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: Russian Mi-29. By Vitaly V. Kuzmin – http://www.vitalykuzmin.net/Military/Aviamix-2015/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50773193
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Ground Situation. The situation in Mariupol is grave – the defenders are running out of ammunition. The Russians managed to drive a wedge between defending forces – so now the Ukrainians are fighting from two different enclaves within the city and the entire city is encircled.
Fighting continues in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions in southern Ukraine. The intensity of fighting in Donbas (eastern Ukraine) will increase as more Russian reinforcements arrive. The world is focused on a very large Russian convoy located north of Izyum (60 klics away). The convoy contains C2 elements, enablers, and resupply vehicles as well as combatant vehicles (tanks and APCs). Currently, due to spring thaw, the vehicles are limited to hard-surfaced paved roads.
Once the ground dries up the Russian armor will be more maneuverable; especially in the wide, open spaces of eastern Ukraine. Russian ground forces are estimated to be at 80% strength of the initial invasion force of February 24th. However, reinforcements are on the way.
Fight for the Skies. As of Tuesday (Apr 12) the Russians have launched more than 1,540 missiles into Ukraine. Most Russian air strikes are now focused on Mariupol and the Joint Force operation area in eastern Ukraine and Donbas. The Ukrainians still have a majority of their air defense systems but they are pleading with the west for more advanced long-range air defense systems that have the ability to hit targets at higher altitudes.
Maritime Activities. The Russian navy has conducted at least one amphibious operation in the war – landing troops and equipment on the coast of Ukraine from the Sea of Azov in support of the attack on Mariupol. It has also conducted shelling and missile attacks from ships in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea. The Russian navy has imposed a blockade on all shipping in and out of Ukrainian ports. Another key role of the Russian navy is the resupply and replenishment of troops fighting in Ukraine, especially from the Sea of Azov. Read more on this in “Russian Navy Taking on Resupply Role Nearly 50 Days Into Ukrainian Invasion”, USNI News, April 11, 2022.
The United Kingdom may be providing Ukraine with anti-ship missiles; which will severely impact the ability of the Russian ships to operate off the shoreline of the Sea of Azov and Black Sea. Currently the Russians have less than a couple of dozen ships in the Black Sea. Most of them are surface combatants and there are some LSTs as well.
Kyiv. The Russians have withdrawn from the Kyiv area but some of these forces remain just across the border in Belarus and could possibly mount another attack on Kyiv. However, these units are most likely refitting for future use in eastern Ukraine in the Donbas area; or, they could remain in southern Belarus to ‘pose a threat’ which will tie down Ukrainian forces – preventing them from reinforcing the Donbas region.
Mariupol. The Azov Battalion, part of the Ukrainian National Guard, accused the Russians of using a drone to drop chemical elements on their positions. If true, this is an escalation on the part of the Russians. Governments and news agencies are scrambling to verify the claims. Some analysts believe that a riot control agent was likely dispersed by a drone over Ukrainian positions. The Russians and Syrians have been accused of using chemical weapons numerous times in the Syrian conflict. Both NATO and the U.S. have said in the past that the use of chemical weapons would merit a ‘response’. What that response would be is not known. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is preparing for the possibility of chemical weapons use in Ukraine.
The city may fall to the Russians within the next few days. There are reports of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and Marines surrendering as they no longer have the means to fight – no ammunition and out of food. “Ukrainian Forces Still Hold Mariupol as Russians Close In”, USNI News, April 12, 2022.
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.
Negotiations. Putin says the negotiations have reached a “dead end”. He said that the war would continue and that Russia would succeed. What ‘success’ for Russia means is still in question. Undoubtedly, Russia has not attained the war goals it desired – the capture of Kyiv and eastern Ukraine, replacement of the government with a ‘puppet’ regime, and a neutral Ukraine and weakened NATO. However, it will likely succeed in capturing the entire coastline of the Sea of Azov – providing a ‘land bridge’ from Donbas (and Russia) to Crimea.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine.
Russia Accused of Genocide. For the first time an administration official has accused the Russians of genocide in Ukraine. This comes right from the top – out of Joe Biden’s month. We shall see if administration officials try to walk the President’s statement back or stick with it. It is difficult sometimes to figure out if things that Biden says are planned and intentional or if he is just ‘winging’ it.
“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away.”President Joe Biden.
Cyber and Information Operations
Russians in U.S. Find Contact with Relatives Tense. The hold that Putin’s regime has on the Russian media is affecting the relationships that Russians in the United States have with their families and friends in Russia. They are finding out just how effective Putin’s control of the press, radio, and television outlets is in as they engage in conversations with people living in the media-controlled environment. “Russians in Maine find relations strained with friends and family overseas”, Sun Journal, April 9, 2022.
ISIS and the Importance of Social Media Engagement. The Islamic State has come out and stated that Jihad is not limited to fighting physically; it is equally important to use “social media warfare” to advance on the ideological battlefield. “ISIS Calls for ‘Social Media Warfare’ to Counter ‘Enchanting’ Influencers and Incite”, Homeland Security Today, by Bridget Johnson, April 11, 2022.
Report – Social Media, Chemical Weapons, and OSINT. When a chemical event happens, information tends to appear in social media. A recently published report asks how a computational approach can enable rapid detection of chemical weapons incidents buried among millions of social media posts; how a blended computer-human approach can improve on a fully automated approach; and how to implement a social media analysis capability. A study was conducted on the use of chemical weapons in Syria between 2017 and 2018. The results of the study led to a recommendation that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) initiate three activities. Using Social Media to Extract Information About Chemical Weapons Incidents, RAND Corporation, April 2022, PDF, 108 pages.
World Response and Weapons Flow
EU Delegation. The European Union delegation to Ukraine has returned to Kyiv. Several other European embassies have also returned their staffs to Kyiv. After the February 24th invasion by Russia the Delegation of the European Union was temporarily re-located to the Polish city of Rzeszow.
Meeting in Kyiv. The presidents of Poland and the Baltic states are meeting with President Zelensky on Wednesday (Apr 13). This follows a highly publicized meeting between Boris Johnson (UK) and Zelensky a few days ago. No word from the U.S. administration on when President Biden will visit Ukraine.
France Sends Police. A team of forensics police officers has arrived in Kyiv to assist in war crimes investigations. France is the the first country to send forensics experts to Ukraine. There are unconfirmed reports that a few other European nations have small, specialized elements in Ukraine as well.
Israel Field Hospital. The Israelis have set up a mobile hospital in Lviv in western Ukraine. It is seeing at least 200 patients a day – most of them internally displaced persons (IDPs) from eastern Ukraine. The hospital is focused on chronic and pediatric illnesses – but is prepared to care for trauma patients as well. There are 100 Israelis staff in the hospital – with about 80 being doctors and nurses. (The Times of Israel, Mar 22, 2022).
More Advanced Weapons to Ukraine? There was speculation that the Pentagon is considering the transfer of Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine. This was dismissed by defense officials. Some other weapons systems are being considered . . . to include howitzer cannons, drones, and chemical protective gear. As of Wednesday (Apr 12) a significant number of the 100 Switchblade armed drones are now in Ukraine. The Switchblade armed drones require between 24 and 48 hours of training.
More advanced systems will require longer training periods. There are estimates that between 8 to 10 flights are arriving each day from various countries with weapons and military equipment for Ukraine. These flights land in an adjacent country to Ukraine. The equipment and material are offloaded from the planes. It is then palletized and placed on trucks heading to Ukraine. “Pentagon looks to vastly expand weapons for Ukraine”, The Washington Post, April 12, 2022.
Slovakia and Its MiG-29 Fighters. Getting additional MiG-29s and other combat aircraft to Ukraine has been a hot topic in the press for weeks. The U.S. nixed the plan for Poland to transfer its MiG-29s to a U.S. airbase in Germany and then have the U.S. to transfer them to Ukraine. Now Slovakia is stepping up . . . but the U.S. says that they are not part of the plan and won’t be backfilling the MiGs that Slovakia sends. “Ukraine Situation Report: Slovakia Donating MiG-29 Fighters is Fine by the U.S.”, The War Zone, April 12, 2022.
Activity on the Finnish Border? There are news reports that the Russians are moving troops and equipment to the border of Finland. These nations have already fought at least two wars – both of them difficult endeavors for the Russians. So any Russian movement would just be for show – perhaps to ‘influence’ the Finns while they decide whether or not to join NATO.
Missile Defense – Popular Again in Europe? Western European countries have traditionally been skeptical of the idea of fielding missile defense systems. In the early 1980s some European countries maintained that the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) posed a risk of destabilizing the superpower strategic relationship. This argument carried on into the next few decades. Azriel Bermant, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague, provides insight into the prospect of missile defense in Europe. “European missile defence: a Russian self-fulfilling prophecy”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, April 13, 2022.
Long Term Global Effects of the Ukraine War. Ian Hill, a professor in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University in New Zealand, analyzes the future effects of the war around the world. Russia will be making things difficult for the U.S. and the West in the diplomatic and economic arena; it will likely step up its military adventures in the Middle East and Africa. Some countries are reluctant to take sides in the conflict – many from Africa and the Indo-Pacific region due to their close military, economic, and political ties to Russia. China and Russia will be drawn closer. Europe is standing tall now, but as their economies contract how long will that last? “The global fallout from war in Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, April 13, 2022.
Stavridis on Ukraine. The 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), explains what the U.S. can glean in lessons from the Ukraine conflict. He believes that the current Ukraine War is going to fundamentally change the way war is waged in the 21st century. The destruction of thousands of Russian tanks and armored vehicles by Ukrainian drones and soldiers wielding hand-held anti-armor weapons is one important consideration. “Cheap kill” mechanisms will certainly change tactics in armor and mechanized units – and tankers are undoubtedly taking notes. Close air support is another area where changes are coming – due to the number of shoulder-fired anti-air missiles on the battlefield and the effectiveness of these weapons against low-flying jet aircraft and helicopters. The use of small special forces elements armed with intelligence of Russian movements operating behind enemy lines also has highlighted new tactical approaches to warfare. Read more in “What the U.S. Military Needs to Learn from the Ukraine War”, Time.com, April 11, 2022.
India and Buying Weapons in the Future. One of the most populated countries in the world is straddling the fence on the Ukraine War. India has always had cordial relations with Russia and depends on the import of Russian weapons to maintain a strong defense against future possible aggression from China or Pakistan. The Ukraine War will weaken Russia’s defense manufacturing sector and cause problems in its ability to export weapons to other countries. India may well begin diversifying its weapons acquisitions and increase its domestic production of weapons systems. Read more about India’s strategic dilemma in “After Ukraine, Where Will India Buy Its Weapons?“, War on the Rocks, April 12, 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.