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 expanded their aerial attacks against more cities across Ukraine. The large city of Dnipro in central Ukraine and Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine were attacked by aircraft and missiles. The Russians have not made any significant advances in the past 48 hours; although they have stepped up their attacks over the March 11th period. A senior defense official held a ‘background briefing’ at the Pentagon on Friday, March 11, 2022 providing some details on the tactical situation on the ground in Ukraine.
And Belarus? There are a significant number of forces gathered around the Brest region. There is always the possibility that Belarus forces could move from that area (located in southwest Belarus) south into western Ukraine to cut off the supply routes of weapons being sent by Western nations. Something to keep an eye on.
Fight for the Skies. Two airfields in western Ukraine, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, were hit by long-range missiles. There have not been many attacks against targets in the west. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported earlier today that Russia launched two airstrikes inside Belarus. It is believed that this will be used as an incident to prompt Belarus to enter the conflict. Ukraine is looking for more air defense weapons from the West.
Maritime Activities. No news on this front.
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. Russian forces are slowly moving forward in their positions. It is believed that the Russians will attack the capital city of Kyiv in the next several days. It is anticipated that the city will be encircled in the next two weeks and that the battle for the Ukrainian capital could take one month. Heavy fighting is occurring in the areas outside of Kyiv – including Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. It continues to be under heavy shelling but Ukrainian forces are holding 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 city is considered to be completely cut off by the Russians – and has been for probably a week. Food, fuel, and water are extremely short and the humanitarian condition is dire. Mass graves are now being used in the city. The Russians failed to occupy this city in 2014; so they will likely want to ensure that they get control of this strategic city this time around.
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. The Russians are continuing their efforts to encroach further into the city limits. Several buildings were on fire as a result of shelling in the past 24 hours.
Dnipro. This city along the Dnieper River has been receiving early morning aerial attacks the last few nights. It will likely be a Russian target in the weeks to come.
Refugees. Are the European countries getting to the stressing point on receiving Ukrainian refugees? They have taken in 2.5 million over the past two weeks. How many more can they take in before things become problematic? Warsaw and Krakow are full and the train stations are maxed out. Check out this map to see where the refugees are going. There are about 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine.
Negotiations – Nothing Achieved. Russia seems intent on a military solution for Ukraine – despite the death of Russian soldiers on the battlefield, stiff resistance by Ukraine, the heavy costs to Russia’s economy, and the plummeting stature of Russia in the opinion of the world. The high-level talks in Turkey held on Thursday confirm that the Russians have firm goals in sight and feel that they can achieve all of their strategic objectives. “Talks Stall as Russian Army Besieges Ukrainian Cities”, National Interest, March 12, 2022.
Maps of Conflict. This map by David Batashvili provides a graphic display of the front line positions and axes of advance of the Russians in Ukraine. The Institute for the Study of War has posted its Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment for March 11th. It includes a good graphic of the disposition of forces in Ukraine. Euromaidan Press (UA) has posted its March 12, 2022 SITMAP. The UK Ministry of Defence has posted an updated (Mar 12th) situation map.
MiG-29 Fiasco. The U.S. decision to deny 28 Polish fighter jets to Ukraine is putting the spokespersons for the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense into a difficult position. They are attempting to explain why Poland sending MiG-29s to Ukraine is ‘a good idea’ but that the U.S. receiving the jet fighters from Poland at Ramstein Air Base and then sending them to Ukraine is ‘a bad idea’. President Biden personally vetoed the delivery of the jets. Vice President Harris was in Poland to ‘patch things up’. She sidestepped questions about the MiG-29s with reporters. “The Ukraine MiG-29 Fiasco Gets Worse”, The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2022. (subscription).
Ukrainian Women in the Fight. About 15% of the Ukrainian armed forces are women. Since the invasion by Russia many more women are joining in the volunteer resistance groups as well. “Ukrainian women are showing the world what they’re made of in the fight against Russia”, Task & Purpose, March 9, 2022.
Google’s Air Raid Function. On March 10, Google announced its “Air Raid Alerts” system for Android. The firm is building a client into the OS for the government’s air raid alert system. The feature is available via Google Play Services. (ARS Technica, Mar 10, 2022).
U.S. Volunteers for Ukraine. Jeff Schogol writes about Americans who have a desire to assist Ukraine in the fight against Russia. “In search of a just war: Why American veterans are answering a call to serve in Ukraine”, Task & Purpose, March 9, 2022.
U.S. Vets on Urban Combat. Several U.S. combat veterans are interviewed on what Ukraine needs to do to defeat the Russians. “Urban combat veterans share lessons for Ukraine fight”, Military Times, March 11, 2022.
Cyber and Info Ops
False Flag Activities? There are reports that Russia may attempt two separate false flag events in the near future. The first is an alleged bombing of villages in Belarus by Ukrainian aircraft. The second is an alleged terrorist act at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The United Nations announced on Friday that it had no evidence Ukraine had a biological weapons program. Washington and its allies accused Russia of spreading the unproven claim as a possible prelude to launching its own biological or chemical attacks.
Media Platform Actions. The Tow Center, posted on the Columbia Journalism Review, is tracking actions taken by social media and news platforms against Russia. “A Platform and Publishers Timeline of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine”.
Russia’s Disinformation Campaign. Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, multiple social media platforms made moves to limit the activities of Russia’s info ops organizations. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter announced measures to limit Russia’s disinformation activities. Platforms have become more adept at handling this disinformation flow since the interference by Russia in the 2016 U.S. elections. “Russia is having less success at spreading social media disinformation (for now)“, NiemanLab, March 9, 2022.
Russia’s Media – Going Off Message? There may be some cracks in the internal Russian propaganda machine. Russians are starting to question the invasion of Ukraine on the air. “Even Russia’s Kremlin-backed media is going off message and beginning to question Putin’s war on Ukraine”, Fortune.com, March 11, 2022.
Volunteer Evac Groups. A number of volunteer veteran organizations formed up in the chaotic days of the Kabul airlift in mid-August 2021 to assist Afghans attempting to get on the Kabul airport and catch an evacuation flight out of Afghanistan. Many of the volunteers from these Afghan Evac groups are now helping Ukrainians flee to the western border into neighboring countries. Read more in a article by Beth Bailey – “Afghanistan evacuation organizations use lessons learned to assist Ukraine refugees”, Washington Examiner, March 10, 2022.
Trade Relations With Russia. The European Union and the United States will be ending normal trade relations with Russia. Tariffs on Russian goods will be raised. It appears that Russia will soon be denied the ability to borrow money from institutions like the IMF and World Bank.
U.S. Weapons Assistance – Speeding up the Process? The process that the U.S. uses to pass on weapons to allies in times of crisis is laboriously slow and bureaucratic. However, it appears the Pentagon is taking steps to speed up the delivery of weapons to Ukraine with the reactivation of a special team that has accomplished this task in the past. “Pentagon revives team to speed arms to Ukraine and allies, sources say”, Reuters.com, March 11, 2022.
NATO Membership? The aim of Putin to enhance Russia’s strategic position versus the North Atlantic Treaty Organization seems to be backfiring. The invasion of Ukraine was to weaken the NATO alliance and improve Russia’s security position. It isn’t working out that way. Finland and Sweden, long neutral countries, are looking hard at the benefits of NATO membership. “Complex – but Promising – Prospects as Finland and Sweden Mull NATO Membership”, RAND Corporation, March 3, 2022.
Merchant Ships and Neutrality. The French recently seized a Russian merchant ship at sea, using the the sanction measures recently instituted as a legal mechanism. This detention raises some questions. During armed conflict, can neutral states seize belligerent merchant vessels on the high seas and retain their neutral status? Cmdr. Michael Petta, U.S. Coast Guard, is a professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College. He provides his thoughts on this maritime legal issue. “The Seizure of a Russian Merchant Vessel Raises Questions about Neutrality”, Lawfare Blog, March 8, 2022.
A Slow Advance – No Surprise. Russia doesn’t wage war elegantly. It is slow and ponderous. The last few weeks in Ukraine have come as no surprise to some who study the Russian way of war. A former Marine Corps officer provides an analysis of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through the U.S. military’s three Warfighting Factors (time, space, and force); and the six Warfighting Functions (command and control, intelligence, fire support, movement and maneuver, sustainment, and force protection). “A Marine special ops commander explains why Russia’s stalled advance in Ukraine is no surprise”, Task & Purpose, March 10, 2022.
Urban Combat – Not a Russian Thing. The combined-arms doctrine followed by the Russian army has generally advised against making cities primary objectives. It has the stance that if the enemy’s main force in the field is destroyed, then his cities will surrender. Putin’s plan for a quick defeat of Ukraine’s military in the field and the decapitation of the Ukraine government did not work out. Now his army must deal with the difficult task of combat in built-up cities. “Russia Doesn’t Train Troops for Urban Warfare. It’s About to Learn the Consequences in Ukraine”, Military.com, March 8, 2022.
Sanctioning Russia. Jane Vaynman and Tristan A. Volpe had done some heavy thinking when they wrote this article about the sanctions applied by Western governments and how they will influence the ‘off ramp’ that Putin may take . . . if he does. “Making Coercion Work Against Russia?”, War on the Rocks, March 11, 2022.
No Off Ramp? When the Russian invasion took place two weeks ago most national security observers predicted a quick victory by the Russians, a temporary cessation of the conflict, and a period of negotiations. However, the stiff resistance by the Ukrainians has resulted in an outpouring of support for Ukraine, significant punitive action (sanctions, financial measures, etc.), and rapid resupply of needed defensive weapons to Ukraine. So now it appears that Ukraine and Russia are in for a long, hard slog with no end in sight. “No off-ramps: U.S. and European officials don’t see a clear endgame in Ukraine”, The Washington Post, March 10, 2022.
Understanding Putin’s Decision to Invade. Western governments are trying to determine why the Russian president decided to invade Ukraine. Perhaps, despite the months long posturing about Ukraine, he didn’t really plan to invade? Chris Harrington notes that after the Russians moved ‘peacekeeping forces’ into the two separatist regions of Ukraine, there was a partial mobilization of reservists in Ukraine. Drawing on parallels to the mobilizations of World War I, he suggests that Putin reacted to the mobilizations and went on the offense before his Russian army was ready. “Why Putin Pulled the Trigger”, Georgetown Security Studies Review, March 8, 2022.
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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: Ukraine soldier, courtesy of Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs.