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 has, for the most part, taken a temporary break. One cause for this appears to be constant counterattacks that keep the Russians off balance and the interdiction of resupply lines that interrupt the flow of fuel, food, and ammunition. There were small advances attempted in a few locations.
Belarus. The Russians used the country to the north of Ukraine as a staging area for the invasion forces. It continues to transit supplies and personnel south across the Belarus border. Air strikes and missile launches are coming from Belarus as well. The Russian dead and wounded are moved north into Belarus and then on to Russia. Belarus troops have not yet joined the fight. There are concerns that Russian and / or Belarus units in Brest (southwest Belarus) could strike south across the border to interdict the east – west supply lines of communications (train and vehicle) in western Ukraine.
Fight for the Skies. The Russians have launched over 1,000 missiles into Ukraine – most from Russia and some from within Ukraine air space. The Russians have still not attained air superiority. The Ukrainians continue to press for a no-fly zone and for fighter jets. They are receiving record numbers of shoulder-fired ground to air missiles that are effective up to 11,000 feet.
S-300. The Ukrainians are hopeful that some more sophisticated weapons like the S-300 air defense system (see photo above) will be provided by some East European nations (Slovakia?). Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Slovakia on Thursday (Mar 17) and Slovakia’s S-300s was a topic of conversation. Slovakia will pass its S-300s to Ukraine if they are backfilled with air defense weapons from the United States.
No Fly Zone. During his speech to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday (Mar 16) the Ukrainian president made a plea for NATO to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Administration officials cite the dangers of starting a larger war, one with an adversary with nuclear weapons, as the main reason for not establishing a no-fly zone. Raphael S. Cohen argues that we shouldn’t rule it out completely in “Why It Could be a Strategic Mistake to Rule Out a No-Fly Zone Policy”, RAND Corporation, March 16, 2022.
Deadly Ukraine Skies. The Russian Air Force (VKS) is simply never meant to fight the way Western air forces do. It isn’t just the Stinger, Igla, and other air defense weapons systems that threaten Russian pilots. A dangerous combination of doctrine, training, and equipment are also partly to blame for the heavy losses of the VKS. Many of the Russian air support strikes for its ground troops are conducted at low levels – leaving them exposed to the numerous MANPADs available to the Ukraine military. There are other factors at play – one is the ‘supportive role’ of the VKS in a military campaign – it isn’t designed to attain ‘air supremacy’. Another factor is the type of bombs the Russians have – they have more ‘dumb’ bombs than ‘smart’ bombs. This means they have to fly at lower altitudes for accuracy and they can’t launch many standoff weapons due to a lack of targeting pods. “Why the skies over Ukraine have proven so deadly for Russian pilots”, by David Roza, Task & Purpose, March 17, 2022.
Maritime Activities. An amphibious landing force on several ships is still positioned in the Black Sea off the coast of Odessa. There is the possibility of a future landing of a substantial element of Russian naval infantry. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian shipping continues.
Ukrainian Defense (and Offense). Ukraine officials say that over 320,000 Ukrainians have returned to their home country. Most of them are men. The Ukrainian military launched a number of counteroffensives against Russian positions in the vicinity of Kyiv – principally in the suburbs of Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel. A Ukrainian offensive is also taking place in the vicinity of Kherson – currently held by the Russians.
Missile Strikes on Lviv. A location near the Lviv International Airport has been bombed. Reports say several Russian cruise missiles struck a nearby aircraft repair facility in the western city of Lviv on Friday morning (Mar 18). Some reports say there were 6 cruise missiles launched from the Black Sea.
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. Other than some shelling, the city itself is not under attack. Lines of communication with the rest of the country are still intact from the southerly direction. The main avenue of attack on Kyiv remains from the north and northwest – one that is about 15 kilometers from the city center. The attack from the east is stalled and is about 30 kilometers from the city center. To the east the major town of Brovary remains in Ukrainian hands.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. It is constantly under artillery, rocket, and missile attack. The Ukrainian forces continue to hold the city. Many believe the Russians are trying to demoralize the city’s inhabitants with the indiscriminate shelling on residential areas.
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 struck a theater where hundreds of women and children were seeking shelter. Authorities say that 130 survivors have been recovered from the wreckage and that recovery efforts are continuing. Some reports say that between 500 to 1,000 people had been sheltered in the theater. The city is encircled and has been cut off from electricity, water, gas, mobile networks, food, and medical supplies. It is being shelled every day. Up to 80 per cent of the residential buildings have been destroyed.
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.
Biden and China. President Biden is expected to speak with President Xi on Friday (Mar 18). The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the message from Biden is that China should not support Russia. The conversation will also touch on competition between the two countries as well as other issues of mutual concern. Putin’s war in Ukraine has negative and positive consequences for the rulers in Beijing. “Beijing’s goals and Putin’s war are meshing in nasty ways”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Initiative (ASPI), March 18, 2022.
Switchblade Drones. A drone recently developed by the United States and used by U.S. special operations forces is being sent to Ukraine. One hundred of the Switchblade drones are being sent, with the possibility of more in the future. Costing about $6,000 a piece, they are able to be carried in a backpack and flown by an operator to its target. The drone comes with a warhead and used by crashing into the target.
Super Yachts. A number of big yachts owned by rich Russians are being seized around the world. The most recent one is a 443-foot yacht worth $600 million taken by Spain. It is part of a crackdown on oligarchs that support Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.
Insurgency Scenarios. Prior to the February 24th invasion there was a lot of speculation on how the conflict would end. Most national security observers noted that the Russians would score a quick win, seizing most or all of Ukraine. Some went on to describe different types of insurgencies that might take place in the aftermath of the war. Emily Harding is one who analyzed ‘the future’. Read her thoughts on the topic in “Scenario Analysis on a Ukrainian Insurgency”, Center for Strategic & International Studies, February 15, 2022.
IO – a Decisive Role. Russian has locked down access to almost all social media platforms, to include Facebook and Twitter. It has also blocked access to news media like Radio Free Europe and some independent Russian news services. It has passed laws that criminalize the spreading of “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. However, Ukraine and the west can fight back in the information operations arena. “Keeping Russians Informed about Ukraine Could Help End This War”, The RAND Blog, March 14, 2022.
Humanitarian Effort in Ukraine. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, United Nations agencies and other international organizations had a limited presence in the country. There were about 34 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nine UN agencies in the country prior to February 24th, most of them in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Now they are busy establishing and scaling up humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Learn how the NGOs and UN agencies are regrouping and now providing assistance. “In Ukraine, building an emergency aid response (almost) from scratch“, The New Humanitarian, March 17, 2022.
Refugees. As of March 18, over 3,000,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published its March 17 Situation Report (PDF, 9 pages).
Women Fighters in Ukraine. Most media coverage of women in Ukraine falls into three different stereotypes. The peacemaker, the victim, and the pseudo-soldier. “The Mystique of the Female Soldier: Portrayals of Ukrainian Women in Western Media”, by Sarah Keisler, Georgetown Security Studies Review, March 15, 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: Slovak S-2300PMU TELs. EllsworthSK, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons