The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on Thursday, February 24, 2022, is continuing. For the most part, the Russians appear to have met their initial objectives for the first day of the invasion. Day two will likely see more progress on the ground and in the air on the part of the Russian military. However, the Ukrainians are putting up a stiff resistance.
Russian Air Campaign. Russian aircraft and ballistic missiles appear to have significantly damaged much of the Ukraine air force and neutralized some of its air defense network. It is estimated that the attack began with a Russian missile barrage of around 100 intermediate-range, short-range, and cruise missiles from land, sea, and air platforms. Some 75 fixed-wing, heavy, and medium bombers took part in the assault striking military bases and air defense nodes. Critics say that the United States should have done more since the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine to shore up the country’s air defenses.
Russian Ground Force. The air campaign was shortly followed with simultaneous ground strikes across the Ukrainian border from the east (Russia), north (Belarus), and from Russian-occupied Crimea. Some Russian ground units have made it to the Dnieper River which runs north-south through Ukraine. In the weeks previous to the invasion it was reported widely that the Russians had staged up to 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. It now appears that close to 200,000 troops are taking part in the invasion. While the Russians can count on some quick victories in the days ahead, it will soon see that it will be bogged down in fighting a guerrilla or insurgent war should it ‘stay too long’. However, the equipment of the Russian forces – especially its artillery and armor gives it a distinct advantage over the short-term. In addition, the Russians have a long history of using special operations troops and ‘mercenaries‘ to conduct behind the lines operations.
Ukrainian Army. The country’s ground units are putting up a fierce fight – but they are outnumbered with troops and have a qualitative disadvantage in equipment. Their reserves in weapons and ammunition will slowly be depleted. Some of the ground units fighting in east Ukraine are likely to be cut off by a Russian ground pincer unit. Without lines of communication to the rear areas – the central and western part of Ukraine – these units will quickly run out of fuel for vehicles, ammunition, spare parts, and other vital supplies. A favorable attribute of the Ukrainian forces is how much better their training is than the Russians. While morale may suffer due to the steady advance of the Russians – the Ukrainians are fighting for their homeland; the Russians are conducting a war of aggression.
Ukraine Forces. The size of the Ukrainian military is small compared to that of the Russian military. Unclassified estimates readily available in the public domain indicate that Ukraine has about 255,000 soldiers, 2,400 tanks, 280 aircraft, and 25 ships. It has no nuclear weapons; transferring those to Russia after the United States made pledges for Ukraine’s security. The Ukrainian government is now calling for people of any age to come forward to fight the Russians – with Molotov cocktails and weapons supplied by the government. Although symbolic, there are reports that a Ukrainian airstrike hit a Russian airbase inside Russia early on Friday. There were some inspiring stories of heroic resistance by Ukrainian forces; to include the resistance of 13 Ukrainian border guards alone on a remote island in the Black Sea.
The President’s Words. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a video message on Friday urging resistance to the Russian invasion. He also called on other nations to assist.
“This morning, we are defending our country alone. Just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world looked on from a distance. Russia was hit with sanctions yesterday, but these are not enough to get these foreign troops off our soil. Only through solidarity and determination can this be achieved.”
Battle for Antonov / Hostomel Airport. A Russian VDV unit tried to seize the airport on Thursday but was met with defeat. A helicopter lift of specialized troops landed in the airport area but many of the infiltration helicopters were shot down by Ukrainian air defense and MiG-29s. Ukrainian troops defended the airport and were reinforced by additional Ukrainian units, to include the 4th Rapid Response Brigade and Ukrainian special operations unit. Approximately 20 large Il-76 transport planes carrying Russian paratroops were in the air to air drop or air land at the airfield but turned back with the failure to seize the airport by the VDV unit.
Battle for Kiev. The capital city of Ukraine appears to be an important objective for the Russians. The ability to occupy Kiev will allow the Russians to establish a ‘new government‘. No doubt it has its ‘Ukrainian patriots’ ready to assume power and extend thanks to the Russian ‘peacekeeping forces’. But first the Russians will need to capture the capital. As of Friday mid-day there are social media reports of fighting around and near the city and possibly within the city. Some social media reports indicate that Russian special operations forces are in Kiev operating in civilian vehicles and wearing civilian clothes. It is quite possible they are targeting the civilian leadership of the Ukraine government.
Civilian Exodus. Thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing towards western Ukraine to avoid the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Some are trying to cross the border into the neighboring countries – usually Poland. Countries of eastern Europe and the Baltic States seem receptive to providing assistance to refugees crossing the border. As of Thursday, February 24th, over 100,000 Ukrainians had left their homes.
Cyber and Info Wars. Russian cyber attacks against Ukraine continue. Russia is not immune to cyber attacks. Russia Today (rt.com) has seen an interruption of service over the past few days due to hackers. As of mid-day Friday the Russian Military of Defence website was down. There is potential for similar attacks by Russia against the United States – affecting infrastructure, cell phones, and more. Russia has steadily worked social media and news outlets spewing out its disinformation in an attempt to legitimize its aggression against Ukraine. Putin says he is ready to negotiate with Ukraine – probably on terms that would require ceding much of eastern and southern Ukraine, a change of government, and demilitarization of the country.
Threatening the West. President Putin has had some harsh words for the United States and nations of Europe. Has openly implied that nuclear weapons would be used if Russia experiences any military interference with its offensive in Ukraine.
NATO’s Response. Various countries of the NATO alliance are sending troops and aircraft into eastern Europe. Naval vessels are moving closer to the conflict region in the Mediterranean Sea. There are indications that elements of the NATO Response Force may deploy east as well. NATO leaders are meeting once again today (Friday) to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland and Sweden will participate in the secure VTC as well. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will hold a press conference following the meeting. Some NATO member states, like the United Kingdom, are fiercely supportive of Ukraine, while others, like Germany, seem to be dithering and shocked that the invasion took place. There is the possibility that U.S. and European officials will implement one key financial sanction against Russia – the booting of the country off SWIFT – a global system for financial transactions.
U.S. Response. President Biden and members of his administration have issued ‘stern’ warnings to Russia. There are no indications that these messages are having an effect. The United States Air Force has moved some of its aircraft closer to the conflict area. This includes the movement of some F-35 Lighting II aircraft from Germany to the Baltic Sea regions. The 173rd Airborne Brigade has sent one of its battalions to Latvia as a signal of ‘resolve’. The brigade is the conventional airborne strategic response force for Europe. Over 30 AH-64 attack helicopters are moving eastwards into the Polish and Baltic states region as well. An armored brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia has been ordered to deploy to Europe. President Biden has said that U.S. troops would not fight in Ukraine.
“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine. Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in East. As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power.”President Biden, February 24, 2022.
Outlook in the Near Term? If is quite possible that by the end of Day Two of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that the Russians could hold most of the coastline on the Sea of Azov, a good part of the coastline along the Black Sea, and make inroads into the suburbs of Kiev. The Ukrainians will likely continue fighting rather than begin truce talks or engaging in negotiations for the next several days. The Russians will likely be faced with continued resistance in occupied areas of Ukraine. If Putin decides to hold on to the majority of the Ukraine territory his army captures, then he could be setting the stage for another Russian geopolitical catastrophe (think Afghanistan); especially if the west decides to assist an emerging Ukrainian resistance. There is the possibility, that over the long term, Ukraine will be divided into two parts. Is it time for another Charlie Wilson to step forward in the halls of Congress?