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: U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Ryan, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, prepares to take off for a routine training flight at Aviano Air Base, Feb. 17, 2022. The flights will support NATO’s enhanced air policing mission; integrate with allies and partners in the Black Sea region in an increased defensive posture along NATO’s border and to reinforce regional security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brooke Moeder)
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The Ukraine War Update will return on Monday. Some ‘SOF’ news will be in your inbox on Saturday and Sunday.
Russian Campaign Update. The Russian offensive is still stalled. The Ukrainians are conducting limited counterattacks, but those actions are not having a significant effect on the terrain currently held by the Russians. But a victory is a victory. Reports from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and other news sources indicate that the Russians are still suffering significant losses in personnel – killed, wounded, or injured. However, time is on Russia’s side. As it pours more troops, tanks, and equipment into the fight the tide could turn to the Russians favor. Because of Russia’s vast superiority in numbers it will win a war of attrition. There are indications that the Russians are picking up the pace in eastern Ukraine.
Russian Missiles. Over 1,200 missiles have been launched into Ukraine by the Russians. U.S. defense officials say that there are still plenty of missiles left in the Russian inventory. Russia is running low on air launched cruise missiles but have plenty of ground launched cruise missiles, short range ballistic missiles, and medium range ballistic missiles.
Fight for the Skies. Russian aviators are still experiencing rough times flying over Ukrainian airspace and appear to remain risk-adverse in the face of Ukrainian air defenses. Most Russian airstrikes involve air launch munitions from Belarus, Russian, and Russian-occupied Crimea airspace. The Russians have increased their drone activity in recent days. There are a host of MANPADs and mid-range anti-aircraft systems used by the Ukrainians. Read more about these systems in “Why the Skies Over Ukraine are a ‘Nightmare’ for Russian Pilots”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 22, 2022.
Maritime Activities. Two Russian ships were attacked in the port city of Berdyans’k on the Sea of Azov on Thursday (Mar 24). One ship carrying fuel and ammunition for the frontlines seems to be destroyed while tied up at a pier. Another sailed away while on fire. Watch a video of the scene. Read more in “Video: Russian Landing Ship Destroyed in Ukrainian Port“, USNI News, March 24, 2022. See also “Russian Landing Ship Destroyed in Massive Explosion in Captured Ukrainian Port City”, The WarZone, March 24, 2022.
The Russians have restricted merchant traffic traveling north through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov. However, it appears that some merchant traffic is able to transit south through the strait. Read more in “The War at Sea: Is There a Naval Blockade in the Sea of Azov?”, Articles of War, Lieber Institute West Point, March 24, 2022.
Kyiv. The capital city has held fast in resisting the Russian assault. In fact, some news reports indicate that a series of small counterattacks by the Ukrainians have pushed the Russians back a bit. There is also some speculation that the Russians have pulled back a few kilometers in some places. It is likely that a combination of Ukrainian attacks and Russian’s withdrawal have moved the frontlines east of Kyiv back – where they are now about 55 kilometers from the city center. At this point, without significant units reinforcing the Russians Kyiv will likely hold out.
Kharkiv. The city’s downtown area suffered attacks from sea launched missiles. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country and continues to be held by the Ukrainians. It is not known whether the Russians will try and take the city or just attempt to encircle it. The Russians are currently outside the ring road and are about 15 to 20 kilometers from the city center.
Mariupol. The situation for residents of Mariupol is dire. The evacuation of civilians continues. The city is experiencing constant shelling. Food and water supplies are severely limited and their are fears of starvation in the future. The Russians are making slow but steady progress in taking the city, but it is street by street, block by block fighting.
Mykolayiv. 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. It is thought that the Russians may try to bypass this city in order to push towards Odessa; but given the current stalled offensive this is not likely to happen without additional Russian forces being committed to the fight. It is possible that the Russians want to project a sense they will try for Odessa – and tie down Ukrainian forces dedicated to its defense.
Negotiations. Every once in a while a report surfaces that the discussions between the Russians and Ukrainians are bearing fruit, but the fighting continues. There was an exchange of prisoners recently. Ten Russian prisoners of war were exchanged for 10 Ukrainian POWs. Some Russian and Ukrainian sailors were also exchanged.
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 (ISW). The first month of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can be followed in this animated Ukraine map that depicts a time lapse display of the invasion by ISW.
NATO Conference and Other Meetings
NATO held a conference on Thursday (Mar 24) that brought world leaders to Brussels, Belgium. During his European trip President Biden announced that the U.S. would be providing over $1 billion for Ukrainian humanitarian relief. The specifics of the program has not yet been announced although it is anticipated that it will help provide food, clean water, shelter, medical supplies, and other assistance. The U.S. has deployed over 20,000 military personnel to Europe since the Russians invaded Ukraine. You can watch President Biden’s 18-minute long press conference held in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday (Mar 24).
Russia and G20. The G20 organization is a primary venue for international economic and financial cooperation. It was established in 1999 to address issues and concerns about the global economy. There are twenty members in the group including nations from around the world and the European Union. President Biden came out on Thursday (Mar 24) stating that Russia should be dropped from the organization. “Biden says he supports expelling Russia from G20”, Axios, March 24, 2022. Read about Russia’s place in the world economy in this report: Russia’s Trade and Investment Role in the Global Economy, Congressional Research Service, CRS IF12066, March 24, 2022, PDF, 3 pages.
Ukraine Allies in Graphics. The 35 countries that are attending the European Union, NATO, and G-7 summits in Brussels this week have varying degrees of economic dependencies on Russia and support to Ukraine. View a matrix that spells it out. “How Loyal Are Ukraine’s Western Allies?”, Politico, March 24, 2022.
U.S. to Welcome 100,000 Ukrainian Refugees. Over 3 million have fled to countries in Europe, and some of them may end up in the United States. The U.S. will take up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. A full range of pathways will be utilized to accommodate the arrival of refugees into the United States. Priority will be given to those with family in the U.S., journalists, LGBTQ people, and others. “U.S. to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees”, Politico, March 24, 2022. Thus far, Poland has accepted over two million Ukrainian refugees. There are a lot of private organizations that will be assisting Ukrainians coming to this country. One of them is Welcome.US. Visit their web page on Ukraine for ways to volunteer and assist. https://ukraine.welcome.us/
More U.S. Sanctions. Washington has announced that more sanctions will be imposed on Russia. The newest ones will target the 328 members of Russia’s legislative body, some of Russia’s financial institutions, and almost 50 Russian defense enterprises. Read more in “Targeting Elites of the Russian Federation”, U.S. Department of State, March 24, 2022.
Online Event – Gates and Vickers on Ukraine War. On Wednesday (Mar 23), Dr. Robert Gates and Dr. Michael Vickers took part in a panel discussion about the Ukraine War. Gates is a former Secretary of Defense and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Vickers is a former Green Beret, CIA officer with the Special Activities Division, ASD SO/LIC, and former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. The event was sponsored by the OSS Society. (one hour)
Video – Weapons of Ukraine. American-made Javelins, British NLAWs, and other weapons are explained in this video featured on Defense News, March 21, 2022.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. As of March 24, over 3,500,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).
Green Berets and Ukraine. Ever since the Russians invaded and occupied Crimea in 2014, U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers have rotated into Ukraine to provide training to its military. Much of that training took place at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine. “The US Army’s Green Berets quietly helped tilt the battlefield a little bit more toward Ukraine”, Fox News, March 24, 2022.
The Russians and COIN. The war is grinding on and large scale advancements on either side are likely to be few and far between. The Russians will likely take one or more major cities in the coming weeks and defend the newly acquired territory along the eastern border and in the south. Some war observers say that the Ukrainians will mount an insurgency in these Russian-occupied areas making their stay difficult. What is ignored by many is the fact that the Russians, in some cases, have been good at counterinsurgency campaigns. “Don’t Underestimate the Bear – Russia is One of the World’s Most Effective Modern Counterinsurgents”, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 24, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Telegram and War Info. The Ukraine War has seen information operations emerge as a bigger factor than in previous conflicts . . . or at least it seems that way. The Russians have firm control of the media in Russia and it is trying to sway the narrative online around the rest of the world. Telegram, an instant messaging app, has become one of the more important venues for reading the news . . . and propaganda as well. It is one of the most popular social apps in Russia and Ukraine. Learn why Telegram has become an appealing option for communications and news about the war. Read more in “Why Telegram became the go-to app for Ukrainians – despite being rife with Russian disinformation”, The Conversation, March 24, 2022.
Ukraine Bio Labs, Korean War, and Propaganda. Russia has made accusations that the United States and Ukraine are in a joint venture to deploy biological weapons. This isn’t the first time Russia has made accusations of this nature. During the Korean War Russia made similar accusations. For the most part, this propaganda was revealed for what it was – a bunch of lies. The U.S. policy maker of today could learn from the responses from the United Nations and the United States to propaganda in the 1950s. “Lessons From the First Time Russia Accused the United States of Biowarfare”, War on the Rocks., March 23, 2022.
Russian Cyber Attacks. The Russians are continuing their cyber attacks against Ukraine. One recent hack attack knocked thousands of people offline and the effects spilled over into Europe. “A Mysterious Satellite Hack Has Victims Far Beyond Ukraine”, Wired.com, March 23, 2022.
Building Apps for War. Ukrainian digital workers have shifted focus from consumer products to assisting in the war effort. Some of the applications developed provide the ability of ordinary Ukrainians to submit location-tagged photos and videos of Russian military sightings. The data is then used by Ukrainian intelligence officials to develop the overall intelligence situation. Ukrainian developers are making apps, bots, and online tools for front-line combat and life under siege. “Instead of consumer software, Ukraine’s tech workers build apps of war”, The Washington Post, March 24, 2022.
U.K. Weapons. The British announced on Wednesday (Mar 23) that thousands of anti-armor weapons will be shipped to Ukraine. This is in addition to the thousands of anti-armor weapons already sent by the U.K. The NLAW anti-tank weapon has proven to be extremely effective against Russian armor. Ukraine has a growing need for additional anti-air and anti-tank weapons. They are rapidly burning through their inventory of these weapons and are urgently requesting more. “Ukraine tells the US it needs 500 Javelins and 500 Stingers per day”, CNN News, March 24, 2022.
Drones for Ukraine. An American drone manufacturer is providing drones and teaching Ukrainians on how to use them. “At Polish site, Ukrainians train to fly drones for rescue missions and targeting Russians”, The Washington Post, March 24, 2022.
Private Sector Assistance and GSOF. There are hundreds of private organizations and volunteer groups providing help to Ukrainian refugees and to those Ukrainians on the battlefield. One of them is the Global SOF Foundation (GSOF). This organization is an international special operations network that aims to advance special operations forces capabilities and partnerships to confront global and networked threats. It is currently partnering with support teams in Ukraine to provide humanitarian aid.
Ukraine – A Success Story for Security Cooperation Assistance. The dismal advance into Ukraine by the Russian Army and the brave defense put up by the Ukrainians has captured the attention of the world. An important factor in the Ukrainian success is the transformation of its military since 2014. This improvement of Ukraine’s military capabilities was aided in part by the training, support, and military assistance provided to Ukraine since 2014 by the United States, UK, Canada, and other nations. Read more in “The Impact of Security Cooperation and Building Partner Capacity in Ukraine”, The Soufan Center IntelBrief, March 25, 2022.
A Russian Empire. David Von Drehle explains the reasoning behind Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and what Russia’s plans for the rest of Europe might be. “The man known as ‘Putin’s brain’ envisions the splitting of Europe – and the fall of China”, The Washington Post, March 22, 2022.
Could the War Spillover to the Balkans? Dimitar Bechev, a lecturer at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, explains the politics that will keep the Balkans free from conflict related to the Ukraine War. “War Won’t Be Coming Back to the Balkans”, War on the Rocks, March 24, 2022.
Deterring Russia – Ukraine Needs Aircraft. Two former U.S. Air Force generals argue that fighter aircraft should be given to Ukraine. (Air Force Magazine, Mar 22, 2022).
Russia’s Chemical and Biological Weapons. The threat of Russia using its chemical and biological weapons in the Ukraine War has NATO, Ukraine, and others on edge. This is likely a ‘red line’ for the United States and NATO that would require a response. Russia has used chemical weapons in past conflicts, notably in Chechnya and Syria. Matthew Bunn of Harvard University is interviewed on the prospect of Russia using chemical and biological weapons and the likely response of NATO. “Russia’s remaining weapons are horrific and confounding”, The Harvard Gazette, March 23, 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.