Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, Ukrainian defense, and NATO. Additional topics include refugees, internally displaced personnel, humanitarian efforts, cyber, and information operations.
Photo: On March 16, 2022 the Russian Federation flag was lowered in front of the headquarters of the Council of Europe. (One of the middle flagpoles is missing a flag). COE announced that the Russian Federation has ceased to be a member of the Council of Europe. Read more on the expulsion of Russia from the COE by Andreas N. Ludwig in “Europe’s Division Deepens with Russia’s Council of Europe Expulsion”, E-International Relations, March 18, 2022.
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Russian Campaign Update. The current Russian offensive appears to be over. Until significant numbers of Russian units deploy into Ukraine and the Russian logistics system is fixed the war is a stalemate. The Ukrainians can halt the Russians in the offensive operations and conduct localized offensive counterattacks. But they do not have the weapons or strength to go on a general offensive across the country. Many observers have pointed out that the Russian campaign was poorly planned and executed and that logistics has played an important role. There is another factor of why the Russian campaign has not gone well. Read more in “Communication Breakdown: How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Bogged Down”, Radio Free Europe, March 19, 2022. Russian killed or wounded have been about 1,000 a day according to Western intelligence estimates.
Fight for the Skies. Neither the Russians or the Ukrainians are commanding the skies. The anti-air defenses of both countries is too strong. Russia is relying on long-range missiles launched from ground or air platforms from inside its borders. The continued supply of Stingers and other shoulder-fired MANPADs provided by the West are enhancing the air defense capabilities of the Ukrainian military. Read more in “The Russian Air Force Over Ukraine”, SOFREP, March 19, 2022.
S-300s for Ukraine (Slovakia). Several news sources say that the The Netherlands and Germany are sending their Patriot anti-missile batteries to Slovakia. One social media account noted that German Patriots were traveling on a Czech highway on Saturday (Mar 19). The Patriots are presumed to be a temporary replacement for the Slovakian S-300s that may be heading to Ukraine. These mid-range weapons will complement the short-range capabilities of the Stinger and other MANPADs.
S-400s for Ukraine (Turkey)? So will Turkey release some of its S-400 anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine? Apparently the United States has quietly floated the idea to Turkey. Wouldn’t that be a turn of events? For a number of years the Russians got a lot of play out of the fact that Turkey, a NATO member, was buying a Russian air defense system instead of opting for the U.S. made Patriot. Turkey received the first S-400s in July 2019. Of course, there will likely be something in it for Turkey. Perhaps reconsideration of involvement in the F-35 program and relief from sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry. Chances of this happening are close to zero. (Reuters, Mar 19, 2022).
Russia’s Hypersonic Missile. The Russians have claimed to use the Kinzhal hypersonic missile for the first time in the Ukraine War. The Russian Ministry of Defense released a video on Saturday (Mar 19) that showed a Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile hitting a Ukrainian missile warehouse about 300 miles southwest of Kyiv. A MiG-31 launched the Kh-47M2 missile at high-speed and high-altitude at the underground missile storage facility in Delyatyn, Ukraine. Not all the information about this new development is in. Most observers say the use of the hypersonic missile was ‘a message to NATO’. “We Have Questions About Russia’s Claimed Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile Use in Ukraine”, The WarZone, March 19, 2022. See also “Why Calling Russia’s Kinzhal a ‘Hypersonic Missile’ is a Stretch”, Sandbox, March 19, 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.
Belarus Railways. There are reports that Belarusian railway workers have been sabotaging the railway lines leading to Ukraine. This will further complicate the already troubled Russian logistic situation in Ukraine. The railway junctions connecting the Ukrainian and Russian railways had been blown up on February 26th.
Kyiv and Kharkiv and Rivne. The Russian assault on Kyiv appears to be on hold. The Ukrainian defense has halted the Russian advance on the capital city. The second largest city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, located in the northeast of the country is still held by the Ukrainians . . . and there is no indication that the Russians will or can capture the city. Two Russian missiles hit the military training grounds of Rivne on Sunday (Mar 20), located 300 km west of Kyiv.
Russian Ultimatum for Mariupol. A demand for surrender of Mariupol has been issued to the Ukrainians. In the demand Russia said that it would only establish a humanitarian corridor if Mariupol surrenders. The answer was a firm “No”. The deadline for the surrender acceptance was Monday morning (Mar 21). There are reports that Ukrainians in the city are being taken to camps, checked for documentation, and then taken out of the city to Russia proper. Read more in “Thousands of Mariupol residents ‘forcibly’ taken to Russian camps”, New York Post, March 19, 2022. News reports continue to be published about the shelling of residential areas of the city. “Officials: Russia bombed Mariupol school housing 400”, Washington Examiner, March 20, 2022.
Situation Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. Read an assessment and view a map of the Russian offensive campaign by the Institute for the Study of War. See the current SITMAP (20 Mar) posted by Ukraine War Map @War_Mapper. One open-source investigative group has published an interactive map of civilian facilities destroyed by Russia in the course of its invasion of Ukraine.
Refugees and IDPs. As of March 20, over 3,500,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). The situation in the cities of Mariupol and Sumy are extremely dire, with residents facing critical shortages of food, water, and medicine. Odessa, on the Black Sea Coast, is short on food for its 450,000 residents. Ukrainian refugees (in excess of 3 million) have found safety and shelter in the neighboring countries of Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Ninety per cent of the refugees are women and children. Almost 162,000 of those that fled Ukraine are third-country nationals. Read a summary of the humanitarian crisis in a March 18, 2022 press release from the United Nations. The Ukrainian government, in concert with other organizations, are organizing ‘humanitarian corridors‘ for residents of settlements affected by the Russian invasion. On Sunday (Mar 20) only four out of seven agreed-upon humanitarian corridors were able to carry out evacuations.
Refugees in Moldova. One of Europe’s poorest nations has taken in almost 350,000 Ukrainian refugees. Many of them are fleeing from the Russian onslaught on cities in southern Ukraine near Crimea and along the coast of the Black Sea. Moldova is a small country with less than 4 million residents. Living in temporary shelters in Moldova the refugees wonder what comes next. (USA Today, Mar 20, 2022).
Russian Soldiers and a Belarus Morgue. About 60 kilometers from the Ukrainian border in Mazyr, Belarus are morgues and hospitals overflowing with dead and wounded Russian soldiers. “Morgue ‘full of Russian soldiers’ as corpses ‘shipped away at night to hide death toll'”, Mirror (UK), March 19, 2022. See also “In Belarusian Morgues and Hospitals, Clues to Russian Military Losses in Ukraine”, Radio Free Europe, March 18, 2022.
Ukrainian International Legion? A temporary visa-free regime has been established for foreigners who wish to join the Ukraine International Legion. Find out more here.
Overthrowing Putin? A group of influential Russians are looking for an opportunity to overthrow the Russian leader. According to a Facebook post from the Chief Directorate of Intelligence for the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine a group wants to end the war, end the sanctions, and remove Putin. Of course, this all could be disinformation on the part of the Ukraine intelligence. “Russian elites planning to overthrow Putin: Ukrainian intelligence”, New York Post, March 20, 2022.
Russian Medals for Ukraine “Special Military Operation”. Apparently the Russian military was prepared for a quick success in Ukraine. One social media account says that Russia had pre-minted medals for the ‘occupation of Kiev and Lviv’ and the ‘liberation of Odessa’. Things that make you go “hmmm”.
The Coming Resistance
NATO, Ukraine, and ‘Resilience’. Since the Russian invasion of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has developed the concept of resilience as a way for a small nation to deter and defeat a future invasion by Russia. This resilience is associated with the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) advanced by Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) and other NATO countries. Julian Reid, a professor of International Relations at the University of Lapland, Finland, informs us that “Ukraine is proving to be a laboratory for the testing of resilience as a strategy of national defence.” He notes that proponents of resilience in NATO will be encouraged; however, it will also make society itself into a more direct agent of war . . . and therefore a target in a war. “Resilient Ukraine and the Future of War in Europe”, E-International Relations, March 17, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Urban Myths of Ukraine War. Stories like the one about the 13 Coast Guard members who were killed on Snake Island in the Black Sea rather than surrender to a Russian warship or of a Ukrainian air force pilot who continues to knock Russian jets out of the sky over Kyiv are inspiring. The tale of a heroic Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot who shot down six Russian fighters in a single day over the capital city in the early days of the war got bigger when, days later, he was reported to have shot down four more Russian jets. Do these stories have to be true? Not necessarily. Are they helpful to Ukraine’s cause? Yes, Ukrainians need hope. “The Ghost of Kyiv and the Urban Myths of Warfare”, Clearance Jobs, March 11, 2022.
Paper – Mis & Disinformation: Handling the 21st Century Challenge in the Humanitarian Sector, Digital Humanitarian Network , February 2022, 26 pages. View here.
Cyber, IO, and Intel Sharing. During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday (Mar 17) the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency described the intelligence sharing between the United States and Ukraine as revolutionary. The head of the National Security Agency testified that there has never been a better sharing of accurate, timely and actionable intelligence about Ukraine. Much of this intelligence is quickly employed to discount the information warfare activities of Russia and to defend against its cyber attacks. Much more information was briefed to the House during a follow-on classified hearing. “Intel Sharing Between U.S. and Ukraine ‘Revolutionary’ Says DIA Director”, USNI News, March 18, 2022.
Podcast – Russian Cyber and Info Ops. Russia had enjoyed a reputation of being a formidable foe in the IO and cyber arena. However, some skillful defensive measures by Ukraine has blunted the effectiveness of the the Russian attempts both before and during the invasion. “Gray Zone, Twilight Zone or Danger Zone? Russian Cyber and Information Operations in Ukraine”, War on the Rocks, March 18, 2022, 37 minutes.
Video – Volunteers and Safe Passage Out of Ukraine. How do people find safe passage out of Ukraine during Russia’s War? BBC News, YouTube, March 19, 2022, 5 minutes.
Russia – Impact of Sanctions and Trade Actions. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the United States and other nations around the world imposed financial sanctions and trade actions. There is a move in Congress to revoke Russia’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status. There is the possibility of action to be taken by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Read a summary of these different punitive measures that includes the background, impact on imports from removing PNTR, and various issues associated with WTO actions. Invasion of Ukraine: Russia’s Trade Status, Tariffs, and WTO Issues, Congressional Research Service, CRS IN11881, March 18, 2022, PDF, 4 pages.
Boost Military Assistance. Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, says that Ukrainians will ultimately defeat Putin’s army. But there are some questions. How long will it take and how many Ukrainians will have to die? McFaul argues more weapons and more sanctions are needed immediately. “Why the West must boost military assistance to Ukraine”, The Washington Post, March 16, 2022.
Ukraine – Validating USMC’s Force Design 2030. Christopher Corrow, a strategy analyst in the Headquarters of the Marine Corps and OIF veteran, says that the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 is a necessary change that positions the Marine Corps as a unique and necessary element of U.S. military power. This move to the future by the USMC saw the divestment of much of its tank force and some of its short-range fire support. “The Russian Losses in Ukraine Validate the Marine Corp’s Force Design”, National Review, March 18, 2022.
For Russia – Is Ukraine Enough? NATO is busy reinvigorating itself against an enemy it thought had gone away. Many feel that Russia will stop with acquiring parts of Ukraine. But others fear that the invasion of Ukraine is only the beginning. The Baltic states are vulnerable from land and sea. Will NATO defend them? “Russia may not stop with Ukraine – NATO looks to its weakest link”, Reuters, March 21, 2022.
More Nukes in the World? In 1994, Ukraine agreed to destroy the nuclear stockpile, the world’s third largest, it inherited from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It did this in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Without NATO membership and its own nuclear weapons, it was unable to deter Russia from invading. Our nations are taking notice. “Will Putin’s war force more medium-sized states to seek nuclear weapons?”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), March 21, 2022.
Putin – Making NATO Great Again. General (Ret.) David Petraeus was interviewed by Peter Bergen last week. Bergen is a national security analyst with CNN. The retired general and former CIA director says that the war “has played out in its first three weeks.” He believes it will become a conflict of urban warfare which will generally favor the Ukrainians. The Russians are unlikely to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Instead of weakening NATO, Putin has unified it and made it stronger. “Russian forces ‘clearly have very poor standards,’ General Petraeus says”, MSN.com, March 19, 2022.
Putin’s War and Africa. Russia has received some support from a few African nations. Most African governments, however, appear wary of becoming embroiled in the conflict and many are discouraging their citizens from joining the fight – whether to support Russia or Ukraine. “African Reactions to Russia’s Unprovoked Invasion of Ukraine”, IntelBrief, The Soufan Center, March 21, 2022.
Post-War Europe. The European backlash against Russia will likely endure even as hostilities cease. RAND Corporation’s Raphael Cohen examines the longer-term implications for Europe, assessing how it will affect European energy policy, military preparedness, and overall unity. “Europe After the Ukraine War”, Lawfare, March 20, 2022.
Events and Podcasts
Online Event – OSS Society. Dr. Robert Gates (former Secretary of Defense) and Dr. Michael Vickers (former DoD official, CIA officer, and Green Beret) will have a discussion about Ukraine, Putin’s War, and resistance during an online event sponsored by the OSS Society. Wednesday, March 23, 2022, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM EDT.
Online Event – Press Club Brussels Europe. The Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels and the Polish Institute of International Affairs Brussels Office are holding an online Zoom event (English) entitled “How to support Ukraine in resisting the Russian invasion”. The event will be held on March 22, 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/.
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.
Arms Transfers to Ukraine. Forum on the Arms Trade.