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: A U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler. The U.S. has sent six Growlers to Europe, see story below. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier, May 3, 2017.
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Russian Campaign Update
While the Russian offensive seems stalled, it still has significant combat power in Ukraine and it may have the capability to sustain that combat power if the logistics flow is fixed. It is refining its ‘goals’, to something more attainable; the capture of parts of eastern Ukraine along the Russian border. A senior Russian defense official said that his military planned to cut back military activity near the Ukrainian capital (Kyiv) in an effort to increase trust around the peace talks. This is likely just a move to reposition units to the eastern regions of Ukraine. The units pulled back will reorganize and resupply themselves before being committed to forward areas. There will likely be more Russian activity in the east and south of Ukraine over the future weeks.
The Russian military will continue to use mass artillery and missile strikes to compensate for its lack of forward progress on the ground. According to the commander of European Command (EUCOM), Russia has fired ‘multiple’ hypersonic missiles into Ukraine against military targets. (Defense One, Mar 29, 2022).
Fight for the Skies. The air war has not followed the usual flow that have been observed in past conflicts. Most wars start off with both sides fighting for the skies and one side finally establishing air superiority. Then the side with the advantage in the air moves on to support the ground effort with close air support. This hasn’t happened in the Ukraine War. There are too many air defense systems in the area of operations employed by both sides of the conflict.
Drones. However, drones are making an impact – especially those used by the Ukrainians. It is still cold out in Ukraine and the Russians are living in field conditions. The tank crews keep their massive steel hulks warm by running the engines. That provides a heat signature at night for the armed drones of the Ukrainian military. In addition to the armed drones wreaking havoc on Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and fuel trucks are the surveillance drones (ISR) scouting out the terrain for Russian units, vehicles, and convoys. These ISR drones feed information into the situation overlays of the Ukrainian operations centers for planning purposes and to artillery units for targeting data.
Small SOF Drone Unit with Big Impact. A specialized force of 30 soldiers on quad bikes helped stop the 40-mile Russian convoy in its tracks. Night ambushes were carried out by a team of Ukrainian special forces and drone operators roaming up and down the Russian convoy. The unit was equipped with night vision goggles, sniper rifles, remotely detonated mines, and drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and small 1.5kg bombs. “The drone operators who halted Russian convoy headed for Kyiv”, The Guardian, March 28, 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. There are a lot of merchant ships stranded in Ukrainian ports. The United Nations is pressing for their safe passage out of danger so that the world’s food supply is not threatened.
World’s Grain Supply. Some 30% of the world’s grain comes from Russia and Ukraine. Most of the grain departing Ukraine goes by ship via the Black Sea and on into the Mediterranean Sea. However, Russia is currently blocking 94 ships with food from leaving Ukrainian ports.
Ground Fight. The Ukrainians are on the offensive in many areas of the country. The suburban town of Irpin (northwest of Kyiv) has been taken back from the Russians. Kharkiv is still being resupplied and the city of Sumy is receiving supplies. Even Kherson in the south seems to be contested due to a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russia has been deploying banned anti-personnel mines in the Kharkiv region according to a new report by Human Rights Watch published on March 29, 2022.
Tank Division Reduced. According to Ukrainian defense officials, the Russian 4th Guards Tank Division has suffered a huge defeat just 15 miles from the Russian border. Due to a lack of fuel and food the division became less capable and was overwhelmed by Ukrainian infantry units armed with anti-armor weapons. See “Ukrainians Obliterate the Elite Russian 4th Guards Tank Division 15 Miles from Russian Border”, SOFREP, March 28, 2022.
Kyiv. In the initial days of the invasion the capital city of Ukraine was considered the primary objective of the Russians. However, the attack was stalled by the Ukrainians. It appears that some Russian units are being withdrawn from the Kyiv region back to Belarus for a subsequent repositioning to other conflict zones in Ukraine, most likely the eastern sector. Over 2 million of its 4 million residents have fled the city.
Mariupol. The fall of this city to the Russians may happen within days. The Russians continue to advance street by street, block by block. This city had a pre-invasion population of about 430,000. There are reports that thousands of residents have been forcibly evacuated from the city by the Russians and are now headed to distant Russian cities.
Mykolayiv. This city is suffering from constant missile attacks by the Russians. It is contested and there is a lot of fighting around the perimeter of the city. Reports on social media on Tuesday (Mar 29) stated that a large column of Russian troops were headed to Mykolayiv from Kherson. 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.
Negotiations. Talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials held on Tuesday (Mar 29) covered a wide range of topics. These included Crimea, the Donbas region (eastern Ukraine), and security guarantees for Ukraine. Ukraine is looking for international security guarantees to ensure another Russian attack does not occur in the future. Most observers believe that the parties are getting a little closer to an agreement. One result of the negotiations over the past few days resulted in a prisoner exchange. One group returned were the Border Guards on Snake Island who were told to surrender by a Russian warship. They responded with “Russian warship, “Go **** ********”.
“Ukrainians are not naïve, we see risks in peace talks. Of course, we see all the risks. Of course, we don’t have a reason to trust the words of representatives of a country that wages war against us.”President Zelensky
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. As of March 30, over 3,900,000 refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Almost seven million have been internally displaced. This means about 25% of Ukraine’s population has left their homes. About 2.3 million Ukrainians left for Poland. More than 12 million are in constant danger due to being close to conflict zones or cities under siege. A significant proportion of the population is in need of clean water, food, medicine, and shelter. Almost one million are lacking access to electricity. Read a report on the humanitarian crisis provided by ACAPS, March 29, 2022, PDF, 9 pages.
U.S. Intelligence. The United States intelligence community miscalculated on how long the Afghan army and Afghan government would hold out against the Taliban last summer – many feeling that the government would hold out until the spring of 2022. The same intel gurus also erred on their predictions about how quickly the Russians would take Kyiv – some saying that the conflict would last just a few days. Up to this past Friday, most national security observers were predicting a long fight that would grind away at the Ukrainians as the Russians pumped more tanks, artillery, and troops into Ukraine. Now, the ‘experts’ don’t seem that sure. Hopefully, the intel guys are making up for their faulty intel forecasts by passing info to the Ukrainian military that is helpful to the targeting of Russian formations in Ukraine.
WhatsApp Messages from Ukraine to Russia. Audio recordings, phone calls, and WhatsApp messages are being sent by Ukrainian telecom specialists to dissuade troops from deploying to Ukraine. “Inside Ukraine’s Psyops on Russian and Belarusian Soldiers”, New Lines Magazine, March 29, 2022.
U.S. Cyber Attack on Russia? The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the United States of “. . . waging a large-scale cyberattack against Russia.” A US spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council says that it hasn’t happened. Hmmm. (Russian Foreign Ministry, Mar 29, 2022).
Navy Growlers to Europe. The United States is sending six EA-18 Growlers to be based at Spangdahlem in Germany. They will be flying missions in support of “eastern flank deterrence and defense”. The typical mission for the EA-18 is electronic warfare and radar jamming to suppress enemy air defense. According to a DoD spokesman, the Growlers will be based in Europe to reinforce deterrence capabilities of NATO’s Eastern Flank, and will not engage Russian assets. The aircraft are from VAQ-134 based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. About 240 personnel from the unit will deploy, including air crew, aircraft maintainers, and pilots. “6 Navy ‘Growler’ Aircraft Headed to Germany to Support Deterrence Mission”, DoD News, March 28, 2022.
Marines from Norway to the Eastern Flank. U.S. Marine air assets participating in the Cold Response 22 exercise in Norway will be deploying to Lithuania. The deployment includes ten FA-18s as well as C-130s. See “400 Marines deploy in Eastern Europe as part of US response to Ukraine War”, Marine Times, March 29, 2022.
UK’s Starstreak Missiles. The Ukrainians are now ready to use the Starstreak high velocity missiles against the Russians. The missiles are now in the hands of the Ukrainians and they have received training on their operation. The MANPADs can be launched from the shoulder or when mounted on a vehicle. Learn more in “All You Need to Know About the Starstreak Missiles Now in the Hands of Ukrainian Troops”, The War Zone, March 28, 2022.
Canadian Veterans Assist Former Interpreters. Some former Ukrainian interpreters (numbering around 25) who assisted Canadian forces deployed to Ukraine over the past several years are getting help. A small group of Canadian veterans are now in southeast Poland assisting in the evacuation and support of these former interpreters. “Veterans who rescued Afghan interpreters bring Canadian Forces interpreters out of Ukraine”, Global News (CA), March 25, 2022.
Red Line Needed. The Russians can’t achieve success on the battlefield with its armor and infantry. But they can level Ukrainian cities and force them to submit with their artillery and missiles. Perhaps a ‘no atrocities’ red line is needed; meaning the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians in Ukrainian cities will not be tolerated by the West. Air strikes using air-launched stand-off weapons against Russian artillery and missile launch positions in Ukraine would result in crossing the red line. Kevin R. James goes into detail on this topic in “The West must draw a red line for Russian in Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 30, 2022.
More Weapons Needed. The Russians may have been ‘stalled’ in their offensive to take Kyiv and other major cities in eastern Ukraine; but they are still on the offensive. They will concentrate their forces in the east and south of Ukraine and continue with their missile, propaganda, and cyber attacks. The Russians will also be bringing in more troops from the far east, Georgia, and mobilized reserve forces. The Ukrainians can prevail but need more weapons at a faster pace. Stephen Blank is a Senior Fellow at FPRI’s Eurasia Program and a book author. He provides his thoughts in “What Ukraine Needs Now”, Real Clear Defense, March 29, 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.