Russia expected to try to encircle Kyiv in coming days -U.S. official

New members join Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces in Kyiv
New members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces train with newly received weapons in Kyiv, Ukraine February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - The United States expects Russian forces to try to encircle Kyiv in the coming days and could become more aggressive out of frustration with their slow advance on the Ukrainian capital, a senior U.S. defense official said on Monday.

Air raid sirens wailed across the largely empty streets of Kyiv on Monday warning of another possible missile attack by Russia as the city girds for worse battles to come as Russian forces approach.

"We expect that they're going to want to continue to move forward and try to encircle the city in the coming days," the official said, adding that Russian troops were about 25 km (16 miles) from Kyiv's city center.

U.S. officials believe that stiff Ukrainian resistance has slowed the progress of Russian troops and planning failures have left some Russian units without fuel or other supplies.

"One of the things that could result is a reevaluation of their tactics and the potential for them to be more aggressive and more overt, in both the size and scale of their targeting of Kyiv," the official told reporters.

The official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity and did not provide evidence, said the United States had yet to see this happen but was concerned about it.

Russian forces, now in the fifth day of an invasion of their Ukrainian neighbor, have fired about 380 missiles at Ukrainian targets, the official said, and President Vladimir Putin has committed nearly 75% of his pre-staged combat power into Ukraine.

The official said there were no indications that Belarusian troops were in Ukraine, moving in that direction or preparing to move into Ukraine.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last week that troops from his ex-Soviet country could take part in Russia's military operation against Ukraine if needed.

The official added that the United States had seen some signs that private military contractors from the Wagner Group could be involved in Ukraine to support Russian forces.

The European Union has imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, accusing it of clandestine operations for the Kremlin.

Putin has said previously that the group does not represent the Russian state, but that private military contractors have the right to work anywhere in the world as long as they do not break Russian law.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Howard Goller

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Thomson Reuters

Phil Stewart has reported from more than 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Sudan. An award-winning Washington-based national security reporter, Phil has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, Fox News and other programs and moderated national security events, including at the Reagan National Defense Forum and the German Marshall Fund. He is a recipient of the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Joe Galloway Award.

Thomson Reuters

National security correspondent focusing on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Reports on U.S. military activity and operations throughout the world and the impact that they have. Has reported from over two dozen countries to include Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.