U.S. and European intelligence officials have been tracking for days that Russia is in the midst of reorienting after encountering fierce resistance — and suffering thousands of casualties — in northern Ukraine. Moscow enjoys greater support in the east, where Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists have been locked in a grinding conflict for many years.
But while Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine’s capital region appears to be complete, with many units retreating through Belarus, the Pentagon has yet to see those personnel reenter eastern Ukraine, the senior defense official said Wednesday.
The United States announced Tuesday night the approval of an additional $100 million in military assistance for Ukraine, a move made in part to ensure Ukrainian forces will have the weapons they need to fight for the Donbas region, the official said. There is a particularly “urgent” need for Javelin anti-armor systems, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby noted Wednesday.
Kirby said that earlier this week the United States also sent Ukraine 100 Switchblade drones, which can be loaded with explosives and flown into enemy targets, and that a “very small number” of Ukrainian soldiers receiving military education in the United States since the fall had been taught how to use them. The Switchblade — what some analysts have termed a “kamikaze” drone — is not a complex system, Kirby said, noting that personnel could be trained how to use them in about two days.
On average, it is taking the United States about four days to ship weapons to pass-off points outside Ukraine, and another day or two for those shipments to enter the country, Kirby said, adding that such transfers have “never been done that fast before.”
Kirby expressed some confidence Wednesday that Ukraine “can win this,” arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved “exactly zero” of his strategic objectives thus far. But the Pentagon continues to caution that even though the war’s epicenter appears to be shifting, serious threats remain.
There are more than 30 Russian battalion tactical groups operating in the Donbas region, according to Pentagon estimates.
Earlier this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan predicted that if Russia could successfully regroup in the Donbas region, it may seek to push out from there into other parts of Ukraine.
“It’s not like Kyiv is somehow immune from further attack,” the senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday.
More than 80 of the approximately 130 battalion tactical groups that Russia deployed into Ukraine continue to operate in the country, this official added, estimating that such groups each contain 800 to 1,000 troops.
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