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US defense official: Attacks are ‘initial phase’ of ‘large-scale’ invasion

Russia’s early morning attacks on Ukraine are an “initial phase” of a “large-scale” invasion into the country, a senior defense official said Thursday.  

“It is likely that you will see this unfold in multiple phases. How many? How long? We don’t know. But what we’re seeing are initial phases of a large-scale invasion,” the official told reporters in an off-camera call.  

“They’re making a move on Kyiv,” the official added.  

Russia began its attack on Ukraine with missile launches around 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday. More than 100 Russian-launched missiles of various types were used in the “initial onslaught,” with short-range ballistic missiles being the primary weapon, the official said.  

The Kremlin fired medium range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and sea-launch missiles from the Black Sea.   

In addition, Moscow used approximately 75 fixed-wing heavy and medium bombers “as a part of this initial onslaught,” with targets primarily focused on Ukraine’s military and air defenses including barracks, ammunition warehouses” and nearly 10 airfields. 

Russian troops have since invaded Ukraine from three sides which the official described as “three main axes of assault”: one from the south, “from Crimea to a city named Kherson;” one from north central Ukraine to the south, “from Belarus to Kyiv;” and a third from the northeast of Ukraine to the south, from Belarus toward Kharkiv. 

The official said the heaviest fighting has been observed in Kharkiv, with fighting also around the airport in Kyiv. 

“It’s our assessment that they 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 U.S. does not yet have a good sense of total damage or civilian casualties, but the official warned that if the invasion “unfolds the way that hereto we have come to believe that it will, it has every potential to be very bloody, very costly and very impactful on European security writ large.” 

The world has not seen a “move like this, nation state-to-nation state, since World War II, certainly nothing on this size and scope and scale,” the official said. 

Updated at 12:12 p.m.

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