Pentagon: Russia begins a new advance on the Ukrainian capital despite the loss of 5% of its invasion force

Ukrainian soldiers rush to prepare for incoming artillery fire from Russian forces while defending the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Sunday, March 6, 2022. (Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Russian forces have begun a new line of advance on the Ukrainian capital of Kiev despite losing about 5% of its combat forces deployed for the invasion, a senior defense official said Tuesday.

While a 40-mile Russian military convoy bound for Kiev remains stuck about 15 miles from the city center, other Russian forces are now advancing towards the Ukrainian capital from the northeast, the official said under cover of anonymity.

“It’s a line of progression that we haven’t seen much recently,” the official said. “There was a Russian advance from the northeast, bypassing Chernihiv and bypassing Kharkiv, and moving into Kyiv from that direction.”

These troops remained about 60 km from the center of Kiev on Tuesday morning, but “they intensified the bombardment of the city with a mixture of missile, rocket and artillery fire”, the official said.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the northern end of a convoy of Russian vehicles southeast of Ivankiv, Ukraine, Monday, February 28, 2022.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the northern end of a convoy of Russian vehicles southeast of Ivankiv, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

“We haven’t seen anything that tells us they’re still not interested in encircling and forcing Kiev’s surrender. We still consider this to be a primary objective of [Russia’s].”

The new advance comes as Russia has almost all of its forces amassed for the Ukrainian invasion now in the country, the official said. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent months this winter stacking more than 170,000 troops and combat capabilities along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus before launching the war.

So far, Putin has lost about 5% of those forces in the conflict, the official said, without indicating how much of that percentage included troops.

“If you count [Putin’s] losses estimated only in terms of aircraft and vehicles that are either inoperable, immobile or unavailable, it still has great combat power,” the official said.

The United States declined to estimate the number of Russian soldiers who died in the conflict, and the official could not confirm recent media reports that around 3,000 Russian soldiers had been killed.

On Monday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate reported that Ukrainian troops had killed and wounded “a number of senior Russian military officers”, but the US defense official could not. confirm this claim on Tuesday.

Among those believed to have been killed was Russian Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, chief of staff and first deputy commander of the 41st Army of Russia’s Central Military District. The major general had received a Russian medal ‘for the return of Crimea’ for his efforts during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 which resulted in the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, according to the intelligence directorate Ukrainian.

Russian troops also continue to “advance and isolate” Chernihiv and Kharkiv also in the north as Ukrainian forces continue to fight to retain control of those towns, the official said.

Russia was more successful in southern Ukraine, where it took control of the coastal cities of Kherson in the southwest and Berdyansk in the southeast, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday. They also continue to control a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, in south-central Ukraine, after firing and capturing the facility on Thursday evening.

Russian forces are about 40 km northeast of Mykolaiv, also in south-central Ukraine, but Russian “bombing and violence” on the town is “obviously picking up again”, the official said on Tuesday. defense.

The Russians may want Mykolaiv to facilitate a ground attack to complete an amphibious assault on the port city of Odessa in southwestern Ukraine, the official said, but the United States has yet to see a evidence of an imminent assault on the city of a million people.

As of Tuesday, Russia had launched nearly 670 missiles at Ukraine, the official said. Most of these missiles were launched from Russian and Ukrainian territory, but more than 70 were launched from Belarus and about six from Russian ships in the Black Sea.

Although NATO has rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated demands that the alliance impose a no-fly zone over the country to thwart air assaults, the airspace over Ukraine remains disputed, the official said.

“Much of Ukraine’s airspace – north and south – is under the umbrella of a Russian surface-to-air missile capability… [yet] the Russians have not achieved air superiority over the whole country,” the official said. “The Ukrainians still have viable and effective air and missile defense at their disposal and they are still able to fly aircraft in this hotly contested airspace.”

While the United States will not enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine because it would draw American troops into combat with Russia, President Joe Biden’s administration discussed this week helping efforts. international organizations to supply Ukraine with combat aircraft.

The United States would not send its own jets to Ukraine, but Biden was ‘very, very actively’ considering a proposal that Poland would supply Soviet-made jets to Kiev from its stockpile, which America would in turn replenish in F-16s to make up for the loss, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Polish Foreign Ministry announced that it would donate all of its MIG-29 fighter jets to Ramstein Air Base “and make them available to the United States government” and urged “other NATO allies – owners of MIG-29 aircraft – to act in the same direction.

In return, Poland asked the United States to “provide us with second-hand aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities”.

U.S. European Command helps facilitate international efforts to arm Ukraine using an established coordination network of allies.

“Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions for the purchase of the aircraft,” the Defense Ministry said.

However, the Pentagon said Poland’s offer was not “sustainable” due to logistical and other issues.

“The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the government of the United States of America’ leaving a US-NATO base in Germany to fly in disputed airspace with Russia over Ukraine is raising serious concerns concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” he added. Kirby said Tuesday. “It’s just not clear to us that there is substantial justification for this.”

He said the Ministry of Defense was now in contact with the Polish government following his statement and stressed that the decision whether or not to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine was up to the Polish government.

“We will continue to consult with our allies and partners on our ongoing security assistance to Ukraine, because, in fact, Poland’s proposal shows only part of the complexities of this issue,” Kirby said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday those challenges include how to deliver the jets to Ukraine because NATO forces cannot fly them in Ukrainian airspace and how the United States would replenish the supply of Polish jets, “because returning new aircraft and transferring serious weapons systems often takes years to do from the United States.

“We are looking at all of those factors, but we are certainly not preventing, blocking or discouraging Poland,” Psaki said on Monday. “It’s a sovereign country – they make their own decisions, but it’s not as simple as moving planes around.”

Biden has repeatedly said he will not send US troops to Ukraine to fight the Russians. Yet the United States has more than 90,000 American troops in Europe so far, the majority of whom were already stationed on the continent or there on rotation.

The most recent deployment announced on Monday will send 500 additional troops and equipment to NATO’s eastern flank. Kirby said 150 of them and an undisclosed number of KC-135 refueling planes would be deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, Greece. However, they will instead be deployed in Germany, the defense official said on Tuesday.

“There has now been a subsequent decision by [EUCOM commander] Gen. [Tod] Wolters that he wants to move them to Spangdahlem, Germany, so that’s where they’re going to go,” the official said. “The decision of where these enablers go is up to General Wolters.”

The rest of the 500 will continue their deployment plans announced Monday, including 40 personnel from Fort Stewart, Georgia, to staff air support operations centers in Poland and Romania, and 300 troops from Fort Stewart and of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to train ordnance. and maintenance companies in Germany.

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