This is a 24-hour roll up on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ground and air operations, diplomatic initiatives, and NATO response. The Russians launched their offensive in the early morning hours of Thursday, February 24, 2022 with an air campaign of missiles and aircraft. This was followed by simultaneous ground movements of troops and armor from Belarus in the north, Russia in the east, and Russian-occupied Crimea in the south. This is now ‘Day Three’ of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Stiff Ukrainian Resistance. The Russians do not appear to be advancing as quickly as many military analysts thought. This seems to be a combination of a few factors. The Ukrainian armed forces are putting up a determined fight. There are reports that the Ukrainian citizenry are also playing a supporting role. The Ukrainian forces are showing resilience in the face of the Russian onslaught. However, in the near term, the Russians will prevail. Their manpower and military units vastly outnumber the Ukrainians. They have sometimes ten or twenty times the numbers of tanks, airplanes, and helicopters. And the Russians have the vast resources of its huge nation behind them.
The Russian Air Offensive. Moscow’s war optimism has now met reality. While the situation is dire for Ukrainians the resolve of the Ukrainian fighters seems intact. The start of the offensive should have knocked out the Ukrainian air defense systems and decimated its Air Force. But apparently the Russians are not that adept at suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). However, the Russians have plenty of aircraft to expend – their Air Force has a significant quantitative and qualitative superiority.
The Russian Ground Offensive. Initially it appeared that Russian forces made the most headway in the south with forces fighting up from Russian-occupied Crimea. However, recent analysis indicates that the most territory gained in the past two days may have been along Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus and Russia after the initial invasion units were reinforced. A series of small enclaves along the Ukrainian east border have been secured by Russian forces.
The artillery pieces of Russia will play a huge role in its offensive. The TOS-1 Buratino, a heavy short-range multiple launcher rocket system (MLRS) is equipped with incendiary and thermobaric warheads. It is feared that these weapons will be used in the attack on Kiev. There appears to be a lack of coordination between Russian air support and ground units. Two important air assault operations on key objectives have failed due to lack of good coordination. Key Ukrainian targets have yet to be destroyed and important airfields remain uncaptured.
But the overwhelming numbers of troops and military equipment of the Russians will assure them of a victory in the coming days or weeks. The Russians may revert to their World War II strategy of throwing bodies and equipment at the Ukrainians until they are simply overwhelmed by numbers. Some estimates on social media say the casualty rate is about 1 to 10 (Ukrainian to Russian); although this could be hopeful speculation.
Russian Maritime Operations. Russian warships are patrolling the coast of Ukraine. Its naval assets are taking some of the small islands located off the Ukraine coast. One such island has made the headlines over the past few days due to the heroic resistance by Ukrainian border guards. There are reports of a Russian 1,000 man amphibious landing force near the Ukrainian coast that is likely to be used against one of the seacoast targets still held by Ukrainian defense forces. Control of the Ukrainian coastline will provide Russia with a more dominant strategic position in the Black Sea.
Attack from Belarus. In the initial invasion on Thursday, February 24th Russian troops and tanks poured across the Belarus border into northern Ukraine. This country continues to be a staging area and support zone for thousands of Russian troops that are using this avenue of approach to capture Kiev and cut off Ukrainian troops fighting in eastern Ukraine. The latest news reports indicate that Russian forces continue to mass in Belarus and then move southward into Ukraine. One unit of note is the Russian 76th VDV (Airborne) division currently located in southeastern Belarus.
Kiev. One of the goals of the Russian campaign would be to encircle and then capture the capital of Ukraine. The city is already short of food. An interruption of water and electricity would lead to the start of a humanitarian crisis. The Russians would certainly be assured of victory – capturing Kiev – in time. So at some point the political leadership of the country may surrender the city to spare the civilian population of suffering. Immediately following the fall of Kiev Russia would escort in the ‘new regime’ to take charge. There are reports that Russian special operations forces entered an area just six miles north of the city center but the attack was repelled by Ukrainian forces. The Russian soldiers involved in the Friday attack were wearing Ukrainian military uniforms. Some news reports say that the city (as of Friday night) was already surrounded by Russian forces. Apparently the president of Ukraine has rebuffed U.S. pleas to leave the country and is prepared to ‘go down with the ship‘.
Narrative Battles. Russia has been waging a disinformation campaign for years about Ukraine and NATO. This info war is continuing. Russia is no stranger to social media manipulation. American social media companies are closely monitoring the situation. It will be interesting to see how the social media platforms ‘manage’ this new situation. Read more in “Tech on high alert for Russia’s Ukraine disinformation offensive”, Axios, February 24, 2022.
The Cyber War. Although the Russians are very adept at cyber warfare, they are probably better at the offensive part than the defensive part. Apparently Anonymous has breached the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) website and has now downloaded its contents. In the meantime, hackers from Belarus are targeting the members of the Ukrainian government and military. Ukraine’s internet backbone provider (GigaTrans) has been targeted over the last several days. Russia’s history of destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine is raising concerns about a cyberwar in the future. “Is the cyberwar coming or is it already here?”, Vox.com Recode, February 25, 2022.
NATO’s Response. NATO’s Secretary General has announced that member nations are now sending military equipment, supplies, and weapons into Ukraine to help with its fight against the invading forces. Five NATO countries have decided to supply weapons to Ukraine and shipments had begun as early as Thursday, February 24th. Elements of NATO’s Rapid Response Force are being moved to eastern Europe. Secretary of Defense Austin says that the United States may train Ukrainian soldiers remotely. There have not been a lot of details on how this would be done . . . or how effective it would be.
NATO and Romania. One of President Putin’s complaints is that NATO’s forces keep getting closer to his borders. He demands that NATO scale back its deployments in Eastern Europe, but his aggressive posture toward neighbors is having the opposite effect. On February 11, 2022, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans for a permanent deployment of a NATO battle group to Romania. This Balkan country has strategic importance as it shares a land border with Moldova and Ukraine. It also has a coastline on the Black Sea, a body of water the Russians would like to dominate. JD Fuller, a serving NATO officer with extensive experience working in Eastern Europe, provides his thoughts on this topic in “Romania: NATO’s Next Strategic Frontier?”, Small Wars Journal, February 19, 2022.
No Fly Zone? Probably one of the few things that NATO could do to help Ukraine stop the Russians is to establish and enforce a no fly zone over the Ukraine. But there is no appetite among the European nations for that. Some supporters of the plan cite the no fly zones over Iraq and Serbia. However, things could escalate quickly with a country that has sophisticated air defense systems and nuclear weapons. The U.S. has a (if you watch flightradar24.com) a RQ-4B Global Hawk keeping tabs on the region as it circles over the Black Sea.
Sanctions. The European Union has responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine with legal acts that are aimed at Putin, Lavrov, and other Russian officials. Numerous actions are being taken by the corporate world to disassociate itself from Russian business interests. At least two airlines – Delta and United – have opted out of alliances with Aeroflot. Britain has blocked all Russian flights from its airspace and Manchester United has cancelled its deal with Aeroflot. Poland has denied all Russian commercial overflights. News agencies are cutting their ties with Russian counterparts. The long list of ‘separations’ grow each hour. This will have a psychological and economic impact on the Russian people. Unfortunately, sanctions alone will likely not constitute an immediate deterrent to Putin. (Hudson Institute, Feb 23, 2022).
Future Resistance Under an Occupying Russian Army. The Russians could be in for a long hellish time if they remain in the territories of Ukraine that they have captured and will continue to capture. Ukraine has been preparing for this time when they could be occupied by Russia. It has established auxiliary civilian units to continue a resistance. In addition, there are a number of Ukraine paramilitary militias that have existed for years that will continue operations against the occupying Russians. (Small Wars Journal, Feb 21, 2022).
Irregular Warfare. U.S. special operations forces have been providing instruction to Ukrainian forces in irregular warfare (IW). This type of warfare will prove to be costly to the Russian occupation forces. The longer the fight continues the costlier it will be for Russia. Guerrilla forces can raise havoc along the supply lines that will provide the logistic needs of an occupying force in eastern Ukraine and Kiev. Read more on how IW can cost Russia its victory in “The Key to Blunting Russia’s Strategic Victory in Ukraine and Beyond? Irregular Warfare”, by Spencer Meredith, Modern War Institute at West Point, February 19, 2022.
Hybrid Warfare. Russia has been using offensive hybrid warfare to its advantage over the past few decades; however, it may soon see itself conducting counterinsurgency operations and on the receiving end of hybrid warfare. The current conflict in Ukraine will provide the U.S. special operations community, especially United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR), an opportunity for some self-reflection on the future doctrine, organization, and capabilities it needs during this new era of confrontation with Russia . . . and of course, China.
Putin’s Mind. In a long essay published on February 21st (before the invasion), Brian E. Frydenborg explored the pre-invasion composition and disposition of Russian forces in Belarus, Russia, and Russian-occupied Crimea. He then explained the complex relationship between Russia and Ukraine and attempts to understand Putin’s reasoning for an attack on Ukraine. Read more in “The Utter Banality of Putin’s Kabuki Campaign in Ukraine”, Small Wars Journal, February 21, 2022.
Ukraine and Russia Map, Russian military districts, NATO, December 2018.