Ukraine Conflict Update – March 5, 2022

Travis AFB delivers aid to Ukraine

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, Ukrainian defense, and NATO.

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Russian Campaign Update. The ground campaign is moving along for the Russians . . . although very slowly. The large 40-mile long convoy is approaching the Kyiv area and is now deploying into staging positions for an attack and possibly for a movement south and then west to encircle Kyiv from the southeast and southwest. Russian forces are already in position on the northeast, north, and northwest of the capital. Attacks are continuing around the rest of the country along the eastern Ukrainian border and on the coast line of the Sea of Azov. Russia has fired over 500 missiles in the first week of its invasion of Ukraine.

Fight for the Skies. Russia is losing aircraft and helicopters at a damaging rate. Despite being 15 times the size of the Ukrainian air force the Russian air force has yet to achieve air supremacy. Russia has more than 1,500 combat aircraft to Ukraine’s 98. Read more in “Where is the Russian Air Force? Experts break down why they might be hiding.”, Task & Purpose, March 3, 2022.

Drones – Effective ISR and Interdiction for Ukrainians. Consumer-grade drones are being used to spot Russian forces. Ukrainian civilians who own drones are being asked to put them to use to find Russian troops. Cheap off-the-shelf drones costs less then $100 but can provide valuable information on enemy locations and activities. “Send in the Quadcopters: Arm Ukrainian Citizens with Simple Drones”, Defense One, March 3, 2022.

Maritime Activities. The Ukrainians have scuttled their biggest warship to avoid it falling into the Russians hands. A Russian amphibious task force is off not far from Odessa on the coast of the Black Sea – presumably to land naval infantry and contribute to the attack on Odessa once Russian ground forces make their move from are north of the Crimea peninsular.

Kyiv. The capital city of Ukraine is considered the primary objective of the Russians. The Capture of Kyiv would allow Russia to put in place its puppet government. One key battle for the city that took place early in the invasion was the attempt to seize Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv to bring troops directly to the capital. However, a band of Ukrainian soldiers fought to keep the Russians from using the landing strip. Since then the Russians have been relying on two principal ground attacks – from Belarus in the north and from Russia in the northeast to move troops into the vicinity of the capital city. According to open source maps published by a number of organizations the only area on the outskirts of Kyiv not held by the Russians appears to be the southwest sector. A departure by vehicle from Kyiv would likely involve traveling southwest along the E95 route. As Russian forces move into Kyiv from the outskirts its offensive will slow down as it negotiates through a more dense urban environment. Trains heading west from Kyiv were running as of March 4; however a projected move of Russian forces along a north – south axis west of Kyiv could interrupt this train service.

Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. It is receiving heavy artillery and rocket fire and Russians are probing the city attempting to make inroads toward the city center. It may be completely encircled at this time, although there are varying reports on this. It is unknown if the Russians will attempt to advance into the city or merely isolate it as a holding action and freeing up troops to take offensive action in other areas of Ukraine. There are reports the Russians have been using the FAB-500 high explosive bomb in the city.

Mariupol. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is under siege by the Russians. This city is situated along the coastal road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. The Russians appear to be trying to capture this city to solidify its gains along the coast of the Sea of Azov. There is a heavy onslaught by Russian artillery, rocket, and missile fire.

Mykolayiv. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River close to the coast of the Black Sea, Mykolayiv is a strategic objective for the Russians that is on the road to Odessa located further west along the coast of the Black Sea.

Wagner Group. This private military company (PMC) that is affiliated with the Russian government has been active in Syria, Africa, and elsewhere around the world. News last week broke that over 400 mercenaries from the Wagner Group were in Ukraine. In the last few days more news has come out that up to 700 may be in Ukraine. The Center for Strategic & International Studies published a report on Russia’s private military companies in September 2020 that provides good background on the Wagner Group and other PMCs.

Operational Assessment – YouTube. The Modern War Institute at West Point hosted a multidisciplinary panel to provide an operational assessment of the state and future projections of the war in Ukraine. (March 3, 2022, 1 1/2 hours).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXEvbVoDiU0

Map of Ukraine CRS April 2020

General Information

Humanitarian Corridors. A partial ceasefire was declared by Russia on Saturday for some parts of Ukraine. Avenues of escape for civilians were announced allowing people to escape the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha. The route heads west-north-west towards the Dnieper River. More than 400,000 residents of Mariupol have no food, water, electricity, and medical services. “Russia declares partial ceasefire to allow humanitarian corridors in Ukraine”, Reuters, March 5, 2022.

Urban Warfare Project. The conflict in Ukraine appears to be heading to be one of a fight for the big population areas. Typically, in a urban setting, the advantage (if properly supplied) goes to the defender. Most estimates say that the attacker needs a 5:1 numerical advantage to be successful. Of course, if the defenders run out of food and ammunition then it is a different story. Learn more about fighting in big cities at the Urban Warfare Project at the Modern War Institute at West Point.

Trenches, Obstacles, and Molotov Cocktails. Nolan Peterson describes the preparations civilians are making in one small city in Ukraine. “How One Ukrainian City is Preparing to Resist the Russian’s Arrival”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 3, 2022.

“Molotov Cocktails” – a Little History. Much has been made of the citizens of Ukraine emptying bottles of wine and beer and pouring in gasoline and stuffing it with a rag. Apparently, it was the elite Finnish ski troops in the late 1930s who developed the fiery technique that can set Russian tanks and armored vehicles ablaze. “Hurling Molotov Cocktails at Russian Tanks – a Grand European Tradition”, by Matt Fratus, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 3, 2022.

Russian Iskander Missile Launcher. One of the key pieces of equipment used by Russian forces is the road-mobile Iskander missile launcher. The Iskanders are versatile and deadly and has fired hundreds of short-range missiles at Ukrainian targets. The weapons system has been in service since 2006 and its missiles have a payload of 1,500 pounds with a range of 310 miles. It is believed that the Russians have deployed up to 48 launchers in Belarus and other locations around the Ukrainian border. “Iskander: The Russian Ballistic Missile Creating Chaos in Ukraine”, 1945, March 3, 2022.

Nuclear Plant Attack. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was attacked and seized by Russian forces on Thursday (Mar 3) after defeating Ukrainian forces defending the complex. Although the attack is now over . . . and the fire that broke out has been contained, there are still some major safety concerns. The reactors are still being operated by Ukrainian crews . . . although there are numerous armed Russians watching the operation. The plant provides 26% of Ukraine’s electricity. “How dangerous was Russia’s nuclear plant strike?”, AP News, March 4, 2022. There are five nuclear power plants in Ukraine. At least one is now under the control of the Russians. Another may soon be captured by the Russians.


The Coming Resistance

Ukrainian SOF and the Future War. A lot has happened since the 2014 invasion of Ukraine by Russia where it seized the Crimea and two regions of eastern Ukraine. U.S. and Western special operations forces have trained Ukrainian troops in the fine art of unconventional warfare. If the conventional fight in Ukraine ends in Russia’s favor (which is likely to happen), Ukrainians could put those unconventional warfare skills to use. Read more in “Ukrainian special operators may soon be putting years of secretive training from the US to use against Russia“, Business Insider, March 2, 2022.

An Occupation, POWs, and Resistance Fighters. The legal status of a civilian turned combatant in the Ukraine war is complex. Geoffrey S. Corn attempts to clarify the situation in “Prisoners of War in Occupied Territory”, Lieber Institute West Point, March 3, 2022. Laurie Blank provides info on this topic as well in “Combatant Privileges and Protections”, Lieber Institute West Point, March 4, 2022.

Banner Commentary

Cyber and Information Operations

Podcast – Cyber War and the Invasion of Ukraine. A discussion about Russia’s history of cyber war and how it will continue to shape peace and conflict in the future. CyberSecurity Connect, March 4, 2022, 40 minutes.

NATO CCDCOE Accepts Ukraine. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence has voted unanimously to Ukraine’s membership as a ‘Contributing Participant’. Estonia is the host nation of NATO CCDCOE.

Elon Musk’s Starlink Kits. The use of Starlink kits to access the internet via a satellite link up is a good work around if the Russians can shut down Ukraine’s internet service. However, there is a slight drawback. The uplink transmissions can be triangulated and targeted. So keep that antenna a healthy distance away from your position. “Elon Musk Just Realized Starlink Units in Ukraine Are Airstrike Magnets”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 3, 2022.

Winning the IO Battle. One of the more remarkable things about the current conflict in Ukraine is how badly the Russians are doing in the area of information operations; and just how good the Ukrainians are doing in the fight for the “hearts and minds”. Stories like the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ (is he real?), the brave Ukrainian coast guard men who died on Snake Island (they didn’t), a brave, vocal, and very public President Zelensky, children making Molotov cocktails, grandmothers carrying rifles, and others are winning the battle of the airwaves and social media. Once Switzerland moves off the ‘neutral’ bench you kinda sorta know you lost the IO fight. Read more in “How Ukraine is winning the propaganda war”, Military Times, March 3, 2022.

IO – Differences Between Ukraine and Afghanistan. Jason Criss Howk compares the very successful information operations campaign of the Ukrainians with the extremely ineffective IO campaign waged by the Afghan government and its NATO allies. “Information Operations: How is Ukraine Different Than Afghanistan?”, Clearance Jobs, March 3, 2022.

World Response

No Fly Zone – Not Going to Happen. There are lots of people advocating for NATO to establish a zone over Ukraine that would prohibit the Russians from flying over the country. However, this is very problematic and a sure way to escalate into a shooting match with Russia. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a press conference that “allies agree that we should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory.” President Zelensky is furiously condemning NATO leaders for their refusal to implement a no fly zone.

Volunteers Fighters for Ukraine. Can you lose your U.S. citizenship if you go to Ukraine to fight the Russians? Maybe. Read some “Advice about Possible Loss of U.S. Nationality and Foreign Military Service”, U.S. Department of State. Fighting in Ukraine can also get you shot by the Russians during combat or after capture. “Russia threatens to execute Western volunteers as Ukrainian foreign legion grows”, Washington Examiner, March 3, 2022. If you are looking for more information on the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine then you could visit https://fightforua.org by the Ukraine government. See also “Underground U.S. groups funnel fighters, medics to Ukraine”, Reuters, March 4, 2022.

Commentary

The Suwalki Corridor – the Next Target? On the Polish-Lithuanian border is a small slice of land that connects Belarus (a Russian client state) with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Russian seizure of the Suwalki Corridor would rob NATO of the real estate needed to transit troops and materials to the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Of course, this would be an attack on a NATO nation or nations (Poland and Lithuania). Still . . . it is a worrisome scenario that NATO needs to be concerned with. “NATO Must Prepare to Defend Its Weakest Point – the Suwalki Corridor”, Foreign Policy, March 3, 2022.

Not Quite “Shock and Awe”. Jamie McIntyre examines the initial failure of the Russian army to achieve success in the first several days of its invasion. He cites the inability to keep the Ukrainian air force on the ground, the continued existence of most of Ukraine’s air defense system, failure to close the western border of Ukraine to prevent resupply, and attacking on three main axes with several different avenues of attack. Add in the logistics resupply problem and it is a recipe for failure . . . or at least a stalled offensive. “Russia’s Potemkin Army”, Washington Examiner, March 3, 2022.

Pushing Finland and Sweden to NATO. The aggression that Russia has displayed over the past few decades has had the Nordic countries that don’t belong to NATO on edge. Although both Finland and Sweden have tried to tread a ‘neutral path’ they are having a hard time ignoring the expansionist nature of the current Russian regime. NATO membership could be on the horizon for both. “Will Finland and Sweden join NATO now?”, Atlantic Council, March 3, 2022.


Guest Writers for SOF News

SOF News welcomes the submission of articles for publication. If it is related to special operations, current conflicts, national security, defense, or the current conflict in Ukraine then we are interested.


Maps and Other Resources

Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map. This map is a crowdsourced effort by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) and the wider open source community to provide reliable information for policymakers, journalists, and justice organizations about the evolving situations both on the ground and online.
https://maphub.net/Cen4infoRes/russian-ukraine-monitor

UK Ministry of Defence. Check out the map posted by @DefenceHQ on Twitter.
https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ

Ukraine Graphics by Reuters. “Russia Invades Ukraine”
https://graphics.reuters.com/UKRAINE-CRISIS/zdpxokdxzvx/

Ukraine Conflict Info. The Ukrainians have launched a new website that will provide information about the war. It is entitled Russia Invaded Ukraine and can be found at https://war.ukraine.ua/.

Janes Equipment Profile – Ukraine Conflict. An 81-page PDF provides information on the military equipment of the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces. Covers naval, air, electronic warfare, C4ISR, communications, night vision, radar, and armored fighting vehicles, Ukraine Conflict Equipment Profile, February 28, 2022.
https://www.janes.com/docs/default-source/ukraine-conflict/equipment-profile_report_280222.pdf

Russian EW Capabilities. “Rah, Rah, Rash Putin?”, Armada International, March 2, 2022.

Arms Transfers to Ukraine. Forum on the Arms Trade.
https://www.forumarmstrade.org/ukrainearms.html

Urban Warfare Project. Modern War Institute at West Point.
https://mwi.usma.edu/urban-warfare-project/


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Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Chase Smith, right, 8th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, marshals a K-loader toward a C-17 Globemaster III, assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, at Travis Air Force Base, California, Feb. 14, 2022. The 60th Air Mobility Wing supported the 621st Contingency Response Wing during the movement of security assistance cargo to Ukraine via commercial cargo aircraft. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency coordinated the effort. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Karla Parra)


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