Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, Ukrainian defense, and NATO.
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BLUFF: If you read just one article from this newsletter then it should be this one. MG (Ret) Mike Repass commanded Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) before retirement. Since then he has worked in the defense sector – with a focus on East Europe and Ukraine. He provides a very informative and detailed overview of the current conflict in Ukraine in an interview with Peter Bergen, a national security analyst with CNN. Read “Why Putin will regret launching this war”, CNN Opinion, March 7, 2022.
Russian Campaign Update. Nearly 100% of the pre-staged combat power of Russia has been deployed into Ukraine. Estimates of Russians in Ukraine vary from 150,000 to 190,000. Russia has launched over 625 missiles. Most of these missiles were short-range, medium, and cruise missiles. The Russians continue to meet stiff opposition from the Ukrainian defense forces. There is little activity in western Ukraine. The Russian offensive in the north has been stalled . . . due to a number of factors. They have had better success in the south. It appears that where the Russians have been frustrated they have resorted to using long range fires – missile strikes, artillery, and rocket fire into city suburbs and city centers. The miles long resupply convoy has still not reached its destination – perhaps just the forward elements.
Russia’s Goals? According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russia will halt its military action if Kyiv meet some conditions. These include a change to the Ukrainian constitution to ensure neutrality, acknowledge Crimea as a Russian territory, and recognize the separatist republic of Donetsk and Lugansk. “Russia will stop ‘in a moment’ if Ukraine meets terms – Kremlin”, Reuters, March 7, 2022.
Fight for the Skies. The air above Ukraine is still contested. Ukraine still have most of their fixed-wing aircraft available to fly combat missions. The Ukrainian air defense system has been degraded but it is still taking down Russian aircraft. A lot of Stingers and other anti-aircraft MANPADS are in the pipeline and are or soon will be reaching the frontlines. There are reports that two Russian aircraft were shot down over Kyiv on Monday (Mar 7).
Maritime Activities. A Russian patrol ship, some press accounts call it a corvette, was hit by Ukrainian rocket fire. It was reported to be on fire with some social media accounts saying it has sunk. The amphibious landing force in the Black Sea poised to attack the Odessa region is still on hold.
Kyiv. The capital city of Ukraine is considered the primary objective of the Russians. The Capture of Kyiv would allow Russia to put in place its puppet government. The main assault forces to take Kyiv are still stalled outside the city. Some of the Russian units threatening Kyiv include elements of the Ramzan Kadyrov Special Guards Regiment (Grozny), units from the Moscow regions, and elements of the private military company (PMC) Wagner Group (Liga). The Russian forces are concentrated in the western, northwestern, and eastern suburban areas of Kyiv. Heavy fighting is taking place northwest of Kyiv in the Makariv area and along the Irpin River, a tributary of the Dnieper River. An offensive is expected to begin in the next few days after supplies and reinforcements finish moving into the staging areas.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country. It has been subjected to a lot of artillery and rocket fire. Some heavy fighting is taking place around the outskirts of the city. Over the past few days there have been reports that Ukrainian forces have conducted counterattacks.
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. An evacuation route out of the besieged city was mined according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Two attempts to use the road have failed. There are about 200,000 people running short on food, water, and electricity waiting to be evacuated. “Evacuation Route Offered to Fleeing Ukrainians Was Mined – Red Cross”, Newsweek, March 7, 2022. Attempts by Ukrainian forces to resupply the city have failed. The city is experiencing a lot of artillery and rocket fire.
Evacuation Routes. The Russians had proposed evacuation routes but four of the six lead to Belarus or Russia. Of course, it would be a public relations coup if the Russians could broadcast news of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting in the direction of Russia. So . . . just more games by the Russians. It appears that one evacuation route has been opened – scheduled for March 8th between the hours of 10 am to 9 pm. It will follow the route of Sumy – Holubivka – Lokhvytsia – Lubny – Poltava. Some buses with people were moving from the eastern city of Sumy. This was announced by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Read more in “People flee embattled Ukrainian cities along safe corridors”, AP News, March 8, 2022.
Refugees. There are thousands and thousands of internally displaced persons and over 2 million refugees have left Ukraine according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UHCHR). Stats on where Ukrainians are going are provided by the UNHCR. A European Union official says that the refugee number could equal 5 million.
Mykolayiv. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River close to the coast of the Black Sea, this city is a strategic objective for the Russians as it sits astride the road to Odessa located further west along the coast of the Black Sea. The city is under attack by Russian artillery fire, however the Russians have not been able to force their way into the city.
Negotiations? No Results. The third round of negotiations between the Russians and Ukrainians held in Belarus did not yield any changes to the situation or an agreement. There appears to have been an agreement reached on an evacuation corridor for refugees from the eastern city of Sumy.
Ukraine Armed Forces. President Zelensky signed a decree recalling Ukrainian peacekeeping forces. All soldiers and equipment are to return to Ukraine to defend the country.
Russia’s Armored Train. Russian forces are using an armored train in Ukraine to transport personnel and equipment. Their supply lines are strained and under attack so the train may provide some relief to the failed logistics effort. The train has been operating in the vicinity of Melitopol. It is protected by two ZU-23 twin-barrel 23 mm cannons. Read more in “A Russian Armored Train Has Joined the Invasion of Ukraine”, The Drive / War Zone, March 7, 2022.
Foreign Volunteers? Already in the Fight! The International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine has already been committed to combat operations in Ukraine. The volunteers have arrived from many countries – to include the U.S., U.K., Sweden, Lithuania, Mexico, India, and others. Volunteers cannot bring their own weapons – they will be issued rifles once integrated into the unit. Ukraine is seeking volunteers who have received military training. “Foreign fighters now on battlefield helping battle Russia”, Military Times, March 7, 2022. Read also “Making the Most of Foreign Volunteers in Ukraine”, War on the Rocks, March 7, 2022.
Aviation and Urban Operations. The fight for the large cities of Ukraine is happening now and will continue into the future. How are aviation capabilities conducted in support of combat operations in an urban environment? A recent publication by the U.S. Department of Defense might provide the answer. You can download Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Aviation Urban Operations, DoD, February 2022, PDF.
Spirit of America. Are you looking for a way to help? There are a lot of private organizations that are assisting the Ukrainians in their fight against the Russians. One of the best out there is an organization called the Spirit of America.
“Spirit of America is working closely with US military and State Department personnel in Poland to meet the urgent needs of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on the front lines. We are providing medical supplies and equipment, including first aid kits, for Ukrainian soldiers and field medical personnel. We expect to provide emergency communications gear. We are also working with US Special Operations Forces to provide emergency assistance to Ukrainians displaced by the fighting.”
Sanctions and Big Russian Yachts. Some of Russia’s richest men are on the run or in hiding as a result of a global search for their yachts, villas, jets, and bank accounts. Western governments have targeted sanctions against the Russians who hold immense wealth as a result of corruption and association with Putin. Read more in “A Global Hunt for Russian Oligarch’s Yachts Has Begun”, The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2022. Some observers of the conflict believe that the sanctions against rich Russians are going to be far more effective than past efforts to sanction Russia. The sanctions are designed to punish Russian’s elite for supporting Putin. “The Russian Elite Can’t Stand the Sanctions”, The Atlantic, March 5, 2022.
The Coming Resistance
Will NATO Support an Insurgency? Russia’s military has a good chance of winning the war. It has a large, well-equipped military. It’s plan to rapidly take Ukraine failed, but it will resort to the tried and true method of using artillery and massing forces to take objectives. It is likely that the Russians will end up controlling a good part if not all of Ukraine. Time will tell if the Russians intend to stay in these newly occupied areas or if they withdraw. If they stay, they face the prospect of an insurgency . . . one that might be supported by NATO. Robert Kelly, a professor of international relations, provides his thoughts in “Bleed Putin Dry in Ukraine: Will NATO Support an Insurgency Against Russia?”, 1945, March 6, 2022.
Paper – Naval SOF and Competition with Russia. Kevin D. Stringer is a foreign-area officer and strategist assigned to Special Operations Command – Europe. He is currently a military faculty member at the U.S. Army War College. Russia’s ventures into Eastern Europe have taken place for centuries – with the expansion and contraction of the Russian empire. The inland waterways of Eastern Europe, Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Caspian Sea are all key maritime environments in the current strategic competition with Russia. Stringer argues that combining maritime special operations capabilities with the campaigning theory of Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini (a Swiss-born Napoleonic officer and theorist of war) would support the efforts to contest Russia’s malign activity in Europe while remaining below the level of armed conflict. Read his paper entitled Jomini and Naval Special Operations Forces – An Applied-Competition Approach to Russia, Naval War College Review, Autumn 2021, PDF, 17 pages.
Ukraine and Resistance Operating Concept (ROC). U.S. Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) embarked on a new approach to countering the expansionist designs of Russia several years back. SOCEUR, working with NATO and other allies, developed the Resistance Operating Concept to contribute to deterring and resisting aggression in Eastern Europe. The ROC is a concept that will assist Eastern Europe, Nordic, and Baltic countries to conduct resistance operations in the event of a Russian invasion and occupation. The Ukrainian Special Operations Command has published a website that provides news and information about the “National Resistance of Ukraine”. Read more about this in “How the US and Europe helped Ukraine prep for insurgency”, Army Times, March 7, 2022.
RAA Operations. The ideal unit to conduct advisory and training operations for a Ukraine resistance is U.S. Army Special Forces. They are highly trained in training and advising guerrilla units and resistance movements. Army SF are well versed in unconventional warfare. It is unlikely that they would be inserted into a denied area occupied by Russians . . . but you never know. Most likely they would conduct an advisory and training mission from ‘afar’. Is this possible? While not ideal, SF teams could advise Ukrainian counterparts via Remote Advise and Assist Operations. Probably using advanced technology like the ATAK system.
Cyber and Information Operations
Center of Gravity – The Russian People. Rear Admiral Ben Wachendorf (U.S. Navy retired) says the best way to defeat Putin’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine is to make sure the Russian people know what is happening and focus public opinion on Putin himself. “Truth is the Best Way to Defeat Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, March 2022.
Beating Russia’s Information Firewall. Campaigners in Ukraine and beyond are using any means necessary to beat the blocks Russia has put in place for updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Activists are using ads to sneak real news to Russians about Ukraine”, MIT Technology Review, March 4, 2022.
Why Are Ukraine’s Cell Networks Still Up? Russia has plenty to gain from keeping the cellular networks running, even if it benefits Ukraine. Cybersecurity experts expected Russia to take out the phone lines and internet services . . . and it hasn’t happened yet. There are probably three good reasons to keep the systems up and running. (listening in, Russian comms, saving infrastructure). “3 Reasons Moscow Isn’t Taking Down Ukraine’s Cell Networks”, Politico, March 7, 2022.
Cyber and Russia. The cyber onslaught by Russia against Ukraine has not yielded the results many thought would be achieved. The cyber Pearl Harbor did not take place prior to and during the initial days of the invasion. There are some notes to be taken on the use of cyber warfare by Russia in the past few months. “Cyber lessons in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, The Strategist, by Lesley Seebeck, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), March 8, 2022.
Space GPS Systems – Vulnerable. Cyberspace and space may soon be an area that will experience strategic impacts from the current conflict in Ukraine. The West needs to be ready to deal with the cyber capabilities of Russia. As Russia escalates the conflict the West must be prepared to understand the threats to our Global Positioning System capabilities, actively defend the GPS system, and work with our partners and allies to find a way to prevent the jamming of GPS. “Russian threats a reminder of the need to protect GPS”, Space News, March 7, 2022.
Jet Fighter Transfer? Probably Not. The news media continues to report that Poland will transfer some of its MiG-29s to Ukraine in return for the reception of F-16s from the United States. However, there are conflicting reports on this scheme to buttress the Ukrainian air force. “Poland Still Isn’t Interested in Transferring Its MiG-29s to Ukraine“, The Drive, March 6, 2022. Secretary Blinken has come out with ‘some’ support for providing fighter jets to Poland should Polish fighters find their way to Ukraine.
Weapons to Ukraine. An undisclosed Polish airfield near the Ukrainian border has become a hub for shipping weapons into Ukraine. There are as many as 17 flights a day with incoming equipment shipments. The US and other NATO allies have shipped 17,000 anti-tank weapons and 2,000 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles (according to a senior US official). U.S. European Command (EUCOM) has been managing the logistics effort. “At a secret airfield in Eastern Europe, a multinational effort to send weapons to Ukraine proceeds at high speed”, CNN Politics, March 7, 2022.
More U.S. Troops to Europe. Another group of U.S. military personnel are heading to Europe. A number of KC-135 refueling aircraft from Fairfield Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington will deploy with 150 personnel. They are going to be temporarily based in Souda Bay, Greece to provide additional refueling support to U.S. European Command. A 40-man air support operation center will depart Fort Stewart, Georgia to provide C2 for flight operations in Romania. Other personnel deploying will come from various support units. “Defense Secretary Calls Up More Troops to Europe”, DoD News, March 7, 2022.
Turkey’s Balancing Act. One NATO member is busy trying not to be on the wrong side. Seen as a supporter of Russia in the past, Turkey must now confront the reality of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and its own standing in the NATO alliance. Turkey is currently siding with NATO . . . for the most part; but not punishing Russia as much as it could. Turkey has been helping Ukraine with weapons – notably its armed drones that have wrecked havoc on Russian convoys and positions. It has closed the entrance to the Black Sea for Russian warships. However, it has not followed the example of all other NATO countries in closing its airspace to Russian commercial flights. Read more in “Turkey Treads Carefully in Ukraine Crisis”, The Soufan Center IntelBrief, March 8, 2022.
Automotive World. The automotive manufactures of the world have taken actions against Russia. Some have stopped local production in plants in Russia, some have suspended business and shipments, and many others have taken similar actions. These include BMW, Ford, General Motors, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz Group, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
Ukraine CAT-UXO. A new website has been established to help support individuals who are exposed to explosive hazards in Ukraine. It will educate and reduce the risk to explosive hazards, provide a means to record the location of the explosive hazard, and to report the explosive hazard to a suitable clearance authority. https://www.ukraine-cat-uxo.com/
Preventing World War III. Dr. Robert Farley, a senior lecturer at the University of Kentucky, explores the different ways the conflict in Ukraine could escalate. “Russia vs. NATO: 5 Ways the War in Ukraine Could Start World War III”, Real Clear Defense, March 7, 2022.
Online Event – Political-Geographic Dimensions of the Ukraine Crisis. Dr. Alec Murphy, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon, gives an overview of the history, politics, and geography behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. American Geographical Society, March 3, 2022, YouTube, 22 minutes.
Podcast – Perspective’s on Putin’s War on Ukraine. Four foreign policy gurus team up to discuss what has happened in Ukraine, what is happening, and what should happen. Rear Admiral (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, Bradley Bowman, and Reuel Marc Gerecht offer their perspectives. Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), March 4, 2022, one hour.
Online – Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold a public hearing that will assess the U.S. and international response to the Ukraine crisis. The Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland will testify. Tuesday, March 8, 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
Maps of Ukraine
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.
UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation
Photo: Russian MiG 29 (2015). Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin – http://www.vitalykuzmin.net/Military/Aviamix-2015/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50773193