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 Russians are continuing their attacks against Ukraine. The effort in the north is somewhat stalled while gains are being made by the Russians in the south. The Russians don’t appear to have an operational plan where the different columns are in a supporting posture – it seems more of a piecemeal effort with separate battles going on in different parts of Ukraine. The White House is reporting that 90% of the pre-invasion force on the borders of Ukraine has now entered the country.
The capture of Kyiv is the main effort. The cities of Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Mykolayiv are secondary targets. The 40-mile long Russian column advancing into the interior of Ukraine has been slow moving and has come under attack frequently by Ukrainian forces. As of Thursday (Mar 3) the column was 15 miles from the capital city – Kyiv. The forward elements of the convoy are likely moving into their staging areas, with some elements heading south and then west to complete the encirclement of the capital city.
Fight for the Skies. The Russians have yet to commit the full force of its air force and its long-range and short-range missiles. This is a failure of planning, an attempt to minimize civilian casualties, or some other factor. But it remains a mystery to military analysts. The Ukrainian Air Force, although diminished, is still flying. The anti-air capabilities of Ukraine are reduced but still active. Stingers appear to be making a difference.
Maritime Activities. An Estonian cargo ship was reportedly sunk in the Black Sea after hitting a naval mine of the coast of Odessa. A Bangladeshi-flagged ship was also hit by a Russian missile. An amphibious force of four large landing ships is off the coast of Odessa. They will likely take part in an operation once the Russian forces from the Crimea spearhead start moving west along the coast of the Black Sea. Or, they are a feint to keep Ukrainian forces in the Odessa region while the Crimea-based Russian forces either head to Kyiv or conduct a pincer movement to cut off Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country.
Kyiv. The capital city is almost completely encircled. Open roads leading out of the capital are likely to the southwest. The train heading west is running . . . and always full of passengers. It is likely that the Russians want to take the city and install a puppet regime. There is probably a plane waiting in Moscow to board the ‘new government’ and fly them to Kyiv once the city is secured by the Russians.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. There is a fierce fight for this city that is close to the Russian border. A lot of artillery and rocket attacks by the Russians have occurred. Most reports say that the city is completely encircled.
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.
Going West? With the capture of Kherson by the Russians, attention is now focused on Mykolayiv and Odessa. The question is, will this concentration of Russian troops that emerged from Russian-occupied Crimea push north to Kyiv or head west towards Odessa?
Western Arms. Over 20 countries – most from NATO and the European Union – are sending weapons, ammunition, and military supplies to Ukraine from across the Polish border. Rocket launchers, Stinger surface-to-air missiles, and Javelin antitank missiles are among the more important weapons being sent to Ukraine. Turkey is providing Bayraktar TB2 drones that have proved surprisingly effective against Russian forces.
Fight at Nuclear Power Plant. Russian forces fired at buildings in a complex housing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. This took place in the southern city of Enerhodar. The fire has since been put out, no news on radiation leaks. The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that the Ukraine regulator has not detected a change in radiation levels. Russian news reports that a joint Russian-Ukrainian exercise was held on Thursday to practice procedures at the power plant. The exercise is now over and completed all of its training objectives.
Russian General Killed. The former commander of Russian 7th Airborne Assault Division was killed by a Ukrainian sniper on Wednesday (Mar 2). At the time of his death he was the deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army of the Central Military District. “Ukraine Forces Reportedly Kill Russia General Andrei Sukhovetsky in Blow to Invading Army”, Newsweek, March 3, 2022.
Negotiations. Talks are ongoing each day at the Belarusian town of Gomel just across the Belarus border. Ukraine has demanded a ceasefire and the establishment of humanitarian corridors at the talks. Ukrainian President Zelensky has requested direct talks with Russian President Putin.
Refugees. Over a million people have fled Ukraine in the past seven days according to the United Nations. This is about 2% of the country’s total population. Most are being taken in by Poland and Hungary.
“Volunteer Formations of Territorial Communities”. The provisions of Article 8 of the Law of Ukraine “On Fundamentals of National Resistance” have established civilian organizations that are under the command and control of the commander of the military unit of the Territorial Defence Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The tasks of the Volunteer Formations of Territorial Communities is to construct checkpoints, block movement of the enemy, and perform other tasks given them. The most significant change to the law included the clearly defined powers of the Special Operations Forces, which will lead the resistance movement, as well as giving volunteer fighters the right to use small arms.
“Members of voluntary formations of territorial communities have the right to use personal hunting weapons, small arms, other weapons and ammunition while performing territorial defense tasks, in accordance with the procedure established by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.”
Foreign Volunteers? Russia Will Prosecute. Volunteers from across the globe are traveling to Ukraine to fight against the Russians. Apparently several hundred volunteers have arrived in Ukraine to fight alongside Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington, D.C. says they have received more than 3,000 applications for U.S. citizens wanting to help out. Many of them are military veterans. Once in the Ukraine they are integrated into the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine. The Russian Defense Ministry says that military contractors sent by Western countries and ‘foreign mercenaries’ will be prosecuted. It is likely that this announcement will not apply to the Wagner Group. Read more:
“Volunteer fighters arrive in Ukraine. But the untrained should stay home”, Military Times, March 3, 2022.
“A SEAL Turned CIA Officer’s Advice to Vets Volunteering to Fight for Ukraine”, Sandboxx, March 3, 2022.
“We Followed a Foreign Fighter on His Way to Join the War in Ukraine”, Vice World News, March 1, 2022.
“Foreign Fighters in Ukraine? Evaluating the Benefits and Risks”, Lawfare Blog, March 2, 2022.
The Coming Resistance
U.S. SOF and Ukraine. From intelligence gathering to training civilians in guerrilla tactics, here’s what the U.S. and NATO might do to push back against the Russian invasion while avoiding escalation. “How U.S. Special Forces Can Fight Putin Without Starting World War III”, by Jeremy Kryt, Daily Beast, March 1, 2022.
Insurgency? Long and Bloody. Thomas Pepinsky, a professor of government and public policy at Cornell University, writes that the Ukrainians should steel themselves for a long and difficult insurgency in the months and years ahead. The Ukrainians are unlikely to defeat the larger and better equipped Russian army they are confronted with. So an insurgency seems to be the only alternative to capitulation. Insurgent warfare is designed to grind down the occupying force’s resolve. But that takes months if not years. “A Ukrainian Insurgency Will Be Long and Bloody”, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 3, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Hackers on both sides of the conflict continue their efforts in cyberspace. Some social media platforms are being restricted or shutdown – in Russia and around the world by respective nations. The United States is considering a bill in Congress entitled Strengthening American Cybersecurity Act of 2022. Despite the fact that Russia has a huge army of cyber warriors it seems to have not coordinated a pre-invasion cyber attack very effectively, and its current operations are not decisive. Is cyberwar overrated?
Hackers Targeting Refugee Orgs. Cyber hackers from Belarus are going after organizations that are helping Ukrainian refugees and delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Phishing attacks have been launched from emails pretending to be from the Ukrainian security services. “Warning: Hackers are Targeting the Ukraine Refugee Crisis”, Forbes, March 2, 2022.
Hacktivists and Cyber War. Some computer techies have a criminal focus. But we now see them opposing each other as they align with Russia or Ukraine in the current conflict. Hacktivists around the world have got involved in the Ukraine War. Ukraine put out a call for a digital army to help it resist the Russian invasion. Anonymous and other individual hackers have answered the call. Russia’s cyber army has been building its cyber capabilities over the past 15 years. “The cyberwar over Ukraine is like nothing we’ve seen before”, Deutsche Welle, March 3, 2022.
The Cyberspace War – Podcast. Russian soldiers continue to push toward Kyiv. In cyberspace, a volunteer Ukrainian cyber army, hacktivists, and cybercriminals are battling for impact in an increasingly chaotic information war. “How the battle between Russia and Ukraine has developed in cyberspace”, National Public Radio, March 3, 2022.
Russia Today (RT). The production company for RT America has laid off a majority of its staff. DirecTV, one of the main television providers, dropped RT America. This news network has been a mouthpiece for Russian propaganda for many years.
Russia, the Media, and the War. Media coverage of Russian troops invading Ukraine is unfolding differently in Russia than in the U.S. Using maps and disinformation, many television programs are shaping public opinion by justifying Moscow’s decision to attack its neighbor. “How Russian State Media is Portraying the War in Ukraine”, Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2022, YouTube, 6 minutes.
UATV. Watch broadcast TV in Ukraine live.
Project DYNAMO. A Tampa-based nonprofit that has been assisting in the evacuation effort of Afghans since the coming to power of the Taliban is now operating in Ukraine. Project DYNAMO recently coordinated for two buses of evacuees out of Ukraine since the Russian invasion took place. Thousands of people have requested assistance from Project DYNAMO – including American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and people from other nations. See “Tampa-based nonprofit, Project DYNAMO, rescues evacuees, including Americans, from Ukraine”, ABC Action News, March 1, 2022.
U.S. Offers TPS. The secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has created a 18-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Ukrainians who have lived in the U.S. since March 1, 2022. This allows eligible people to apply for work permits and deportation protections. This TPS designation is expected to benefit 30,000 Ukrainians living in the U.S. on temporary student, tourist, or business visas. Read more in “Secretary Mayorkas Designates Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status for 18 Months”, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), March 3, 2022.
$10B Ukraine Fund. Congress has been asked to provide about $10 billion to cover the cost of troop deployments to Eastern Europe, covert support to Ukraine, U.S. weapons for Ukraine, humanitarian aid, and military aid. The request (see White House letter) was made on Thursday (Mar 3). See “White House seeks new $10B Ukraine fund with half for Pentagon”, Defense News, March 3, 2022.
Evac Groups and Maps. The Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) began in August 2021 after the fall of the Afghan government and the occupation of Kabul by the Taliban. Various volunteer groups formed up quickly to assist Afghans onto the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul. Some of the organizations had access to numerous mapping applications to assist in their operations. One of these apps was developed by a SOF-focused firm based in Tampa, Florida called Quiet Professionals. And now, volunteer evacuation groups are setting up their map applications for the Ukraine conflict. Read more in “Offering Hope to Those Left Behind in Afghanistan”, ESRI.com, Winter 2022.
EU Membership. Ukraine has already asked for membership in the European Union. Now Moldova and Georgia are also seeking EU membership. Both countries have asked the EU to begin membership talks.
Avoiding the Larger War. While the United States and other NATO countries need to reinforce Eastern Europe and support the Ukrainian people, it needs to be careful not to escalate the current conflict into a larger war. Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist with RAND Corporation, provides some cautionary advice. “Ensuring Russia’s War with Ukraine Doesn’t Morph into Direct Conflict with NATO”, RAND Corporation, March 2, 2022.
Closing the Turkish Straits. The passage of ships through the Turkish Straits is regulated under the 1936 Montreux Convention. Turkey has the right to close the straits in time of war. On March 1, 2022, it closed the straits to warship transits. It is unclear if the closure is for just Russian warships or all warships. A professor of law at the U.S. Naval War College looks into the legal aspects of the Turkish move in “Closing the Turkish Straits in Times of War”, Articles of War, Lieber Institute West Point, March 3, 2022.
The Finnish Model of Defense. If you want ordinary people to make your society occupation-proof, you have to teach them to kill well before they need to do so. Ukraine failed in this respect. On the other hand, Finland seems quite prepared to repeat its performance of the 1939 Winter War. “How the Finns Deter Russian Invasion”, The Atlantic, March 3, 2022.
Avoiding WWIII. Aaron Stein is the director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He outlines some of the things that could happen that could get us into another world war. One scenario is the possibility of an encounter between opposing aircraft along the Polish Ukrainian border that escalates quickly. “Ukraine and a Guide to Avoiding World War III”, War on the Rocks, March 3, 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
Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map. This map is a crowdsourced effort by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) and the wider open source community to provide reliable information for policymakers, journalists, and justice organizations about the evolving situations both on the ground and online.
UK Ministry of Defence. Check out the map posted by @DefenceHQ on Twitter.
Ukraine Graphics by Reuters. “Russia Invades 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/.
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.
Image: Graphic by John Spencer, Chair of Urban Warfare Studies with the Madison Policy Forum. Major, US Army (ret). John tweets at @SpencerGuard