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. Troops, armor, fuel, food, and other supplies are making their way to many of the areas of Ukraine where the Russians are massing their forces to continue the offensive. Kyiv remains the number one target. There are several other secondary objectives that are mentioned below. The Russian war machine will slowly grind away – as it has through history. Over 600 missiles have been fired into Ukraine as of Monday (Mar 7). Around 95% of the pre-invasion troops that were massed along the Ukrainian border have now entered Ukraine. Russian advances in the last two days have not been significant.
Using the numerical advantage that Russia has in personnel and equipment – it will slowly attrite the Ukrainian armed forces at the same time that reinforcements and more supplies arrive from the Russian hinterland. The Russian logistics system providing the necessary supplies to its forces in Ukraine has thus far failed. Russian casualties have been in the thousands – Ukrainian officials say over 11,000 Russian troops have been killed in the war. Russia lost 15,000 troops during its ten year occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.
The humanitarian corridors negotiated by the Russians and Ukrainians have thus far not produced the results needed. Russian shelling on the humanitarian corridors has halted the movement of evacuees. Russia has proposed new humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine . . . leading into the Russian Federation, not to other Ukrainian cities. The third round of negotiations are scheduled to take place on Monday at 16.00 Kyiv time. Protests are taking place in some of the Russian-occupied cities and villages. In some instances, the protesters have been fired on by Russian troops. Some deaths among protesters have been reported in the news and on social media. Russia has published a list of ‘unfriendly countries’, among the 43 listed are almost all countries of the European Union.
Fight for the Skies. The Russian air force still has not achieved command of the skies. There are some social media reports that indicate Ukrainian jet fighters are continuing to harass the Russian formations and convoys. The Ukrainian air defense has not been neutralized; although it certainly has sustained some losses. Drones – sophisticated ones for armed attack, inexpensive hobby drones for reconnaissance – have given the Ukrainians an added boost. Russia is attacking some of Ukraine’s airfields – the airfield at Vinnystia sustained heavy damage.
Maritime Activities. The naval infantry on board the amphibious landing craft in the Black Sea . . . are still on board their respective ships. They will likely be in a supporting attack role once the Russians in the region north of Crimea strike out along the coastline towards Odessa. In the meantime, the amphibious force is tying down Ukrainian forces in the defense around Odessa. Covert Shores has published a map depicting possible beach landing sites around the Odessa region. Read more about a possible strike towards Odessa in a USNI News article (5 Mar). There are some early reports that a Russian patrol ship (Vasily Bykov) was struck and on fire in a GRAD shelling in the Black Sea on Monday (Mar 7).
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. There are social media reports that say ground attacks by the Russians will begin in earnest against Kyiv on Monday (Mar 7). The city is encircled in the west, north, and east. Access by vehicle and train is south and southwest. Air raid sirens are common through the night with aircraft, artillery, and rocket attacks. One of the Russian units in the western sector is the 76th Airborne Division. Russian troops east of Kyiv may strike south to capture the Boryspil Airport. Many point to Kyiv as the key battle of the war.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The Ukrainians have mounted several counterattacks with some success. It has not been completely cut off by Russian forces. It is unknown if the Russians will attempt to take the city in the next few days. A large force of Russians is west of the city – but Russian intentions are unknown. It may be directed to assault Kharkiv, or move south to link up with Russian forces in the Dnipro region, or move west to take part in the assault on Kyiv.
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. It is reported that heavy shelling by the Russians took place on Monday (Mar 7). The humanitarian corridor out of the city has been mined by the Russians.
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. Over the past few days it has been subjected to Russian shelling along the city’s outskirts with several residential areas hit. It is reported that Smerch MRLS are being used to shell the city.
Map of Russian Controlled Areas. The Institute for the Study of War has a map that they update daily with the disposition of Russian forces. You can view the 6 March (Sun) edition online at this link. You can read a detailed account of Russian troop movements and actions on the ground in the ISW daily update – the 6 March (Sun) edition is here. The Ukraine War Map (Twitter @War_Mapper) has posted its latest situation map on Monday (Mar 7).
Ukraine Resistance and Foreign Fighters. The Ukrainian defense forces continue to mount a stiff resistance to the Russian invasion. They are being assisted by foreigners who are arriving by the thousands to help defeat the Russians. A website has been launched by Ukraine asking for international volunteers to travel to Ukraine to join the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine to fight the Russians (fightforua.org). Read more in “American Veterans Volunteer to Fight in Ukraine”, Voice of America, March 5, 2022. See also “Retired US Special Forces sergeant from Bay Area headed to Ukraine on medical mission”, ABC7 Bay Area, March 4, 2022.
Ukraine’s Shoulder-Fired Missiles. Ukraine is using the stocks of MANPADS and anti-tank missiles to great effect. And they got more coming through its western border from nations around the world. Thousands of man-portable anti-aircraft and anti-armor weapons have already been delivered to Ukraine and thousands more are on the way. Joseph Trevithick provides an extensive review of these types of weapons being used by the Ukrainian armed forces. “These Are All the Types of Shoulder-Fired Missiles That Are Pouring Into Ukraine”, The Warzone, March 5, 2022.
Evacuation Corridors – Not So Much. The routes of departure negotiated between the Russians and Ukrainians for civilians trapped in some cities have not provided relief. Civilians attempting to leave via these humanitarian evacuation corridors have come under fire by the Russians resulting in injuries and death to many civilians. Russia has announced another ceasefire in selected regions to allow for civilians to flee contested areas. The humanitarian corridors lead to Belarus and Russia. “Russia sets cease-fire for evacuation but battles continue”, AP News, March 7, 2022.
Rescuing Zelenskyy? If Ukraine falls completely, meaning the Russians get all the way to the western border of Ukraine, then the fate of a government in exile may rest on the now very popular president. However, keeping President Zelenskyy safe could be problematic. Apparently there are some contingency plans afoot – some UK and US special operations folks have gathered in Lithuania and are in a readiness status to pluck Zelenskyy from danger. Reported in The Sun on Saturday (Mar 5).
Russian Diplomats – Flying Home. With airspace closed to Russian aircraft, Moscow sent a diplomatic jet to Dulles to grab officials kicked out of the United States. The aircraft picked up 13 expelled Russian diplomats. There are reports that additional Russian staff members at their D.C. embassy were on the plane as well. The Ilyushin Il-96 plane picked up twelve ‘intelligence operatives’ and a staffer at the United Nations. “Russian plane lands in D.C. to pick up expelled ‘spies'”, Politico, March 5, 2022.
Wargaming the Invasion. In the two weeks prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Marine Corps University ran a four-day wargame to simulate the first several days of a Russian invasion. The current Russian campaign is playing out very closely to the USMC wargame. Read a detailed essay describing the wargame with comparisons to what has happened on the ground in Ukraine – complete with maps. A good read! “The Wargame Before the War: Russia Attacks Ukraine”, War on the Rocks, March 2, 2022.
The Coming Resistance
Government in Exile? Although Ukraine has mounted a very stiff defense of its territory it is likely that Russia will reverse the setbacks experienced in the first two weeks of the war. Eventually Russia will win advance farther into Ukraine – possibly to the western border but at least with the capture of the capital. At that point one would expect the formation of a government in exile and the establishment of an insurgency – one that could last many years. “U.S. and allies quietly prepare for a Ukrainian government-in-exile and a long insurgency”, The Washington Post, March 5, 2022.
A Russian Victory, Followed by a Ukraine Resistance. Andrew Milburn examines the possibility of a future resistance movement by the Ukrainian people once Russia completes its occupation of part or all of Ukraine. Milburn is familiar with insurgencies (and counterinsurgencies as well) – having seen a few during his career as a special operations Marine officer. “How the US can beat Russia in Ukraine without firing a shot”, Task & Purpose, March 5, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Truth and Lies. President Putin has shut down two of the last remaining independent broadcasters in Russia. While the Ukraine conflict is a military battle, it is also an ‘infowar’. And on the information operations battleground, “Vlodymry is kicking Vladimir’s butt.” So says Howard Kurtz, the host of Fox News Media Buzz. Zelensky is doing this in his army style T-shirt, from the streets, and calling in reporters from CNN, NBC, and other media outlets for interviews. Putin sits at one end of a long table with his advisors or reporters at the other end of the table – and seems disconnected with the reality of what is actually happening in Ukraine. Listen to Howard in “Putin crushes the truth while Zelenskyy bravely does interviews”, Fox News, March 4, 2022.
The Twitter War. Tech expertise is being used to undermine the Russians. The “IT Army of Ukraine” is being used to launch cyber attacks against Russia. And a Ukrainian cabinet minister is reaching out to the tech companies for support – these include Google, Meta, Twitter, Apple, YouTube, and more. “Twitter is part of our war effort – Ukraine minister”, BBC News, March 6, 2022.
Putin’s Messaging – Failing. The president of Russia has squandered his information operations organizations with a war that is indefensible in the world of public opinion. His ‘de-Nazification’ narrative is one example of how his IO campaign is off track. His attempts at ‘false flag’ operations was pre-empted by prompt responses from the U.S., UK, and other nations around the world. The prevalence of open-source intelligence websites and Twitter feeds has also contributed to the defeat of Russian propaganda. Social media feeds and instant messaging platforms may spread disinformation but they also spread the truth. Read more in an article by Eleanor Lopatto entitled “The Limits of Putin’s Propaganda”, The Russia File, Wilson Center, March 4, 2022.
Cyber Warfare. The U.S. Senate passed some major cyber security legislation this past week. The use of Telegram has increased as a result of the Ukraine conflict. People from all over the world are using Telegram to organize themselves and resources to support either Russia or Ukraine. Telegram has also become a digital battleground for cyber attacks and fraud with cyber criminals and hacktivists leveraging the messaging app for conflict-related activities.
Rush to the Border. According to multiple sources over 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled west to neighboring countries. The countries of Europe have opened their arms to the refugees. It is the largest movement of people from a conflict in Europe since World War II. “Crisis Ready” has plotted some of the border checkpoints and refugee receptions centers on a map. Border crossing points are plotted on this map by the Humanitarian Data Exchange.
Romania Welcomes Refugees. Thousands of Ukrainians have fled their country, many have gone to Romania. Read more in “Ukrainian refugees are welcomed by volunteers as they enter Romania”, EuroNews, March 5, 2022. View photos of the refugee crossing into Romania in “People fleeing Ukraine cross into Romania”, The Picture Show, NPR, February 27, 2022.
Financial Actions Against Russia. American Express has suspended operations in Russia and Belarus. AE cards will no longer work at merchants or ATMs. Mastercard and Visa have also ceased transactions in Russia.
Baltic States Support Ukraine. The three small nations sitting on the northern border of Russia have reason to be concerned. They could be Putin’s next conquest. And a conventional attack would likely be over very quickly. Of course, being NATO members, a conventional attack across the border by Russian forces could invoke article 5. However, there are many ways to wage war – and Russian hybrid warfare is a weapon in Putin’s arsenal. Read more in “What Baltic leaders think about a war they’ve long warned was coming”, The Washington Post, March 3, 2022.
9 Observations of the War. Marcus Hellyer is a senior analyst for defense economic and capability. He provides some observations of the Ukraine-Russia war in “The end of the beginning? Nine Observations on the war in Ukraine”, The Stategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 7, 2022.
Will to Fight. Ben Connable of the Atlantic Council evaluates the militaries of Ukraine and Russia and explains why the Ukrainian military is exceeding expectations while the Russian military has faced many problems. “Ukrainian and Russian Will to Fight: An Early-War Assessment”, Lawfare Blog, March 4, 2022.
Putin and the Rewriting of History. The Russian president has been busy distorting the meaning of words and conducting a cleansing of the past history of the Soviet Union over the past several years. Recently he has misrepresented the unjust invasion of Ukraine as a humanitarian intervention. This is a noble action to many Russians who see the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a tragedy and who feel that Russian minorities in other countries deserve Russia’s protection. “Putin’s Memory Laws Set the Stage for his War in Ukraine”, Lawfare Blog, February 28, 2022.
Online Event – Humanitarian Support for Ukraine and its People, USAID. “In addition to military aid, the U.S. is rapidly expanding our humanitarian support initiatives to Ukraine and its people. Together with USAID, the State Department recently announced the provision of an additional $54 million in humanitarian relief to Ukraine. This call will provide an overview of this humanitarian support and answer any of your questions about how the Ukrainian diaspora can assist. Please submit your questions through this survey. You can register for the event via the link below:”
Online Event – The Future of Russia: The Oligarchs. Join The Washington Post when it hosts Pavel Khodorkoskiy, the son of a Russian oligarch-turned-dissident who was jailed for a decade after posing a political threat to President Putin. Event takes place on Wednesday, March 9.
Online Event – German Ambassador on Ukraine. Emily Haber will discuss the Ukraine conflict with David Ignatius, a columnist with The Washington Post. The event will take place on Thursday, March 10.
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.
UK Ministry of Defence. Check out the map posted by @DefenceHQ on Twitter.
Ukraine Graphics by Reuters. “Russia Invades Ukraine”
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.
Russian EW Capabilities. “Rah, Rah, Rash Putin?”, Armada International, March 2, 2022.
Arms Transfers to Ukraine. Forum on the Arms Trade.
Image: “Fight for Ukraine”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Twitter, March 5, 2022.