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: Destroyed Russian tanks in the Sumy region, Ukraine. Photo by Irina Rybakova, press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, March 7, 2022.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
The long anticipated Russian offensive to capture more territory in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine has begun. Initial reports began surfacing on social media on Tuesday (Apr 19) and confirmed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense the same day. The Russians hope to defeat the Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, capture more territory, and enter into negotiations from a position of strength. The Donbas region is known for its industrial assets, including coal mines, metals plants, and machine-building factories. The offensive is reported to be along a 300 mile front extending from northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southeast.
“Another phase of this operation is beginning and I am sure it will be a very important moment in this entire special operation”.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Specific Russian Goals. According to a NATO official the four main goals of Russia are: 1) capture the Donbas region, 2) control the ‘land bridge’ from Donbas to Crimea, 3) control Kherson on the Dnieper River ensuring a freshwater supply to Crimea, and to 4) acquire additional territory for use as a buffer zone or for bargaining chips in future negotiations.
The Russians will likely advance on Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region from three sides: the north, east, and south. The best scenario for the Russians is to conduct a pincer movement that would encircle the Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, cutting off their supply lines from the interior of Ukraine. The Ukrainians will need to launch a series of small spoiling attacks that will prevent Russia from building up forces that would then advance on the Ukrainian positions. The Pentagon reported that 11 more battalion tactical groups (BTGs) arrived in the Donbas region; bringing the total number of BTGs to 78. Of these 78, about twelve BTGs are committed to the defeat of the remaining defenders of Mariupol.
Read more in “How to Win the Battle in Eastern Ukraine”, by Benjamin Jensen, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), April 14, 2022.
Battle of the Skies
Ukrainian Air Assets. According to a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday (Apr 19) the Ukraine air force has increased their available ‘operational’ aircraft due to the provision of ‘additional platforms and parts’ by other NATO countries. The U.S. assisted in part of the transportation of these aircraft parts and components. The Ukraine government has denied that it received ‘aircraft’, saying that it only received aircraft parts.
More Recon Drones. The Ukrainians will be receiving over 100 Quantix Recon Unmanned Aircraft Systems from AeroVironment. These drones and the associated training are being donated to Ukraine by the U.S. manufacturer. (BusinessWire, Apr 19, 2022).
“As the Ukraine military’s fight to protect their homeland and defend their nation’s freedom against Russia’s invasion intensifies, their need for solutions that can offer force protection and force multiplication capabilities continues. This donation will provide operators with a tool that can fly undetected by enemy forces and unaffected by radio frequency jammers to deliver accurate and rapid reconnaissance of remote, inaccessible areas of the dynamically changing battlefield.”Wahid Nawabi, President and CEO of AeroVironment, Inc.
“Using the actionable intelligence gathered by the Quantix Recon, operators can conduct quick mission planning and verification to help keep Ukrainian ground forces out of harm’s way. AeroVironment is honored to support the people of Ukraine,” Nawabi added.
The Turkish Drone in Ukrainian Skies. The Turkish Bayraktar TB2 is making a name for itself in the Ukraine War. This lightweight low-tech armed drone carries four small laser-guided munitions and can cruise for about 24 hours. It costs about a sixth of the Reaper’s US$32 million price tag. The TB2 is wreaking havoc with Russian tanks, artillery pieces, and short-range air defense systems. The armed drone has also seen great success in the Nagorno-Karabakh War in Azerbaijan and the conflict in Ethiopia. Turkey has about 140 of the TB2s and is conducting research and tests on new drone prototypes. Read more in “Has Turkey become an armed drone superpower?”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, April 19, 2022.
Norwegian MANPADS. The Norwegian Ministry of Defense announced on Wednesday (Apr 20) that it is providing 100 Mistral air defense missile systems to Ukraine. It is currently being used by the Norwegian Navy. It is a lightweight man-portable launcher and is operated by a one or two person crew. (Army Recognition, April 20, 2022).
Donbas and Russian Airpower. Compared to its initial operations around Kyiv and in the southwest of Ukraine, Russia likely has a measure of localized air superiority in the Donbas region. Ukraine’s medium- and short-range mobile surface to air missile systems have slowly been taken out. The Ukrainian SA-8s and SA-11s have to be positioned close to friendly lines to be effective and cover friendly troops; and they have been reduced by ground attacks and by drones as well. The Russians appear to lack sufficient stocks of precision-guided munitions for battlefield use. This means the Russian pilots will need to employ tactics requiring them to acquire targets visually and then to fly in a stable approach in a dive. This is a tactic that will expose them to the numerous MANPADS that the Ukrainian ground forces are employing.
The lack of ‘targeting pods’ (like the U.S. Sniper pod) and the limited training time afforded to Russian pilots will also detract from the Russian air force’s effectiveness. While the Russians will enjoy localized air superiority, it is unlikely to produce decisive results on the battlefield for Russia. Justin Bronk explains this in detail in “Russia Likely Has Local Air Superiority in Donbas, but it May Not Matter”, RUSI, April 19, 2022.
The United States is sending unmanned surface vessels (USVs) to Ukraine to beef up its coastal defense capabilities. The USVs are capable of a variety of missions. These include extending Ukraine’s surveillance out further away from the coastline, sweeping for mines in the waters, and possibly to directly attack Russian ships. Read more in “Mysterious American robotic ships headed to Ukraine”, FEDSCOOP, April 15, 2022. The topic of maritime neutrality in the Black Sea is explored by David Letts in “Maritime Neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict”, Articles of War, West Point, April 18, 2022.
Mariupol. The siege of the encircled coastal city of Mariupol continues with a small force of Ukrainians fighting from a defensive pocket. Most of the Ukrainian defense is centered above and below ground at the Mariupol Azovstal Iron and Steel Works. The plant occupies four square miles of the city’s waterfront. It was one of the largest metallurgical factories in Europe. The plant and its network of underground tunnels is serving as a shelter and base for fighters of the Azov Battalion, 36th Marines, and members from other Ukrainian ground units. The city had a pre-war population of 450,000; it is estimated that about 100,000 civilians remain in the city. “How a Mariupol steel plant became a holdout for the city’s resistance”, The Washington Post, April 19, 2022. See also “Surrounded Mariupol Commander Begs for International Help to Evacuate”, Daily Beast, April 19, 2022.
The Battle for Kyiv. How the Russian forces were beaten into retreat from the capital city is detailed by Oz Katerji. Moscow’s plan was to encircle and capture Ukraine’s capital within a matter of days. What would follow would be the apprehension, detention, and probable killing of Ukrainian politicians, journalists, human rights activist, government officials, and senior military officers. The author of this article, who was in Kyiv on the eve of the invasion, describes how Ukraine’s smaller army could inflict the humiliating blow against the Russian army. Read more in “How Ukraine Won the Battle for Kyiv”, Rolling Stone, April 2022.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine.
Prisoner Exchange. A fifth prisoner swap has taken place. 76 Ukrainians were released – 60 service members and 16 civilians.
Russia’s Brain Drain. The Ukraine War and its associated sanctions are going to have a massive impact on the high-tech economy of Russia for years to come. The Russian Ministry of Defense has been heavily involved in research in the artificial intelligence field. This effort may come to a screeching halt due to lack of funds and human talent. “Russia’s Artificial Intelligence Boom May Not Survive the War”, Defense One, April 15, 2022.
The Importance of Morale. Daniel Karr and Jacob Ware collaborate in an article to highlight the role that morale plays in conflicts – whether it is a conventional fight or any insurgency. “Hearts Not Minds: Morale and Inspiration in Insurgency and Territorial Defense”, Modern War Institute at West Point, April 14, 2022.
“Understanding the history of morale’s role in insurgencies is essential for analyzing the ongoing war in Ukraine and developing sound policy options for what could be a drawn-out conflict. But one thing seems clear: Russia will struggle to win its war in Ukraine if its troops do not want to be there.”
Artillery – A Big Ukraine Requirement. With the shift of operations to warfare in open spaces – as opposed to defending cities – the Ukrainian military will find itself outclassed on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. The NATO members states can fix this – if they provide Ukraine with the artillery and anti-air systems to correct this capability deficiency. Michael Jacobson, a Department of the Army civilian field artillery capability analyst and LTC in the U.S. Army Reserves, provides a detailed explanation in “What Artillery and Air Defense Does Ukraine Need Now?”, War on the Rocks, April 15, 2022. See also “Ukraine’s Ability to Withstand Russian Artillery Critical to Fight for Donbas”, The War Zone, April 19, 2022. And this as well . . . “Biden promises more artillery to Ukraine to fight off Russian invaders”, The Washington Times, April 19, 2022.
And More on Artillery. The Pentagon confirmed that it is sending 18 x 155 artillery pieces and 40,000 artillery rounds to Ukraine. In addition, a ‘training package’ will be conducted for Ukrainian military personnel in an adjacent country. This is a ‘train the trainer’ scenario. The training is expected to take place within ‘days’. The Pentagon believes that the training will be minimal as most artillery pieces are ‘the same’; the Ukrainians are familiar with the Soviet bloc 122-mm D-30 Howitzer. Read more in “Biden vows to send Ukraine more artillery as Congress pushes for military aid czar”, Defense News, April 19, 2022.
Canadian Troops to Poland. Ukrainian refugees may find themselves being provided assistance from humanitarian assistance efforts by Canada’s military. The Canadian unit is set to depart from the Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario. Prior to February 24th (the day Russia invaded Ukraine) Canada had 260 military trainers in Ukraine. They were moved prior to the invasion to Poland and assisted for a few weeks with humanitarian assistance before being redeployed back to Canada. “Canadian troops heading to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees”, CP24, April 14, 2022.
Germany – Letting Others do the Heavy Lifting? A new chart that depicts government support to Ukraine by donor GNP shows that Germany is slacking off when compared to other nations. Germany ranks tenth among European nations in amount of aid provided. One would think, given its relative size and wealth, that it would contribute more. (Ukraine Support Tracker, March 27, 2022).
Militias in the Russia-Ukraine War. By now most observers of the Ukraine War have become familiar with the Wagner Group and the Azov Battalion (or brigade). Less well known are other groups on both sides of the conflict – such as the Dnipro Battalion, and Chechen Kadyrov militia. Read more in “Ukraine war: the key role played by volunteer militias on both sides of the conflict”, The Conversation, April 13, 2022.
NG to Eastern Europe? There are roughly about 2,000 National Guard troops currently in Europe. Many more may be headed that way. “National Guard discussing possible deployments to Eastern Europe”, Military Times, April 19, 2022.
Three Future Scenarios for Ukraine. The next phase of the war may see some success for Russia. The country’s leaders are learning from their mistakes of the first six weeks of the conflict and making adaptations. Attritional warfare may favor the Russians – with their population base and numbers of artillery pieces and ballistic missiles. Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine infantry officer and defense analyst, envisions three possible scenarios for the future of the conflict in “What Comes Next in Ukraine: Three Scenarios”, Modern War Institute at West Point, April 14, 2022.
(1) The Ukrainians could embark on a general counter-offensive that would likely cost much in personnel and equipment and ultimately fail to achieve any strategic goals.
(2) The Russians could go on the offensive – striking from the north and south – with the aim to capture east Ukraine to include the city of Dnipro and encircling Ukrainian forces in the east. In addition, they would attempt to take Odessa, thus depriving Ukraine of a coastline and seaports.
(3) The conflict could settle into a war of attrition, resulting in a stalemate or ‘frozen conflict’ with Russia keeping the limited gains it has achieved along the coast of the Sea of Azov, areas north of Crimea, and in the Donbas region.
Report – Russia’s Nuclear Weapons: Doctrine, Forces, and Modernization. Congressional Research Service (CRS), April 18, 2022. (updated).
Russia’s Failure. The few decades have seen Russia announcing to the world the many areas where they have reformed and modernized their military forces. However, all that ‘modernization and reform’ hasn’t shown up on the battlefield. Alexander Crowther spells out the many deficiencies of the Russian military campaign in Ukraine. “Russia’s Military: Failure on an Awesome Scale”, Europe’s Edge, April 15, 2022.
Is the Tank’s Time Coming to An End? Probably Not. The successful employment of anti-armor weapons by the Ukrainians have blunted the usefulness of armor in the Ukraine War thus far. This has caused a reexamination of tank warfare and predictions of a big change in future warfare. David Johnson, a retired Army colonel, examines the history of the tank and the many predictions of the end of the tanks supremacy on the battlefield. “The Tank is Dead: Long Live the Javelin, the Switchblade, the . . .?”, War on the Rocks, April 18, 2022.
Russian Defense Industry. The war in Ukraine has damaged the reputation of Russian weapons manufacturers. It weapons have not performed up to standard. The Russian tanks have not performed well and neither have its aircraft or air defense systems. In the past, Russia has had good success in exporting its weapons systems. But now countries will find that the availability of Russian weapons for export will significantly decrease, the ‘moral stain of working with Moscow’ will push countries to other suppliers, and the performance of Russian weapons is now questionable. “The Russian Defense Industry: A Distressed Brand”, by Dr. Can Kasapoglu, Hudson Institute, April 15, 2022.
Justice in Ukraine? Maybe Not. Most wars end in a negotiated conclusion. The current Ukraine-Russia war is likely to have the same result. Most analysts see talks to end the war centered on strategic, political, and territorial issues. Russia is committing terrible war crimes and there is a worldwide call for accountability. The truth of the matter is most Russians from Putin down to the lowest-trigger puller will escape punishment. Hugh Smith, a retired professor of law and war ethics, explains why in “Justice may have to be sacrificed to end the war in Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), April 20, 2022.
Panel Transcript – The Struggles of the Russian Military in Ukraine. Gen (Ret.) Philip Breedlove, Mark Galeotti, Beth Sanner, and Janine Davidson discuss the state of Russia’s military and the effect on the war in Ukraine. Council on Foreign Relations, April 14, 2022.
Upcoming Events and Videos
Online Panel Discussion – Russia’s War in Ukraine: Nukes, Negotiations, and Neutrality. As Russia’s offensive recalibrates towards eastern Ukraine, the stakes are continuing to grow between Russia and Ukraine . . . and the West. Register to listen to a panel discussion on the latest political developments in the Russia-Ukraine War and how these may impact future negotiations between the two parties. Brought to you by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). Event takes place on Tuesday, April 26, 2022 from 10:00 am to 11:00 am. Register here.
Online Event – The Crisis in Ukraine: Democracy and Allyship Tested. This event is provided by the Harvard Alumni Association and is scheduled for Wednesday, April 20, 2022 at 12:00 pm on YouTube.
Music Video – Kyiv Calling. Kyiv Calling – for a Free Ukraine. A cover version of The Clash’s London Calling to draw the world’s attention to the struggle of the Ukrainian people and raise money for the Free Ukraine Resistance movement.
Video – Does the Russian Air Force Stink? Alex Hollings, the host of Airpower on the Sandboxx News YouTube channel tells us why the Russian Air Force hasn’t been able to establish air superiority over Ukraine. The Team House, YouTube, April 14, 2022, 15 minutes.
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