Russia shells towns near Odesa, preparing a possible ground assault on the city

Russia shells towns near Odesa, preparing a possible ground assault on the city

Russian warships are shelling towns on the outskirts of Odesa, a major port city on the Black Sea, in the latest military campaign in Moscow’s three-week-old invasion of Ukraine.

Pentagon officials on Wednesday said they have seen “increased naval activity” in the area, including vessels identified as tank landing ships that could be used in an amphibious assault.

A senior Defense Department official didn’t know why the Russians were firing on suburbs of Odesa rather than the city itself. 

“It could be to prepare the way for a ground assault,” he said. “We would not be surprised to see them interested in Odesa, given its strategic location.”

Capturing Odesa would put Moscow a giant step closer to closing off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea. Russian troops have been fought to a standstill by the much-smaller Ukrainian military. But on Monday, they were largely unopposed while landing at a spot on the Sea of Azov.

It wasn’t clear if Russia will use amphibious forces currently on ships on the Black Sea or other troops that have already landed if military commanders decide to move on Odesa, Pentagon officials said.

Russia has fired more than 980 missiles — of all varieties — since the invasion. President Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack its much smaller neighbor has come at a high cost. Moscow has poured about 75% of its ground combat units in the entire country into the fight and the casualties have been staggering, officials said.

“Every day they are experiencing losses of equipment, aircraft, and people,” the official said. “We’ve definitely seen them have discussions about what they might need to do to resupply — and that includes manpower.”

Pentagon officials confirmed the stepped-up Russian naval activity in the Black Sea as the White House released a list of $800 million worth of military hardware soon to be heading to Ukraine, ranging from 2,000 Javelin anti-tank weapons to 70 Humvees and more than 20 million rounds of small ammo.

“We’re also talking to allies and partners about providing the Ukrainians with some systems that they know how to use. That includes air defense systems,” the official said.