A news update about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO response, humanitarian crisis, and Ukrainian resistance. Covers the 24-hour period ending 0600R27FEB22.
BLUF. The speed of the Russian offensive has slowed – likely because of unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance and some Russian logistical problems. The tanks and armored personnel carriers are likely hurting for spare parts and fuel. Special operations forces are taking part in overnight clashes and operations each night around strategic targets. The primary military objective remains the capital of the country and decapitation of the civilian leadership. The world has rallied to Ukraine yet refrains from the use of military forces within Ukraine. Although a ‘no fly zone’ would be a huge factor if announced and enforced by NATO there is little chance of that happening. Although facing a stiff resistance by the Ukrainians the Russian may ultimately prevail due to sheer numbers of troops, tanks, and aircraft.
Three Regions of Advance. The Russians continue to slowly advance from Russian-occupied Crimea, Belarus, and from Russia on the Ukraine northeastern border. The forces coming from Belarus are heading south to Kyiv. The forces advancing from the northeast and Crimea may be pincer movements to cut off the Ukrainian forces fighting in the east of Ukraine. The Ukrainians may have to cede territory and pull back the forces in eastern Ukraine before their lines of communication that run east west are severed. In addition, the Russians conducted a large scale amphibious operation from the Sea of Azov in the vicinity of the coastal city of Mariupol. The S2 Underground YouTube channel has an update on the axis of advances of Russian forces in Ukraine (26 Feb). The Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map is an open, crowd-sourced online mapping utility that can help track incidents and activity in Ukraine.
Russian Troop Numbers. According to a recent U.S. Department of Defense news release on February 26, the Russians have more than 150,000 troops arrayed against Ukraine, with most of them in the country. Over the past 24 hours the Russians have conducted more than 250 missile launches, mostly short-range ballistic missiles. Some civilian infrastructure and residential areas have been hit by these missile strikes.
Battle for Kyiv. The Russians hope to capture the Ukrainian capital soon. It was thought that the Russians would go for Kyiv on Friday night (27 Feb) but apparently its forces were still getting into position, the logistics train was playing catchup, and reinforcements were still arriving in the area. A sizeable Russian forces of troops and tanks is located just north of the city, less than 6 miles from Kyiv’s Parliament and the city center. In addition, Russian forces have cut off the city from the west, presumably with VDV forces from Belarus and that have been moved by air. However by dawn the capital had yet to be fully encircled. ‘Irregular Russian forces’ have continued to fight Ukrainian defenders within the city of Kyiv – but the fighting seems to be at a lower intensity. An oil depot on the outskirts of Kyiv had been hit and was on fire. Saturday night into Sunday morning was another night of sirens and missile explosions.
Map of Ukraine. Congressional Research Service (CRS), April 2020.
Avoiding the Cities? Combat in an urban environment is tough, especially for a force that relies on airpower, tanks, and artillery. The use of these highly lethal and mobile weapons systems is constrained in a city environment filled with thousands and thousands of civilians. Defensive tactics in an urban warfare situation can bog down an offensive operation by an attacking force. The Russians appear to be bypassing the big Ukrainian cities – leaving just enough forces to encircle and isolate them. This is most likely a good strategy for the Russians for now. Read more about fighting in cities in an analysis by Dr. John P. Sullivan entitled “Assessing Urban Terrain Features for Dense Urban Environments”, Homeland Security, February 11, 2022. See also “Urban Warfare: A Practitioners Annotated Bibliography”, Australian Army Research Centre.
Chernihiv Bypassed. The Ukrainian city of Chernihiv located in the north of Ukraine near the Belarus border has put up a strong defense. Russian forces are bypassing the city and likely moving south to take part in the encirclement and isolation of Kyiv.
Kharkiv Under Attack. The northeast city of Kharkiv is located just across from the Russia border. This city of about 1.5 million people is now under siege. As of early Sunday (Feb 27) there was heavy street fighting and many residents were seeking safety in bomb shelters and in the underground metro. The opposing forces are exchanging heavy volumes of rocket artillery fire. As of mid-day Sunday the Russian assault of the city has been halted by Ukrainian defenders. Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine. The city is populated mainly by Ukrainians (63%) with a significant number of Russians (33%).
Russian SOF. There are reports that Russian special operations forces are attempting to kill or capture the Ukrainian president. Russian SOF have a ‘kill list’ of leading Ukrainian government leaders that they are targeting. The offer by the United States for an evacuation from Kyiv for the Ukrainian president have been rebuffed. It seems he has said: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” “Russian special forces have entered Kyiv to hunt down Ukraine’s leaders, says Volodymyr Zelensky”, inews.co.uk, February 25, 2022.
Russian Casualties. The rapid advance of the Russian ground forces has slowed. Reaction on the home front has been mixed, with protests occurring in the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russia has always attempted to hide the number of casualties in past conflicts (Chechnya, Syria, and others) and refuses to comment on fatalities. “Ukraine invasion: Russian forces have mobile crematorium that can ‘evaporate’ soldiers killed in attacks”, Fox News, February 25, 2022.
Ukrainian Defense. The air defenses of Ukraine, including aircraft, continue to operate, engage, and deny access to Russian aircraft in some parts of the country. The Ukrainians have held the major cities; although, in most cases the Russians have bypassed them. The coastal city of Mariupol is under attack but appears to be offering stiff resistance to the Russians.
Ukrainian Civilian Resistance. The Ukrainian military has fought exceptionally well in the face of superior numbers of Russian troops, tanks, artillery, and aircraft. This unexpected high level of resistance has slowed the Russian onslaught. Ukrainian civilians are assisting where they can – placing obstacles in city roads, tearing down street signs, and taking up weapons issued by the Ukrainian government. Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces have been conducting weekend training sessions for months in preparation to help defend the country from the Russians. “Weapons to anyone: Across Ukraine, militias form as Russian forces near”, The Washington Post, February 26, 2022. Residents in Dnipro, Ukrainians are preparing Molotov cocktails in preparation for advancing Russian troops. Read more on how civilian volunteers and paramilitary groups are taking the fight to the Russian army in “Everybody in Our Country Needs to Defend”, The New York Times, February 26, 2022.
Belarus. The Department of State has issued a travel advisory for Belarus, advising U.S. citizens not to travel to Belarus and urging them to depart the country immediately. Currently Minsk airport and Belarusian land border points are open but could change without significant notice. U.S. citizens should avoid public demonstrations as potential harassment targeted specifically at foreigners is possible. The security situation in Belarus could become critical. The country has been a staging area for Russian troops invading Ukraine. There are reports on social media that Belarus special operations forces will soon take part in the Ukraine invasion.
Russian Misinformation. The Kremlin has four distinct audiences that it seeks to manipulate through falsehoods with regard to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These are the domestic Russian audience, audiences inside Ukraine, audiences in the former Soviet republics, and audiences in Western Europe and the United States. For many years the Russian media has conveyed a false image of military prowess. Observers need to look at Russia’s real military capabilities with objective eyes to get past the illusion painted by the Russian propaganda.
Cyber Wars. The Russians have long used the interruption of internet services prior to and during an attack against an opponent. Ukraine is no exception and daily cyber attacks are taking place against Ukraine’s internet services. Elon Musk’s firm is turning on mini-satellites to provide internet service to Ukraine. In order to connect to the internet, users need a Starlink kit, which includes a router – and a clear view of the sky. “Elon musk deploys SpaceX’s Starlink Internet satellites over Ukraine after request from vice PM”, EuroNews, February 27, 2022. A Canadian intelligence agency has called for ramped up cyber defenses citing increased cyber threat activity.
“Friends From Abroad”. It seems that Ukrainian President Volodymryr Zelensky has promised to issue weapons to anyone who is willing to fight for Ukraine. He is quoted as saying: “Every friend of Ukraine who wants to join Ukraine in defending the country please come over, we will give you weapons.” (inews.co.uk, Feb 25, 2022). Apparently there is a new unit in the Ukrainian defense forces called the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine.
NATO Response. Germany is looking at establishing a 100 billion euro special fund to build up the Bundeswehr. This according to a statement by Chancellor Scholz. NATO nations have been flowing troops and equipment to eastern Europe and the Baltic States to ensure it is ready to counter any Russian moves against a NATO nation.
European Commission. The leaders of the EC have condemned Putin’s war against Ukraine and have opted to impose severe measures on key Russian institutions and banks and other Russian figures and organizations. Selected banks are to be removed from the SWIFT messaging system which disconnects the banks from the international financial system and harms their ability to operate globally. The EC is imposing restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves. It also will limit the sale of citizenship or ‘golden passports’ to wealthy Russians who are connected to the Russian government. See more in “Joint Statement on Further Restrictive Economic Measures”, The White House, February 26, 2022.
Sanctions. The world is tightening up on the economy of Russia. A variety of economic measures and sanctions have gone into effect. One example of how this impacts Russia took place on Saturday when France intercepted a Russian vessel in the English Channel in line with European Union sanctions. Some nations are waffling on the sanctions issue; India is one of them.
Lethal Aid. A number of western nations are shipping arms, munitions, and ammunition to Ukraine. These countries include the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and others. Small arms, MANPADs, and anti-armor weapons are included in these shipments. On Saturday, President Biden authorized an additional $350 million of military assistance from DoD inventories. This included anti-armor, small arms, various munitions, body armor, and related equipment. The United Kingdom has been shipping NLAWs to Ukraine, and they are proving to be very effective anti-armor weapons on the battlefield.
Humanitarian Aid. Many nations around the world are sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Typically this entails flying goods to Poland and then transferring the aid to trucks to transport across the border into western Ukraine. On Sunday, February 27th the U.S. Department of State announced that it is providing $54 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. $26 million will be from the State Department and $28 million from USAID.
Closing the Straits. Ukraine has appealed to Turkey to block Russian warships from passing through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits which lead to the Black Sea. Under the 1936 Montreux Convention, Turkey has control over the straits and can limit the passage of warships during wartime or if threatened. “Turkey cannot stop Russian warships accessing Black Sea, says foreign minister”, Euronews, February 26, 2022.
Alcohol Wars. Pravda Brewery, based in Lviv, Ukraine, has suspended its beer brewing operations and is now making Molotov cocktails. The import of Russian vodka into the United States and Canada will likely slow over the next several months. There are a lot of folks looking to express their condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Apparently not drinking the famous alcohol of Russia is one of them. “Russian vodka pulled from shelves in US, Canada bars, liquor stores: ‘Every small thing makes a difference'”, Yahoo! News, February 26, 2022. Drink Finlandia!
Coming Soon – Ukraine Insurgency. Russia’s invasion will very likely unleash forces that the Kremlin will not be able to control. Putin’s best-laid plans could unravel in the face of national resistance and groups of insurgents attacking exposed Russian positions, logistical convoys, and small units over the long-term. Russia can seize as much of Ukraine as it desires. But the more of Ukraine territory that it tries to keep the more Moscow will bleed. Ukraine’s long border with the four NATO states of Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia means that lethal aid can find its way into Ukraine to support a resistance and long-term insurgency. Douglas London was a Senior Operations Officer in the CIA Clandestine Service for over 34 years. He provides a detailed analysis of what could go wrong for the Russians in “The Coming Ukrainian Insurgency”, Foreign Affairs, February 25, 2022.
Russian Threats Against the ‘North Countries’. Finland and Sweden have had a ‘partnership’ with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for years. There are indications that both countries are edging toward joining NATO. Russia has come out with some harsh statements on that topic. “Russia says Finland, Sweden could face consequences if countries move to join NATO”, Fox News, February 25, 2022. Both countries discounted the verbal threats from the Russians, saying that they make their own decisions about their security and won’t be influenced by threats from Russia.
Russia’s Nukes Now on Alert. There is some concern about Putin’s order to put Russian nuclear deterrent forces on alert on Sunday. He has threatened to retaliate harshly against nations that have intervened directly in the conflict in Ukraine. “Putin puts Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on alert”, Associated Press News, February 27, 2022.
Russia’s Next Target: the Suwalki Gap? A seizure of the the land between Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad would close the narrow passage – the Suwalki Gap – that connects the NATO nation of Poland with the NATO nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This would involve the introduction of Russian ground troops onto either Poland and / or Lithuania. And invoke NATO’s article 5. However, given Putin’s behavior, this cannot be discounted as his next aim. Of course, Finland, another non-NATO nation could see itself in the crosshairs of Russian aggression . . . as well as some of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Image: The United States offered President Zelensky a ride out of Ukraine. His response is above.