Some Russian troops have been refusing orders to fight, US officials said Monday, May 9, contributing to “incremental and anemic” advances in the highly contested Donbas region of Ukraine. Meanwhile, a senior defense official confirmed that Ukrainian air assets had bombed Russian forces on Snake Island after dramatic video of airstrikes on the island emerged over the weekend.
“We still see anecdotal reports of poor morale of troops — indeed, officers — refusing to obey orders and move,” the defense official told members of the press on Monday.
As a lack of command and control, ongoing logistics issues, and muddy roads have slowed Russian troops’ movement in the Donbas, the senior defense official said Russian forces appear to be falling back on their strategy of soaking an area with artillery before moving in ground forces. But the Ukrainian military’s use of long-range fires has largely kept them at bay. According to the defense official, Russian troops have made “single-digit kilometer” progress over the past few days.
The senior defense official also confirmed that Ukrainian forces had destroyed at least one of several pontoon bridges built by Russian forces across a river in the Luhansk region. With muddy roads slowing land travel, and many rivers and streams snaking across the Donbas region, Russian forces continue to rely on bridges in the region to move troops and equipment, the official said.
To the south, US officials believe Ukrainian forces are continuing to resist the Russian military’s bombardment of the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol. Hundreds of civilians and fighters have spent weeks hiding in the steel mill’s maze of underground bunkers and tunnels, The Associated Press reported, even as the plant sustained severe damage from Russian artillery. Russian forces stepped up attacks last week with mortars, aerial strikes, and shelling from the Black Sea, and have even managed to probe inside the mill, which is effectively the final holdout in Mariupol.
Saturday, Ukrainian officials said all women, children, and elderly civilians had been evacuated from the steel mill.
In all, the Russian military now has 97 battalion tactical groups, or BTGs, inside Ukraine, the senior defense official said, a number that has increased from around 80 early last week. Two BTGs are targeting Mariupol, while three others are dedicated to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a primary target of Russian aggression in the northeast.
In the north of the country, Ukrainian resistance in Kharkiv has been “stiff,” according to the senior defense official. The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, predicts the Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon drive Russian troops back to Russia’s border.
The senior defense official described those two cities — Kharkiv to the north, Mariupol to the south — as the anchors of a north-south line that Russian forces have been unable to cross in the face of fierce Ukrainian defense and counterattacks.
“By defending Kharkiv, [Russian forces] are helping prevent a southern push out of Kharkiv,” the official said. “[Kharkiv] provides another line of access to push south, not only into the Donbas but […] to the west of the Donbas to try to again fix and hold Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. But they just haven’t been able to make any progress in that regard. And what we’re seeing is, the Ukrainians are actually pushing them east into the northern Donbas.”
#Ukraine: The Ukrainian Air force is still alive- seen here are two Ukrainian Su-27 striking Russian facilities on the famous Snake Island in the Black Sea, in remarkable footage filmed by a TB-2 drone.
As we can observe, there is serious damage. pic.twitter.com/ogN3gOU8uJ
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 7, 2022
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense claimed its forces had destroyed a Russian landing craft and two Tor missile systems on the Russian-occupied Snake Island using a Bayraktar drone. The Ukrainian government shared video of the purported strike over the weekend. US defense officials believe at least three targets were indeed hit by airstrikes on Snake Island, but the senior defense official did not comment beyond that.
Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 destroyed another Russian ship. This time the landing craft of the "Serna" project. The traditional parade of the russian Black Sea fleet on May 9 this year will be held near Snake Island – at the bottom of the sea. pic.twitter.com/WYEPywmAwX
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) May 7, 2022
Friday, the Department of State authorized an additional $150 million in military assistance for Ukraine, bringing the total US security assistance to Ukraine to around $3.8 billion since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.
As the US continues to focus on training and equipping Ukrainian forces, the senior defense official said nearly all of the 90 M777 howitzers the US has pledged to Ukraine have arrived in the country, as have around 110,000 155mm artillery rounds.
More than 310 Ukrainian soldiers have now completed training on the M777 howitzers, while other troops are beginning a two-week course today to learn how to maintain the cannons. Some 60 Ukrainian troops have completed a course on operating M113 armored personnel carriers, and more than 45 will complete a second course on the M113 today, the senior defense official said.
An additional 15 Ukrainian soldiers have completed training on the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel mobile air defense radar systems, several of which are being sent to Ukraine from US stocks. The Sentinel systems can find, track, and target small aircraft and missiles, including drones and cruise missiles. Russian forces have fired cruise missiles at targets all over Ukraine, and drones have become a key tool for both sides.
The defense official also said 20 Ukrainian soldiers have now been trained on how to use the Air Force’s newest unmanned aerial system weapon, dubbed the Phoenix Ghost. Around two dozen of the drones have been delivered to Ukraine so far, with the US promising more than 120 total.
The US also announced last week it would be providing electronic jamming equipment to Ukraine for the first time.