Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Says Russia May Be Giving Up On Taking Kyiv
A senior U.S. defense official says that Russia’s current focus is on eastern Ukraine amid indications that Moscow’s objectives might be shifting.
It has now been 30 days since the Russian military launched its invasion of Ukraine. A senior U.S. defense official says there are indications Russia may be abandoning any attempt, at least for the moment, to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. This follows statements from the Russian Ministry of Defense that suggest it might be seeking to redefine the objectives of this "special operation," which could allow the country to claim victory as advances have slowed on virtually all fronts. Separately, U.S. President Joe Biden has arrived in Poland near the Ukrainian border, visiting American troops forward-deployed there amid a growing refugee crisis.
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You can find our continuing rolling coverage of the conflict in Ukraine here.
POSTED: 1:25 PM EST—
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters today that Russian forces "don't appear to want to pursue Kyiv as aggressively or frankly at all." Instead, they appear to be digging in to defend their existing gains in that part of the country. "They are focused on the Donbas," that individual added, referring to a region of eastern Ukraine.
This comes after the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed today that the first phase of its operation in Ukraine was nearly complete and that its current focus was on fully “liberating” the eastern Donbas region. The Russian government formally recognized two Kremlin-backed breakaway areas of Donbas, the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, also known by the respective acronyms DNR and LNR, as fully independent nations just days before kicking off its invasion.
These breakaway separatist regions first emerged in 2014, precipitating a relatively low-grade conflict that persisted until Russia's all-out invasion in February of this year. The Ukrainian government had maintained significant control over areas that the DNR and LNR had claimed as part of their "national" territory. The Russian Ministry of Defense now claims that its forces together with separatist units have taken control of 93% of Luhansk and 54% of Donetsk.
The Russian military says it has not ruled out continuing to press its advances in order to take control of various cities and surrounding areas of Ukraine outside of the Donbas region. At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Defense has suggested it is currently considering limiting its objectives, at least for the immediate future, to securing areas claimed by the DNR and LNR.
If true, this could indicate that Russian authorities are looking to find a way to declare victory despite limited operational gains on the ground. It is worth noting, of course, that this still might not necessarily lead to an end to conflict or even an immediate ceasefire. In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared total victory over forces opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad and promised a withdrawal of troops from that country. Russian forces continue to be actively engaged in the very much ongoing conflict in that country.
With regards to Ukraine, Russian officials have previously said that Ukraine would have to agree to a host of maximalist demands to bring an end the conflict. These have included recognizing the DNR and LNR, formally ceding the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, adopting a formal position of neutrality to include agreeing to never join NATO and the European Union, and some kind of unspecified "demilitarization" of the country. Various negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials have been ongoing for weeks now with some indications in the past that Moscow could be open to easing those requirements if Kyiv would acquiesce to certain key stipulations.
A senior U.S. defense official today said that it is difficult to tell if Russia's underlying strategy or plans have really changed.
Separately, U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in the city of Rzeszow in Poland, which is situated some 50 miles west of the Ukrainian border. Polish President Andrezj Duda was supposed among those greeting Biden upon his arrival, but was forced to return to Warsaw due to a technical issue with his plane. Duda did eventually make it safely to Rzeszow, but his initial meeting with his American counterpart was rescheduled.
Biden has already met with U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division who are deployed in the area as part of a buildup of U.S. and other NATO forces along the alliance's eastern periphery that began before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Biden is set to meet with organizations in the area that are responding to the mounting refugee crisis, as well as Ukrainian refugees themselves. The United Nations said today that more than 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the conflict began, with at least 1.5 million of those people have crossed into Poland. Millions more have been displaced from their homes, but remain in Ukraine.
In the meantime, fighting is continuing across various parts of Ukraine. The U.K. Ministry of Defense has assessed that a Ukrainian counterattack near Kyiv has successfully pushed Russian forces out of areas extending some 35 kilometers, or nearly 22 miles, to the east of the Ukrainian capital.
A senior U.S. defense official said that the airspace over Ukraine remains contested after more than a month of fighting. Russian forces have now fired around 1,250 ballistic and cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets. Some number of them have failed, but the U.S. military says it is hard to assess the validity of reports saying that anywhere from 20 to 60 percent of Russian missiles are not functioning as intended.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has released its latest official casualty figures, saying that 1,351 personnel have been killed and 3,825 wounded in the fighting so far. These figures are significantly lower than estimates that have been forward by Ukrainian, U.S., and other foreign officials. A NATO official just yesterday say that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops may have died already, based, at least in part, on data from authorities in Ukraine and information gleaned from Russian media reports.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has released a new video, seen below, that it says shows Su-34 Fullback combat jets in action over Ukraine. At least one appears to be carrying an SAP-14 self-protect jamming pod.
Another Russian Ministry of Defense video, seen below, gives an up-close look at a Pantsir air defense system being employed in the conflict in Ukraine. Russian authorities have claimed, without providing any substantial corroborating evidence, that Pantsirs are being heavily used against a variety of Ukrainian targets. Pantsir has an at best checked performance record in other conflicts in recent years in Syria, Libya, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The pictures below reportedly show Russian forces capturing a Ukrainian 203mm 2S7 Pion self-propelled artillery piece, the first apparent known loss of one of these on either side in the conflict.
The U.S. Intelligence Community has determined that Russian government operatives were behind a cyberattack that disrupted Ukrainian military communications at the beginning of the conflict, according to The Washington Post. American authorities have not publicly announced this conclusion.
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