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 advanced is stalled. Much of its current offensive activity consists of shelling with airstrikes (standoff), missiles, and short-range rockets. The Iskander missile (pictured above) has been used quite frequently. According to news reports and social media the Russians appear to be hitting a number of civilian targets with these area weapons. The cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol are facing dire circumstances with shortages of food, fuel, water, and electricity and constant shelling of residential areas by the Russians. It is still pressing the attack against coastal city of Mariupol. As of March 16 the Russians have fired over 900 missiles from Russia and within Ukraine. Western Ukraine has not been targeted over the past few days.
Civilian Facilities Targeted by Russians. Many hospitals and medical clinics have been attacked according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Russia has stated that the attacks are ‘false flag’ operations by Ukrainian forces. Many observers note that a favorite Russian tactic is to demoralize the civilian population and cause a flow of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to disrupt their opponents operations and to ‘cleanse’ the occupied areas of potential future insurgents. There are reports that many deaths and hundreds of injuries were suffered by Ukrainians seeking safety in a theater that was clearly marked as sheltering civilians. Read “Hundreds feared trapped in Ukraine theater hit by airstrike”, AP News, March 17, 2022.
Fight for the Skies. The Ukrainians may not get a no-fly zone or Polish MiG-29s; but they will continue to receive thousands of MANPADs. In addition, efforts are underway to provide more sophisticated air defense weapons that will reach altitudes that MANPADs cannot reach. There are reports that Slovakia may provide Ukraine with some of its S-300 air defense systems. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is going to be visiting Slovakia in the next several days and this will likely be a topic during the meetings. Slovakia will likely press the U.S. for some replacement systems if they go ahead with the S-300 transfer to Ukraine. There could be one or two U.S-manned Patriot missile batteries heading that way in the future.
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. Thus far, the only amphibious landing of naval infantry that has taken place in the war occurred on the coast of the Sea of Azov in support of the Mariupol siege. There has no yet been a landing on the coast of the Black Sea. In the Black Sea there are likely six amphibious landing ships each with the capability to land about 300 troops and 12 main battle tanks. The seizure of the Baltic Leader, a Russian merchant ship, in the English Channel on February 25, 2022 has raised some legal questions about high seas freedoms.
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. Apparently the Russians had been preparing for a ‘victory parade’ in Kyiv. A secret stash of Russian military dress uniforms were found near Kyiv – providing an indication that the Russians had anticipated a quick military victory. (Politico). The Russians have made limited but unsuccessful attacks in the region northwest of Kyiv. For the last 24 hours the region east of Kyiv has been quiet, with the Russian forces still about 30 kilometers away. The Ukrainians are still in control of the town of Brovary, east of Kyiv. The U.S. Department of Defense said on Wednesday (Mar 16) that the Russians have not made any significant advances toward the city.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. The city has still not been encircled, but it is suffering intense shelling from aircraft, missiles, and rockets. The Ukrainians have mounted several counterattacks over the past few weeks to keep the Russians off balance.
Sumy Region. The northeast city of Sumy has been the focus of a Russian attack over the past few weeks. This city and the surrounding villages have suffered extensive damage. Watch drone footage of the devastation. “Drone Footage Shows Extensive Damage in Eastern Ukraine’s Sumy Region”, Radio Free Europe, March 15, 2022.
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 still being defended by Ukrainian forces. The Russians have been using long-range fires to strike military and civilian targets in the city.
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. Russian warships have been shelling towns near Odessa as naval activity has been increasing in the northern Black Sea.
Refugees. As of March 16, over 3,000,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). This includes about 1.5 million children. A March 16, 2022 report (PDF, 9 pages) by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provides details on the humanitarian impact of the Ukraine War.
Zelensky’s Address to Congress. On Wednesday (Mar 16) the Ukrainian president addressed the United States Congress with an emotional appeal for a no-fly zone, more sanctions, fighter jets, and more shipments of military weapons and supplies. On Tuesday (Mar 15) the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin, members of the Russian Security Council, the Russian Armed Forces, and Russian military commanders for committing atrocities against the Ukrainian people.
More U.S. Military Aid. On Wednesday (Mar 16) President Biden delivered remarks on the assistance that the United States is providing to Ukraine in a televised event (DVIDS, 9 mins). He announced more military aid ($800 million) to be shipped to Ukraine in the coming weeks. The equipment includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-armor systems (Javelin, AT-4, etc.), 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (Switchblades used by SOF), 7,000 small arms, and munitions for artillery and mortars.
NATO Conference. President Biden will travel to Europe to meet with European heads of state and senior officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The event will take place in Brussels. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will be present as well.
Ruling by International Court of Justice. On Wednesday (Mar 16) the curt issued a ruling in Ukraine’s case against the Russian Federation under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The ruling ordered Russia to immediately suspend the military operation in Ukraine. (DoS press release 16 March 2022).
Legality of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. Much of the information operations (IO) battle concerns the opinions formed by the international community of the justification and legality of the Russian invasion. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service examines the Russian reasons for its invasion of Ukraine and subsequent actions during the conflict in the context of international law. The Law of War and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, CRS, March 16, 2022, PDF, 5 pages.
Germany’s Big Defense Shift. The recent invasion of Ukraine has prompted the German government to reverse decades of German pacifism and pivot toward building a stronger military and defense industry. It will begin to institute reforms to bring its defense spending in lien with the 2 per cent NATO requirement. Putin has managed, with his aggression in Ukraine, to take Germany off the sidelines and have it once again assume its traditional status as central Europe’s dominant military power. “Germany’s Defence Pivot”, Defence Connect, March 17, 2022.
Cyberspace and the Military. The dynamics of cyberspace and conflict are driving fundamental shifts that the military and society will have to surmount. There are some unique challenges to the cyber civil-military relationship – a couple include the constant quest for intelligence by military leaders and perhaps a tendency to see cyber as a weapon that does not cause human suffering . . . and therefore the threshold for employment is lower. Jason Healey, president of the Cyber Conflict Studies Association, explores these issues and more in “Soldiers, Statesmen and Cyber Crises: Cyberspace and Civil-Military Relations”, Lawfare, March 16, 2022.
Ukrainian Version of the Ballad of the Green Berets. Members of the U.S. Special Forces community will recognize this tune. “One Hundred Warriors”.
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: The Iskander (SS-26 Stone) is a mobile short range ballistic missile deployed by the Russian military. It has played a big role in the Ukraine War. Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin – http://www.vitalykuzmin.net/Military/ARMY-2016-Demonstration/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52213498