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: Patriot Missile System. The United States is deploying a Patriot missile system from Germany to Slovakia. The Slovakians are providing the Ukrainians with a S-300 anti-aircraft system. The Patriot will backfill the S-300. NATO photo, March 2022.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Ground Situation. The nature of the fight ahead will likely change. The Ukrainians will no longer be limited to defending cities but will find themselves confronting an enemy in open terrain that allows for the movement of armor. There are less forested areas from which the Ukrainians can mount small ambushes behind enemy lines. The Russians have an overwhelming superiority in tank and armored vehicle numbers. Read more in “Battles may be tougher for Ukrainians as war shifts to wide-open terrain in east”, The Washington Post, April 9, 2022.
Izyum – The Next Objective? Some analysts say that the eastern city of Izyum in the Kharkiv Oblast may likely be the next target. A very large column of Russian armor has been spotted on the move in the Kharkiv Oblast and may be headed in that direction.
New Russian Commander. The Russians invaded Ukraine from several different avenues of approach – each under a separate command of different military districts. This resulted in a disjointed plan and executed campaign. The Russians have now appointed a single unified commander for the Ukraine War. This will simplify the Russian command structure. The revised campaign plan for the Russians will be to seize and hold the portions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that it does not currently control after the seizure of Mariupol. The new commander, General Alexander Dvornikov, is a veteran of the Syrian conflict as well as a significant amount of time in Donbas over the past several years. He was most recently commanding Russia’s southern military district. Read more in “What to know about Russia’s new top commander in Ukraine”, The Washington Post, April 10, 2022.
Russian Reinforcements. There are reports that Russia will be mobilizing 60,000 reservists to join the war in Ukraine. In addition, the annual spring conscription period began, which will bring in over 120,000 new conscripts for a one year long term of service. These conscripts will need to undergo a training period before being assigned to combat units in Ukraine. The British Ministry of Defense reported on Sunday (Apr 10) that Russia is recruiting people from the Russian-occupied Transnistria (Moldova) and to bring in personnel discharged from Russian military forces since 2012.
Missile Strike on Kramatorsk Train Station. The casualty figures for the short-range ballistic missile (SS-21) that struck a city in the Donbas region have risen – at least 52 are now known dead including several children. The people killed were waiting on an evacuation train to take them to western Ukraine and on to safety. Kramatorsk is the capital of Donetsk Oblast. The incident has sparked protests around the world against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Officials say that evacuation by trains from the conflict areas to western Ukraine will continue; along with bus evacuations. There have been over 1,500 missile launches since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Maritime Activities. Merchant mariners and their ships are stranded in the Black Sea region. This has halted the import and export of vital commodities for Ukraine. Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea have been blockaded by Russia and Ukrainian mines have made travel through the northern Black Sea area dangerous. There are about 1,000 mariners from crews on 86 small and large vessels that need to be evacuated. “Extended Russian Ukraine Invasion has Stranded Merchant Mariners, Crippled Wheat Production”, USNI News, April 7, 2022.
Kyiv. The capital city of Ukraine was considered the primary objective of the Russians. The capture of Kyiv would have allowed Russia to put in place its puppet government. It now appears that almost all of the Russian units in the Kyiv region have moved north into Belarus. One of these units, the 331st Guards Parachute Regiment, met their match when they tried to advance on Kyiv. “The heavy losses of an elite Russian regiment in Ukraine”, BBC News, April 2, 2022.
Donbas Region. The next month will be potentially decisive for both Ukraine and Russia. The Russians certainly suffered a defeat in the failure to capture Kyiv. They were surprised by the valiant effort of the Ukrainians and not prepared for a months-long engagement. Now, however, they are limiting their goals to the Donbas region and the ‘land bridge’ between Russia and Crimea along the Sea of Azov. Instead of supporting several axes of advance, there will just be a few. This means better cross-coordination, less logistical problems, shorter supply routes, and the ability to concentrate forces. Jack Watling, a senior research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), provides an analysis of the next phase of the Ukraine conflict. “Why the battle for Donbas will be very different from the assault on Kyiv”, The Guardian, April 9, 2022.
Kharkiv. The western and southern corridors to the city are open and controlled by Ukrainian forces. The Russians continue to probe the Ukrainian defenses to the north of the city. The second largest city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, is located in the northeast of the country and has been under attack since the start of the invasion.
Mariupol. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol has been under siege by the Russians for weeks. The Russians have slowly been gaining ground. News reports say that the defenders are now split between two sections of the city.
Mykolayiv and Odessa. A city near the Black Sea, Mykolayiv, is still experiencing shelling by the Russians. This city of 500,000 has been on the front lines since the start of the war. It is the roadblock between the Russians and the city of Odessa – the seaside port that many believed to be an initial primary objective of the Russians. “Mykolaiv region on edge amid fear of new Russian offensive”, The Washington Post, April 9, 2022.
Situation Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. Read an assessment of the Russian offensive campaign by the Institute for the Study of War (April 10). View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces. Some very good reference maps are available for those ‘handlers’ assisting in the evacuation of people from the conflict areas – provided by Map Action.
UK Prime Minister Visits Ukraine. Boris Johnson paid a surprise visit to Ukrainian President Voloddymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. He announced that more weapons were on the way to Ukraine, condemned Russia’s ‘despicable’ attacks on civilians, congratulated Ukraine on its successful defense of Kyiv, and called for a complete embargo of Russian energy resources. Johnson pledged 120 more armored vehicles and new anti-ship missiles. After an office meeting, the two walked through central Kyiv.
“I made clear today that the United Kingdom stands unwaveringly with them in this ongoing fight, and we are in it for the long run. We are stepping up our own military and economic support and convening a global alliance to bring this tragedy to an end, and ensure Ukraine survives and thrives as a free and sovereign nation.”Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Kyiv, Saturday, April 9, 2022.
UK APCs and More to Ukraine. A number of armored vehicles will be sent to Ukraine, with training on the vehicles to be conducted in an adjacent country. The APC carries eight troops, plus a crew of two. It carries machine guns and can be outfitted with a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. “Britain sending Mastiff armoured vehicles to Ukraine”, UK Defence Journal, April 8, 2022. There are also reports that Britain may be sending coastal defense cruise missiles to Ukraine.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. Over 4,500,000 Ukrainians have left the country. Most have gone to Poland (2.6 million). Romania and Hungary have also received many refugees as well. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine.
Wagner Group. A Russian private military corporation (PMC) has been assisting Russia with its national interests around the world. It has been present in Venezuela, Syria, and in African nations. And it is in Ukraine. There are likely more than 1,000 employees of the corporate entity at work in Donbas. “What is the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary entity in Ukraine?”, The Washington Post, April 9, 2022.
Mozart Group. A former U.S. Marine Corps officer has set up a military training center in Ukraine to pass on his and other veteran’s experience to the Ukraine military. Colonel (Ret) Andrew Milburn is a former commander of a Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) in Iraq. His organization is called the Mozart Group. Milburn has already hired on several British Army veterans. “Training Ukraine’s Special Forces”, Forces.net, April 7, 2022. Read more about Milburn in “Book Review – When the Tempest Gathers”, SOF News, February 19, 2021.
POW Exchange. The third round of prisoners of war exchanges took place over the weekend. At least 26 Ukrainians were released – including 12 soldiers and 14 civilians. It is the third exchange since February 24, the day the war began.
Cyber and Information Operations
Ukraine – Winning the Propaganda War? Analysts say Russia is showing unexpected weakness at influencing foreign opinion. Although Russian propaganda is working internally, it is failing in Europe and in other parts of the world. “Why Ukraine is winning the propaganda war”, CBC News, April 6, 2022.
Is Russia Really Losing the IO War? Western media is reflecting the narrative that Ukraine would like to see disseminated. And that leads most all observers to believe that Ukraine is beating Russia in the information operations arena. Not so much. In the areas outside of ‘the west’ there are indications that Russia is getting its message across. That could affect how nations like India posture themselves when taking sides on the Ukraine War. “Russia may be winning the Ukraine information war outside the West”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), April 8, 2022.
‘Wolverines’ in Ukraine? A 1984 movie about the Russians having a difficult time defeating insurgents in a small American town has provided an inspirational message for those fighting the Russians in Ukraine. In Red Dawn, young Americans band together to fight off the invaders – and adopt the name of ‘Wolverines’. One of their tactics was painting ‘Wolverines’ on destroyed Russian vehicles. Read more in “Red Dawn hits Ukraine after destroyed Russian armor gets tagged with ‘Wolverines'”, Task and Purpose, April 8, 2022. See also “Destroyed Armored Vehicle in Ukraine Gets the “Wolverines!” From Red Dawn Treatment”, The War Zone, April 8, 2022.
China – A Russian IO Weapon. The tech giants and governments have crippled the Russian state media reach across its borders, but Chinese outlets are advancing the same Russian talking points around the world. China is helping to shape the narrative about Russia’s ‘special operation’ in Ukraine. “China is Russia’s most powerful weapon for information warfare”, The Washington Post, April 8, 2022.
Weapons for Ukraine. The West continues to send military equipment of all types to Ukraine. One of the more important weapons systems offered are the anti-armor weapons. The U.S. has been sending the Javelin – and has sent thousands of them from their Army stockpiles. The time is coming where the U.S. will have to increase its production capacity of these weapons. “As Ukraine Pummels Russians With Javelin Missiles, Can Production Keep Pace With Demand?”, The War Zone, April 7, 2022.
Zuzana Howitzers for Ukraine? Slovakia may be sending some self-propelled 155-mm howitzers to Ukraine. The 155mm SpGH Zuzana has a high rate of fire and good accuracy. I has a maximum range of 50 kilometers and can fire any standard NATO 155-mm ammunition.
Informal Logistics Network. Drones, body armor, communications equipment, and more are making their way to Ukraine. Private volunteer groups, Ukrainian and foreign, have developed imaginative methods to acquire and ship needed equipment to the frontlines. “Inside the covert network sending arms and drones to Ukraine forces”, The Washington Post, April 9, 2022.
Russian Spies Expelled. Western nations have sent hundreds of Russians working in embassies and consulates packing. Most of them were using diplomatic cover to conduct intelligence operations. Almost all countries do this but the Russians are using the diplomatic posts for intelligence purposes on a huge scale. The expulsion of the spies is in a direct response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it will likely have no immediate effect on military decision-making or the outcome of the war. Read more in “Spy Games: Russian intelligence personnel expelled from Western embassies”, The Soufan Center IntelBrief, April 11, 2022.
Russia Pushes Finland Closer to NATO. The attack on Ukraine was meant to keep Ukraine out of NATO and to push back the NATO presence on Russia’s borders. It may not work out that way. The NATO presence on Russia’s borders could double if Finland joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Finns may arrive at a decision this spring on pursuing NATO membership. Finland has fought two wars with the Soviet Union and managed to keep its independence and democracy throughout the Cold War. But its ‘neutral’ stance may soon change. “Finland is hurtling towards NATO membership”, The Economist, April 8, 2022.
Has the Era of the Tank Gone By? The war in Ukraine has broke into sharp focus the vulnerability of the tank to infantry with good anti-armor weapons. The Javelin (U.S.), NLAW (UK), and AT4 (Sweden), and other anti-tank weapons used by the Ukrainian forces have wrecked havoc on Russian tank formations. The Ukraine War has underlined the vulnerability of tanks to a range of cheap and effective anti-armor weapons in a modern conventional conflict. “Tanks for the memories?”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), April 8, 2022.
9 Ways Russia Failed. The world’s second most powerful army has bungled almost every move since the first day of the Ukraine invasion. Now the Ukrainians have the momentum and the Russians were forced to make a humiliating retreat from the north of the country. The Russian advances have been stalled or halted in most other parts of Ukraine. A recent news article identifies crucial errors made by the Russians. “Nine ways Russia botched its invasion of Ukraine”, The Washington Post, April 8, 2022.
Failure at Antonov Airport. Russia’s failed attempt to take Kyiv, force President Zelensky from office, and install a puppet government can be traced to the failure to capture the airport northwest of Kyiv. This was to be the hub where the Russians would air land forces that would support an armored push into Kyiv. But Putin’s lightning strike on the airport failed due to a series of misjudgments and strategic errors. The emphasis on armored columns, lack of sufficient air power, and long supply lines hindered the operation. In addition, the Russians severely miscalculated the Ukrainians ability to react quickly to the attack on the airfield. “Russia lost the battle for Kyiv with its hasty assault on a Ukrainian airport”, LA Times, April 10, 2022.
Ukraine: U.S. Got it Wrong Decades Ago. A former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine provides his perspective on what the United States should have done upon the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of Ukraine in 2014, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He says there should be a red line on Russian actions in Ukraine. “1st US ambassador to Ukraine: ‘I think we handled it wrong from the get-go'”, CNN.com, April 10, 2022.
What Lies Ahead for Ukraine? Philip Wasielewski is a former Paramilitary Case Officer who had a 31-year career in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency. His article tries to discern the larger canvas of the war and the several possible strategic outcomes. “Appraising the War in Ukraine and Likely Outcomes”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 8, 2022.
Covert War Against Russia. Douglas London describes how America can covertly undermine the Kremlin and Putin’s rule. “A Shadow War Against Putin”, Foreign Affairs, April 11, 2022.
How Does It End? George Friedman analyzes that war thus far and then looks into the future. Things are not going well for Russia. He sees a potential ‘defeat’ of Russia and perhaps the end of Putin’s regime. “How the Ukraine War Will Likely End”, Geopolitical Futures, April 5, 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/.
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.