By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 25, 2022) -- In Ukraine, the Russians are still launching airstrikes on the capital city of Kyiv, but it appears the Russian military is less interested now in conducting ground operations there than they have been in the past and are instead now focused on an eastern area of the country known as the Donbas.
During a background briefing today, a senior defense official said an official from the Russian Ministry of Defense publicly announced the Russians are now prioritizing the Donbas.
"They are putting their priorities and their efforts in the east of Ukraine," the DOD official said. "That's where still there remains a lot of heavy fighting and we think they are trying to not only secure some sort of more substantial gains there as a potential negotiating tactic at the table, but also to cut off Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country."
When it comes to the capital, Kyiv, the senior defense official said air strikes continue, but the activities of ground forces have changed.
"It appears that the Russians are, at least for the moment, not pursuing ... a ground offensive towards Kyiv," the official said. "They are digging in. They are establishing defensive positions. They don't show any signs of being willing to move on Kyiv from the ground."
Nevertheless, the official said, there are still airstrikes on Kyiv, but nothing from the ground.
"It's interesting that the bulk of [Russian] air activity is really only Kyiv, Chernihiv -- which remains a very bloody fight -- and then the Donbas," the official said. "That's where we're seeing the air activity. So again, all of that sort of reinforces this idea that, at least for the moment, they don't appear to want to pursue Kyiv as aggressively or frankly at all. They are mostly focused on the Donbas."
The same official also confirmed reports that Ukrainian forces had destroyed a Russian navy vessel on the Sea of Azov at the port city of Berdyansk.
"They did strike a Russian LST while it was pier-side in Berdyansk," the official said. "It appears from the imagery we've seen that they destroyed that ship."
The destroyed Russian ship, called the Saratov, was an Alligator-class amphibious landing ship that could carry up to 20 tanks. The term "LST" means "Landing Ship Tank."
The official said the DOD is unaware of how many Russians were on the ship when it was hit, or how many casualties there had been. Additionally, the official wouldn't say what weapons system the Ukrainians had used to destroy the vessel to protect their operational security.
The official also said the department believes the ship was in port at Berdyansk as part of a mission to resupply Russian combat operations near Mariupol.
Also of significance, the official said, is that the Russian military now appears to be pulling troops it has in nearby Georgia to participate in operations in Ukraine.
"We've seen our first indications that they are trying to send in some reinforcements from Georgia," the official said. "We have seen the movements of some number of troops from Georgia."
The official couldn't say how many Russian troops would leave Georgia for Ukraine, or where those troops would be going when they arrived in Ukraine.