Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, Ukrainian defense, and NATO.
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Photo: Ukrainian soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 92nd Mechanized Brigade, participate in a platoon live-fire exercise at the Yavoriv military base, Ukraine. During the exercise the unit engaged targets from their BTR-4 armored personnel carrier before dismounting and assaulting the remaining objectives on foot. By U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexander Rector, Dec 6, 2017.
Video: Watch a video of a Ukrainian BTR-4 damage a Russian T-72B3M and destroy a BRM-1K.
Russian Campaign Update. The Russians have been, for several days, regrouping their forces, ironing out their logistics difficulties, and preparing for encircling Kyiv and other large Ukrainian cities. It has been shelling several cities with artillery, rocket, and missile fire. The US DoD announced on Monday (14 Mar) that over 900 missiles have been used by the Russians in the 3-week long war. There has been limited advances on the ground. Ukraine has accused Russia of targeting its agricultural economy by destroying key agricultural machinery plants.
Russian Tanks and Their ‘Cages’. Some Russian soldiers have been adorning their tank cupolas with ‘cages’ that are meant to defeat or diminish the effect of anti-armor weapons. The strange structures most likely do nothing to defend against the anti-armor weapons. Western military analysts are referring to them as “cope cages” – meaning they are a coping mechanism to deal with the prospect of being blown up by a Javelin or NLAW. Read more in “Russian tanks in Ukraine are sprouting cages”, The Economist, March 14, 2022.
Ukrainian Defense. The armed forces of Ukraine continue to offer up stiff resistance but may be forced to do some consolidating and collapsing of their interior lines. Martial law has been extended for another month – going until mid-April.
Fight for the Skies. The Ukrainians continue their pleas for a NATO implemented no-fly zone and for the transfer of the 28 MiG-29s that Poland is offering up. The Ukrainians have at least 60 operational fixed-wing aircraft but are not putting the planes up into the sky very often. Some NATO ISR drones and other surveillance aircraft are in flight patterns very close to the border areas of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Presumably, there is some intelligence data being transferred to the Ukrainians. NATO fighter aircraft are constantly in the air and on guard – many being refueled while flying. Watch footage of a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon get refueled mid-flight over Romanian airspace (DVIDS, Mar 12, 2022, 2 mins)
Jets, MANPADs, and Armed Drones. The fighter jets and close air support aircraft on both sides of the conflict have not been present in the skies over Ukraine as much as one would have thought. This is due to both sides having good air defense weapons. The Ukrainians have been employing the Stinger and other MANPADs very effectively. Watch a DVIDS video of U.S. Marines firing the Stinger during a training exercise in Norway (DVIDS, Mar 11, 2022, 1 min). Drones are playing a big role in the Ukraine War. Both sides are employing them. Ukraine has been using the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 armed drones very effectively. Read more in “Turkey deployed personnel to operate armed drones in targeting Russian military in Ukraine”, Nordic Monitor, March 14, 2022.
Podcast – Understanding No-Fly Zones. The Ukrainian president has been persistently calling for NATO to implement a no-fly zone over his country. Some people across Europe and in the United States support this. NATO and the U.S. are hesitant to take this course of action. A veteran USAF aviator who took part in several no-fly zone operations in the past discusses the practical requirements and challenges of implementing a no-fly zone and how those apply in the airspace over Ukraine. Podcast posted by Modern War Institute at West Point, March 10, 2022, 40 minutes.
No-Fly Zones. A Brief, Concise Explanation. Brad Taylor, a 23-year veteran of U.S. Army Special Forces, provides three reasons why a no-fly zone over Ukraine is not a good idea. “Ukraine’s No-Fly Zone isn’t as Simple as it Sounds”, Brad Taylor Books, March 13, 2022.
Maritime Activities. An amphibious landing force on several ships is still positioned in the Black Sea off the coast of Odessa to land a substantial element of Russian naval infantry. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian shipping continues.
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 last several days have seen only incremental progress on the part of the Russian forces. The capital is projected to be able to hold out for a few more weeks. Longer if the supply lines from the west are not interdicted. The city received some shelling in the early morning hours of Tuesday (15 Mar).
Podcast – What Will the Battle of Kyiv Look Like? John Spencer, a student of urban warfare, argues that the battle for Kyiv is the only battle that matters in the Ukraine War. Listen to his perspective in this podcast posted by the Modern War Institute at West Point on March 14, 2022 (43 minutes).
Sumy. This city on the Russian border in northeast Ukraine is almost surrounded by the Russians. Sumy has been receiving shelling and the Russians occupy the outskirts of the city and part of the city. There is an area southwest of the city that appears to be held by Ukrainian forces. The Russians have interrupted the flow of electricity and supply of humanitarian aid to the area. There are reports that an evacuation corridor period is set for Tuesday (Mar 15) but it is unknown if the Russians will actually allow it to take place.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The city is not quite encircled. It is the recipient of heavy artillery, rocket, and missile fire from the Russians. Social media is deluged with pictures and videos of the destruction by the Russians. Some reports say that around 600 houses have been destroyed by shelling. On Tuesday (15 Mar) the city was also hit by short-range Iskander ballistic missiles launched from Russia.
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. Social media reported that at least 160 cars were able to leave the city on Monday (Mar 14). Food and water is extremely scarce. A humanitarian convoy loaded with 100 tons of food, water, clothes, and with evacuation buses couldn’t reach the city, blocked in Berdyansk. The Russians have denied entry for three days. The Mariupol City Council estimates that over 2,300 people have died in the city as of Monday (Mar 14).
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.
Negotiations. A video conference between the Russians and Ukrainians took place on Monday (Mar 14), no word if any results came of it.
Refugees. As of March 14, over 2,950,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). There are almost 2 million displaced personnel within Ukraine. Read more on the humanitarian impact of the Ukraine War in the daily Situation Report of the United Nations Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Cyber and Information Operations
Russia’s TikTok Warriors. An investigation by VICE News uncovered a coordinated campaign to pay TikTok influencers to post videos pushing pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine. Campaigns are coordinated in secret Telegram channels that directs the influencers what to say, what videos to use, and when to post the video. Some of these influencers have over a million followers. Read more in this detailed report. “Russian TikTok Influencers Are Being Paid to Spread Kremlin Propaganda”, Vice.com, March 11, 2022.
Russia’s Cyber War Explored. Cyber security researchers are puzzled on the somewhat mild effectiveness of the cyber warfare conducted by Russia against Ukraine. They speculate that Russia is holding back the big cyber guns for the opportune moment to employ them. A wide ranging article explores these topics and more in “Why Russian Cyber Dogs Have Mostly Failed to Bark”, War on the Rocks, March 14, 2022.
Online Event – Cyber Law in Ukraine. Listen to some ‘cyber experts’ that met virtually at the U.S. Cyber Command Annual Legal Conference to discuss the international legal implications of cyber operations in the war between Russia and Ukraine. They explored a broad array of legal issues, including the use of force, sovereignty, cyber intervention, neutrality, co-belligerency, and the application of law-of-war targeting rules to cyber operations. (DVIDS, Mar 10, 2022, 35 mins)
Russia’s Foreign Agent Law. It is becoming more difficult to show dissent in Russia or to share true information about the Russian invasion. There are new rules, regulations, and laws that carry a heavy penalty if expressing opposition to Putin’s war. A revision to Russia’s law on “foreign agents” is going to make things worse. “Putin’s Revised Foreign Agent Law Could Enable Mass Repression”, Lawfare Blog, March 14, 2022.
Address to Congress. Ukrainian President Zelensky will be addressing the U.S. Congress on Wednesday (Mar 16). The video call will be on 9 a.m. ET. He will no doubt ask for a no-fly zone and MiG-29s among other things.
Germany’s Air Power. The German defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, has confirmed that Germany will equip its air force with F-35 jets built by the United States. Germany has done a policy upgrade to their defense posture – earmarking a lot more money to their armed forces.
China’s Weapons and Support to Russia? Much reporting has taken place over the last few days on Russia’s request to China for drones and other types military equipment. Tom Rogan, a national security observer, says that “China would appear to take on far more risks in providing Russia with military equipment than it would accrue benefits.” China’s strategic power lies in part in its economic interaction with Europe and the rest of the world. In addition, getting aligned with Russia during this sensitive time is going to affect China’s international prestige and political influence. China does not want to be regarded by Europe as an “ideological adversary and security threat.” “Why China is very unlikely to send military equipment to help Russia in Ukraine”, Washington Examiner, March 14, 2022.
And China’ Choice? One superpower has asked another superpower for assistance – and apparently part of the request is for ready-to-eat meals, which seems to be an odd request from a superpower. The food is one of several things on a Russian shopping list. Whether China responds is still an unknown. The Chinese might be trying to distance themselves from the conflict. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that China may be key to resolving the conflict through its influence and stance on the Ukraine War. “Putin’s war and China’s choice”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 15, 2022.
Who is Putin? Listen to a discussion about the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine and learn a little bit about the leader of the Russian people from Baroness Catherine Ashton and Ambassador Mark Green in this online video. Hindsight Up Front, Wilson Center, YouTube, March 14, 2022.
More Info Snippets. A Fox News reporter was injured while covering events in Ukraine. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was injured near Kyiv on Monday (Mar 14) and has been hospitalized. Over 40,000 (number vary based on news source) Syrians have registered to fight for Russia, as of Monday there are no reports of Syrians actually flying to Russia. There are rumors that U.S. President Biden will head to Europe next week to confer with NATO leaders, with a meeting date of March 23rd. The Washington Examiner is reporting that the leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia will travel to Kyiv on Tuesday (Mar 15) to express the European Union’s “unequivocal support” for Ukraine. The U.S. and EU are trying to wean off Russian energy. The Ukraine War has interrupted key supply chains that will affect the worldwide economy. A US astronaut is nearing completion of his months long stay on the International Space Station – will the Russians bring him back to earth?
Getting IW Right. Dr. Jonathan Schroden writes about the importance of integrating irregular warfare into the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS). Especially relevant now that we are experiencing the results of decades of Russian hybrid warfare and the prospect of U.S. special operations forces conducting unconventional warfare in eastern Europe and beyond. “Irregular Warfare: Getting IW Right in the Upcoming National Defense Strategy”, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 14, 2022.
Podcast – How Ukraine is Changing European Security. Two members of the Brookings Institution are interviewed on their thoughts on how the Ukraine War is reshaping Europe’s approach to security affairs. The Lawfare Blog, March 14, 2022, one hour.
The Ukrainian Disaster. The army that everyone thought was 10 feet tall seems a bit diminished after three weeks of war in Ukraine. The Chief of the Russian General Staff wrote a famous article in 2013 on how to overthrow governments in nearby countries. In 2014, Russia took over Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. This became known as the “Gerasimov doctrine”. It was a good theory until 2022 – Gerasimov’s regime change ideas have failed dismally in Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Read the ‘why’ in “General Valery Gerasimov’s Great Ukrainian Disaster”, Real Clear Defense, March 14, 2022.
Proxy War. Some people are characterizing the war in Ukraine as a proxy war between the United States and Russian. A lot of people disagree with that ‘label’. Michel Wyss, of the Swiss Armed forces Military Academy, argues that a proxy war is already taking shape and warns of the many risks and dangers this may entail. “Is Europe Prepared for a Proxy War With Russia?”, Lawfare Blog, March 13, 2022.
Calling Putin’s Bluff. The Putin threat of nuclear war has prevented the U.S., NATO, and other nations from intervening with military force on Ukraine’s behalf. Kevin R. James argues that the stiff economic warfare against Russia may influence the course of events in the Ukraine War but that eventually Russia will prevail. And then the West will have to contend with an economically damaged but victorious Russia. The West will then have to face up to further aggression from Russia – and probably with military forces. So James argues that the time for action is now. “The case for direct military intervention in Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), March 15, 2022.
Regime Change – In Russia. Putin’s decision to go to war has made him vulnerable to both popular and elite discontent in Russia. The economic downturn will erode away his support with the general population. As news filters out about the Ukraine disaster his support will fade even more. Within the inner circles of power concern will build on the road the Putin has taken the country down. It is not far-fetched to envision some sort of ‘regime change’ taking place over the next few months. “Regime Change, But for Whom”, by Philip Wasielewski, Small Wars Journal, 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
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/.
UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation
Ukrainian Think Tanks – Brussels. Consolidated information on how to help Ukraine from abroad and stay up to date on events.
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.
Photo: Ukrainian soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 92nd Mechanized Brigade, participate in a platoon live-fire exercise at the Yavoriv military base, Ukraine. During the exercise the unit engaged targets from their BTR-4 armored personnel carrier before dismounting and assaulting the remaining objectives on foot. By U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexander Rector – https://www.flickr.com/photos/7armyjmtc/38816284892/in/dateposted/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64643052