Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, Ukrainian defense, and NATO. Additional topics include refugees, internally displaced personnel, humanitarian efforts, cyber, and information operations.
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Russian Campaign Update. Over 1,100 missiles have been fired into Ukraine. There were no real changes on the ground anywhere in Ukraine over the past few days. There was fighting and shelling in the Kyiv suburbs, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kherson. Some military experts say that Putin’s invasion hasn’t succeeded yet – but that it still has a chance over time. Russian military expert Michael Kofman says the next two weeks could determine the fate of Ukraine. Kofman points out that wars of attrition generally favor the nation with the greater manpower and material resources; of which Russia has both. (Politico, Mar 21, 2022). The Pentagon stated that Russia’s combat power in Ukraine has been diminished by 10%. Until significant reinforcements arrive the Russians will rely on long-range bombardment of Ukrainian military positions as well as civilian infrastructure. Some military commentators say that Russia is starting to adapt to a prolonged conflict, and that with a military significantly bigger than Ukraine’s, it may prevail. (Task & Purpose, Mar 21, 2022).
“They own the long clock. We are calculating time not in weeks or days – but in lives.”Senior Ukrainian officer
Ukraine Defense. There have been local counterattacks by Ukraine on Russian positions. The ability of the military to conduct major offensives is limited. They have been successful in holding the Russians at bay in Kyiv. The Russian positions are currently (Mar 22) about 15 km to the northwest and about 30 km to the east. The Ukrainian defense has been stiff – with a great reliance on anti-aircraft and anti-armor missiles. When these supplies are depleted things will get more complicated for Ukraine.
Fight for the Skies. Against the odds, the Ukrainian Air Force continues to work at denying Russia air superiority over Ukraine. It wasn’t wiped out on the ground and in the air in the first few days of the war, as many predicted, the Ukraine Air Force is still flying. The Ukrainian airplanes have been dispersed to smaller airstrips in the western part of the country. Most air operations by the Russians are conducted at night. Read more in “Ukrainian Fighter Pilots Describe Their Desperate Air War Against Russia”, The WarZone, March 22, 2022. One Ukrainian fighter pilot came out of retirement to defend his nation. Read the story of the “Grey Wolf“, one of the most respected pilots in the Ukrainian Air Force. Unfortunately, he was killed when his aircraft was struck by a Russian anti-aircraft missile. The New York Times has an article about how the Ukrainian Air Force is fighting back. (subscription).
Maritime Activities. An amphibious landing force on several ships is still positioned in the Black Sea off the coast of Odessa and could potentially land a substantial element of Russian naval infantry. If a landing takes place, it would likely be a supporting action for a ground assault on Odessa from the Crimea region. Maritime activity in the Black Sea has been quiet, with no shelling of the coastline of Ukraine in the past 24 hours. The Russians have about 21 ships in the Black Sea – about a dozen surface combatants and maybe 9 amphibious shops for landing troop and tanks. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian shipping continues. There are about seven ships in the Sea of Azov, one of them a minesweeper.
Kyiv. The Russians continue to shell the capital city and strengthen their defensive positions. There were a series of small attacks carried out by the Russians and Ukrainians with no significant change of the battlespace. Some small towns in the Kyiv area to the west and north have changed hands. Ukrainian forces have retaken Makariv, located west of Kyiv. It is considered a key objective that hinders the move southward of Russian forces that might try to encircle Kyiv.
Kharkiv. The city has experienced heavy shelling over the past two days (Mar 21 and 22). There are no indications that the Russians can take Kharkiv. The city is not yet encircled and supply routes from the west are still open. At least half of the 1.4 million residents have fled to the west. Many of the city residents are living in basements or in the underground metro. “Life underground: Ukrainian families make new homes in the Kharkiv subway”, The Washington Post, March 21, 2022.
Mariupol. This coastal city is seeing continued bombardment by artillery and long-range missiles. Some missiles have been fired from the Sea of Azov where the Russians have five to six ships. The estimated civilian population ranges from 250,000 to 300,000 people. The supplies of water, food, and other essential items are very low. More than 1,200 citizens were evacuated on Tuesday (Mar 22), most of them on evacuation buses.
Mykolayiv and Odessa. The city remains in Ukrainian hands. The Russians are located to the north and northeast of the city. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River close to the coast of the Black Sea, Mykolayiv is a strategic objective for the Russians that is on the road to Odessa located further west along the coast of the Black Sea. If Odessa does fall to the Russians, then it could decide the fate of neighboring Moldova.
Situation Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. Read an assessment and view a map of the Russian offensive campaign by the Institute for the Study of War. See this resource for additional maps about the Ukraine War.
Biden Travels to Europe Wednesday. According to statements by the U.S. government, President Biden will be traveling to Europe to speak with European leaders and meet with NATO officials. He will attend an emergency NATO meeting, address the European Council, meet with Group of Seven (G-7) leaders in Brussels. He will then head to Poland on Friday. It is expected that Biden will announce new sanctions on Russia during the European visit.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. As of March 22, over 3,400,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). The highest amount of refugee traffic into Poland occurred in the first weeks of March – reaching well over 100K a day. The daily amount into Poland now is about 25K. Over 2.5 million have gone to Poland since the invasion began.
Russian and Chemical Weapons. Things are not going Russia’s way in Ukraine. They may decide to step it up and escalate, possibly with the use of chemical weapons. Analysts say that Russia may attack chemical plants in Ukraine. This could be part of a ‘false flag’ operation where the Russians attack a chemical facility, cause a ‘discharge’ of dangerous elements, blame it on the Ukrainians, and then respond with their ‘own’ chemical attack as a retaliation. “Is Russia getting ready to use chemical weapons in Ukraine?”, New Scientist, March 22, 2022.
Prison for Russian Dissident. Aleksey Navalny, a leading opposition leader in Russia, has been sentenced to nine more years in a high security prison. He has long pushed for transparency and accountability from the Putin regime. As an opposition politician and anti-corruption activist he has been persecuted by Putin’s government. In 2020 he almost died as a result of being poisoned by Russian security services. He has been imprisoned since returning to Russia from overseas after receiving medical treatment. “Aleksey Navalny Unjustly Convicted Again”, U.S. Department of State, March 22, 2022.
U.S. ABCTs. At the height of the Cold War the United States had seven armored brigades in Europe, but they were gradually drawn down with the last one inactivated in 2013. There are currently five Armored Brigade Combat Teams deployed overseas; three in Europe, one in the Central Command region, and one in the Pacific. One ABCT has been in Europe as part of the Atlantic Resolve rotation, one is heading to Europe, and one deployed to Europe just after the Ukraine invasion by Russia. The active component has 11 ABCTs while the National Guard has five ABCTs. Read more in “Armor brigade workload may dramatically increase if Ukraine crisis holds”, Army Times, March 22, 2022. And while we are talking about tanks . . . Max Boot says that Russian tanks are taking a beating and asks if they still have a place on the modern battlefield? (The Washington Post, Marc 22, 2022).
Cyber and Information Operations
Russian Comms – Ukraine is Listening. Russia’s encrypted military phones aren’t working. The Russians did not properly plan for communications for a long-term military campaign. Ukraine has been either listening or jamming Russian communications. Apparently Russia’s encrypted cell phones rely on 3G and 4G communications towers. However, the Russians bombed many these towers in the early days of the campaign. So now they are stealing phones from Ukrainian citizens and using them to pass classified traffic in the clear. Ukraine has banned all mobile numbers carrying Russia’s country code. “The Ukrainians Are Listening: Russia’s Military Radios Are Getting Owned”, Foreign Policy, March 22, 2022.
Russia Bans Meta. A Russian court ruled that the firm that owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp is an extremist organization and has banned it from operating in Russia. This is a continuation of an anti-press campaign to control the news that Russians consume.
The IO Fight. The Russians are losing the information operations fight internationally. Where they appear to be successful is within the borders of Russia. A clampdown on the media has resulted in the state-driven narrative becoming successful. Most Russians support the war in Ukraine and believe the lies of the Putin regime. Read more in “US, Ukraine quietly try to pierce Putin’s propaganda bubble”, AP News, March 22, 2022.
Ukraine’s Legionnaires and Lessons of Finland. Ukraine is in a fight for its life. Recruiting foreigners to serve in its armed forces is a logical thing to do. The country should study the successes and missteps of Finland during the 1939 ‘Winter War’ with the Soviet Union. “Lessons from Finland for Ukraine and Its Foreign Legion”, War on the Rocks, March 21, 2022.
West Ignored Eastern Europe – and Now Pays the Price. Edward Lucas discusses the origins of the Ukraine catastrophe – and says it lies in the Western mindscape. “The Blame Game”, Europe’s Edge, March 21, 2022.
CIA Officer: Russia’s Failure No Surprise. A former Central Intelligence Officer who worked in the agency’s covert operation against the Red Army in Afghanistan four decades ago is not surprised at the ineffectiveness of the Russian Army. He said that Russia’s troops were plagued by bad maintenance, poor chains of command, low morale, desertions, and alcoholism. The campaign in Ukraine has turned into a long slog and an embarrassment to the Kremlin. “Russian Army’s Fail No Surprise to CIA Official Who Battled it in Afghanistan”, SpyTalk, March 22, 2022.
Political Defeat for Russia? Pavel K. Baev is a senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), in Oslo. He describes the political costs of the Ukraine War that Russia is suffering now and will in the future. “Stalled Military Offensive and Unfolding Political Defeat for Russia in Ukraine”, Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, March 21, 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
UNCN. The Ukraine NGO Coordination Network is an organization that ties together U.S.-based 501c3 organizations and non-profit humanitarian organizations that are working to evacuate and support those in need affected by the Ukraine crisis. https://uncn.one
Maps of 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/.
UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation
Ukrainian Think Tanks – Brussels. Consolidated information on how to help Ukraine from abroad and stay up to date on events.
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.