The latest from the Pentagon on Russia
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Russian military is now five days into its invasion of Ukraine, and Russian forces have been plagued by logistics problems and stiff resistance from both the Ukrainian military and average citizens wielding weapons. Here's how Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the situation.
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JOHN KIRBY: What we also have seen is Ukrainians resisting quite effectively around Kyiv and continuously. They have made it a tough slog for the Russians to move further south.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Tom Bowman covers the Pentagon and joins us now. Hey, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Bring us up to speed on Russia's latest actions in Ukraine today.
BOWMAN: Well, as John Kirby said, Ari, it's been tough going for the Russians, who are now about 15 miles or so from the capital, Kyiv. They've moved just about three miles or so during the past day. They're having troubles with logistics, fuel, for example. And also the Ukrainians are hitting them with anti-tank missiles, destroying bridges and, in some cases, capturing Russian soldiers.
Now, before the invasion, U.S. officials were predicting Russia could take Kyiv in as little as, get this, two days, and maybe the entire military operation could take two weeks or so. So I think people are clearly surprised, both with the problems the Russians have had and also with how fiercely the Ukrainians - again, in some cases, average citizens picking up weapons. The talk was Ukrainians would mount an insurgency after the Russians were successful in taking Kyiv, not before.
Still, Ari, officials say don't count Russia out just yet with this invasion. About 75% of its combat forces was arrayed outside Ukraine. Now that's inside the country, and they still have significant combat power to send in, we're told.
SHAPIRO: What else are Pentagon officials saying about the Russian strategy and how it's playing out?
BOWMAN: Well, the expectation is that Russian forces will try to encircle Kyiv. There are still troops coming in from the north, the east and maybe the south as well. The Russians are facing less resistance in the south and are making landings on the coast and expected to move up toward the Donbas area in the east. And that's, of course, where you have those two breakaway republics.
Then, officials believe more Russian troops could come down from the north from around the city of Kharkiv and then block in Ukrainian forces. I'm told about half the Ukrainian army is in that region.
One other thing - there's a concern that with Russian frustration about the slow going, you could see Russia resort to more missiles and bomb attacks, maybe use some of the more devastating and larger weapons to break through and take territory. That, of course, could mean a lot more casualties.
SHAPIRO: We know that the U.S. and NATO are sending more weapons to Ukraine. What can you tell us about what kinds of arms those are and where they might be headed?
BOWMAN: Well, a variety of weapons, including hundreds of anti-tank missiles - they're called javelins - as well as Stinger missiles that can shoot down helicopters. Of course, those were very effective, you may remember, against the Soviets in Afghanistan when the U.S. supplied the mujahideen fighters back in the '80s.
Now, since the airspace is closed, we can assume those arms are coming in from maybe Poland or Romania. I'm told that some of the shipments went in just today. And John Kirby this afternoon said those weapons are getting into the right hands.
SHAPIRO: Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was going to put nuclear forces on high alert. What exactly does that mean, and is the Pentagon concerned?
BOWMAN: Well, we don't have a lot of detail about what exactly it means. In practical terms, does it mean bombers are loaded with nuclear weapons? Senior defense official called it escalatory and unnecessary. Experts, Ari, are mixed on this, some saying it's concerning, others are just saying it's more bluster than anything else.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.