WASHINGTON – NEWS – There are now 76 Russian battalion tactical groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine and in the country’s southeast. About 11 of those were added over the last several days, a senior Defense Department official said today.
So-called BTGs are typically composed of combined-arms elements, such as air defense, armor, tactical vehicles, artillery, helicopters, engineering and logistical support.
Besides the 76 BTGs, there are about 22 BTGs north of Ukraine that are likely being resupplied and refitted, the official said.
About a dozen of those inside Ukraine are trying to take Mariupol, an important port on the Sea of Azov, the official said.
“Our assessment is Mariupol is still contested,” the official said. The city remains under threat from heavy Russian air strikes and artillery.
There are a substantial number of Russian ground forces in and around Mariupol, the official said.
Should Mariupol fall to the Russians, that would free the dozen or so BTGs to be used elsewhere in the east or south of Ukraine, the official said. “That’s a big if because the Ukrainians are still fighting very, very hard for Mariupol.”
The Ukrainians have reported that they believe Russia is preparing to land Russian marines in the vicinity of Mariupol. “We can’t confirm that independently, but we’re certainly not in a position to dispute it,” the official said.
Further to the west of Mariupol is another important port city: Mykolayiv. Over the last several days, it has been subject to Russian bombardment from airstrikes and artillery, the official said.
Just to the west of Mykolayiv is the port city of Odesa, which is also important. “We still assess that the Russian navy is maintaining a standoff distance from Odesa, not getting very close in the wake of the Moskva sinking,” the official said.
The Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva is believed to have been sunk by Ukrainian missiles several days ago.
The Russians do have some amphibious capability in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov, the official said.
The Russians have at least one tank landing ship in the Sea of Azov that’s capable of landing Russian marines, and there are other of the same class of vessels in the Black Sea. Thus far, there are no indications that an amphibious assault is imminent, the official said.
In the north, the Russians continue bombing in the vicinity of Kharkiv as Russian forces blockade the city, the official said.
In the Joint Forces Operation of the Donbas region of Ukraine, the heaviest fighting is around a town called Popasna, the official said.
Fighting also continues to the south and the southeast of the Ukrainian city of Izyum, the official said.
“The Donbas region has been a hot war for eight years. Both sides have traded geography with some violence over the last eight years, and the Ukrainians do have a not insignificant force posture there, and they are fighting,” the official said.
Elsewhere, Russian long-range bombers have executed cruise missile strikes on both Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and the city of Lviv in Ukraine’s far west over the last couple of days, the official said.
The Pentagon’s assessment is that they are going after primarily military targets or what they believe to be military targets, the official said.
In other news, U.S. Army and Marine Corps 155 mm howitzers that are in the United States have been earmarked for Ukraine and will be shipped soon, the official said.
Since Ukrainian armed forces are not familiar with this type of artillery, there will be training to “train-the-trainer” for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine in the coming days, the official said.