The Pentagon has provided daily updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s resistance efforts.
Here are the highlights of what a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday:
Russia flies 20 times as many missions as Ukraine
According to the official, Russian military planes fly an average of 200 sorties a day, compared to just about 10 a day flown by Ukraine.
Much of the airspace over Ukraine is heavily guarded by both Ukrainian and Russian surface-to-air missiles, making flight operations risky for both sides.
But Russian planes don’t need to enter Ukrainian airspace to do damage.
“They can launch cruise missiles from aircraft at long range. And if your destination is relatively close, you don’t have to enter the airspace,” the official said.
For the first time, the official provided information on the total number of operational Ukrainian fighter jets and their deployment.
“They have 56 fully operational ones available now, and they only fly them five to 10 hours a day,” the official said.
Citing Russia’s massive umbrella of anti-aircraft capabilities over Ukraine and its larger air force, the official repeated some of the arguments we heard from the Pentagon earlier this week about the relative ineffectiveness of sending more planes to Ukraine.
“It doesn’t make much sense to us that additional fixed-wing aircraft have to somehow solve all these problems. What they need are surface-to-air missile systems, they need MANPADS, they need anti-tank and they need small arms and ammunition, and they need these drones because they’re using that to great effect. And that’s what we’re focusing on,” the official said.
According to the official, Ukrainian forces are making “great use” of drones, particularly against Russian ground movements. The drones can also be used for both reconnaissance and surveillance.
“They are trained to use them, they can fly under Russian radar coverage,” the official said.
They’re also much cheaper than fighter jets, and since they’re unmanned, they don’t risk pilots being killed or captured.
Chemical weapons and false flags
The official said that despite claims from China and Russia, the US is not helping Ukraine to create or use chemical or biological weapons.
“This is bio-research related to two things: first, to help Ukraine over the years reduce the pathogen inventory it had under Soviet years, and then to develop strategies to defeat pathogens in the future,” the official said. “It’s scientific research, it’s not about bioweapons capabilities.”
The official said the US has nothing to hide and information about its role in scientific work in Ukraine is already in the public domain.
“The only reason we heated up the discussion is that the Russians and the Chinese decided to lie about it – just a blatant lie,” the official said.
The official declined to provide a US intelligence assessment of the likelihood of Russian President Vladimir Putin stationing chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
“We know that the Russians had – and we assume they still have – an elaborate chemical and biological weapons program, plans they may have in this regard regarding Ukraine,” the official said.
The official said Russia’s “ridiculous narrative” could potentially “form a pretext for some sort of false flag event.”
state of invasion
The Advance on Kyiv: As of yesterday, the Russians have not advanced any closer to Kyiv from the northwest, still about 9 miles from the city center. But the US has seen rear elements closing in on these advance troops. Russians advancing on capital from NE, now 12-19 miles away.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Friday that the Russians, coming from the east, despite being farther from Kyiv, are gaining more ground than those from the northwest near Hostomel airport.
“We expect the Russians to start making more momentum on the ground towards Kyiv, especially from the east, not quite so much from the north,” Kirby said.
Kharkiv: Russians are “coming closer” but city is well defended and not yet taken.
Mariupol: The port city is increasingly under pressure today. It is surrounded by heavy shelling from the northeast and southwest, but the Ukrainians are fighting back there.
Kherson: The city remains under Russian control: “We continue to assume that they have Kherson,” the official said.
Mykolaiv: Russian forces remain in north-east of city, despite increasing pressure. “We have observed that the Ukrainians continue to defend the city, and the Russians are just outside the city,” the official said.
Lutsk and Ivano-Frankovsk: Russians attacked airfields in every city on Friday.
“Obviously they wanted to deprive Ukrainians of the opportunity to use these airfields,” the official said.
The official did not know how heavily the Ukrainians used these two airfields or the extent of the damage.
“The unusual thing about it is that [the Russians] have not gone on strike in western Ukraine,” the official said of the strikes.
Russian missile attacks
The Russians have now fired nearly 810 missiles at Ukraine – almost half were launched from Ukraine using mobile platforms. The rest were released from Russia, Belarus and a small number from the Black Sea. This comes from an estimate of 775 missiles offered on official Thursday.
Majority of combat power intact
Russia still has about 90 percent of its invasion combat power, while Ukraine is falling just below 90 percent, the official said.