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 Russian offensive seems to have stalled out due to logistics and other factors. It seems they don’t have the numbers of forces on the ground for a sustained offensive. In time, the necessary forces and supplies to renew the offensive will arrive in the operational area as Russia flows more equipment and personnel into the region. The Russians, in some areas, are channelized on main road due to ‘Rasputica‘ – the mud season. Putin has purged the higher echelons of Russian intelligence agencies blaming them for the poor performance of the Russian military.
Fight for the Skies. The Ukrainians managed to attack one of Russia’s forward operating bases at an airfield near Kherson. Several helicopters were destroyed. “Ukraine Strikes Back”, The Drive, March 15, 2022. There are some social media reports that the White House is considering providing Ukraine will some Switchblade drones currently used by U.S. special operations.
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. The amphibious force with naval infantry are still off shore ready to be committed at the opportune time. “Russian Navy Landing Ships Seen Approaching Ukrainian Coast Near Odessa”, Naval News, March 15, 2022.
The Ground Fight. Much is made of the use of Russian tanks in the Ukraine War. The effectiveness of the tanks has been diminished due to muddy fields that channelize Russian vehicles, the use of numerous anti-armor weapons by the Ukrainian military, shortage of spare parts and fuel, and lack of proper operational planning and execution. Learn more about Russian tanks is a 8-minute video entitled Analyzing Russian Tanks in Ukraine: T80 “Flying” Tank, by Battle Order, March 13, 2022.
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. Over the past 24 hours the capital city has increased shelling. The encirclement of Kyiv by the Russians has yet to take place. The roads directly south and southwest in and out of Kyiv are open. There is a temporary restriction on movement of people.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The Russian offensive to take this city seems to be on hold. Perhaps it doesn’t have the necessary forces to take the city, and then logistics could be a key factor as well.
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 capture of Mariupol will likely be the next key victory for the Russians. It is unlikely that the Ukrainian forces can break out of the city and also unlikely that the city can be relieved. The humanitarian convoy for Mariupol is still in Berdyansk – unable to get into the city. Thousands of people left the city on Tuesday (Mar 15) via a humanitarian corridor in 2,000 private vehicles. Another 2,000 are gathered in a location of the city to leave on Wed (Mar 16). There are around 350,000 people still remaining in the city. Read more in “In embattled Mariupol, glimpses of devastation and misery emerge”, The Washington Post, March 15, 2022.
Mykolayiv and Then Odessa. 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 Russian naval and air force conducted strikes in and around the city of Odessa on the Black Sea. A venture into Odessa by the Russians could subject them to the maze-like catacombs of the city – making for a difficult urban battle. Satellite images showed 14 ships approaching the coast of the Black Sea, one of the 120-meter landing ship Pyotr Morgunov of Russia’s northern fleet.
Refugees. As of March 15, over 3,000,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Ukraine officials say that 7 of the 9 negotiated humanitarian corridors were open on Tuesday (Mar 15). The United Nations says that the Ukraine war is creating a child refugee almost every second. The United Nations Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published its Ukraine: Humanitarian Impact Situation Report for March 15, 2022, PDF, 10 pages.
The International Rescue Committee has published a FAQ for refugees. The United States has designated Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status. This protects those Ukrainians who are working or studying in the U.S. from having to return to Ukraine. Tomasz Wroblewski, CEO of the Warsaw Enterprise Institute, writes that the flow of refugees from Ukraine is part of a bigger plan to erode western European society. “Russian’s Not-So-Secret Weapon Against NATO and The West: Refugees”, 1945, March 15, 2022.
UKR Legion. The International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine has members from all over the world. Over 20,000 foreigners from 52 different countries have already volunteered. What is the status of these volunteers in a legal sense? If captured, are they legitimate combatants or just ‘mercenaries’? “Status of Foreign Fighters in the Ukrainian Legion”, Articles of War, Lieber Institute West Point, March 15, 2022.
Volunteer Groups Assisting. Perry Blackburn, retired Special Forces officer, explains what his volunteer organization is doing to assist the people of Ukraine. “AFGFree Assists with Ukraine Evacuation”, Forum Daily (CA), YouTube, March 15, 2022. See also an article by Jeff Schogol of Task & Purpose about a U.S. Army veteran now serving with the Ukrainian forces.
Private Americans Training Ukrainians. U.S. combat troops have come out of retirement to train Ukrainians in the fight against Putin’s forces. Read about one of the many small groups of informal instructors and trainers who have made their way to Ukraine to help resist Russian aggression. “U.S. Veterans Start a “Resistance Academy” in Ukraine. Will it Backfire?”, The Rolling Stone, March 12, 2022.
Fox Camera Crew Killed. Two members of a Fox News crew were killed in Ukraine when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire a few kilometers outside Kyiv. War zone veteran Pierre Zakrzewski was killed along with a Ukrainian ‘fixer’ who helped facilitate the news crews work in Ukraine. Oleksandra Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian journalist who worked with Zakrzewski, was killed in the same attack. Reporter Benjamin Hall was injured in the attack as well and is currently hospitalized in Kyiv.
Council of Europe – Minus Russia. The Council of Europe was about to cast Russia out of the organization. But Russia said “I Quit” first. Read a statement from the CoE on the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe. (March 15). The expulsion means that Russian citizens will not be able to bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights.
Putin a War Criminal. The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal. (Reuters, Mar 15, 2022).
The Coming Resistance
Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender. John Spencer has been writing about combat in the urban environment for years. He is considered one of the leading authorities on the tactics and techniques of fighting in big cities. He has published (March 15, 2022, version 1, PDF) a 50-page document on how to fight in a city as a defender.
The Next Phase. Ideally, Ukraine would recapture Russian-controlled areas through a conventional counter-offensive. However, that is unlikely. The United States and NATO countries should begin planning for the possibility that unconventional tactics will be necessary to overcome conventional Russian military power. “Ukraine Isn’t Waging an Insurgency – Yet”, The Defense Post, March 15, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Video Game Footage and Propaganda. Lauren Coontz explores has footage from video games that are quickly rolled into video clips and posted on social media. One example is the online posting of videos about the “Ghost of Kyiv” where footage from Digital Combat Simulator World is used on TikTok and other social media platforms. “How Video Game Footage is Being Used in the Propaganda Wars”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 14, 2022.
Russian Lies on Bio and Chem Wpns. The Russians are makin absurd claims about biological labs and chemical weapons in Ukraine according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. There is concern that Russian is prepping the world for a false flag operations, possibly including chemical weapons. Russia has helped facilitate the use of chemical weapons in Syria over the past decade. “NATO Chief: There Will be “High Price to Pay’ for Russian Use of Chemical Weapons”, DoD News, March 15, 2022.
NATO’s Response Since 2014 and Now. After Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, NATO renewed its focus on territorial defense and deterring Russian aggression. This response included the deploying ‘battlegroups’, increasing military exercises and training, and enhancing air patrols over the Baltic states, Bulgaria, and Romania. Since the February 2022 invasion NATO has more than doubled the alliance force presence in Eastern Europe. There are now more than 130 allied fighter jets on high alert in the eastern part of the alliance and more than 200 allied ships from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. In addition, the NATO Response Force has been activated for deployment.
High Level Visit. On Tuesday (Mar 15) the Prime Ministers of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia took a train to Kyiv to pay a visit to Ukrainian President Zelensky and offer their support to the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion.
International Support . . . or Not. NATO countries continue to flow critical equipment to Ukraine to include anti-tank and air defense weapons, drones, ammunition, and fuel. Hungary has opted out of supporting Ukraine. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a longtime Putin supporter and says that the country “must stay out of this war” and won’t support Ukraine with weapons. Israel is attempting to be neutral in this conflict and has failed to strike a just balance between morality and realpolitik.
Video – Illusions of Peace . . . and Russia. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has upended many assumptions about the post-Cold War period in Europe. Most thought another major war was not possible. However, the belief of how economic interdependence, a growing NATO, and the impact of the European Union would contribute to an era of enduring peace are now in question. Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, explores the liberal illusions amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Hard Power Still Matters”, Belfer Center, Harvard University, March 10, 2022, YouTube, 5 minutes.
Cordesman on ‘Lessons of Ukraine’. One certainty that can be understood from the Ukrainian War is that Putin will be a dangerous man for as long as he is in power – long after the Ukraine War has ended. Anthony Cordesman writes that the United States now faces two superpowers and that confrontation not cooperation is the future. Read “U.S. Strategy and the Real Lessons of Ukraine”, Center for Strategic & International Studies, March 14, 2022.
Ignoring the Signs. Edward Lucas writes on how many national security experts cite the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea and two sections of eastern Ukraine as the first indication that Russia’s aspirations in eastern Europe constituted a danger. He argues that some ‘western experts’ are echoing the Kremlin’s version of history. Lucas says that 2007 is a more accurate date – with the cyberattack in Estonia, the 2008 war in Georgia, and more. “Fog of War”, Europe’s Edge, Center for European Policy Analysis, March 14, 2022.
End of Hybrid Warfare? Seth Cropsey of the Yorktown Institute has relegated Russian hybrid warfare to the graveyard. He cites the ‘failures’ of 2014 and 2022 in Ukraine as examples. Hmmm. Read his thoughts in “Wither Hybrid War”, Real Clear Defense, March 15, 2022. (Editor’s note: Not buying it.)
Podcast – Russia’s Military. Retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, a senior fellow at Harvard University, discusses Russia’s military capabilities and how the war in Ukraine is unfolding. WBUR.org, March 11, 2022, 10 mins.
Zelensky to Address U.S. Congress. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will virtually address Congress today (Wednesday). He will undoubtedly press the argument for a no-fly-zone and fighter aircraft. The event is scheduled for 9:00 am ET. “Five things to watch for during Zelensky’s address to Congress”, The Hill, March 15, 2022.
Wed, Mar 16 – Special Forces in Great Power Competition. Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) will be the speaker in an upcoming session to be held online on Wednesday (Mar 16) about SF and GPC. Hosted by NSI, Inc.
Thu, Mar 17 – Countering Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. The topic will be what the key considerations for NATO allies and partners in assisting Ukraine. The panelists will discuss the sources of NATO unity and how the alliance will evolve as a result of the war. Truman National Security Project.
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, courtesy of Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.