WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) – The United States believes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is designed to decapitate Ukraine’s government and one of the three main axes of assault is directed at the capital Kyiv, a senior U.S. defense official said on Thursday.
After President Vladimir Putin declared war in a pre-dawn televised address, explosions and gunfire were heard throughout the morning in Kyiv, a city of 3 million people.
The assault brought a calamitous end to weeks of fruitless diplomatic efforts by Western leaders to avert war, their worst fears about Putin’s ambitions realized.
“The indications we’ve seen thus far, in just these first, not even 12 hours, are in keeping with our assessment earlier, that would be his goal: to decapitate this government,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not provide evidence.
The official said this appeared to be the initial phase of a large-scale Russian invasion and included more than 100 missiles launched by Russia, including cruise missiles, surface-to-air- missiles and those launched from the sea.
There had been no indication of any amphibious assaults yet by Russian forces but they used about 75 military aircraft in the first phase of the invasion, the official added.
“The targets, thus far… have been primarily focused on military and air defense. So barracks, ammunition warehouses, nearly 10 airfields targeted,” the official said.
The senior defense official said the United States had not yet seen an increased threat with regards to Russia’s nuclear forces.
Kyiv reported columns of troops pouring across the borders with Russia and Belarus stretching from the north and east, and landing on the coasts from the Black Sea in the southwest and Sea of Azov in the southeast.
The U.S. official said the United States had seen indications that Ukrainians were fighting back and warned that the invasion had the potential to be very bloody.
“It has every potential to be very bloody, very costly and very impactful on European security writ large.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller)