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Russia is “deliberating” sending additional troops to fight in Ukraine amid mounting battlefield losses of personnel and equipment, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
“We have seen indications that the Russians are considering, discussing and deliberating the degree to which they need to bring in resupply from outside the theatre,” a senior US defence official told Pentagon reporters.
The idea remains under discussion and Washington has yet to see indications that any reinforcements have been sent, the official said.
“We know they said that [the Russians] are suffering losses every day, losses of people lots of equipment, losses of aircraft, and so it certainly stands to reason that they would want to be exploring options to to replenish those losses,” the official said.
Russia has said its troop losses are in the hundreds, but western assessments including from the US and Britain put the number at more than 5,000 Russian servicemen killed since the war began on February 24.
Asked about the $800 million in new military aid the US is providing to Ukraine, the US official hinted that the 100 tactical drones in the package will be armed.
“It's safe to assume that these systems that will be there, they’re designed to deliver a punch,” the official said.
The official did not elaborate on a timeline or routes the US is using to deliver its weaponry to Ukraine, but stressed deliveries “are still flowing".
“As far as we're concerned, there's not going to be like a pause here.”
The White House reported that the $800m US assistance package includes:
- 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems
- 2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armour weapons and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armour systems
- 100 tactical drones
- 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns and 400 shotguns
- More than 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition as well as grenade launcher and mortar rounds
- 25,000 sets of body armour and helmets
The Pentagon said Russia is frustrated by a lack of progress in Ukraine but said that Moscow still has significant combat power.
Its military has fired about 980 missiles over the course of the conflict, the US official said, but its offensive remains stalled around Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol.
The Pentagon said Russia has started shelling some cities outside the strategic port city of Odesa.
“We believe these are Russian warships in the Black Sea … whether this is the precursor of, you know, a looming amphibious assault, we just don't see that yet,” the official said.
As Russian forces continue to advance towards Kyiv, military experts expect a fierce urban battle to eventually ensue.
The package of weapons President Joe Biden pledged to Ukraine on Wednesday could prove vital in helping Ukrainians defend their capital.
“In this type of high-intensity attack of a defence, the defenders need anti-tank weapons because you can't get inside that city without tanks and armour,” said John Spencer, a retired US army major and the chairman of Urban Warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum.
But it is the small arms ammunition, 20 million rounds of it, that Mr Spencer said will be especially important in the urban environment.
“We say it takes four times the ammo to do an operation in an urban terrain than it does in others that works for both attacking and defending,” he told The National.
“They need more ammo than we think they do.”
Alexander Downes, associate professor of Political Science at George Washington University, said Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to stop US and Nato weapons reaching Ukrainian forces.
“My sense is [Mr Putin] will try to stop the shipments, either once they get into Ukraine or very close to the border, rather than attack or retaliate against the Nato country directly,” Mr Downes told The National.
Moscow “will try to interdict the weapons shipments as they transit Ukraine to get to Ukrainian military”, he added.