Russian military activities in Ukraine conducted 'in silos'
C. Todd Lopez reports on the U.S. Department of Defense's website that it has been nearly a month since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, and Russian forces have been unable to achieve what Pentagon leaders believe to be their goals. "We're on day 26 the Russians have clearly not achieved many or almost all of the objectives that ... we believe they were setting out to achieve," said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby during a briefing today. "They wanted to get after population centers so that they could take control of key ports, key cities, key government institutions. And supplant the government of Ukraine with one more friendly to Russia and then, basically, over time, erase the sovereignty of Ukraine."
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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby holds a press briefing, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 21, 2022. (Picture source: U.S. DoD)
So far, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said, Pentagon leaders believe the Russians have taken Kherson, and the Ukrainians have launched a counterattack there. Pentagon leaders also assess the Russians control Berdyansk, a port city on the Sea of Azov, but nearby Mariupol hasn't fallen. "The Ukrainians are fighting, as you all have seen very, very easily for yourself, how bravely they're fighting to defend that city," Kirby said. "I think what we're seeing here is the Russians have been flummoxed, they've been frustrated. They have failed to achieve a lot of their objectives on the ground."
A response to that, Kirby said, is that Russian forces have stepped up long-range fires on cities they hope to take in an effort to weaken them. "They are essentially still stalled outside Kyiv, outside Kharkiv, outside Chernihiv and so many other places that they are stepping up there -- what we in the Pentagon here call long-range fires, bombardment from afar," Kirby said. "Whether that's cruise missiles, ballistic missiles artillery fire, they're lobbying an awful lot of hardware into these cities to try to force their surrender."
Those bombardments, he said, have increased in the last few days and are taking a toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure. "That's resulting in more civilian casualties, more damage to residential areas, hospitals, schools, and innocent victims at greater rates and at greater numbers," he said. "And ... in many ways, it's largely indiscriminate."
One reason the Russian military may have failed to achieve its goals, Kirby said, involves logistics, sustainment and other basic military functions. "They're still having fuel problems," he said. "They're still having trouble feeding some of their troops. They're having trouble with command and control on the ground, so they've made missteps of their own. And that would also include what we in the Pentagon called 'jointness.' We don't see a level of integration between their air forces and their ground forces with any level of efficiency."
There has not been a lot of maritime activity since the start of the invasion, Kirby said, though in the last few days there's been increased maritime activity in the Black Sea aimed at Odesa. Still, the lack of jointness extends to the Russian navy as well. "It appears as if a lot of these operations are being conducted in silos, not necessarily integrated across the force," he said.
Another reason the Russians are not having the success they might have hoped to have is the exceptional resistance put up by the Ukrainians themselves, Kirby said. "I would say that Ukrainians have been extraordinarily effective at preventing the Russians from achieving air superiority by the agility and the nimble way in which they are marshaling their own air defense resources," he said. "And that includes everything from aircraft to surface-to-air missile systems, both short-range and long-range."
Kirby told reporters that the United States continues to provide such systems to the Ukrainians and is also working with allies and partners to help find others who are also willing to provide assistance.
On Thursday of last week, the president committed an additional $800 million in security assistance to the Ukrainians including 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missile systems, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems, and 100 tactical unmanned aerial systems.
Kirby said the Defense Department is now actively working to fill out this most recent drawdown package for Ukraine and that "shipments will be arriving very, very soon."
Ukraine regains ground in places from Russian troops, Pentagon says. The Ukrainian army is carrying out counter-offensives which have made it possible, in the south, in particular, to regain ground on Russian troops, faced with communication difficulties, assured the Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday. The Ukrainian military "is now, in certain situations, on the offensive," John Kirby told CNN, saying they "are chasing the Russians and pushing them out of areas where the Russians were in the past. We know that they have carried out counter-attacks (...), especially in recent days in Mykolaiv," a key city in southern Ukraine.
"We have seen (these territorial gains) increase in recent days" in favor of Ukraine, said John Kirby. "It's a real proof of their ability to fight according to their plans, adapting and, again, trying to push back the Russian forces."
The latter "do not conduct their operations with the coordination that one would have expected from a modern army", explained this spokesperson for the American defense.
"Their commanders don't always talk, don't always coordinate between air and ground forces," John Kirby told CNN. “We saw tensions between the air and land forces over how they supported each other, well or with difficulty,” and the same goes for the navy, he continues. "They have problems with the command and control" of the troops. Very concretely, they find it difficult to talk to each other, and this leads to the use of mobile phones in some cases,” said this American official. And on top of that, "they're running out of gas, they're running out of food. That's why we think we haven't seen any real major advance by the Russians, except in the south", where they are closer to their rear base in Crimea, he added. "So, yes, they are in trouble."
Large cities in Ukraine, however, are facing Russian bombardments which have killed hundreds of civilians.