Photo of the Pentagon
Photo of the Pentagon (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Department of Defense) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON — Russian forces are in the initial phase of the invasion of Ukraine and attacking through three corridors, a senior defense official said today on background.

There is fighting within 20 miles of the center of Kyiv — the Ukrainian capital — as well as fighting around the eastern city of Kharkiv and in the southern part of the beleaguered country, the official said. "These three axes are … clearly designed to take key population centers," he said.

U.S. Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division prepare to depart Ft. Bragg for the U.S. European Command area of responsibility at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. Feb. 03, 2022. The 82nd Airborne Division is deploying in support of U.S. European Command to assure our Allies and Partners in the region and deter any future aggression.
U.S. Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division prepare to depart Ft. Bragg for the U.S. European Command area of responsibility at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. Feb. 03, 2022. The 82nd Airborne Division is deploying in support of U.S. European Command to assure our Allies and Partners in the region and deter any future aggression. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jillian Hix) VIEW ORIGINAL

"It's our assessment that [Russian forces] have every intention of basically, decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance, which would explain these early moves towards Kyiv," the official said.

The assault started in darkness this morning, Ukrainian time, with a Russian missile barrage of around 100 intermediate-range, short-range and cruise missiles, the official said. Missiles came from land, sea and air platforms.

The Russians used roughly 75 fixed-wing, heavy and medium bombers as a part of their assault. The targets were primarily military bases and air defense nodes. He had no estimate of casualties.

Following these attacks, Russian land forces moved into Ukraine.

The official said Ukrainian forces are resisting the invasion and fighting back but would not give specifics.

The official was able to give a bit more specifics on U.S. forces that are being moved to the Eastern flank of NATO to reassure frontline states. Six F-35 Lightning 2 Joint Strike Fighters will arrive in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania today. Apache helicopters deploying to the Baltic republics and Poland from Germany and Greece are experiencing some weather-related problems, but should arrive shortly, the official said.

Ukrainians are already fleeing their country and the official said there has been an increase in the number of people crossing Ukraine's borders into Western countries.

DOD officials have been saying for weeks that Russian President Vladimir Putin could launch this strike into Ukraine. The official said Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine even as diplomatic options remained. Putin bears the responsibility for this unprovoked aggression and the deaths, casualties and destruction can be laid at his feet, the official said.