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 Russians have failed to reach the initial goal of quickly subduing Ukraine. Two weeks into Russia’s attempted conquest has yielded a quagmire that will require many more troops to get out of. The Russians are now bogged down in a war of attrition. The conflict has gone from a war of movement to one of urban conflict – with the Russians using siege tactics with their reliance on artillery and rocket assaults. The Center for European Policy Analysis provides an update on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Putin’s Invaders Stall”, CEPA, March 9, 2022.
There are many reports of civilian casualties in cities being caused by the Russians who are employing explosive weapons with a wide impact area. A March 9th article by Aljazeera outlines how Ukraine mobilized as a country while Russia overreached. In the last week or so there have been numerous articles on the Russians recruiting Syrians to fight for them in Ukraine.
Fight for the Skies. A constant theme in the world’s press about the Russian air force is how badly it has performed. There are many reasons advanced on why it has not been seen at strength in the Ukraine conflict. Thomas Newdick writes about the increasing questions about the competency and role of the Russian Aerospace Forces. “After an Abysmal Start, Here is How Russia’s Application of Airpower in Ukraine Could Evolve”, The Warzone, March 9, 2022. There has been a decrease in Russian air activity the past few days, most likely due to the Ukrainian air defenses. Kris Osborn writing in the Warrior Maven (Mar 3) asks “Why Can’t Russian Control the Sky?”. Ukrainian air activity has decreased as well.
The Drones. Russian electronic warfare (EW) capabilities may be hampering Ukrainian drone activities. There are numerous reports about the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone that has been causing some significant damage to Russian forces. However, the Ukrainians have their own drones as well – a reconnaissance drone called Spectre and an armed drone named the Punisher. “Ukraine’s small combat drone “The Punisher” destroys Russian supply lines”, Interesting Engineering, March 7, 2022.
Maritime Activities. A Russian ship that fired on a small Ukrainian coast guard garrison on Snake Island has been a target of Ukrainian shelling during an exchange of rockets recently on Monday. (New York Post, Mar 8, 2022). There are reports that amphibious ships off the coast of Odessa have returned to ports in nearby Crimea.
Ground Fight. As temperatures warm in the coming weeks the ground will begin to thaw out, in many instances turning into a muddy situation for those Russian vehicles attempting off road movement. The weather will continue to channelize Russian ground movement on roads.
And the Convoy? The Russian convoy (or groups of convoys) followed by the international press has made little progress over the past few weeks and has suffered from air attacks and ambushes. However, some reports indicate that it has dispersed, likely moving into the staging locations for a thrust into Kyiv. Maxar Technologies, a satellite imagery firm, says that parts of the convoy have ‘repositioned’ in forests, while other parts are now parked in roadways in residential areas. The convoy reportedly has reinforcements, supply, fuel, artillery, and food for the forward units of Russia.
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. Currently there are Russian forces to the west, northwest, and east of the city. The long Russian resupply column moving towards Kyiv has reportedly dispersed and the elements of the convoy are moving to frontline staging areas. Many national security observers anticipate a big push by the Russians for Kyiv in the next few days. More than half the city’s 4 million occupants have left the city.
Mariupol. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is under siege by the Russians. This city of 430,000 is situated along the coastal road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. Some reports say the city is completely encircled by the Russians and it is under constant shelling. The humanitarian situation is dire. Humanitarian aid has not been able to reach the city for six days. Pictures posted by the news media and on social platforms show a lot of devastation in the city.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The city continues to suffer from heavy Russian shelling; however the Ukrainians are putting up stiff resistance. An experimental nuclear reactor facility in Kharkiv was struck damaging the exterior of buildings and some laboratories.
Other Cities Under Attack. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River close to the coast of the Black Sea, the city of 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.
Graphic Assessments. The Institute for the Study of War provides a daily “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment” and graphic map of areas controlled or under the influence of Russian forces. Read the one for March 10. View a graphic map depicting Ukrainian and Russian troop disposition for March 10th by @JominiW (Twitter).
Exodus from Ukraine. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that as of Thursday (Mar 10), 2.3 million refugees have departed Ukraine. The western city of Lviv currently has 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Other western cities are also hosting IDPs in the thousands. The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine issued a security alert entitled Ukraine Land Border Crossing Options (Mar 9, 2022). Many of the Ukrainians crossing the western border of Ukraine are arriving at the crossings on trains from the interior cities of Ukraine. An in-depth article describes the train operation in “On board the mobile command that’s keeping Ukraine’s trains running”, Business Insider, March 4, 2022.
Evacuation Routes. The ‘humanitarian corridors’ from Mariupol and Volnovakha remain completely blocked due to Russian fire. The Russians have proposed several evacuation routes that lead . . . to Russia.
Negotiations. Senior officials from the Russian and Ukrainian governments met in Antalya, Turkey on Thursday (Mar 10). No real progress was made. Russian demands include that Ukraine adopt a neutral status, recognition of Crimea as Russian, the entire Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent, and the ‘demilitarization’ and ‘denazification’ of Ukraine.
Some Private Sector Help. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that so far, 20,000 volunteers from 52 different countries have signed up to serve in Ukraine in its International units. There are about 3,000 U.S. citizens who are taking that journey. A former Special Forces officer and ‘overseas contractor’, Mykel Hawke, is one of several individuals is interviewed about Americans ‘working’ in Ukraine. “Private military firms see demand in Ukraine war”, BBC News, March 9, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Bio Weapons Labs? The Kremlin is intentionally spreading outright lies that the United States and Ukraine are conducting chemical and biological weapons activities in Ukraine. The Russian claims are a false pretext to justify its invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. State Department has issued a statement disputing the Russian claims. “The Kremlin’s Allegations of Chemical and Biological Weapons Laboratories in Ukraine”, U.S. Department of State, March 9, 2022. (Shades of 2003?) See also “Russia and China Falsely Accusing Use of Biological Weapons Against Russians, Say Officials”, U.S. Department of Defense, March 10, 2022.
Anti-Propaganda Text Messages. Anonymous groups have gone on the offensive against Russia . . . sending text messages to millions of phones, hijacking camera feeds, and interrupting web services. (HS Today, Mar 9, 2022).
Failure of Russian’s IO Machine. For decades the Russian information operations machine has been eating the lunch of the western nations. However, something has gone amiss. A few critical errors have brought down Russian’s complex and objectively brilliant war of influence in the west. Tom Southern informs us on this topic in “The Spectacular Collapse of Putin’s Disinformation Machinery”, Wired, March 10, 2022.
Cyber Escalation? While the world is worried about an escalation between NATO and Russia resulting in nuclear weapons, it should also consider the effects of an increase in offensive cyber activities. Moscow may very well consider responding to the West’s support to Ukraine with an increase in cyber attacks. Jason Healey explores this topic in “Preventing Cyber Escalation in Ukraine and After”, War on the Rocks, March 9, 2022.
Shortwave Radios. Using lower transmission frequencies, shortwave radio signals can travel thousands of miles. This means news outlet like BBC can broadcast from a safe distance into a conflict zone without needing physical infrastructure. Low frequency signals reach into buildings and basements better, even when the transmitters are from far away. Shortwave radio receivers are power efficient, you can run a short-wave capable radio on car batteries for days. And wind-up or solar-powered shortwave radio receivers are available as well. Read more in “Shortwave radio in Ukraine: why revisiting old-school technology makes sense in a war”, The Conversation, March 9, 2022.
MiG-29s. The drama around Polish MiG-29s to be given to Ukraine has caused a bit of a black eye for the United States. Some question whether there are airbases in Ukraine that the MiGs can operate from. According to one article any highway will do. “Watch Fighter Jets Take Off and Land from a Freeway”, Popular Mechanics, May 26, 2016. U.S. defense officials testifying before Congress faced withering questions on Thursday (Mar 10) about the U.S. backtracking on Polish MiG-29s being transferred to Ukraine. “Frustrated lawmakers blast stalled transfer of European aircraft to Ukraine”, Defense News, March 10, 2022.
Starstreaks to Ukraine? Britain has been providing Ukraine with a variety of weapons to include numerous Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weponss (NLAW). Now you can add the Starstreak anti-air missile to that list of weapons. The Starstreak is a high-velocity missile designed to provide air defense against helicopters, low-flying fixed wing, and UAVs out to a range of 4 miles. There are vehicle mounted and lightweight shoulder fired configurations of the weapon. The weapons are coming from the UK’s weapons stockpiles. “Britain mulls giving ‘Starstreak’ air defense weapons to Ukraine”, Defense News, March 9, 2022.
Air Defense Weapons for Ukraine? With the debacle over the Polish MiG-29s fading in the news there are now reports that the Pentagon may come up with an alternative plan that would assist the Ukrainians in contesting ownership of the skies. The Stinger, Starstreak, and other short-range anti-aircraft missiles are taking a toll on Russian aircraft. However, larger, more sophisticated air defense systems are needed that will get above the 10,000 foot level. “U.S., Allies Look at Sending Soviet-Designed Air-Defense Systems to Ukraine”, The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2022. (subscription). The Pentagon has said that Patriot missile systems would not be sent to Ukraine.
U.S. Aid Grows. The White House asked for $6.4 billion on February 25th to assist Ukraine and East European nations. This past week the aid package seems to have grown to over $13 billion. The bill includes about $6.5 billion for DoD, nearly $4 billion for DoS, and almost $3 billion for USAID. “Biden’s Ukraine aid package is getting super-sized by Congress”, Defense News, March 9, 2022.
Sweden Spending More on Defense. If Putin thought that invading Ukraine would in some way weaken NATO then he miscalculated. NATO is stronger than ever and ‘neutral’ countries like Finland and Sweden are being pushed ever closer to NATO. In addition, they are upping how much they spend on defense. “Sweden to Raise Military Spending Over Ukraine War”, The Defense Post, March 10, 2022.
Occupation with No Political Victory. Russia has misjudged how long the conquest of Ukraine will take. It hasn’t taken in account the costs of a long-term occupation. “Miscaluation and Myopia in Moscow: Understanding Russia’s Regime Change Folly”, by Benjamin Desnison, Modern War Institute, March 9, 2022.
Taking Out Putin. Many commentators have expressed the hope that Putin would be removed from office through a military coup, internal political forces, or other means. Sometimes mentioned are assassination attempts against Putin. A week ago Senator Lindsey Graham stated that the only way to end the conflict is to have Putin removed. There was a lot of moral outrage over his comments, but not a lot of discussion as to what actual effect Putin’s removal would have. Brad Taylor, a book author and a veteran of 22 years in U.S. Army Special Forces, examines this topic in “A Simple Primer on Counter-Leadership Targeting”, March 6, 2022.
Thursday, March 10. The War to Destroy a State: Russia’s Invasion and Ukraine’s Response. Sergiy Kudelia, Associate Professor of Political Science, Baylor University, discusses the Russia Ukraine crises. This online event will be hosted by the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (ASIS) and is open to the public.
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. Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker provides fuel to an F15E Strike Eagle over Eastern Europe, Feb. 26, 2022. The 100th Aerial Refueling Wing assigned to Royal Air Force Mildenhall is currently operating missions out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, providing 24-hour support to NATO allies and partners. (U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Edgar Grimaldo)