On Thursday, February 23, 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine in a massive conventional and special operations offensive. This invasion took place after a wide ranging cyber attack and months of information warfare.
U.S. Diplomats Left Ukraine. The United States has relocated its diplomats to Poland. The Embassy’s operations had already been relocated from the capital Kyiv to Lviv. One news report (The Drive) notes that the relocation to Poland may have been done by MC-130J Commando II special operations tanker-transport aircraft and CV22B Osprey special operations tilt-rotors. The Ospreys likely picked up the diplomats and the Commandos provided a mid-air refueling capability.
Russia Invades. All components of the Russia military took part in the offensive. Missile and aircraft attacks bombed critical military and communication nodes. There are explosions reported in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Multiple types of Russian aircraft took part in the initial assault to include fighter bombers and strategic bombers. Ballistic missiles have hit several Ukrainian airbases. Aircraft and missiles have likely targeted Ukrainian air defense systems and hit Ukraine’s military bases. There have been numerous helicopter air assaults on various targets in Ukraine by the Russians. Most of the attacks appear to be east of the Dnieper River that runs north-south through Ukraine.
Cyber Attacks. Cybersecurity experts say that a wave of distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks by Russia took place prior to the invasion. The websites of Ukraine’s defense, foreign, and interior ministries were unreachable or slow to load. Hundreds if not thousands of computers were infected with destructive malware – to include some in neighboring Latvia and Lithuania. Ukraine’s banking and financial websites and networks were also hit hard in the cyber attack.
Sequence of the Attack. In the preceding months Russia has engaged in information warfare – preparing the world for the invasion and forming the narrative that would justify its actions. On Monday, February 21st, Putin recognized the separatist region’s announcement of independence. In the hours preceding the aerial and ground offensive cyber attacks were conducted against the Ukraine internet and computer networks. Artillery fire was used to soften up the front lines. There are news reports that Russian troops and tanks advanced from the eastern border along Russia, from the two separatist regions, as well as from Belarus in the north and Russian-annexed Crimea in the south.
Ukraine Fighting Back. Although outnumbered by the vastly superior Russian forces the Ukrainians are putting up a fight. There are some reports of Russian aircraft being shot down and tanks being destroyed. The Ukraine Foreign Ministry has begun evacuating the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow. It has severed diplomatic relations with Russia.
Land Bridge to the Crimea. One of the aims of Russia will be to secure a land bridge from Russia to Crimea. An immediate target of occupation is the city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea. Taking the entire coast of Ukraine that borders the Sea of Azov is the beginning of a land route to Crimea. Some reports on social media indicate that the region around Chaplynka, Skadovsk, and Henichesk in Kherson Oblast is contested. Capturing these cities would go a long way to ensuring the lines of communications (LOCs) between Russia and Crimea would be secure.
Dominance in the Black Sea. It is possible, however unlikely, that the Russian advance could go as far as Odessa and beyond in an attempt to capture the entire coast of the Ukraine that borders on the Black Sea. For several years the United States and NATO have conducted joint exercises with Ukraine and other regional partners in the Black Sea. These have been large maritime exercises with conventional naval vessels as well as with SOF maritime forces. A Russian-held Ukrainian coastline would certainly provide greater maritime capabilities to Russia in the Black Sea area.
How Far Will Russia Advance? One big question is what are the territorial aims of Russia, whether permanent or temporary. Certainly Russia will want to permanently hold the Ukrainian coastline of the Sea of Azov. It will want to control the land routes that cross from Ukraine into Russian-held Crimea on a permanent basis. It could also elect to permanently hold the entire Ukrainian coastline of the Black Sea; although it is possible that if it takes this area of the coast it would be temporary in nature and a factor in future peace negotiations. Most observers think that Russia will not cross the Dnieper River and advance further into western Ukraine. It is unlikely to want to temporarily or permanently hold the capital city of Kiev.
NATO Response. Although the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is on high alert there are no indications that NATO will deploy troops or units in Ukraine. NATO has condemned the attack by Russia. It has several ISR aircraft and drones circling the area – presumably feeding intelligence to Ukrainian officials. There are reports that a U.S. RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV has or had been flying over Ukraine. NATO’s article 5 cannot be invoked as Ukraine is not a member of the alliance. NATO has decided to beef up its eastern flank over the Ukraine attack. There will likely be some consideration by Finland to join NATO. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are having discussions about NATO’s article 4. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement following an extraordinary meeting of the North Atlantic Council on February 24th.
“We are deploying additional defensive land and air forces to the eastern part of the alliance, as well as additional maritime assets. We have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies.”Statement by NATO ambassadors
U.S. Response. The United States has issued stern warnings to Russia over the past several weeks. The administration has introduced sanctions against selected Russia firms associated with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany. Almost all U.S. conventional forces that were inside Ukraine have been withdrawn to neighboring countries. U.S. SOF were reportedly in Ukraine to assist in the evacuation of U.S. diplomats and possibly to conduct other special operations missions. Several thousand U.S. troops, including elements of the 82nd Airborne Division have deployed to eastern Europe. Some are in Poland along the Polish-Ukrainian border. Numerous air assets have also deployed to the region but it is extremely unlikely that they would take action against Russian aircraft or ground targets unless an attack against a NATO country occurred.
UN Reaction. The United Nations scheduled an emergency meeting on the situation at Ukraine’s urging. The U.N. Secretary appealed to Putin to withdraw his troops. It is unlikely that much more will be done by the United Nations than to issue the standard appeals for peace.
Ukrainian Long-term Resistance? The likelihood of Ukraine being able to stop Russia from taking the territory it desires is dismal. They are simply outnumbered in quantity of troops and units as well as in quality of military hardware. One long-term factor to be considered is the use of ‘resistance’ units to cause so much pain for the Russians during an occupation that it becomes too costly to stay. The Central Intelligence Agency has been overseeing a secret training program for elite Ukrainian special operations forces that could play a critical role. The United States Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) has been working with and training Ukrainian special operations forces for several years. SOCEUR has been in the forefront of developing the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) for such an event. Perhaps Ukraine will be implementing some of the training it has received in its long-term response to the Russian invasion.
Image – Map derived from CIA map of Russia.