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: Senior Airman Jansen Esteves, a 436th Aerial Port Squadron special handler, verifies shipment information for supplies bound for Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, Del., March 20, 2022. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Marco A. Gomez.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
The Ukrainian War may last through the remainder of the year; U.S. Secretary of State Blinken shared this assessment with European allies. Most military analysts believe that this second phase of the war (after the Russian failure to take Kyiv) will be just as important as the first. The Donbas region and southern Ukraine will be the focus of Russia’s ground campaign. If the future battles do not go well for Ukraine it may face the prospect of being threatened by Russia from three sides in the coming years. The threat will come from Belarus in the north, from the east – Russia and the Donbas region, and from the south – Crimea and the shoreline of the Black Sea. Should Russia take Odessa on the Black Sea then Ukraine will have difficulty maintaining its economy in the future and will need to make significant concessions to Russia in the months and years to come.
Ukraine and the Future of Air Warfare. The events of the past two months have shown that the nature of air warfare is changing. At the beginning of the war, military analysts predicted that Russia would gain air superiority quickly due to the quantitative and qualitative advantage of its aircraft. Russia’s number of aircraft was ten times larger than that of Ukraine. Dr. Grieco, an assistant professor at the U.S. Air University, explains the poor performance of the Russian air force. This includes poor training and shortage of pilots, deconfliction in large-scale operations, and the Russian emphasis on land-centric doctrine. The Russians assumed that their blitzkrieg strategy would succeed quickly without the need for a dedicated air campaign to suppress enemy air defenses. Griecon examines the air fight over Ukraine and comes up with some conclusions on air warfare. Read more in “Ukraine, the U.S., and the Future of Air Warfare”, Georgetown Security Studies Review, April 15, 2022.
Air Actions. The Ukrainian military says that a number of missiles hit major populated areas over the weekend. Some of the missiles were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense systems. The western city of Lviv was hit by four (or five) missiles on Monday morning (Apr 18) killing six and injuring eleven. The attack appears to be on military targets at a location near the city’s train station. (The Washington Post, Apr 18, 2022).
Maritime Activities. The U.S. Department of Defense has concluded that the Flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was sunk by two Neptune anti-ship missiles launched by Ukraine on Thursday (Apr 14). The Russians maintain that a fire broke out near ammunition stores on the ship that caused an explosion and that it sank in stormy seas while being towed to port. The Russian navy has not been a significant factor thus far in the conflict and will likely remain in a supporting role. Post-conflict, the Black Sea fleet will increase in importance due to its ability to blockade any seaports remaining in Ukrainian hands and to interdict maritime traffic.
Mariupol – Days are Numbered? Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is under siege by the Russians. Many analysts have predicted its fall to the Russians in terms of days. As of Sunday evening (Apr 17) there were still Ukrainian forces in the city holding out in defensive positions. The Russians say that they have captured the city. Ukraine says a small band of Ukrainian fighters are fighting on – remnants of the 36th Marine Brigade and the Azov battalion. They are fighting from a network of bunkers and tunnels beneath the devastated city. There are about 100,000 civilians trapped in Mariupol; many of them suffering from hunger. The Russians have not allowed any humanitarian convoys with food and medicine from Ukraine to enter the city.
Read a detailed and descriptive account of the battle for Mariupol. (Daily Mail, April 15, 2022). Mariupol is situated along the coastal road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. View a map of the control of terrain around Mariupol (ISW, Apr 16).
Mykolayiv and Odessa. James Barnett, a research fellow with the Hudson Institute, describes life in the city that is an obstacle to Russia’s conquest of the Black Sea coastline heading to Odessa. “No Respite on Ukraine’s Bloody Southern Front”, Hudson Institute, April 6, 2022. Watch a discussion with James Barnett and his two weeks observing the war on the southern front in Ukraine. “Reporting from the Frontline of the War in Ukraine”, Hudson Institute, April 11, 2022, YouTube, 40 minutes.
Situation Reports and Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. Read an assessment and view a map (Apr 17) 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. View the latest SITMAP from the UK Ministry of Defence (Apr 18). According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence the total combat losses of the Russians are (as of Apr 18) approximately 20,600 personnel, 790 tanks, 2041 APVs, 381 artillery systems, and 67 anti-aircraft systems. NATO estimates of Russian losses tend to be a bit lower, yet still significant.
Former Acting SecDef Miller Visits Ukraine. Chris Miller, the former acting Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration recently returned from a visit to Ukraine. He says that the Ukrainians want five types of equipment from the West: long-range rocket systems, air-defense systems that will reach high altitudes, fighter jets, combat aviation, and tanks. National Security Daily, Politico, April 15, 2022.
Formal Russian Diplomatic Protest. The Kremlin has sent multiple warnings to the Biden administration about the weapons and support that the United States is providing to Ukraine. The Russians have threatened the U.S. with “unpredictable consequences” upon hearing recent announcements by the Department of Defense of additional weapons flowing to Ukraine.
Negotiations. The talks in Istanbul, Turkey between Ukrainian and Russia representatives have yielded very little. The Russians have advanced the narrative that their withdrawal from the Kyiv region and other areas in northern Ukraine area are a ‘confidence building measure’ for future talks. In reality, the withdrawal is the result of a solid defeat of Russian forces along that axis of advance. Despite what Putin and his negotiating representatives may say, one of Russia’s objectives is to cut Ukraine off from any access to seaports along the Sea of Azov (pretty much done as of now) and also along the Black Sea (Odessa). The talks are looked at by many analysts as a stalling tactic for Russia until the securing of all of the southern coastline of Ukraine and the Donbas region.
Mozart Group – SOF Vets Helping in Ukraine. A private organization is assisting Ukraine with personnel that have some specialty skills – among them medical, information operations, training, logistics, open source intelligence, and emergency ordnance disposal. The Mozart Group is providing training, equipment, and advise to Ukraine SOF and resistance units. The founder of the group is Andy Milburn, a retired Marine Corps officer rich in special operations and combat experience. Read a 16-page PDF describing the organization’s mission and capabilities.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine. According to the Polish border service, data for April 16th shows more Ukrainians re-entered Ukraine (22,200) than left (19,200). “More Ukrainians Going Back Home Now”, Kyiv Post, April 18, 2022.
Ukrainians and U.S. Southern Border. Over 7,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Mexico since the beginning of the war. Apparently, the word has gotten out that our southern border is somewhat ‘open’. Probably due to the fact that about 100,000 illegal aliens are crossing the border every month.
Syrian Fighters. Up to now, only a small amount of fighters from Syria have been flown to Russia. They are currently undergoing a training course before being introduced to the Ukraine theater of operations. So far, over 40,000 Syrians have registered to fight for Russia. 22,000 with the Russian military and 18,000 with the Russian private contractor firm – the Wagner Group. It is reported that about 700 members of the 25th Special Missions Forces Division (“Tiger Force”) have departed Syria for the fighting in Ukraine. The Russians are looking for experienced fighters – of which there are plenty in Syria. “Syrian fighters ready to join next phase of Ukraine war”, AP News, April 18, 2022.
Demining. Ukrainian officials say that they plan to finish demining towns and roads in the Kyiv area by the end of May. However, other areas may take many more months to clear the thousands of mines that have been emplaced since February.
Russian Soldiers Resisting. Some Russians are refusing to fight any further in the Ukraine War. An unknown number of soldiers have been discharged from military service for refusing to fight in Ukraine. (Radio Free Europe, Apr 16, 2022).
Cyber and Information Operations
Russian Conscripts – And the Stories They Will Tell. Putin has a strangle-hold on the Russian media. The deluge of disinformation provided by the Putin regime has solidified the Russian public’s support for Putin and his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. However, the regime’s narrative may soon be challenged with the thousands of Russian conscripts whose tour of duty will be complete in the next few months. They will carry home the stories of what is really happening in Ukraine. Read more in “Russia’s Draftee Ticking Time Bomb”, SpyTalk, April 16, 2022.
Short Wave Radio – Maybe Not. There have been recent calls for the re-establishment of short-wave radio broadcasts into Russia by Radio Free Europe to undermine Moscow’s domestic censorship. The BBC News Service has recently brought back a four-hour block of short-wave radio broadcasts. Is this an idea that should be implemented? Matt Armstrong says that “. . . hundred year old shortwave is cool, but today is not like yesterday.” A report was conducted in 2014 entitled “To Be Where the Audience is” that says shortwave is a platform of the past. Read some history on shortwave radio and the “Voice of America” in “Shortwave radio: can you hear me now?”, Mountain Runner, April 15, 2022.
PSYOP and Ukraine. Social media disinformation and manipulation are causing confusion, fueling hostilities, and amplifying atrocities around the world. In the 21st century, much of today’s conflicts takes place online. Although the Russian disinformation effort is immense, the Ukrainians are fighting back. Read more in “The role of psychological warfare in the battle for Ukraine”, American Psychological Association, April 11, 2022.
Russian Hybrid Warfare. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been constantly under threat by Russia since they re-gained their independence from Russia (Soviet Union). This threat is in the form of Russian hybrid warfare – and the use of non-kinetic means of military actions (border incursions and large-scale exercises) as well as non-military activities. Read more in “Hybrid threats: the Baltic experience with Russian aggressive behavior”, Latvian Television, April 10, 2022.
Taking the Fight to Russia. The Russians seem intent on the capture of Mariupol (likely in the coming days) and the capture of Izyum (giving Russia much of the Donbas region). The Ukrainian military will need to shift from defensive operations to more offensive operations to counter a Russian offensive in the Donbas region and to be able to conduct counter attacks. The fight for the Donbas region will be a bloody war of attrition with limited territorial gains by either side. To win this fight, Ukraine needs more offensive weapons such as artillery, rocket systems, mortars, armored vehicles, and tanks. “Russia Crisis Military Assessment: How Ukraine can take the fight to Russia”, Atlantic Council, April 13, 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
Maps of Ukraine
Weapons of the Ukraine War.