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. Most military analysts believe that the offensive to take Kyiv will begin in the next 24-96 hours. The Ukrainian government estimates that 12,000 Russian soldiers have died. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the number is between 2,000 and 4,000 killed. Whatever the figure is, it is higher than many expected, and the weekly losses have overtaken the rate the Soviets experienced in Afghanistan. The Russians have fired nearly 670 missiles at targets in Ukraine, half from Russia and the other half from inside Ukraine. About 70 missiles have been fired from Belarus and a few coming from the Black Sea. The conditions of the terrain over the next six weeks will not be conducive to off-road traffic – given the melting snow and muddy conditions. In addition to road conditions, inept planning and execution, and stiff resistance by the Ukrainians, the Russian logistics system seems to be lacking in providing supplies, ammunition, and fuel for the frontline units.
Fight for the Skies. The absence of the Russian air force in this conflict continues to be the topic of speculation. There was no ‘shock and awe’ campaign to destroy the Ukrainian aircraft on the ground and the Ukrainian air defense system is still operational. Experts had expected the invaders to use their planes to pick off Ukraine’s forces at will. In the last ten years the Russians have gained around 440 new fixed-wing aircraft as well as thousands of drones. The Russians have held back the air force over the past two weeks. “The curious case of Russian’s missing air force”, The Economist, March 8, 2022.
Maritime Activities. There has been relatively no maritime activity in recent days. There are about 10 to 11 LSTs amphibious ships in the Odessa region. In the Baltic Sea region, NATO is on the frontlines with the Russians. A precondition for decisive ground action against Russia is control of the Baltic Sea and the air above it. With Putin’s Russia on the near horizon, Baltic countries must organize in anticipation of a threat. But the area’s complex geography creates a challenge when confronting the Great Bear. “Solve the Baltic’s Geography Problem”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, March 2018.
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. The routes out of the city for evacuation of civilians are likely going to close in the next 24 hours, if it has not happened already. That would also affect resupplying the city with food, ammunition, weapons, and reinforcements as well. The city’s infrastructure remains functional in some capacity. Electricity and communications are still working. Traffic between the left and right banks of the Dnieper River are still flowing over two bridges. Currently the Russians hold positions to the west, northwest, and east of the city. The Russians are closer to the city in the west and northwest, farther away in the east.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The Russians have not yet encircled the city. Any forays into the city by the Russians have been rebuffed. It is experiencing heavy shelling by the Russians.
Mariupol. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is under siege by the Russians and isolated. This city is situated along the coastal road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. Evacuation of civilians through the humanitarian corridors could not be accomplished. In addition, humanitarian aid could not enter the city. The civilians are in a desperate situation, lacking food and other essentials necessary for survival. Mariupol is completely disconnected from the electrical grid – and has been since March 2nd. The city is not completely surrounded at this time. The Russians have continued shelling, but are not advancing, likely waiting on reinforcements and supplies.
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. March 8th saw the city experiencing some heavy shelling. Odessa, the third largest Ukrainian city, has still not been attacked.
Refugees and IDPs. There are thousands and thousands of internally displaced persons. Some have fled to western Ukraine. Over 2 million refugees have crossed the border into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, or Moldova. The western city of Lviv has reached its capacity to house displaced people. Those who arrive are directed to ‘mobile centers for temporary stay’.
How are the Ukrainians Doing? MG (Ret.) Mike Repass, former commander of Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR), is interviewed by Howard Altman (Managing Editor of Military Times), about how the Ukrainians are fighting against the Russians. He says the Ukrainians have received good training from NATO conventional and special operations forces trainers over the past several years. “How long can Ukrainians keep up the fight?“, Military Times, March 7, 2022.
Stingers in Ukraine. The Russian helicopters are getting shot down by Ukrainian MANPADS and surface-to-air missiles. One of the helicopters used by the Russians is the Mi-24 gunship, and despite its armor, it has proven vulnerable to Ukrainian air defenses. Read “Death by Stinger: How Russia’s Helicopters Are Getting Torched in Ukraine”, 1945, March 7, 2022.
Aeroflot – Staying Home. The Russian flag carrier Aeroflot is cancelling almost all of its international flights – except those flights going to nearby Belarus. Sabre, the global distribution system that processes ticket purchases, has removed Aeroflot from its system. “Aeroflot cancels international flights”, flightradar24, March 5, 2022.
Thermobaric Weapons. There are numerous reports of the deployment of the Russian TOS-1A thermobaric multiple rocket launcher. These weapons are intended for mass casualty and mass destruction. Learn more in “What Are the Thermobaric Weapons Russia is Accused of Using in Ukraine?”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 7, 2022.
The Coming Resistance
TCCC in Ukrainian. The Tactical Combat Casualty Course has been translated into Ukrainian. The course was developed by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT). The document was translated by the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group (CSMSG). The Ukrainian TCCC document can be downloaded at this link.
Fight Like a Ukrainian. The conventional army of Russia is vastly superior in numbers of personnel and quantity of airplanes, helicopters, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other weapons. To go toe to toe with the Russians in a conventional fight is not to Ukraine’s advantage. However, irregular warfare against convoys and rear echelon units and a defense of the urban centers is where the advantage goes to the Ukrainians. Mark Kimmit, a retired brigadier general, says that the Ukrainian military needs the weapons and tactics of an irregular conflict, not a conventional war. “Ukraine, Fight Your Fight – Not Their Fight”, Defense One, March 7, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
RT America – Cancelled! A US cable news channel controlled by the Russian government is ceasing production and laying off all its employees. DirecTV – the news channel’s biggest distributor – dropped the channel on Tuesday. And Roku has done the same as well. RT (or Russia Today) has been banned in Canada, Australia, and by the European Union. “Kremlin’s US News Network RT America Shutters in Wake of Ukraine Invasion”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 7, 2022.
Polish MiG-29s – On and Off Again. For a few weeks one of the big topics of conversation was the possibility that Polish fighter jets would be transferred to Ukraine. Various statements by NATO, the U.S., and Poland have been confusing and perplexing. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that plans for Poland to send fighter jets to Ukraine have gotten “the green light” from the U.S. Then the denials surfaced. But once again, the MiGs are in the news.
On Tuesday the various news outlets reported that Polish MiG-29s would be transferred to U.S. control at Ramstein AB in Germany and ultimately transferred to Ukraine. This according to a news announcement by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S., which had seemed supportive of the idea of Poland transferring the jets to Ukraine, immediately backtracked on the Polish proposal. It seems, at least from what is known now, that the U.S. was okay with Poland transferring jets to Ukraine; but not that enthused of having them turned over to the U.S. and then flown to Ukraine. Apparently the U.S. was okay with Poland assuming the risk of Russian retaliation; but not so keen on experiencing that itself. (Surely there is more to come out about this story!)
“Poland, after consultations between the President and the Government, are ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, March 8, 2022
Oil and Big Macs. President Biden announced that the United States would no longer buy oil from Russia. The U.S. is joining other nations around the world in this move. Russia depends on the revenue generated with the shipment of gas and oil for its economy. Other nations depend on Russia’s oil as well, so it isn’t a one way street. Under the category of hitting Russia ‘Where it Hurts’: McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Coca-Cola will be pausing sales in Russia after coming under pressure to respond to the invasion of Ukraine.
Snippets of News. The KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft that were going to Greece (announced on Mar 8) will now be going to Spandahlem, Germany. The Ukraine international legion is now 20,000 men strong. The ‘internationals’ will be able to obtain Ukrainian citizenship if they want it. Read about the factors behind the newly found desire of Europe to confront Putin. The United Nations watchdog has lost contact with the safeguards monitoring systems at Chornobyl. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (Mar 9) the systems have stopped transmitting data. Liam Collins points out four factors that have contributed to the Ukrainian military going from ‘decrepit’ in 2014 to ‘surprisingly strong’.
SOF in Ukraine – And International Legal Considerations. The Russians are using a host of specialized units – intelligence and military in their invasion of Ukraine. Some are wearing uniforms while others are not. There are ‘irregulars’ on the Ukraine side that are just barely wearing identifiable markings as a combatant. There is some international conventions that cover these circumstances. Ken Watkin, a retired Canadian officer, explains more in “Special Forces, Unprivileged Belligerency, and the War in the Shadows”, Articles of War, Lieber Institute West Point, March 8, 2022.
Nukes – Saving Putin from Defeat? If Russia didn’t have nuclear weapons the situation in Ukraine and Europe would be vastly different. Certainly there would be a ‘no fly zone’. And Polish MiGs would likely already had been transferred to Ukraine. And a number of other escalatory actions would likely have been take by NATO. But Putin has his nukes and he has threatened to use them. “Can Ukraine be saved without triggering a nuclear response?”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 9, 2022.
The End of Putin? In a long, detailed essay Brian E. Frydenborg lays out the reasons why Putin has gone too far – not just in the eyes of the world but those of the Russian people. He examines the many things that have gone wrong with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and believes that the Russian people will lay the blame fully on Putin’s doorstep. “The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt”, Small Wars Journal, March 8, 2022.
“For too long, Russians have fed Putin’s maniacal, anachronistic ambitions; now is the time for them to act—for soldiers to inspire citizens and citizens to inspire soldiers—to free the world of a madman; waiting may prove fatal for the Ukrainian state and far too many Ukrainians and Russians fighting in the current tragedy created by Putin. This war in Ukraine is not the first tragedy foisted upon the world by Vladimir Vladimirovich, but let us all—especially the Russian Army and people—ensure it will be his very last.”
Troop to Task Estimate. Dr. Ben Connable, a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University provides us with a detailed examination of the Russian forces needed to accomplish the strategic goals and objectives of Putin. “Russian Occupation of Ukraine Troop-to-Task Estimate”, Real Clear Defense, March 9, 2022.
Countering Russia. The U.S. and Europe are banking on international censure and the costs of a long war will convince Putin that he should halt his offensive and pull back from the newly conquered territories of the Russian army. Consideration should be given to additional measures: like cyber, electromagnetic, and information operations. And some attention should be given to supporting a post-invasion resistance movement. Andrew Milburn outlines additional steps to think about in “Checking Putin: How to Counter Russia in Ukraine”, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 8, 2022.
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
Maps of 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.
UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation
Photo: A U.S. Paratrooper assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, introduces a Polish soldier to a M110A1 squad designated marksman rifle during a training event in Zamość, Poland, Feb. 28, 2022. The 82nd Airborne Division is currently deployed to assure our Allies by providing a host of unique capabilities and conducting a wide range of missions that are scalable and tailorable to mission requirements. (photo by Sgt. Claudia Nix)