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 prototype Maneuver Short Range Air Defense Stryker assigned to 5-4 Air Defense Artillery Battalion, tracks an Mi-24 Hind during Exercise Saber Strike 22 at BPTA, Poland on February 25, 2022. Read more about the M-SHORAD Weapons System. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Robert Fellingham)
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Russian Campaign Update
The Russians have failed in most all of their objectives in the war thus far. Reports as late as Sunday night (April 3) on social media and some news organizations say that the Russians have conducted a very large and disorderly withdrawal of much of northern Ukraine. In the haste to retreat enclaves of Russian soldiers are now isolated in northern Ukraine. Some open source situation maps are depicting a huge change on the ground situation over the past 48 hours. (@War_Mapper).
Plan B. The Russians are now making adjustments and have staked out more more realistic goals – primarily the capture of the Donbas region as well as a ‘land bridge’ from Russia along northern shore of the Sea of Azov to Crimea. This means they need to secure the city of Mariupol. They will continue to send reinforcements to the fight in eastern Ukraine.
Donbas. Prior to the February 2022 invasion the Russians controlled 1/3 of the Donbas region, while the Ukrainians controlled the remainder. Young men of the Donbas region are being conscripted by the Russians and sent into combat with little training, old rifles, and no equipment or supplies. (Reuters, Apr 4, 2022). At some point, Putin will declare ‘victory’ after having seized additional areas of the Donbass region and consolidates its hold on the coast of the Sea of Azov running from Russia to Crimea.
Map: Donbas region of Ukraine – circa February 2022. Green is the area considered to be part of the Donbas region. Brown is area occupied by Russian forces prior to the February 24, 2022 invasion.
A SOF Perspective. Mike Repass, a former commander of Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) is interviewed by Peter Bergen on the conflict in Ukraine. “Retired Army major general: The Russian military invasion has peaked”, CNN.com, April 2, 2022.
Russian War Crimes in Bucha? Social media and news organizations are reporting that while withdrawing from the town of Bucha (see Google maps) in northern Ukraine the Russians killed civilian men, women, and children in what many are calling a massacre. “Streets of Kyiv suburb ‘littered’ with bodies, 280 buried in mass grave”, New York Post, April 2, 2022. Many observers of the conflict say that there will be more such atrocities committed by the Russians (CNN, Apr 4, 2022). The European Union is considering new sanctions on Moscow in light of the ‘Bucha massacre’ and the secretary-general of the United Nations is calling for an independent investigation. (Aljazeera.com, Apr 3, 2022).
Syrians Arrive in Russia. Hundreds of Syrian fighters are now undergoing training in Russia in preparation for a deployment into Ukraine. There are also reports that Syrians have arrived in Belarus for training. Recruiters in Syria have the names of thousands of fighters who are willing to fight for Russia in Ukraine. Syrian fighters have taken part in conflicts in Libya, Azerbaijan, and the Central African Republic. Over 1,000 private contractors with the Wagner Group are fighting for Russia in the Donbas region.
Fight for the Skies. Slovakia is still willing to part with their S-300 anti-aircraft systems and send them to Ukraine . . . but they are waiting on the go-ahead from the United States and an adequate replacement. Germany has sent a Patriot battery to Slovakia. There are rumors that Washington just can’t seem to cut through its own red tape.
In its many years in Syria supporting the Assad regime Russia has employed air strikes on a large scale against Assad’s opponents. It has not been shy about bombing civilian infrastructure and populated areas. A report from 2019 reviews Russia’s air attacks in Syria. “Russia’s airstrike rules of engagement reviewed”, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), March 14, 2019.
In defense of the aerial attacks on civilian infrastructure and the killing of thousands of civilians Russia has employed the ‘human shield’ argument, saying that Ukrainian forces are deploying their forces, artillery units, and military equipment in residential areas of its cities. “Why we need to challenge Russia’s human shields narrative”, Aljazeera, April 3, 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. However, without the capture of Mykolayiv, an amphibious landing is unlikely. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian shipping continues. NATO is warning that there is a threat of drifting mines certain areas of the Black Sea. It is also warning that the threat to civilian shipping in the area remains very high.
A combination of Russian withdrawals and Ukrainian counterattacks have resulted in the Russians vacating areas northwest and north of the capital city of Kyiv. One effective tactic of the Ukrainians appears to be the targeting of senior Russian officers. The number of Russian generals killed is staggering. “Why are so many Russian generals dying in Ukraine?”, The Economist, March 31, 2022.
Striking into Russia. Two MI-24 Hind helicopters are reported to have flown more than 20 miles into Russia destroying an oil depot in the southern city of Belgorod on Friday (Apr 1). Read more in “Ukrainian Attack Helicopters Apparently Just Slipped Into Russia and Blew Up a Fuel Depot”, Forbes.com, April 1, 2022.
Kyiv. The Russians have been moving north towards Belarus away from the city of Kyiv. The city is still experiencing aerial attacks from missile strikes. Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom said that all Russian troops have left the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine. A curfew has been announced by the government for the Kyiv region recently liberated from Russian occupation so that mines and bombs emplaced by the Russians can be neutralized or removed.
Kharkiv. The second largest city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, is still under aerial attack from missiles and rockets. It is not encircled by the Russians and fierce fighting has taken place in the city over the past several weeks. India still has almost 1,000 of its citizens stranded in Kharkiv and Sumy.
Mariupol. The Red Cross was supposed to conduct a major evacuation of citizens from Mariupol on Friday (Apr 1) where 100,000 to 150,000 people remain trapped. However, the Russians are undermining any attempts to conduct an evacuation or to bring relief supplies of food and medicine to the city’s residents. Russia is considered to be just days away from capturing the city. Once captured, the Russian troops committed to the Mariupol siege will likely be involved in the conquest of the eastern Donbas region.
Mykolayiv. Although there is fighting in the outskirts of the city, the Russians are unlikely to be able to capture it. 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.
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. View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces. Read an interesting article of how maps tell the story of war in Ukraine (Geographical, Apr 1, 2022).
Negotiations. Agreements between the Ukrainians and Russians on the evacuation of civilians from besieged cities and the delivery of humanitarian aid have been broken as much as they have been observed. On Friday (Apr 1) the Russians took food and medication that was loaded on 12 buses bound for the southeastern city of Melitopol. They also blocked 45 buses that were to evacuate civilians from Mariupol.
Prisoner Exchange. 86 Ukrainian service personnel were part of a prisoners exchange that took place on Friday (Apr 1) in the Zaporizhzhia region. Of the 86, 15 were women.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. Many European countries are stepping up to welcome the refugees. Poland has accepted almost 3 million. The Netherlands is accepting 50,000 Ukrainians and about 1,500 of them will spend time on a cruise ship docked in Rotterdam. Is Putin using the Ukrainian refugees as a weapon – attacking NATO with over 4 million refugees? (Small Wars Journal, Apr 3, 2022).
UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily).
Risk of Human Trafficking. Women and children fleeing Ukraine may leave the danger of the conflict area but there is still risk along the path to safety. The secretary-general of the International Federation of the Red Cross has outlined some of the risks that Ukrainians face as refugees. There are reports of suspected sex traffickers and pimps preying on Ukrainian women near refugee shelter points. They are sometimes lured into traps with offers of transport, accommodation, or work. “Refugees fleeing Ukraine at increasing risk of human trafficking, Red Cross warns”, The Telegraph, April 2, 2022. See also “Chaos in shelters for Ukrainian refugees increases risk of trafficking“, Crux, April 3, 2022.
Russian Soldiers and Sexual Violence. Women and girls have recounted the abuse they have suffered at the hands of Russian soldiers. “Rape as a weapon: huge scale of sexual violence endured in Ukraine emerges”, The Guardian, April 3, 2022.
Russia’s Economy – Small Businesses Suffering. Prices for goods and services are going higher everyday, wages are falling, consumption is falling, and supply chain problems are choking the economy. The pullout of foreign businesses and sanctions are hurting the Russians in the pocketbook and wallet. “In targeted Russian economy, businesses operate without Russian products”, The Washington Post, April 2, 2022. Popular opinion among Russians for President Putin has not seemed to have diminished significantly.
Guerrilla Warfare. Alexander Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, says the Ukrainians will soon be conducting guerrilla warfare in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. “Russians Likely to Encounter Growing Guerrilla Warfare in Ukraine”, Foreign Policy, April 1, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Tinder Plus, Romance, and Russia. The people of Russia have been kept in the dark about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian official media is providing a distorted picture of the war and misleading the Russian public. Social media in Russia has been shutdown and international media is banned. But there are ways to get through to the average Russian. Learn more in Outsmart Russian War Censorship With Love, Special Love Operation.com.
Releasing Intel for Effect. The period prior to the Russian’s invading Ukraine and over the past few months have seen an unprecedented release of intelligence to the public by government officials in the U.S., UK, and elsewhere in Europe. Intelligence agencies have been remarkedly willing to go public with their secrets about Putin and the events on the battlefield. Part of the reasoning behind this shift in intelligence sharing with the public is to keep Moscow in line – letting Putin and his generals know that the world is watching their next move . . . in hopes that this will alter their decisions. “Secret intelligence has unusually public role in Ukraine war”, Business Standard, April 3, 2022.
Russian Info Ops. The state of information operations in Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine is examined by several experts. “GCHQ’s Assessment of Russian Information Ops”, Cyber Wire, March 31, 2022.
China’s Disinformation Campaign. Chinese state-backed media have amplified Russian conspiracy theories to spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine to a global audience. They are parroting Moscow’s talking points. It has become clear that China is aligned with Russia in the information environment. “Chinese Disinformation Seeks to Support Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, IntelBrief by the Soufan Center, March 28, 2022.
UK’s Starstreak in Action. The first reports on the use of the British Starstreak MANPAD are hitting the press wires. According to one report a Russian helicopter was shot down in the east of the country by a Starstreak missile on Friday (Apr 1). Footage of the attack (@EuromaidenPress) shows the tail section being hit off the Mi-28N helicopter. The missile system has been deployed to Ukraine since late March. “UK missile shoots down first Russian helicopter in Ukraine war”, The Times, April 1, 2022.
German Tanks to Ukraine. Germany has approved sending of 56 former East German army tanks from the Cold War era to Ukraine. Other nations may follow suit. “Soviet-era T-72 Tanks to be Transferred to Ukraine From NATO countries”, The Warzone, April 3, 2022.
$300 Million More for Ukraine from U.S. The United States is sending an additional $300 million in military equipment to Ukraine. These include laser-guide rocket systems, Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, Puma UAVs, armored wheeled vehicles, ammunition, thermal imagery and optics, communications gear, and more.
“Liaising” not “Training”. Despite references to U.S. troops training Ukrainians in Poland by President Biden during his recent trip to Europe, the DoD is insisting that no training is taking place. The Pentagon denied that it is training Ukrainian soldiers in Poland, saying that the U.S. is merely “liaising” while helping to ship weapons. “US Says It’s Just Hanging Out with Ukrainian Soldiers While Giving Them Weapons, Not Training Them”, Vice.com, March 30, 2022.
Russia’s Trade Status with U.S. A short brief by the Congressional Research Service provides information about the history of Russia’s trading status, the trade impact of removing Russia’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR), World Trade Organization (WTO) issues, and more. Read Russia’s Trade Status, Tariffs, and WTO Issues, CRS IF12071, April 1, 2022, PDF, 3 pages.
NATO’s Priority -Air Defense. Putin’s War in Ukraine could easily spill over into the bordering neighboring countries. Poland and the Baltic countries are at considerable risk – especially from the aerial threat posed by Russia’s advanced surface-to-air missile systems and aircraft. NATO must deploy additional anti-air systems and aircraft to the ‘eastern flank countries’. “Priority #1 for NATO: Upgrading Air and Missile Defense in Eastern Europe”, Real Clear Defense, April 4, 2022.
Future of Tanks. The effectiveness of the Ukrainian anti-armor missiles and drone attacks against Russian armor has defense tacticians relooking at the role of the tank in modern warfare. “The future of armoured vehicles: Requirements and capabilities”, Army-Technology.com, March 30, 2022.
Remaking NATO. For several years the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a construct searching for a purpose. It soon found itself involved in the Afghan War (Article 5 was invoked in support of the U.S.) and in Iraq with its training mission. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine it now is being re-purposed back to its original mission – confronting Russia (the nucleus of the old Soviet Union). Read more in “The War in Ukraine is Remaking the NATO Alliance”, by Andrew A. Michta, Real Clear Defense, April 4, 2022.
Videos and Podcasts
Video – Ukrainian Drones. Ukraine’s success against Russia can be accredited in some part to its ability to improvise equipment. A firm that manufactured drones for the agricultural industry has switched gears to make drones for the Ukrainian army. Watch “Ukrainian defenders show off improvised drones”, Forces.net, April 1, 2022, 2 minutes.
Video – Ukraine SOF and the Rifle Malyuk. An indigenous rifle seems to be a favorite weapon of the Ukrainian special operations forces. Watch a video entitled How Ukraine’s Rifle Malyuk is Helping its Special Forces Hold Out Against Putin’s Troops”, CRUX YouTube, March 26, 2022, 6 minutes.
Podcast – Putin’s Losses. CSIS International Security Program director Dr. Seth Jones takes part in a discussion about Putin’s battlefield missteps, Russia’s path going forward, how Ukraine can defend itself, and what the United States can do to support Ukraine. The Truth of the Matter, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), March 31, 2022. https://www.csis.org/node/64679
Podcast – Putin’s Bad Cyber Plan. Listen to a discussion about Russia’s cyber capability and willingness to wage cyberwar with Ukraine and NATO. The Truth of the Matter, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), March 31, 2022. https://www.csis.org/node/64672
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/.
Ukrainian Think Tanks – Brussels. Consolidated information on how to help Ukraine from abroad and stay up to date on events.
Weapons of the Ukraine War.