Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, resistance by the Ukrainian people, response by NATO and European community, and humanitarian crisis.
Russian Offensive. The offensive had a short lull over the weekend, likely a factor of ammunition, fuel, and reinforcements catching up to the ‘front lines’. The Russian invasion has suffered some logistical problems, but these will be overcome in time. There may have been some time taken to make adjustments to strategy and tactics to account for the fierce Ukrainian resistance. However, offensive operations by the Russians were at a higher op tempo beginning on Monday (Feb 28). Russia has committed over 75% of the 150,000 troops that it had assembled along the borders of Ukraine.
Ukrainian airfields in the west have been interdicted with missile and air attacks in an attempt to ground the Ukraine Air Force. The Russian Air Force had a bit of a slow start. Logistic centers are also being targeted in the west to damage the supply lines of weapons and equipment coming across the border from Poland provided by NATO nations.
Russian Reinforcements. A miles-long convoy (estimates are about 64 klics long) of Russian troops, tanks, APCs, logistic and supply vehicles, and fuel trucks are enroute to the outskirts of Kyiv. Various news agencies have been highlighting the imagery by Maxar Techonologies depicting this long Russian convoy as it makes its way through Ukraine. They will soon begin staging for an assault on the capital city. Some of the equipment moving into Ukraine is the TOS-1A – a MLRS with a thermobaric projectile. Some social media accounts say this weapon has already been used in Ukraine. Probably more propaganda than anything is the report that 400 Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group flew from Africa to Ukraine to join the fight in Kyiv. The best-known private military company of Russia has a storied history.
Lviv Threatened? More reinforcements in the form of Belarus troops on the way heading south into northern Ukraine. A divisional sized unit of the Belarus army has been seen in the southeastern part of Belarus near the city of Brest. It is posed to head south into Ukraine along the Polish-Ukrainian border. This could threaten Lviv in the west, interdict the east-west route across Ukraine, and cut off resupply lines coming from the Polish border.
Kharkiv. The country’s second largest city located in northeast Ukraine is under assault with Russian forces controlling the major highways into and around Kharkiv. Civilian vehicles are not allowed to leave the city. Recent advances into the city (as of Monday night) were rebuffed by the Ukrainian defensive forces. The city is being subjected to bombardment by Russian artillery and MLRS units. The prospect is that eventually the city will fall to the Russians. With the bombardment of artillery and rockets numerous civilian casualties are likely to occur. The Russians will have to content with Ukrainians who, as long as supplies hold out, will have an advantage in the conduct of urban warfare.
Russian SOF. President Putin thanked his Russian special forces units for their heroic duty in Ukraine on February 27 (Sun). His thanks were extended during a televised address to Russia. (Reuters, Feb 27, 2022).
Ukrainian Defense. The defenders have been using anti-air and anti-armor missiles and rockets to great effect – contributing to the stalled Russian offensive. More of these defensive weapons will arrive in Ukraine. The Dutch have sent 200 Stinger missiles. Berlin confirmed that it is supplying Ukraine with 500 Stinger missiles and 1,000 anti-tank weapons. These MANPADs will complement the S-300 missile systems and BUK-M1 anti-aircraft systems of the Ukrainian defense forces. The Ukrainians have used the day-long pause in Russian operations to strengthen their defenses and make adjustments to their troop disposition. Is help coming? NATO may not send troops to Ukraine but former NATO soldiers are responding to requests for assistance. Some have SOF experience. Ukraine has temporarily lifted visas for foreigners who wish to join the International Legion recently formed by the country.
Eastern Units at Risk? There are more than 12 Ukrainian brigades defending the eastern border. They risk getting cut off by Russian forces moving up from Mariupol and down from Kharkiv. At some point the Russians could execute a pincer movement and cut these brigades off from retreat to central Ukraine. Kherson, in the south of Ukraine, is also under attack with Russians on the outskirts of the city.
The Cyber War. There are reports of cyber attacks worldwide against a number of countries and private institutions. This was preceded with cyber attacks against the Ukrainians prior to the invasion. No doubt the Russians have unleashed their cyber warriors. Most countries are fighting back and there are likely ‘offensive’ cyber operations taking place that the public is unaware of. Ukraine has not been sitting on the sidelines in this area of the conflict. It has enlisted thousands of cybersecurity professionals in the war effort against Russia. The ‘IT Army’ has grown rapidly. Volunteers are recruited through a Telegram channel and tasks are assigned to the volunteers. “Ukraine’s Volunteer ‘IT Army’ is Hacking in Uncharted Territory”, Wired.com, February 27, 2022.
Exodus to the Border. More than 500,000 Ukrainians have fled the country, many finding refuge and safety in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia. Long lines of cars and buses are stretched for miles at the border areas. Trains running from east to west in Ukraine are filled to capacity. Many have abandoned their cars on the roads after running out of gas and are trudging on foot with what little possessions they can carry. Many foreigners had been working and studying in Ukraine and are now finding their way across the border. Many of the Ukrainians departing for another country are passing through Lviv in western Ukraine. The city has been spared much of the fighting thus far but its citizens are preparing for the arrival of Russian forces. One man making his way out of Ukraine when the Russians invaded was the German spy chief – evacuated over a land route by German special forces. More than 150,000 Ukrainians are now internally displaced.
Humanitarian Crisis. The medical system in Ukraine is stretched and food is running low for the Ukrainians. While markets are open the food stocks are low. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are attempting to provide assistance to Ukrainians with shipments to the western border of Ukraine. The Russian artillery and rocket attacks are causing numerous civilian casualties.
Negotiations. Talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials took place on Monday (Feb 28) on the Belarus Ukraine border. It is unlikely that any progress was being made in the six hour long talks. The Russian delegation was led by Putin’s adviser on culture – not exactly a high-level representative. The meeting merely gave each nation the ability to project to the world their willingness to negotiate; there was no expectation by anyone that it would lead to a truce or ceasefire. There are indications that the talks will continue over the coming days.
NATO Jets for Ukraine. News reports on Sunday (Feb 27) said that the European nations would contribute fighter jets to Ukraine. These reports were initially met with some skepticism. Apparently the story was true. Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia still fly Russian-made planes similar to those flown by the Ukrainian air force. Over 70 planes will be sent to Ukraine, including 28 MiG-29s from Poland, 12 from Slovakia, and 16 from Bulgaria. Another 14 Su-25s will come from Bulgaria. The planes from Bulgaria are still in question. “Ukrainian pilots arrive in Poland to pick up donated fighter jets”, Politico, February 28, 2022.
Weapons on the Way. Australia is sending missiles, Finland small arms, and other nations are sending a variety of weapons, ammunitions, and munitions. These fly into countries bordering Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, and others, and then are trucked to the western border of Ukraine.
Sanctions. On Sunday (Feb 28) the U.S. Department of State announced additional measures against the Russian financial system. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) has prohibited any U.S. person from conducting any transaction involving the selected Russian financial institutions. Breaking its long tradition of neutrality, Switzerland will freeze assets of Russian companies and individuals that could total more than $11 billion in Swiss banks. Japan is also freezing assets of Russian banks.
Worldwide Response. Governments across the world are expressing their concern and outrage over the Russian invasion. Most are taking concrete steps to hurt Russia through a variety of methods. The United Kingdom is blocking Russian vessels from using its ports. Ukraine is switching to the European Union electric grid very soon, accelerating a planned move for 2023. Elon Musk has come through on a promise to provide Starlink internet capability to Ukraine. One associate mentions that over 400 Starlink units were delivered on 28 Feb to Ukraine.
China. Not everyone is coming to the defense of Ukraine – whether through providing some sort of aid, restricting financial access, or just making public announcements condemning the invasion. One of these nations is China. One observer argues that China was, in fact, played. Read more in “Ukraine: Did China Have a Clue?”, Stimson, February 28, 2022.
Commentary and Analysis
Putin’s Inner Circle. There is a lot of speculation on whether Russia’s president will keep the support of his loyal base. Alexandra Vacroux, the executive director of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, is interviewed by The Harvard Gazette, February 27, 2022.
Closing the Turkish Straits? Mark Nevitt, a Navy veteran and law professor, delves into the 1936 Montreux Convention to determine if Turkey can close the straits that control access between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. This closing action would not affect Ukraine but could have serious implications for the Russian navy. Read more in “The Russia-Ukraine Conflict, the Black Sea, and the Montreux Convention”, Just Security, February 28, 2022.
Ukraine and Strategic Lessons. Dr. Jacob Stoil, a military historian and adjunct scholar, outlines some takeaways from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Read “Seven Strategic Lessons From the First Days of the War in Ukraine”, Modern War Institute at West Point, February 28, 2022.
Insurgent Tactics. One of the eye-opening aspects of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria a few years back was there use of commercial off-the shelf drones to conduct reconnaissance and attack enemy positions. The Russians will likely face this threat as well. Read more in “The Militant Drone Threat Is No Longer New. Why Does it Still Feel Novel?”, Modern War Institute at West Point, February 24, 2022.
The Coming Insurgency? The Central Intelligence Agency has been busy over the past several years (since 2014?) in training Ukrainian special forces and intelligence officers in intelligence collection and special operations. Many military analysts believe this is a good thing and that the Ukrainians will bleed the Russians so badly that they will be forced to withdraw from areas they intend to occupy over the long-term. But not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Jeff Rogg, a historian of U.S. intelligence and an assistant professor in the Department of Intelligence and Security at the Citadel argues a different point of view. “The CIA has backed Ukrainian insurgents before. Let’s learn from those mistakes”, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2022.
Long, Hard Months Ahead. An easy Russian victory is not in the cards. If Russia tries to hold captured Ukrainian cities they will find that space contested with insurgents carrying out a variety of attacks against their forces. Russian occupation troops in the countryside will meet the same level of resistance in a different form. The Ukrainians have over 500,000 veterans of the conflict in the east of the country where the two Russian dominated enclaves exist. The next phase of the war will be long, brutal, and contested. Andrew Heiner writes about “Preparing for the next phase in the Ukrainian conflict”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), March 1, 2022.
Podcasts and Videos
Podcast – Interpreting the First Few Days of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Michael Kofman and Ryan Evans discuss the early days of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in this podcast. War on the Rocks, February 28, 2022, 30 minutes.
Video – Urban warfare: The ‘combat in hell’ on Ukraine’s streets. Colonel (Ret) John Spencer, Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, describes the advantages held by defenders of the territory but maintains the fighting is “catastrophic” to all parties. He says the three-block war is troop intensive for the force on the offensive. Forces.net, February 27, 2022, 3 minutes.
Many believe that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was an attempt to create a neutral or vassal state that will provide a buffer from NATO forces. He may or may not be able to do that. What he has done in five days is united NATO so it is stronger than ever before, now has more NATO troops on his borders, and has pushed the Ukrainian people closer to Europe and NATO. The war has been going badly for the Russians but may soon turn around as the bulk of his troops, tanks, APCs, and artillery get to the fighting zones. The current number of Russian troops (150,000 plus) is not enough to secure a country with a population of 44 million. How long the Russians stay in the occupied areas will determine how much they bleed from a Ukrainian insurgency that surely is now taking form.
Image: Courtesy of a volunteer working in the Ukraine Evac effort.