95% of Putin's forces still intact, plan to surround Kyiv: Pentagon update

Russian bombardment of key cities has increased as ground troops have stalled.

March 8, 2022, 5:17 PM

The Pentagon has been providing daily updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine's efforts to resist.

Here are highlights of what a senior U.S. defense official told reporters on Tuesday:

Russian forces mostly still intact

Nearly all Russian forces arrayed at the Ukrainian border for the invasion have now gone in, according to the official. Despite losing troops, ground vehicles and aircraft in the fighting, the official estimated these forces remain roughly 95% intact.

Russian ground efforts stalled in the north

Russian troops approaching Kyiv have made little progress in recent days, according to the official.

"We continue to see Ukrainian resistance efforts slow down the Russians, particularly in the north," the official said.

Another factor is that "they still seem to be plagued by logistics and sustainment challenges," including fuel and food shortages, the official said.

The Pentagon also continues to see fighting and resistance against the Russian advance in the northern cities of Chernihiv and Kharkiv.

PHOTO: People receive humanitarian aid in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 8, 2022.
People receive humanitarian aid in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 8, 2022.
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

The farthest the main Russian force heading to Kyiv seems to have been able to reach is Hostomel Airport, a site of intense combat some 20 miles northwest of the city.

But their intent is clear, the official said: "We still have every reason to assess that their effort is to encircle and force the surrender of Kiev."

A new Russian approach emerges

Further out than those advance troops, a Russian push toward the capital is emerging in the northeast, just above the town of Sumy, the official said. These troops are roughly 37 miles from Kyiv.

Russians try to "sow fear and confusion" in the city

While the main invading force has not reached Kyiv, the official was in "no position to refute" reports of minor, isolated skirmishes between Russian "reconnaissance elements" and Ukrainian forces inside the city.

"We think that these reports of street fighting in Kyiv are really the result of their efforts to sow fear and confusion and and try to set the stage for what could be coming later," the official said.

Strikes on civilians continue

Russian air and missile attacks are increasing as their ground effort has been frustrated, according to the official.

"Whether intentionally or not, they're hitting military and government infrastructure as well as residential areas and civilian targets," the official said.

PHOTO: Ukrainian soldiers help an elderly woman to cross a destroyed bridge as she evacuates the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, March 8, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers help an elderly woman to cross a destroyed bridge as she evacuates the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, March 8, 2022. More than two million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion less than two weeks ago, the United Nations said on March 8, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Russians see more success in the south

Russian troops advancing to the northwest out of Crimea are about 25 miles from Mykolayiv, the official said. The official noted that while there is speculation that the move on Mykolayiv is meant to put troops in position to attack the port city of Odessa from the north as amphibious troops assault from the coast, "we don't see any evidence of amphibious landings" at this point.

On the Sea of Azov coast, Russian forces have isolated Mariupol and continue to bombard it with long-range attacks. Thousands of troops put ashore in an amphibious landing on the second day of the invasion are approaching the city from the southwest as more troops push down from Donetsk.

U.S.-Russia deconfliction line in working order

Last week Pentagon press secretary John Kirby announced it had set up a "deconfliction line" with Russia to "reduce the chances of miscalculations and try to bring down the tensions as that contested airspace over Ukraine now bumps up against NATO airspace."

The senior defense official said that as of Tuesday, the two countries have used the line about a dozen times, but so far only for test calls to make sure "somebody's picking up on the other end."

A problem for any proposed no-fly zone

"Much of the airspace of Ukraine, north and south, is under some umbrella of Russian surface-to-air missile capability," the official said.

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