Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, Ukrainian defense, NATO, international response, and humanitarian crisis.
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Russian Offensive. With the ever closer huge column of troops, tanks, APCs, artillery, and support vehicles approaching Kyiv comes the fear that the encirclement of the capital city will soon be complete and violent street to street urban warfare will soon ensue. Other areas of eastern Ukraine are under attack as well. In the north, south, and along the eastern frontier. The cities of Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Kherson are all under attack. Kharkiv and Kyiv are still in Ukrainian hands . . . for now. The Institute for the Study of War provides an map with a daily update of Russian occupied areas of Ukraine.
Informative Map Resource. An article published about a week before the invasion, provides a series of maps that describe the pre-invasion composition and disposition of Russian forces around Ukraine and beyond. “Russian Buildup Near Ukraine Features Potent Weapons Systems, Well-Trained Troops”, The Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2022.
Russian Strategy and Tactics. The offensive did not start off well. Perhaps the Russians were a bit optimistic on the numbers of troops and tanks needed to deliver a ‘shock and awe’ campaign and achieve its objectives. Certainly the logistics train has not supplied enough fuel, food, and ammunition for the troops fighting in the various areas of Ukraine. The inability to knock out the air defense and air force of Ukraine has also met criticism.
“Russia’s military strategy thus far has holes in it big enough to drive a Russian tank through . . . if it hadn’t run out of gas.”Ukraine Evac Volunteer, March 1, 2022.
Artillery and MLRS. A long-time Soviet strategy was the use of massed artillery and rocket fire to prepare for the advance of infantry and tank formations into enemy territory. The Russians still rely on this in their doctrine. A recent inventory to their weapons systems is the TOS-1 MLRS Heavy Flamethrower System. This weapon will cause terrible damage to those on the receiving end. The MRLS and thermobaric weapon is mounted on a tank chassis.
Current Russian Disposition. Estimates of pre-invasion Russian strength were between 150,000 to 200,000 arrayed along the border of Ukraine. These troops were in encampments along the Belarus, Russian, and Russian-occupied Crimea borders. It is estimated (Mar 1) that at least 80% of these troops are now in Ukraine. In addition, there are some ‘private actors’ involved in the offensive – the shadowy Wagner Group (mercenaries) is reported to have hundreds of fighters now in Ukraine.
Kharkiv. The second largest city located in the northeast of Ukraine is encircled and under attack. It is on the receiving end of artillery and rocket barrages. Kharkiv is cutoff from any troop reinforcements and resupply of ammunition, food, and other essential equipment. With a population of 1 1/2 million the fear of large numbers of civilian casualties may be realized as Russian troops try to enter the city proper.
Crimea Axis. The move north of Russian forces from Russian-occupied Crimea has had some success. It appears the area just north of Crimea has been secured. Some elements of these Russian forces have moved towards the Ukrainian city of Mariupol located on the coast of the Sea of Azov. It is anticipated that other forces from the Crimea axis will push towards the coastal city of Odessa on the Black Sea. News reports say that the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson is under attack and may soon fall into Russian hands. The city is located north of Crimea and sits on the Dnieper River where it flows into the Black Sea. Kherson is on the road to Odessa.
Moldova a Target? A recent briefing by Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has shown a battle map live on TV. Some analysts have taken a close look at the briefing map and came away with the conclusion that there will be a move of Russian troops from Odessa to and beyond the Moldova border. The unrecognized breakaway state of Transnistria is located in Moldova along the Ukraine border. There are currently Russian troops based there. Watch a video clip of the briefing entitled “Russia’s secret plot to invade second nation leaked”, news.com.au, March 1, 2022.
Ukrainian Defense. The citizenry of Ukraine are stepping up to defend their homeland. Apparently some older Ukrainian women are ready to help defend their country by joining the ‘Babushka Battalion‘. (Aljazeera, Feb 14, 2022). Some of the larger Ukrainian cities are now under siege. While fighting in an urban environment is difficult for both defender and attacker there are some tactics and techniques that can sway the outcome of the battle. (Task & Purpose, Feb 28, 2020).
Assassination Attempt on Zelensky. Ukrainian officials say that they were informed by discontented Russian Federal Security Service agents who “have no desire to take part in this bloody war” about an attempt to assassinate the Ukrainian president. The attempt was by the Kadyrovites, a Chechen paramilitary organization. “Ukraine foils assassination attempt on Zelensky by Chechen special unit”, The Jerusalem Post, March 1, 2022.
West Sends Weapons. The anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons being sent to the Ukrainian armed forces will make a big difference in the battlefield calculus. The Stingers and anti-tank weapons are reducing the effectiveness of Russian aircraft and Russian tanks.
Information Operations And Cyber Warfare
Social Media Platforms Take Action. Google has banned two Russian outlets on YouTube – Russia Today and Sputnik. Facebook has pulled ads from some Russian accounts and it is adding warning labels to content from the Kremlin’s websites. It is also changing up its search function to diminish the traffic heading to state-controlled Russian Facebook accounts. TikTok, a Chinese platform, has allowed pro-Russian propaganda on its site. Read more in “Big tech grapples with Russian state media, propaganda”, AP News, March 1, 2022.
Russia and Social Media. Some Russian media platforms in Russia have been taken offline – by the Russian government. The opposition media outlets of TV Rain and Echo of Moscow have had their access blocked. Russia has been ‘losing the hearts and minds’ battle. Slawomir Sierakowski tells us why in “Putin’s empire of lies”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 2, 2022.
Social Media and News Coverage. Many of the video clips shown on network and cable television news programs come from TikTok, Telegram, and other social media platforms. Some of it is propaganda and disinformation. Much of it is recycled video clips of past conflicts (Ukraine 2014). Learn “How CNN geolocates and verifies social media footage from Ukraine”, CNN.com, February 28, 2022. Read also an interesting article about Russian propaganda and search results in Google News. “The surprising performance of Kremlin propaganda on Google News”, Brookings Institute, March 1, 2022.
Russia Under Cyber Attack. State and non-state actors are hitting Russia hard with cyber attacks. In the latest cyber attack against Russia a group of hackers called NB65 claims it has taken control of the Russian Space Agency. Some hackers are targeting Russia’s satellites. “Prominent hackers target Russia’s satellite infrastructure”, Cyber News, March 2, 2022.
The Belarus Card. Russia is going to use influence operations to justify intervention on the part of Belarus into the Russian-Ukraine war. Look for a ‘false flag’ operation where a ‘provocative attack’ is conducted by Ukraine against Belarus that gives that nation cover to launch attacks against Ukraine. Currently Belarus forces are mobilized and staged for entry into Ukraine. Russian forces have been using Belarus as a staging and support area and have launched attacks from Belarus into northern Ukraine.
NATO and EU. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization seems more united than it has been in many years. Granted it supported the Afghan mission for two decades after invoking Article five. But it has not shown this must resolve in standing up to Russia in a long time. Estonia and Latvia are sending needed war supplies – anti-tank weapons, ammunition, and fuel. And those MiG-29s for Ukraine? May not be happening after all. Ukraine may see an accelerated admission into the European Union.
U.S. Troop Movements – ABCT. An entire armored brigade combat team is being deployed to Europe from the United States. The 405th Army Field Support Brigade in Kaiserlautern, Germany will be outfitting the ABCT with vehicles and equipment for the 1st ABCT of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia. It appears that the arriving ABCT will link up with their vehicles and equipment at Grafenwoehr, Germany. Learn more how Army prepositioned stocks in Europe are activated to support the deployment of the ABCT. (Army.mil, Mar 1, 2022).
Russia’s Isolation Grows. As a major economy and large nation in the global system Russia has been taking part in “. . . intricate supply chains, banking, sports, and countless other threads of deep connection.” Until now. It is now experiencing isolation from the international financial community. The international sports scene is shunning Russia. Its airplanes are no longer allowed to make many international flights. Even its commercial ocean-going vessels are finding a lack of safe harbors. When the always neutral country of Switzerland turns its back on you, then you know you have a problem. “From banking to sports to vodka, Russia’s isolation grows”, AP News, March 1, 2022.
United Nations Drama. Russian’s foreign ambassador to the United Nations attempted to speak during a conference in New York at the UN. About 90% of the attendees got up and walked out. Sign of the times.
SOTU. During the U.S. State of the Union speech there were signs of blue and yellow in the audience. Colors of Ukraine. President Biden announced a ban on Russian aircraft flying through American airspace.
Poland Accepts War Refugees. Two pedestrian refugee crossings were opened up along the Polish Ukrainian border. There are long lines of people departing Ukraine on foot. Poland and the Polish people have been very supportive of the Ukrainian refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that over 500,000 people have fled Ukraine. The bordering countries of Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, Hungary, and Romania are accepting refugees.
Humanitarian Corridor? The Ukrainian health minister is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to organize the delivery of food and medicine to areas of Ukraine. This may, if allowed by the Russians, bring needed humanitarian aid to Russian occupied areas as well as Ukrainian held areas.
Putin – Unbalanced or Cagey? Over the past year national security observers and leaders of various nations have expressed concern and caution over the state of mind of President Putin. His decision to invade Ukraine and recent announcements of increasing the readiness of Russia’s nuclear forces have people scratching their head. “Reading Putin: Unbalanced or cagily preying on West’s fears?”, AP News, March 1, 2022.
Urban Warfare. Military analysts are watching the upcoming fight for the large cities of Ukraine. How this plays out – a superior conventional force fighting to take embattled cities from a weaker defending force augmented with civilians given weapons. Read more on this in “The Two Debates in Military Circles the War in Ukraine Could Help Settle”, by John Amble, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 2, 2022.
Bleeding Russia. James L. Bruno provides his thoughts on how to make Vladimir Putin pay a heavy price for his invasion of Ukraine. He describes how it was done in the 1980s with the ill-fated Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. By the time the Soviet Union exited Afghanistan ten years later some 15,000 had been killed and 35,000 wounded. The failure in Afghanistan led to, in part, the fall of the Soviet empire (CIA report, 1999). Read more in “How to Make Russia Bleed”, Dispatches from Exile, February 28, 2022.
‘Shock and Awful’ – Lessons From the War. William M. Arkin, an author and national security journalist, provides a detail account of the first days of the Russian offensive and points out some lessons that the Pentagon and U.S. national security establishment should be taking notes on. “Shocking Lessons U.S. Military Leaders Learned by Watching Putin’s Invasion”, Newsweek, March 1, 2022.
Photo: A member of the Ukraine National Guard.