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 offensive by the Russians is continuing at a slow pace. The air campaign is still not coming up to speed. They are slowly massing their forces and appear to be using siege tactics to capture cities. Some regrouping of their forces is taking place while the logistics system pushes supplies up to the forward units. They are conducting a lot of shelling with artillery, rocket, and missile fire causing a lot of structural damage to cities and many civilian deaths. They made limited gains in the Luhansk and Donetsk region. Russian reinforcements are being moved to Ukraine from various locations in Russia.
The mayor of Melitopol was kidnapped by Russians two days ago. A pro-Kremlin element has announced the broadcasting of Russian TV within the city.
Belarus? A lot of attention is focused on Ukraine’s northern neighbor. The Russians have launched air, missile, and ground attacks from Belarus. There is speculation that Belarus may enter the conflict on behalf of Russia. There is also concern that either Russian or Belarus (or both) troops will move south from Brest, Belarus into western Ukraine to interdict the west to east supply routes carrying weapons, supplies, food, and fuel into the interior of Ukraine.
Fight for the Skies. The Russians have started to hit targets in western Ukraine using long-range missiles that are most likely fired from Russia along the borders of Ukraine. Neither the Russian or Ukrainian air force are flying a lot of sorties over Ukraine. Both sides have a significant air defense network setup that makes flying fixed and rotary wing aircraft problematic.
Maritime Activities. There has been no significant naval activity in recent days. Russia has cut off Ukraine from international trade via the Black Sea. The Russian fleet has established a blockade of all of Ukraine’s ports. There is a Russian amphibious force that could land troops in the Odessa region.
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 city has been under shelling attacks that are increasing over time. The Russians are concentrated in the suburbs in the west, northwest, and east.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The Ukrainians are putting up stiff resistance. However, Kharkiv may soon find itself cut off from the interior of Ukraine and unable to be resupplied with ammunition, food, and fuel.
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 have captured the eastern outskirts of the city and are making slow progress in the northern outskirts of the city. There is very little food or water left for those residents trapped in the city. About 400,000 residents are stuck in the city. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warns that people of Mariupol may soon be dying of dehydration, hunger, and lack of access to essential medicines.
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. Although under attack the city has not fallen to the Russians.
Missle Attacks in Western Ukraine. The Yavoriv Military Range near the western city of Lviv suffered up to 8 missile strikes in the early morning hours of Sunday (Mar 13). The attack was 20 kilometers away from the Polish border and 30 kilometers northwest of Lviv. Initial reports on early Sunday (Mar 13) was that there were at least nine are dead and 57 more were injured. Some more recent updates say 35 people died and 134 were wounded. The Russians had warned that the western Ukraine supply lines carrying military material and equipment from westerns nations would be “legitimate targets”. The Russians claimed that it killed 180 ‘mercenaries’ in the missile strikes.
Negotiations. Talks were taking place between Ukrainian and Russian officials on Sunday (Mar 13) with a particular focus on the besieged city of Mariupol. The negotiations are unlikely to result in any position developments. On Monday morning a video conference between the two sides was scheduled to take place.
Refugees. As of March 12, over 2,700,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Almost two million internally displaced people are in western Ukraine. A number of cities have established humanitarian evacuation corridors where thousands are heading westward every day.
Arrests of Intelligence Officials in Moscow. Several senior intelligence officials have been arrested and removed from office in the past few days. President Putin is seeking to blame the security services for the stalled invasion of Ukraine. The head of the FSB’s foreign intelligence branch was arrested along with his deputy. A week ago Putin dismissed several of his senior generals. “Kremlin arrests FSB chiefs in fallout from Ukraine chaos”, The Sunday Times, March 12, 2022.
Is Putin Sane? The fact that Russia has thousands of nuclear warheads has national security gurus questioning the mental state of President Putin. A rational opponent can be deterred or maybe negotiated with. An irrational person could tend to brinkmanship – something that is a bit scary when that person has nuclear weapons at his disposal. “The Question the World is Asking: Is Vladimir Putin Rational?”, 1945, March 13, 2022. Learn more about Putin in this video – “Vladimiar Putin – KGB Agent”, by Mark Felton Productions on YouTube, March 13, 2022, 9 minutes. And more on Putin by an expert on Stalin in “The Weakness of the Despot”, The New Yorker, March 11, 2022.
US Journalist Shot By Russians. Brett Renaud, a 51-years-old reporter, was shot dead by Russians near Kyiv, Ukraine on Sunday, March 13, 2022. He died instantly from a gunshot wound to his neck. At one time Renaud was a contributor to New York Times. Two other journalists were wounded in the attack. “US journalist shot dead by Russian forces near Kyiv”, The Explainer, March 13, 2022.
The Coming Resistance
DIY Drone Warfare. The ability to build a drone to use against an aggressor (occupier) is just a few Google clicks away. For years Russia-backed separatists have weaponized hobby drones in eastern Ukraine. Other terrorist groups have done the same, capitalizing on the technological improvements in the field. A recent article about drones describes the basic core characteristics of small drones: design type, range, payload, engine and power source, and guidance method. “The Stark Reality of DIY Drone Warfare”, OSINT Editor, July 7, 2020.
Biden Admin Nixed SOF UW Training for Ukraine. The administration put cold water on a plan for an increase in the number of U.S. special operations forces (SOF) to conduct unconventional warfare training for Ukrainian soldiers in the months preceding the Russian invasion. The Biden administration didn’t want to provoke Russia. There was a plan to add a few hundred SOF personnel to those already in Ukraine. Senior military officials say the idea was ‘stopped cold’ over the administration’s worries about escalation. U.S. Special Forces and other SOF units have been conducting training in Ukraine since 2014. “Pentagon push to send more trainers to Ukraine was scrapped in December amid White House fears of provoking Russia”, Politico, March 13, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Russia’s Blanket on the Truth. The Russian population, for the most part, believes that Russian troops are in Ukraine to save the Ukrainian people from Nazis, protect ethnic Russians, and dismantle sites where nuclear and chemical weapons are being manufactured. The Russian government has the media locked down so alternative news is hard to come by. “Misinformation colors how Russians are seeing the Ukrainian war”, The Hill, March 11, 2022.
Smartphone War. The landscape of war has shifted ever so slightly now that billions of citizens are in the digital age – linked by a device that is constantly in their hands. “The smartphone mindset is shaping understandings of secrecy, intelligence and war.” Read more on this topic in “Smartphones, digital citizens and open secrets in Russia – Ukraine war”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 14, 2022.
Cyber and Arm-Chair Warriors. The number of cyberattacks being waged by – and on behalf of – Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion is “staggering”. Some 400,000 multinational hackers have volunteered to help counter Russia’s digital attacks. Russia’s cyber warriors are expected to retaliate against countries and companies that are assisting Ukraine. “For the first time in history anyone can join a war: Volunteers join Russia-Ukraine cyber fight”, CNBC, March 14, 2022.
Russia’s Digital Iron Curtain. President Putin is struggling to control the narrative about his war in Ukraine. The Kremlin has already moved to block Facebook and Twitter. However, a growing number of Russian internet users are managing to access outside sources and circumvent the restrictions. Some are turning to specialized circumvention technology, the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), and encrypted messaging apps. One of the fastest growing apps in use in Russia is Signal. “Russian internet users are learning how to beat Putin’s internet crackdown”, CNN.com, March 12, 2022.
Germany and Defense. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia caused a drastic shift in national security policy for the German people. The most immediate and important change is the increased spending on defense programs. Not only will this be used for weapons systems but it will also usher in changes in bureaucracy, doctrine, organization, and training. Read more in “Waking a Sleeping Giant: What’s Next for German Security Policy?”, War on the Rocks, March 9, 2022.
India’s Embassy. One nation has decided to move their embassy staff out of Ukraine to Poland. The government said that it was a temporary measure.
Air Travel Rerouted. The closure of European Union (EU) airspace to Russian airliners has caused Aeroflot and other carriers based in Russia to cancel or reroute the way aircraft travel. Russia has responded with closures to EU aircraft and that too has caused some big changes in routes. Some flights now have between one hour to four hours of extra flight time – which, of course, adds to the operating expenses. Some of the longer routes will cost carriers up to $12,000 extra per hour. (Business Insider, Mar 12, 2022).
Ukraine’s Foreign Legion. While some people are filling up the trains to head west out of Ukraine, there are some who are riding the trains east. There are thousands of men from around the world flowing into Ukraine to help stop the Russians. “Ukraine’s New Foreign Legion Takes the Fight to Russian Forces”, The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2022. (subscription) See also, “Explainer: Is it legal for foreigners to fight for Ukraine?”, Reuters, March 14, 2022.
Russia Asks China for Some Help. News reports indicate that Chinese weapons will soon be flowing into Ukraine for the benefit of Russian forces. Drones are very likely one of the weapons systems to be provided. (The Washington Post, mar 13, 2022) (subscription) See also “Russia asks China for military and economic aid to help in Ukraine”, Axios, March 13, 2022.
Ukraine – Hard Choices Ahead. The Ukrainians are experiencing tactical success on the battlefield. What remains to be seen is if they can translate this tactical success into operational and strategic success. Ultimately, the Russians, with a numerical advantage in personnel, tanks, aircraft, and other categories, are going to be able to grind the Ukrainian resistance down. At some point, the Ukrainian forces in the east may need to draw back to the Dnieper River or get cut off – with an interruption in their lines of supply. Kyiv is on the verge of encirclement and reinforcements are needed to prevent this – or it will be cut off from its lines of supply coming across the western border. And, of course, western Ukraine needs to be defended, or all of Ukraine loses the supplies coming from NATO countries. So, rather than trying to fight the invader everywhere, tough choices must be made by Ukraine to conserve forces to stay in the fight. “Losing and Winning at the Same Time: Understanding Russia’s war against Ukraine”, The Cove, Australian Army, March 13, 2022.
No Fly Zone? Want to put U.S. or allied aircraft over Ukraine? Answer these questions first posed by Peter W. Singer in “The ‘No-Fly Zone Test”, Defense One, March 13, 2022.
Western Strategy for Ukraine. Eliot A. Cohen outlines the three objectives the U.S.-led coalition of liberal-democratic states should pursue in “The Strategy That Can Defeat Putin”, The Atlantic, March 14, 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
UNCN. The Ukraine NGO Coordination Network is an organization that ties together U.S.-based 501c3 organizations and non-profit humanitarian organizations that are working to evacuate and support those in need affected by the Ukraine crisis. https://uncn.one
Maps of Ukraine
Ukrainian Think Tanks – Brussels. Consolidated information on how to help Ukraine from abroad and stay up to date on events.
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 Postage Stamp: “Snake Island”. The Ukraine postal service recently had an artist competition for new stamps. This stamp by artist Boris Groh was a winner. Snake Island was the location of a small Ukrainian Coast Guard station in the Black Sea that was told to surrender by the Russian navy. The epic response by the small Ukrainian garrison was “Russian warship, go **** yourself”.