A hostel building at the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security facility in the western Ukraine city of Yaroviv near the Polish border after a Russian cruise missile strike. The base has been the site of US training with Ukrainian forces and has been reported to be a training center for foreign volunteers. Photo from Facebook.
Now 19 days into its invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces made little progress over the weekend of Saturday, March 12, a senior US defense official told reporters Monday afternoon. Russian cruise missiles hit a training facility — once used by Americans — near the Polish border, but there were no American troops there at the time.
“Almost all of Russia’s advances remain stalled,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
While the Russian ground invasion has been focused on the central and eastern regions of Ukraine — far from NATO and US troops in Poland — the weekend’s cruise missile strike hit the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security facility in the western Ukraine city of Yavoriv near the Polish border. The defense official said the attack was carried out by Russian aircraft launching “more than a couple dozen cruise missiles.” The attack damaged at least seven structures, said the official, who would not confirm the number of casualties. Reuters reported that there were at least 35 killed and 134 wounded.
The official noted that the missiles had been launched by aircraft inside Russian territory — an illustration, said the official, why a no-fly zone would not be effective.
The official also confirmed that, although US troops had used the facility previously, none were there at the time of the strike.
“After we redeployed the Florida National Guard several weeks ago,” there were no US troops, contractors or civilians working at the facility in a government capacity, the official said. The official would not comment on whether there were any American foreign fighters there.
While it was close to Poland, that attack, the official said, “has not changed our posture, and it certainly hasn’t precipitated any specific decision to move or reposition anybody else into or out of Poland.”
The official declined to comment specifically on US security to Ukraine, other than to say the attack on the Yavoriv center “will not affect that.”
“There were additional security assistance shipments that went in over the weekend as part of the previous $350 million security package that President [Joe] Biden approved,” the official said. “As you saw over the weekend, he approved another $200 million and we are fast at work on filling that out.”
Elsewhere, the official said, little changed over the weekend.
Northwest of Kyiv, where Russian forces have been advancing towards the Hostomel airport since the invasion’s opening days, “we see no appreciable change in their progress over the weekend,” the official said. The forwardmost Russian troops there remain about 15 kilometers from Kyiv’s city center.
The Russians are slowly beginning to send in forces behind the advanced elements, the official said.
To the north of Kyiv, the assault on Chernihiv, one of the closest cities to the Russian border, remains stalled as well, the official said. Ukrainian forces are putting up a very strong resistance there, the official said, adding that, while the city is isolated, Ukrainian forces tried to open up lines of communications to the city.
The third line of advance on Kyiv, from the east, also remains stalled. Heavy combat was reported ahead of that line last week, as video from Ukrainian drones captured scenes of Russian tank columns under heavy fire. The official said those Russian forces remain 20 to 30 kilometers outside of central Kyiv.
“We’ve observed and assessed that Ukrainians are still in control of the town of Brovary, which is where, late last week, you were seeing tank convoys being struck. But we still assess that the Ukrainians are in control of that and are keeping that eastern line of advance at bay,” the official said.
Russian advances to the south in the eastern part of the country also appeared stopped, with a line of advance toward Kharkiv halted and some forces returning to the northern town of Sumy.
— Global Conflicts (@Globe_conflicts) March 13, 2022
“Ukrainian forces continue to defend [Kharkiv] and do so with a pretty stiff resistance,” the official said.
In both Kharkiv and Kyiv, the official said, the Russians have increased their long-range fires, generally artillery or rockets, resulting in extensive damage to civilian areas in the cities.
“What we’re seeing on the ground is a continued military effort to subdue these population centers and to do it now with ever more violence using more and more long range fires, which are increasingly indiscriminate, in terms of what they’re hitting,” the official said.
Numerous reports from those cities and the southern city of Mariupol have detailed the toll of the Russian heavy weapons, with shattered apartment buildings and homes, hospitals and schools.
The Pentagon did, however, note one strategic change by Russian forces in the eastern part of the country, as forces there may be moving to cut off a route that Ukrainian forces might soon need to reinforce Kyiv. Izyum, which sits near the border of the states of Kharkiv, controlled by Ukrainian forces, and the Donbas region, where Russian forces have some measure of control. The US defense official said that 50 to 60 vehicles were moving toward Izyum in what looked like Russian forces “bypassing Kharkiv and trying to block off the Donbas area and prevent the flow westward of any Ukrainian forces that would be in the eastern part of the country, prevent them from coming to the assistance of other Ukrainian defenders near Kyiv.”
The official said the southern theater of the war, which included coastal cities on or near the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, also saw little real movement, but the city of Mariupol continued to be under unrelenting assault by artillery and rockets.
One of the reasons why the Russians want Mariupol — which is mostly surrounded by Russian forces north and east of the city — is so to open up a path to the north toward Kharkiv.
Along the Black Sea to the west, the official said, Russian forces remained outside the port city of Mykolaiv and there remained no sign of a looming amphibious assault on the key Black Sea port city of Odessa.
— C4H10FO2P (@markito0171) March 14, 2022
In its daily “war bulletin,” Ukraine said that its forces have “inflicted devastating blows on the rear infrastructure (field bases and warehouses) in order to disrupt the system of logistical support of the enemy.”
Ukraine officials said they had killed more than 12,000 Russian soldiers, though US officials gave their own estimate of about 6,000 last week. The battlefield toll, Ukrainian officials said, included 389 tanks, 1,240 armored personnel carriers, 150 artillery pieces, 60 fuel trucks, and 34 anti-aircraft systems.
The Ukrainians said they had shot down 77 planes, 90 helicopters, and eight drones.
US officials would not address any of the Ukrainian claims but said that the Ukrainians had “effectively struck Russian logistics and sustainment capabilities.”
The long Russian convoy near Kyiv is one example, the official said, adding that the Ukrainians “are not simply going after combat capability — tanks, armored vehicles, and shooting at aircraft, although they’re doing all that — they are also deliberately trying to impede and prevent the Russians’ ability to sustain themselves.”
In the air, an official said last week that the Russians were flying roughly 200 flights a day in or around Ukraine, while the Ukrainians are flying approximately 10. Still, despite having more aircraft and flying more sorties, the Russians have yet to achieve air superiority over all of Ukraine, the official said Monday, adding that the Ukrainians “are still using very skillfully the air defense systems at their disposal, whether that’s surface to air missiles or MANPADs.”
Howard Altman is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the senior managing editor of Military Times and a military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM, and SOF writ large among many other topics. He is also on the advisory board of Military Veterans in Journalism. Email him [email protected]
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