Russia increasing air strikes in Ukraine, Pentagon says

Senior defence official says Russia has carried out more than 300 air sorties in past 24 hours

A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber. Russian Defence Ministry via AFP
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Russia is ramping up its air war in Ukraine even as it claims to be de-escalating in some parts of the country, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

A senior US defence official estimated that Russia had conducted more than 300 air strikes in the past 24 hours, with attacks focused on the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Izyum, Kharkiv and the Donbas region.

“The Russians continue to increase their number of sorties, aircraft sorties,” the official told Pentagon reporters.

Russia's deputy defence minister on Tuesday said Moscow would drastically cut its military activity focused on Kyiv and Chernihiv after talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams in Istanbul.

Western powers and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy see any troop movements as merely strategic so Russia can focus its firepower on the eastern Donbas region.

“Despite the rhetoric of de-escalation, we're still observing artillery fire and air strikes in and around Kyiv,” the official said.

The Pentagon estimated that Russia has launched more than 1,400 missiles into Ukraine since the war began on February 24.

The official confirmed Russian troop movements away from Kyiv, estimating that about 20 per cent of those forces have left the area.

“We continue to believe that this is a repositioning, we certainly haven't seen any indication that any of these troops are going back home, or that they're being taken away from the fight forever,” the official said.

Besides Kyiv, the Pentagon assessed that Russia has moved some forces away from Chernobyl and have abandoned Hostomel airport.

"We have seen indications that some Russian forces are departing the Chernobyl plant facility," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a later briefing.

"We gather that they are leaving to the north to go back again towards Belarus."

Even with the regrouping of Russian troops and an increased focus on Donbas, the Pentagon said that Moscow could still struggle in that region.

“They have not geographically made much progress in the east … they have been frustrated and not successful,” the official said.

“Just because they're going to prioritise it and put more force there or more energy, [it] doesn’t mean it's going to be easy for them,” the official added, warning of a long prolonged battle in Donbas.

On the Ukrainian side, the Pentagon pointed to continued fighting in Mariupol and Kherson with the airspace still contested.

President Joe Biden in March authorised a $350 million security package for Ukraine. The US official said all of that has now been delivered.

The Pentagon projected that a newly authorised $800m in additional security aid will be delivered to Ukraine by mid-April.

Updated: April 04, 2022, 10:37 AM