hear me?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, I can hear you. Thanks.

Q: My question is on nuclear post -- potential, Russian use of nuclear, is there currently any type of planning or discussion (inaudible) on potential contingence in that scenario?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, so Kasim, I don't have any specifics to provide other than to say, you know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Military; we plan for a very wide range of situations and contingencies on a variety of topics around the world, every single day.

So beyond that I'm not going to have anything further to provide. Thank you. 

OK. Let's got to Anton La Guardia, The Economist.

Q: Hi, thank you for this. Can I come back to the nuclear question? You said you'd seen nothing that compels you to change your posture, which is not quite the same as saying that you've seen no movement of nuclear related forces by Russia.

There's also -- apart from the report of the 12th main directorate, there's also report of a Russian submarine, the Belgorod diving in the White Sea, perhaps to test the Poseidon torpedo. Do you have any information on that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Anton. No, I don't have any information to provide on that. And again, I know it's not a satisfying answer other than to say, again, we have not changed our posture.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: All right, let me go to Ellie from CBS.

Q: Thank you. Can I -- can you give us an update on the Nord Stream pipeline, whether or not the U.S. has committed any assets to the investigation or might be committing some to patrol the area to prevent anymore excursions or any more sabotage?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So as I understand it, Ellie, the investigation continues by our European partners in the region. To my knowledge, we've not been asked to provide any specific capabilities from DOD at this time. As you know, Secretary Austin spoke to his Danish counterpart last week and offered that support. So we, again, will continue to be ready and available, should they need that, but in the meantime, my understanding is it's still under investigation and so we'll continue to await the outcome of that.

Thank you. Let me go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q: Hi, thanks. I have to go one more time on the nuclear thing just because in the past, when we've asked this question, I know that the answer has been "there's nothing that would change our strategic posture, our deterrent posture or whatever in the nuclear" but there have also been times where we have had, whether it's defense officials or even people on the record, saying, in the administration saying that they have not seen any movement of Russia's nuclear forces or nuclear capabilities. So I just want to ask it very clearly, have you seen any indications that Russia is moving any of its nuclear capabilities or forces around? 

And then second, one more thing on -- from earlier on the -- the large scale reinforcement of Russian forces that -- I think it was Lita's question -- when you say that it's not in large scale, does that -- are you indicating that you're seeing sort of, like, little piece -- little -- smaller groupings of Russian forces that are coming into Ukraine now? And I'm wondering if, I know you guys are also no longer providing total number of Russian forces in Ukraine but can you give us any -- any sense or scale of how many additional Russian forces may have been moving in since this latest whatever -- addition that -- that the -- that they announced in Russia? Thanks. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Courtney. On your first question, when it -- when it gets into the topic of movement, regardless of where it -- where it is worldwide, you know, I'm just not going to get into intelligence, discussion about what, just not going to get into intelligence.

Again, we've seen nothing that would cause us to change our posture. So I'll just -leave it at that.

And then in terms of the mobilization -- so again, Russia has announced a partial mobilization. We know that they're looking to mobilize upwards of 300,000 troops and that, as that mobilization continues, we would fully expect that some of those troops eventually will be assigned to locations inside Ukraine.

So I can't tell you specifically if soldier X has been called up and is going. All I'm saying is that, broadly speaking, we've seen relatively small numbers at this stage. In other words, we're not talking about brigade size forces coming into Ukraine, we're seeing, you know, some replacement forces coming in to assist as, you know, they are attrited and as they have fallen back to try to shore up some of the defensive lines. But nothing large scale at this stage of the game.

Now, I will speculate a bit. If you look into the future, clearly there's a reason you're mobilizing 300,000 troops, with the intent of employing those forces at some point in time. We could expect to see them move but we have not seen that in the large scale at this stage. So hopefully that helps. Thanks.

All right, let me go to Mike Brest, Washington Examiner.

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. Last week, you confirmed that Russia was using Iranian drones in Ukraine and I'm hoping you could provide some specifics. Jake Sullivan said they're looking to purchase hundreds of them. Is that still the Pentagon's belief? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah -- yes, sir, we assess that they're looking to -- and I'll just keep it in -- in the hundreds -- yep.

Q: Are they still -- are they using hundreds currently?


Q: Will you provide any details sort of on where that stands?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, again, as I mentioned, we do know that they're employing them on the battlefield in Ukraine. There is essentially two variants. One is an ISR capability and one is intended to be an attack capability, but beyond that, I'm not going to be able to go into further detail.

OK, let me go to final question. Oren from CNN?

Q: I was just wondering if you could give us an update on what the sort of air situation looks like? The skies remain contested but has Ukraine been able to bring their Air Force more into the fight or do Russian air defenses keep them at bay? And vice versa, has Russia been able to use its Air Force more or do they remain over Russian-controlled territory, lobbing essentially longer range weaponry?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So your characterization is right -- it is a contested environment in the air and predominantly Russian forces, as, again, you highlight them, launching munitions from safe zones, so to speak, right, over Russian-held territory or not too far from the border to try to evade Ukrainian air defenses.

Obviously, that, in and of itself, limits your ability to strike targets, especially -- and as we've said before -- the Russian Air Force and Russia in general, their precision-guided munitions are dwindling. And so they're going to be more conservative.

That said, you know, we do have reports of them, you know, firing missiles from aircraft into various locations, to include civilian infrastructure, right? We had a dam that that we've talked about before that they used aircraft to strike. So we continue to see them employing that.

On the Ukrainian side, again, they're continuing to use their aircraft, as well, as you highlight. I mean, they do have a significant air power capability that they have employed, both in defensive and offensive aspects, but I'll just leave it at that.

OK, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.