Russian forces may be approaching Odesa from land instead of sea, a defense official told reporters Friday.
Forces came up through Crimea and to the Ukrainian port city Kherson and are now moving toward the port city of Mykolaiv, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing Friday afternoon.
Mykolaiv is not far from Odesa, Kirby said, which suggests the Russians might make an assault on Odesa through Mykolaiv.
“We don’t know exactly what to make of that,” Kirby said. “We can’t assert for sure that the Russians are going to use a land route to assault Odessa or even if they’re going to move on Odessa. We’re just kind of watching this day by day as you guys are.”
Kherson is the first city to fall under Russian control since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. It is a population center and lies on the Dnieper River, which flows into the Black Sea.
“It’s a key port city in that regard, just in general, and certainly allows Russians, the Russian military to have a measure of control over at least that part of the river and the entrance into the Black Sea,” a senior defense official told reporters Friday morning.
But taking Kherson may have been so that the Russian could launch an assault on Mykolaiv, the senior defense official said, allowing them more access toward Odesa, should the Russians choose to attack it.
It is possible that a potential assault on Odesa will play out like the Russian’s attack on Mariupol, with ground forces reinforcing those coming from an amphibious landing assault, the senior defense official said.
Earlier in the week, a photo of the Belarusian president showing a map of attack plans suggested an amphibious assault on Odesa, but that has not yet played out. Right now, there are no signs of an amphibious assault about to launch on Odesa, the defense official said.
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) March 3, 2022
“I can’t assert for sure that they are planning to do yet another amphibious assault, whether it’s towards Odesa or any other southern Ukrainian port, but we’re watching it as best we can,” he said.
Although Russia has ships in the Black Sea, as part of its Black Sea fleet, its navy has taken a largely supporting role in the conflict, outside of an amphibious landing along the coastline near Mariupol in the first few days of the invasion.
Russian ships in the North and Pacific fleets will likely play no role in the Black Sea as Turkey closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to warships.
Russia launched an amphibious assault outside of Mariupol a week ago, with Russian troops still advancing on the port city.
“We have observed Russian forces continue to advance on Mariupol. But we don’t assess that they’re in there,” a senior defense official said.
The Russians are bombarding the city, with reports of water and utility outages, he said.
“And as we said before we continue to believe that the Russians want to move on Mariupol from the north out of the Donetsk region, as well as moving up that coast of the Sea of Azov,” the senior defense official said.
The Russian forces are using the coastline to move out of Crimea, the official said in a briefing Wednesday.
“How much of the Sea of Azov coastline they control? I don’t know,” he said.
Little has been said about the Ukrainian Navy, outside of a picture of its flagship scuttled that spread on social media on Thursday. According to London-based The Times, the commanding officer of Krivak III-class frigate Hetman Sahaidachny (U-130) received order to scuttle the ship to avoid losing it to the Russian forces if they carried out an assault in Odesa.
The ship is now submerged in the port at Mykolaiv, The Times reported.