As fighting continues in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military’s counter-offensive operations in the south of their country have Russian forces in a “defensive crouch” said a senior American military official during a background briefing this week at the Pentagon.
The Defense Department also announced an additional $625 million in security assistance headed to Ukraine as part of the 22nd round of presidential drawdown authority.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed “accession treaties” illegally claiming that the Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia are now part of Russia.
However, Ukrainian efforts on the ground, using equipment provided by both the U.S. and allies, demonstrate a different reality, said Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
“Down in the Kherson region where Ukraine is conducting their counter-offensive … the Russians essentially are in a defensive crouch. They are fighting, obviously. But they’re in a defensive crouch, as opposed to further north up near Bakhmut where it’s more offensive in nature.”
In the north of Ukraine, the official said, Ukrainian forces have entered the city of Lyman and now control the city, following Russia having ceded that territory.
“It’s our assessment that many of these Russian forces have moved back towards Kreminna, just east of Lyman, and are likely prioritizing that location to hold the line and rebuff further Ukrainian advances,” the official said. “We believe Lyman was being employed by Russian forces as a logistics hub, so its liberation by Ukraine is a significant operational accomplishment.”
The official said the loss of Lyman poses logistical challenges for the Russians.
“It impacts the ability to resupply forces along the forward line of troops,” the official said. “Anytime that you remove any type of C2 hub like that, it’s going to impact your ability to respond quickly. It’s going to impact your ability to essentially drive the pace of the operations.”
The same official said Russians continue to fire artillery into the area around Kupiansk, but that the Ukrainians continue to defend the area, and that in Bakhmut, heavy fighting continues as Russian forces have tried to push west.
“No significant shifts on the ground have occurred as Ukrainian forces continue to hold the line there,” the official said.
Near Kherson, over the weekend Ukrainian forces were also able to liberate two villages, including Arkhanhelske and Myrolyubivka, both near the Dnieper river, the official added.
The Russians have said they aim to conscript some 300,000 new soldiers to augment troops already in Ukraine, but so far, the official said, the Defense Department has seen few of those new troops in Ukraine, though eventually they will have to make an appearance.
“We know that they’re looking to mobilize upwards of 300,000 troops and that, you know, as that mobilization continues, we would fully expect that some of those troops eventually will be assigned to locations inside Ukraine,” the official said. “[But] broadly speaking, we’ve seen relatively small numbers at this stage. In other words, we’re not talking about brigade-sized forces coming into Ukraine. We’re seeing … some replacement forces coming in to assist as … they are attrited and as they’ve [fallen] back to try to shore up some of the defensive lines. But nothing large-scale at this stage of the game.”
The official said the department does expect those new troops will appear on the battlefield at some point in the future, however.