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.
Photo: Ukraine SOF teams competed in the Annual UKRSOF Tournament 2020. Photo depicts SOTU members fast roping from helicopter. Photo by Ukrainian SOFCOM PAO.
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Battlefield Update. The Russians may have pulled back a bit from their positions east of Kyiv. A counterattack by the Ukrainians west of Kyiv have prevented the Russians from moving south and encircling the capital city. There are indications that Russian forces are employing more defensive tactics – digging in and emplacing mines. The battlefield is relatively static at the moment. In eastern Ukraine Russian forces are trying to envelop the Ukrainian forces – advancing from Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south. This would cut off Ukrainian forces in the east from their resupply routes. Russian forces may try to skirt around the city of Mykolaiv in an attempt to push towards Odessa.
Russian combat power is about 90% of the pre-invasion force that was arrayed on Ukrainian borders. NATO estimates (Wednesday) that Russia has lost between 7,000 to 15,000 in Ukraine. Overall NATO believes that between 30,000 to 40,000 Russians have been killed or wounded. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense says that as of Wednesday (Mar 23) the Russians have suffered over 15,000 KIA. Russian forces are experiencing shortages of cold weather clothing, food, and fuel. The conditions of the Russian soldiers are affecting their morale.
“We certainly have indications that morale is a growing problem inside the Russian forces that are fighting in Ukraine. We’ve seen increasing indications that morale and unit cohesion is a problem and yes, absolutely translates into potential military effectiveness issues.”Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, March 23, 2022.
Fight for the Skies. The Ukrainian Air Force has some very skilled pilots. One U.S. Air National Guard unit has been training with them since 2002. Read more in “After Training Together for Years, Air Force Pilots Are Watching Ukrainian Friends Fight for Their Lives”, Task & Purpose, March 23, 2022. Watch a video explaining how a Turkish drone has become a star of the Ukrainian defense. (Defense News Weekly, Mar 21, 2022).
Maritime Activities. An amphibious landing force on several ships is still positioned in the Black Sea off the coast of Odessa to land a substantial element of Russian naval infantry. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian shipping continues.
Kyiv. Two million people remain in Kyiv. The supply lines are still open. 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.
Lviv. The western Ukraine city of Lviv has been relatively untouched by the ground war taking place in eastern Ukraine. However, its citizens are preparing for a fight should it come to them. View a photo gallery of Lviv residents training for combat. (The Washington Post, Mar 23, 2022).
Mariupol. Almost 3,000 people were evacuated from the city on Wednesday (Mar 23). 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. Some estimates say that 100,000 Ukrainians remain in the city. The fighting is taking place street by street and block by block.
NATO Meeting on Thursday. The leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are meeting in Brussels today (Mar 24) to discuss the Ukrainian War. The conference will be chaired by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. President Zelensky is expected to address the NATO leaders. NATO has decided to increase its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. Four new battlegroups will be established to be based in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. This will bring the total number of NATO battlegroups in eastern Europe to eight. NATO has repeated its position that it will not send NATO troops into Ukraine nor fly aircraft in its airspace.
NATO and No-Fly Zone. NATO’s Secretary General has repeated the NATO position on a no-fly zone on Thursday (Mar 24):
“And to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine means that we need to impose it, and to impose a no-fly zone means that we need to massively attack Russian air defence systems in Russia, in Belarus and in Ukraine, and also be ready to shoot down Russian planes. And then the risk for a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia will be very high, and that will cause more deaths and more destruction.”NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, March 24, 2022
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. As of March 23, over 3,400,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 5,000 people were evacuated from conflict areas in Ukraine. Seven of the nine humanitarian corridors were used on Wednesday. The United Nations Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published its Humanitarian Impact Situation Report for March 23, 2022.
Poland and Ukrainian Refugees. Poland has received the vast majority of the Ukrainians who have fled Ukraine. The nation has accepted more than 2 million refugees. No one can predict how long the Ukrainian refugees will be in Poland; perhaps many will never return to their home country. Once the refugees have been established in homes, the children will need to begin school and the adults will need to find work. Matching refugees to available jobs will be a challenge. See “For Ukrainian Refugees in Poland, Livelihood Needs Will Follow Humanitarian Ones”, RAND Corporation, March 18, 2022.
War Crimes. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia of committing war crimes. Read more in a U.S. Department of State press statement released on March 23, 2022 entitled “War Crimes by Russia’s Forces in Ukraine”.
Russia’s Nuclear Weapons. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a 46 page report (PDF) entitled Russia’s Nuclear Weapons: Doctrine, Forces, and Modernization. The report covers Russian doctrine and deployment, arms control agreements, recent developments, modernization programs, and more. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R45861
Sweden Sending Weapons. The Swedish defense minister said that his country will be sending additional anti-tank equipment to Ukraine. Sweden has already sent thousands of anti-tank weapons.
Cyber and Information Operations
Cyber Attack on Railways. Ukrzaliznytsia says that its accounts were hacked. The state railway operator’s press service, online ticketing, and telephone services were temporarily unavailable. The passenger data is safe and the movement of trains continues.
The Will to Fight. Russia underestimated the resistance of the Ukrainians to the invasion. One of the main ingredients to waging war is for the population base to have the ‘will to fight’. Information operations and social media plays a huge role in that aspect of warfare and this is certainly true of the Ukraine War. Read more in “The Will to Fight in the Age of Social Media”, RAND Corporation, March 22, 2022.
The U.S. is Going to Up its IO Game in Europe. Read a “Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): DRL Strengthening Regional Media in Europe and Eurasia”, Department of State, March 23, 2022.
“Countries that are eligible for participation can include but are not limited to Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and the South Caucasus region.”
Russian Influence Abroad? The dismal record of the Russian military over the past four weeks has many national security observers perplexed. Also taking note are many of the nations that usually line up in the ‘Russian camp’ and host Russian forces in their countries. Russia’s poor performance thus far in the Ukraine war will likely have a negative impact on the Kremlin’s influence abroad – especially in the Middle East and in sub-Saharan Africa. Traditional Russian partners may reconsider their role as a ‘vassal state’ and could look to alternative guarantors of security. “How Will Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Impact Its Influence Abroad?”, The Soufan Center IntelBrief, March 24, 2022.
Russian Military Professionalism. When security experts analyze a country’s military they usually focus on hardware, equipment, airplanes, tanks, and ships. Less time is spent on military training and the professionalism of the military personnel. National security observers may have overestimated the capability of the Russian armed forces by overlooking one key factor – its professionalism. Read more in “Russia’s Problems with Military Professionalism”, RAND Corporation, March 21, 2022.
Missing in Russia’s Military Strategy. A retired Australian general provided his thoughts on what has gone wrong for the invading nation in the Ukraine War. Major General Mick Ryan (Ret.) identified three mission areas in Russia’s military strategy: cyber operations, poor Russian command and control, and a lack of human-machine teaming. “Retired ADF Major General breaks down Russian invasion, identifies missing capabilities”, Defence Connect, March 24, 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.