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: Special Forces Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group deploy light tactical vehicles from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade during exercise Saber Junction in Germany. The 10th SFG(A)’s primary area of responsibility is Europe. (photo SOCEUR Twitter 12 Dec 2019).
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Russian Campaign Update
In an apparent shift in campaign objectives, Russia has decided to focus on the areas of eastern Ukraine along the Russian border. It stated in a recent press conference that Kyiv is no longer an objective, although the Russian troops arrayed around much of Kyiv have not departed. Russia is moving reinforcements from the country of Georgia, a country that was invaded by Russia in 2008. Now that some of Russia’s forces are in defensive positions, they are emplacing mines in front of their perimeters. This will slow down Ukrainian counterattacks and pose a problem for Ukraine far into the future.
Fight for the Skies. Apparently, some of Russia’s precision-guided missiles are not that precise. Some are failing to launch, many miss their intended targets, and some that do, fail to detonate. The United States has estimated that the missiles have between a 20% to a 60% failure rate. On Saturday (Mar 26) a record 70 missiles were fired by Russia on Ukraine. The US DoD estimates that as of Friday (Mar 25) the Russians have launched over 1,250 missiles into Ukraine.
Maritime Activities. Floating sea mines are going to pose a problem for maritime traffic in the Black Sea for some time. (Naval News, Mar 27, 2022). An amphibious landing force of 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. See also “New Heights of Russian Hypocrisy and “Unlawfare” in the Black Sea”, CIMSEC, March 25, 2022.
Russian Generals and Upward Mobility. By some counts, at least seven Russian generals have been killed in Putin’s War. At this rate, if this war continues, the number of senior officer promotions will accelerate in the Russian army.
Russian Artillery – MIA. One aspect of the war in Ukraine that deserves further study is the lack of effectiveness of Russia’s much-vaunted artillery. Considered a mainstay of the Russian offense, the artillery support seems deficient. Perhaps the striking of civilian infrastructure is diverting the artillery barrages from being used during tactical operations. Read more in “Russian Prototypes, Cope-cages, and Missing Artillery”, Vantage Point North, March 27, 2022.
Russian Armor. The tank columns of the Russian army have been decimated by the Ukrainian forces. Small, roving bands of Ukrainian soldiers are ambushing the tanks using anti-tank weapons. Many tanks have been stuck in mud, out of fuel, or victims of Russian tank crews abandoning the fight. “With Captured Tanks, Ukraine Now Has More Armor Than When The War Began”, by Howard Altman, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 26, 2022.
Russian Comms. There are some apparent deficiencies in the planning and execution of the communications plan for the invasion of Ukraine. Some units are relying on unencrypted push-to-talk radios and cell phones. Some units have their comms systems up and running while others do not. The Ukrainian military and intelligence services are taking advantage of the poor communications practices of the invaders. “Russian troops’ tendency to talk on unsecured lines is proving costly”, The Washington Post, March 27, 2022.
Conducting some limited counterattacks, the Ukrainian military has put up a successful defense of many of the cities the Russians had attempted to capture. But now “the real hard task begins”. Read more in an article posted by Andrew Milburn from Kyiv in “Russia’s war in Ukraine is far from over”, Task & Purpose, March 26, 2022.
Ukraine’s Intel Chief Speaks Out. Howard Altman interviews Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the defense intelligence agency head, on how the war is progressing and the intelligence coups that have helped the Ukrainian military face off against the Russians. “Ukraine’s Intel Chief: We have sources in the Kremlin, but we need jets”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 27, 2022.
Starstreak System. The skies over Ukraine will soon get a little bit more dangerous for Russian pilots. The British Starstreak system – a shoulder-mounted missile used against low flying jets – will soon be on the ground in Ukraine. “British-made Starstreak missiles are ready to be deployed in Ukraine”, MSN.com, March 26, 2022.
Insurgency and Resistance – a Critical Role. Russian forces are still slowly advancing. They are not likely to give up much of the territory that they currently hold, unless the Ukrainian military forces them off that terrain. So the war, in those occupied territories, may become one of insurgent versus counter-insurgent. While there are plenty of fighters that will conduct guerrilla operations in the enemies rear – they won’t last long without the support of the civilian population. This means an underground, shadow government (on the local level), and auxiliary are critical. An Army Civil Affairs officer explains in “Oft Forgotten but Critical Elements of Ukrainian Resistance”, War on the Rocks, March 28, 2022.
Donbass. The bulk of the Ukrainian army is concentrated in eastern Ukraine and the Russians are attempting to secure all of the area referred to as Donbas. They are likely attempting reposition their forces, shorten their supply lines, and cut off Ukrainian forces in the east from their own supply lines. The key objective in this ‘new plan’ is the besieged city of Mariupol.
Mariupol. The Russians continue to make small, incremental advances into the city. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is under siege by the Russians. France and Turkey are in talks with Russia to assist in a joint humanitarian mission for Mariupol. Over 100,000 residents remain in the seaport on the Sea of Azov.
Kyiv. At one time, the capital city of Ukraine was considered the primary objective of the Russians. The capture of Kyiv would allow Russia to put in place its puppet government. But now, with the successful defense of Kyiv, Russia seems to have moved the goalposts. Apparently, according to a briefing by Russian defense officials a few days back, Kyiv was never the primary objective; just a way of keeping Ukrainian troops tied down and away from the eastern front. However, Ukrainian officials are wary of recent Russian statements and say that it is too early to dismiss the danger to Kyiv. Residents of Kyiv are in a lighter mood although the air raid sirens are still blaring through the night and missile attacks continue.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, continues to experience Russian shelling with Grad and Uragan missile launch systems. The city is holding out and still has open supply lines to the west.
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 now appears unlikely that the Russians will take this city. The Ukrainian forces have been conducting limited counterattacks around the city.
Negotiations. The talks are continuing. On Saturday Turkish President Recep Erdogan claimed that Ukraine and Russia were nearing consensus on four of Russia’s demands. Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the status of the Russian language are two key points of the negotiations. More talks will take place on Tuesday (Mar 29) in Istanbul, Turkey.
Chornobyl – A Constant Worry. When the Russians attacked and took control of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine there was a concern that a radiative leak could occur. Thus far, that has not happened. However, there are some worries about radioactive materials that may fall into the wrong hands. “Dirty bomb ingredients go missing from Chornobyl monitoring lab”, Science.org, March 25, 2022.
IO and Cyber
Chinese Disinformation. Beijing has amplified Russian conspiracy theories to spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine to a global audience. It has been parroting the Kremlin’s talking points to include the need to conduct a “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. “Chinese Disinformation Seeks to Support Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, The Soufan Center IntelBrief, March 28, 2022.
‘Conversational Receptiveness’. Some Harvard University colleagues are reaching out to the Russians about Putin’s War. Using a crowd-sourcing method of sending emails to Russians, they hope to educate Russians about the war – providing information not available in their government controlled media. The approach used by www.mail2ru.org encompasses the lessons of research on receptiveness to opposing views. “Blending technology with psychology to engage Russian people on the Ukraine war”, Harvard Kennedy School, March 22, 2022.
Biden’s Visit to Europe. The U.S. president made a decent display of leadership during the visit to NATO, European organizations (G7), and then to Poland last week. He has his detractors, of course, who will point out various gaffes and slips of the tongue. But overall, he seemed to say what Europe needed and wanted to hear. A speech in Warsaw, Poland on Friday (Mar 26) caught the attention of the world when he said “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” The president of France was not thrilled with those words – he is currently working with Putin to bring an end to the conflict.
“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
U.S. Forces in Europe. Currently the United States has about 90,000 troops in Europe, many of them positioned in Eastern Europe. There are discussions on the need to send more troops on a temporary basis to shore up NATO’s eastern flank. “Pentagon reconsidering troop levels in Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, Military Times, March 25, 2022.
German Military Aid. A shipment of 1,500 “Strela” anti-aircraft missiles and some MG3 machine guns arrived in Ukraine on March 25, according to the German Press Agency. Food, medical supplies, and 50 medical transport vehicles were also provided.
Norway-Russian Border. A 200 kilometer long border shared by two countries is a possible flashpoint in this new Cold War 2.0 era. The Kola Peninsula is a strategic area of the world for Russia. Russia’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines pass by the North Cape to head to their Atlantic Ocean patrols. Despite the possibility of conflict, tensions along the border remain low. This is in part, due to a direct line of communication between the Norwegian Joint Headquarters near Bodo and Russia’s Northern Fleet in Severomorsk. (The Barents Observer, Mar 21, 2022).
Informal Military Equipment Shipments. Citizens across Europe are augmenting the supply of military and other equipment heading to Ukraine. Some are with non-profit groups that have been established in past years and others are with newly-formed volunteer groups. Read more: “Inside the secret transfer of military equipment to Ukrainian soldiers”, Stars and Stripes, March 18, 2022.
Belarusian Volunteer Battalion. A lot of foreign fighters have joined the Ukrainian military to take part in the defense of that country. Some have come from the country located to the north of Ukraine and allied with Russia – calling themselves the Belarusian Volunteer Battalion. (The Kyiv Independent, Twitter, Mar 26, 2022).
Video – Spirit of America. Jim Hake, the founder and CEO of the Spirit of America, talks about the work his group is doing to assist members of Ukraine’s military. “Jim Hake on Supporting Ukraine’s Military”, Washington Journal, C-Span, March 27, 2022.
GSMSG. A U.S. volunteer group, many who are Special Forces veterans, is now operating in Ukraine. Dr. Aaron Epstein, the founder of GSMSG, and 10 other members of the organization are now on the ground in Ukraine providing training in emergency medical services. The Global Surgical and Medical Support Group was founded in 2015. It is a non-profit organization made up of more than 1,500 volunteers. Recently it has been focused on training Ukrainians on being able to handle combat injuries. GSMSG has also translated the US Army’s Tactical Combat Casualty Care course into Ukrainian and it has been viewed by over 20,000 viewers online. The organization has been utilizing the U.S. Army Special Forces model of developing host nation capabilities. “US special ops veterans, medical professionals training Ukrainian soldiers, civilians in combat care”, Fox News, March 27, 2022.
How to Defeat Russia. An Australian special forces veteran, Adrian McKenzie, expresses his frustration in not being able to help but then proposes how the Ukrainians (and the west can defeat Russia). “Full-spectrum warfare and Russia’s path to defeat”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 28, 2022.
Europe’s ‘Hot Peace’ is now ‘Cold War 2.0’. Graeme Dobell explores the consequences of Putin’s War and how it has drastically changed international relations not only in Europe but in Asia as well. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine killed Europe’s hot peace”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 28, 2022.
Ukraine Invasion – Could Have Been Prevented. The president of Latvia argues that if NATO had reacted more strongly in 2008 to the Russian invasion against Georgia and the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Moscow would not have troops threatening Kyiv today. He says the West has been naïve about Putin. Latvia suffered for over 50 years under rule by the Soviet Union before getting its independence. (USNI News, Mar 25, 2022).
Who Is Putin? John Mac Ghlionn provides us with his perspective on the Russian president. “The Misdiagnosis of Vladimir Putin”, Small Wars Journal, March 27, 2022.
Putin’s Dream Evaporates. The attempt by the Russian president to reverse the course of history and re-establish the Russian empire – returning to the days of glory of the Soviet Union are dashed. His ‘three-day war’ is now into its second month. Some reports (NATO officials and Ukraine MoD) say Russia has lost more soldiers in one month than almost ten years during the Afghanistan conflict. “The number that puts Vladimir Putin at risk”, by Peter Bergen, CNN, March 27, 2022.
Online Event – Ukraine: The Humanitarian Catastrophe. Tuesday, March 29. A massive humanitarian crisis threatens millions of lives. A hobbled health care system and lack of heat, water, electricity, and food are compounding the ravages of a raging conflict in Ukraine. Watch a 30-min presentation on the scope of the problem and what can be done. Presented by the Harvard University Humanitarian Initiative, YouTube. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/event/ukraine-the-humanitarian-catastrophe/
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.