Ukraine Conflict Update – Feb 28, 2022

USAF Cargo for Ukraine

Curated news, analysis, and commentary on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Information on Russian offensive operations, Ukrainian defense, NATO response, aid to Ukraine, and the humanitarian issues associated with the conflict.

BLUF: The Russian offensive has stalled, for now. The advanced formations have outrun the supply and logistical convoys. The forward units are lacking food, ammunition, and fuel. The Ukrainian forces are fighting fiercely, making this a costly campaign for the Russians. The Ukrainian Air Force is still taking to the air and the Ukrainian air defense system is still operational, although both have been degraded. NATO is assisting with intelligence and providing weapons, supplies, and munitions. The international community has implemented economic and other types of sanctions against Russia. Russian nuclear forces were put on a higher state of alert.

Russian Offensive. The pace of the invasion has slowed down with the Russians taking an operational pause in some areas to allow reinforcements, supplies, and fuel to catch up with the forward units. It is expected that the Russian advance will resume on many fronts with heavy fighting taking place in different cities and regions. Offensive operations against Kyiv may resume in the next 24 hours. The Russians are conducting operations to capture the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine and Mariupol along the Sea of Azov. A frustrated Russian military may soon resort to greater use of its multiple launcher rocket systems and artillery – which would be devastating in areas with a large civilian population.

A Closer Look. A number of military analysts have taken the opportunity to pontificate on the Russians lack of success on the battlefield. Mark Antonio Wright does this in his article “Why the Russians are Struggling”, National Review, February 26, 2022.

Crimea Axis of Advance. The Russians are having some success in the Crimea ‘axis’ of attack. A worry for the Ukrainians is if this success from the south results in a pincer movement that would isolate the Ukrainian forces in the east from the rest of the country. Early reports on Monday indicate that Russian forces have crossed the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine and are advancing north of Nova Kakhovka.

Russian Casualties. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense provides data on Russian casualties each day. As of the morning of February 28 Russia has lost 816 APCs, 191 tanks, 60 fuel trucks, 29 planes, 29 helicopters, 74 artillery pieces, 21 Grad rocket launchers, 2 naval vessels, 3 drones, and 1 Buk missile system. There have been 5,300 personnel casualties.

Missile Strikes and Rocket Attacks. The Russians continue to conduct missile strikes on selected targets throughout Ukraine. The UKR MoD stated that Russian missiles launched from Belarus struck the Zhytomyr Airport in northwest Ukraine on Monday (Feb 28). One type of missiles that the Russians are using from Belarus is the Iskander ballistic missile system. In the past 24 hours the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine has experienced attacks by multiple launcher rocket systems. Rocket systems are not only found in the Russian army. Western armies have them as well – one example is the United Kingdom’s M270 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS).

Russian SOF. Working in the interior of the country are Russian Spetsnaz units conducting a variety of special operations missions. There are reports that they are doing deep reconnaissance, sabotage, and other missions. One social media report says the Russian SOF are installing fluorescent beacons to help orient tactical aircraft in flying routes and finding targets.

Odessa Assault? A prize capture for the Russians would be the Black Sea port of Odessa. There is a Ukrainian naval base there and the city sits on the east-west coastal road along the Black Sea. OSINT reports indicate that a morning assault will take place on Monday (Feb 28).

Map of Ukraine CRS April 2020

Ukraine Defense. The Ukrainians continue to put up a stiff resistance to the Russian invasion. The citizenry has mobilized and some are undergoing a quick train up with newly issued weapons and equipment. The Ukrainians appear to be using the equipment they have to good use. This includes the anti-armor weapons and air defense weapons. Of note are Turkish drones that are being used to hit Russian targets and conduct reconnaissance.

High Morale. The country’s leader has the world riveted on how he is leading from the front – and he is being referred to as the Lion of Kyiv. The ability to deny the Russians a quick victory has hardened the resolve of the Ukrainians, over 50,000 military reservists and 50,000 Territorial Defense volunteers have been mobilized in the past two days. The stiff Ukrainian defense has prompted the west to step up with lethal aid. At the same time the country is looking for some additional help from Europe and the United States. It is also willing to accept help from individuals who want to go to Ukraine and fight the Russians. “Want to go fight for Ukraine? Here’s what to do.”, Military Times, February 27, 2022. Some social media accounts say that Ukrainian members of the French Foreign Legion will leave the French service to return home to fight the Russians.

The Cyber War. The Russians are doing their best to downgrade the communications and internet capabilities of Ukraine. Social media reports say that the websites and email servers of Ukrainian embassies and consulates around the world have been disrupted. Hackers from Belarus are helping the Russians out in this effort. NATO countries, for the most part, are putting up cyber ‘defensive shields’. They may also be engaging in offensive cyber operations. Read more in “Poland Army adds new cyber component with offensive capabilities”, The Record, February 8, 2022.

Social and News Media. Social media platforms usually try to stay neutral in conflicts, but Russia’s blatant aggression is hard to ignore. Google has temporarily disabled two features of Google Maps for Ukraine. One is live traffic data and the other is Live Busyness. Google says the change was made to keep Ukrainians safe. Facebook has pulled the ad feature from many Russian FB accounts. The European Union has banned Russia Today and Sputnik, the two biggest propaganda news outlets for Russia. Digital media will likely play a big role in this conflict and could mobilize public discontent on the home front in Russia. There is a lot of open source intelligence (or information) OSINT being produced by a variety of actors. Some of this OSINT relies on satellite imagery from commercial satellites that was previously only available to governments.

Negotiations? Ukrainian and Russian officials may be meeting on Monday morning (Feb 28) on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. U.S. officials are skeptical of Russia’s intentions and believe it is just a ploy. The Ukrainian president says that taking part in the negotiations will likely not produce anything but they cannot be ignored in case there is a prospect for a cessation of hostilities. The main goal of the negotiations for Ukraine is an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. “Ukraine and Russia to meet on Belarusian border for talks”, Washington Examiner, February 27, 2022.

EU Response. The European Foreign Ministers held a press conference after an extraordinary meeting on Sunday (Feb 27). The EU will be sending $450 million in lethal equipment to Ukraine. Poland is likely to serve as a logistics hub as it shares a long border with Ukraine. European airspace is closing down for Russian aircraft. The financial markets of Russia are being hit hard with sanctions and other punitive measures. There is concern for how Putin will respond to these sanctions, certainly he has methods of his own to strike back. Most countries in the world have come out with strong support for Ukraine. At a recent United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution about the conflict China, predictably, did not condemn the attack. Surprising some UN observers was the abstaining during the vote of India and the United Arab Emirates. President Zelensky has called for the European Union to grant it immediate membership.

NATO Response. The U.S. and other nations are keeping tabs on the military situation on the ground – and likely sending updates to Ukraine. The Global Hawk drone and JSTARS aircraft are just a few that have been in the region ‘looking in’ on things. The British have dispatched some of their RAF Typhoons to patrol NATO airspace over Poland and Romania. Prior to the invasion there were U.S. special operations forces in Ukraine working with elite Ukrainian units to enhance their special operations forces capability. It would be interesting to know what the U.S. SOF role is now? Perhaps a little remote advise and assist (RAA) is going on?

Fighter Jets for Ukraine? There are some news reports that say the EU will be sending fighter planes to Ukraine; but the news may not be entirely correct. While speculation continues on whether this will happen, Joseph Trevithick writes on how it could happen. Read “Here Are The Options for the EU’s Initiative to Restock Ukraine with Fighter Jets”, The Drive, February 27, 2022. See also “Can Ukraine Really Use Donated Fighter Jets? That Depends”, Defense One, February 27, 2022.

Currency. The ruble is taking a nose dive in the currency market and ATMs in Russia have gone dry. By early Monday morning it had dropped 43% in value versus the dollar. The Moscow Exchange (MOEX) will not open until Monday afternoon Moscow time.

Belarus. The country to the north of Ukraine has decided to give up non-nuclear status by voting a change to its constitution. The referendum on Sunday (Feb 27) approved a new constitution that did away with the the country’s non-nuclear status. This will allow it to host Russian nuclear weapons. Belarus is also reported to be sending paratroopers and special operations forces into Ukraine, possibly as early as Monday (Feb 28).

And Religion? As if the Ukraine conflict wasn’t complicated enough . . . now religion may be playing a role. There is a split in the Orthodox Church and it could get a little worse with the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. “How is Russia-Ukraine war linked to religion?“, by Peter Smith, AP News, February 27, 2022.

Nuclear Threats by Putin. On Sunday (Feb 27) Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on a higher alert. This occurred on the same day that the Russian Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, has been fired – according to some news accounts. Some observers are a little nervous about Putin’s mental condition. Others are starting to read up on Russia’s nuclear capability and deterrence policy.

Regional Topics. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, other nations in eastern and northern Europe are on edge. Are they one of the next Russian targets? There is a lot of academic study on this topic. A recent report was done by Center for European Policy Analysis and sponsored by General Atomics and the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Estonia. Read Close to the Wind: Recommendations for Baltic Sea Regional Security, CEPA, February 16, 2022. Poland has rapidly become a linchpin of U.S. military plans in Europe.

Societal Resiliency. The Ukrainian crisis has prompted renewed interest in methods and strategies for countering hybrid warfare – a favorite strategy of Russia to attain its political goals. NATO nations (and others) are developing methods to counter the hybrid warfare used by Russia. A recent publication explores this topic in depth. “Countering Hybrid Warfare: Mapping Social Contracts to Reinforce Societal Resiliency in Estonia and Beyond”, Texas National Security Review, Spring 2022, PDF, 22 pages. Read also “Not Your Grandfather’s Resistance: The Unavoidable Truths about Small State’s Best Defense Against Aggression”, by Sandor Fabian, Modern War Institute at West Point, September 29, 2021.

Need to Know More? Many folks probably couldn’t find Ukraine on a map until last week. And they likely didn’t know that the country was referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’. Learn more about Ukraine in the CIA Word Factbook on Ukraine and the DFAT Country Brief on Ukraine.

The Future? More and more Russian troops and devastating weapons will enter Ukraine and make their way to the front lines. The violence will pickup with greater casualties on each side as well as among the civilian population of the urban areas. Negotiations may be on the horizon but it is difficult to see how the two sides could come to an agreement. The talks would likely be a ploy for the Russians to buy more time to bring in additional troops, tanks, and other military assets from distant locations in Russia to Ukraine.


Image: Air Force airmen load cargo for Ukraine onto an aircraft at Travis Air Force Base, California, on January 22, 2022. (Photo by Nicholas Pilch, USAF)

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