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, weapons shipments, and information operations.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
What Does Russia Want? The answer to the question is best approached in the context of time. The pre-invasion goals have certainly been modified. Perhaps the minimal goals of Russia were always set as a ‘land bridge‘ from the Russian border, through the Donbas region along the coast of the Sea of Azov to Crimea. Beyond that, are a host of objectives that the Russians had hoped to achieve.
And the Gas Fields? Was one of the objectives the vast gas reserves of Ukraine? The country has Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas, about 80 percent located east of the Dnipro River. Krystyna Marcinek argues that the advantages of owning the Ukrainian gas fields appear too small to justify the costs of the invasion, are too hard to occupy, and almost impossible for Russia to exploit. “Russia Does Not Seem to be After Ukraine’s Gas Reserves”, RAND Corporation, April 11, 2022.
Donbas Offensive? There are numerous reports that the Russians have launched their long-awaited offensive for the capture of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The past few days have seen an increase in artillery, rocket, and missile attacks. Attacks are taking place along a large front with some small gains made by the Russians. Thus far there hasn’t been a lot of ‘shock and awe’. Victory by May 9th? Some military analysts are suggesting that the next two weeks will see a major push by Russia to secure more territorial gains in Donbas – in time for the annual May 9 Victory Day parade.
Airpower. Ukraine’s air force is a little bit bigger now than it was a few weeks back. The shipment of airplane parts and components to Ukraine has helped them repair and put into service more airframes. The country started the war in the latter part of February with over 70 combat aircraft but has suffered some losses over the past two months. An increase of 20 aircraft is a significant event for the Ukrainians. “Ukraine Resurrects 20 planes with fresh spare parts”, Coffee or Die Magazine, April 20, 2022.
Maritime Activities. The fight over eastern Ukraine is, for the most part, a land war. However, one observer of the conflict argues that the U.S. and others are affected by “sea blindness”. He provides a detailed account of the ‘maritime war’ taking place within the larger context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. “The Russo-Ukrainian War at Sea: Retrospect and Prospect”, War on the Rocks, B.J. Armstrong, April 21, 2022.
Mariupol – Operation Cancelled? Victory Declared! In a public forum President Putin ordered his Russian troops to hold off on any clearing operation of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where the last of the city’s defenders (probably about 2,000?) are making a final stand. At least half of the Ukrainian combatants are wounded, with some still fighting. There are reported to be between 1,000 to 2,000 civilians – most of them women and children – in tunnels and bunkers underneath the huge industrial complex. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol has been under siege by the Russians for almost two months. This city is situated along the coastal road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. Read more in “Putin calls off storming of Mariupol steel plant, tells Shoigu to blockade it”, The Washington Examiner, April 21, 2022.
President Zelensky said on Thursday (Apr 21) that Ukraine is preparing to ‘unblock’ Mariupol through military or diplomatic means. It is doubtful Ukraine can relieve the city and break the Russian encirclement. The Russians will likely just attempt to ‘starve’ the remaining defenders out. The Russians have about 12 BTGs deployed in Mariupol – not clearing the industrial complex with free up some of these BTGs for the fight in other parts of the Donbas region.
Situation Maps. Russia now has 85 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine, many of them committed to the Donbas offensive. The Russians have made only minimal gains in the Donbas region in the last few days. The Ukrainians have been successful in stopping Russian advances in the area around Izyum. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. Read an assessment of the Russian offensive campaign by the Institute for the Study or War (April 21, 2022). View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces.
Negotiations. Other than prisoner exchanges – last count there were six conducted – not much has happened in the way of negotiating an end to the conflict. On Thursday, the Ukrainian government announced another prisoner exchange. 19 Ukrainian POWs were released including ten soldiers and nine civilians – some of whom were wounded.
Refugees, IDPs, and and a U.S. Welcome. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine. President Biden announced a new process to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion. It is called “Uniting for Ukraine”. Read a news release by the Department of Homeland Security on the topic (Apr 21, 2022).
Tanks. When the war started Russia’s military was cited as having ten times the number of tanks than Ukraine – many of them spread throughout Russia. The number of tanks that Russia invaded Ukraine with in late February certainly outnumbered those of Ukraine. But now it appears that imbalance has been modified. Ukraine now has (at least according to the Pentagon) more tanks in Ukraine than Russia. This is due to the huge armor losses Russia has sustained through combat, abandonment, or maintenance breakdown. Ukraine has been capturing damaged or abandoned Russian tanks, fixing them, and returning them to combat with Ukrainian crews. In addition, Soviet-era tanks are arriving from East European countries as well.
A Little Tank History. A museum and warehouse at Fort Benning houses some Russian tanks, some captured during the 1991 Gulf War. The Army’s Cavalry and Armor Collection allows soldiers to climb over and into Soviet-era tanks to learn more about them. “What this old Russian tank tells us about the invasion of Ukraine”, Task & Purpose, April 21, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Moscow’s Propaganda Spokesperson. A U.S. State Department news release highlights the role of Dmitri Peskov – a Russian who has served as Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson since 2008. He has played a key role in propaganda and disinformation campaigns over the decade and more. “Faces of Kremlin Propaganda: Dmitri Peskov”, U.S. Department of State, April 18, 2022.
‘Signaling’ – Russia and U.S. Methods. Putin has been ‘signaling’ to the West and United States that nuclear weapons may be a consideration if they escalate their support for Ukraine. While many are dismissing these threats as posturing, some observers are wondering if the West should do some ‘signaling’ of their own. And that perhaps the use of cyber operations could be a signaling response. However, some critics believe (the authors of this article) the potential implications of misperceptions surrounding cyber operations targeting nuclear systems during a crisis with a nuclear-armed adversary are simply too significant. “Cyber Signaling and Nuclear Deterrence: Implications for the Ukraine Crisis”, War on the Rocks, April 21, 2022.
Will Russia Step up Cyber Attacks? Now that the Donbas offensive is underway, many analysts believe that Moscow will increase its cyberattacks both in Ukraine and around the world. The U.S. critical infrastructure could be a future target according to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Several recommendations were outlined by CISA to mitigate the Russian cyber threat. “Russia May Ramp Up Cyber Attacks as Putin Pushes into Donbas, U.S. Warns”, Newsweek, April 20, 2022.
Sanctions – Hurting Russia’s Military. The ability of Russia to resupply its forces has been diminished due to economic sanctions imposed by the West and other allies around the world. The Russian military has lost thousands of tanks and armored vehicles over the past two months – damaged in combat, abandoned, or down with maintenance issues. Some of the components and parts needed to restock these weapons systems are no longer available because of sanction-imposed supply chain issues. Howard Altman explores this issue in detail – “Sanctions Are Strangling Russia’s Weapons Supply Chain”, The War Zone, April 18, 2022.
Finland – No Longer Neutral? Finland’s parliament has begun discussing the implications and risks of NATO membership. Finland shares an 830-mile land border with Russia and has followed a pragmatic course in its relationship with Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a huge shift in pubic opinion – with many supporting Finland joining NATO. (The Guardian, April 21, 2022).
Biden Meets Ukraine PM. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal spent some time with President Biden in Washington, D.C. on Thursday (Apr 21). He is the highest-ranking Ukrainian official to visit D.C. since February 24th, the beginning of the war. No word on when Biden will visit Kyiv.
Relationships in Middle East are Realigning. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted some deep thinking on the part of some countries in the ME. Among them are Israel, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Read more in “War in Ukraine is changing relations in the Middle East”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), April 22, 2022.
More Weapons for Ukraine
Another $800 Million Package. On Thursday (Apr 21) the United States announced additional weapons will be sent to Ukraine. This latest weapons transfer will almost deplete the drawdown authority that the President has. More weapons packages will need to be authorized by Congress through a supplemental budget request. This latest package will contain more heavy artillery and tactical drones. About 50 Ukrainian soldiers are currently receiving training on the 155mm howitzers. This new authorization is the eighth drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories since August 2021 for Ukraine. (Defense News, Apr 21, 2022).
The new package announced on Thursday includes:
- 72 155mm howitzers and 144,000 artillery rounds
- 72 tactical vehicles to tow 155mm howitzers
- 121 Phoenix Ghost tactical drones
- Field equipment and spare parts
‘Ghost’ Drones for Ukraine. Over 120 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, manufactured by AEVEX Aerospace, are heading to Ukraine. The drones are similar to the Switchblade – small and quickly deployable. They can fly short distances and pack a small explosive warhead used to attack light vehicles and personnel. The United States has already delivered hundreds of Switchblade drones to Ukraine, including some training to Ukrainian soldiers. (Breaking Defense, Apr 21, 2022)
Norway to Provide AA System. The Norwegian government has decided to donate Mistral air defense systems to Ukraine. It has a range of up to six kilometers and is intended for use against low-flying aircraft. The Norwegians are providing their entire inventory of Mistral missiles – numbering slightly over 100. “Norway to donate air defence system to Ukraine”, Euractiv.com, April 21, 2022.
Spain Shipping 200 Tons of Weapons. Trucks, ammunition, and other types of war equipment are heading to Poland for an ultimate transfer to Ukrainian military forces. The Spanish Navy transport ship Ysabel is currently under way with 200 tons of equipment.
Mozart Group – Training Ukrainians. Andy Milburn, a former special ops Marine, is now the head of a newly-established private organization providing training to Ukrainian SOF and other Ukrainian military units. Read more in “I’m a Former Marine Training Ukrainians – the Russians Are Worse Than ISIS”, Newsweek, April 20, 2022. (Editor’s Note: changed to “Mozart Group”.)
Brinkmanship and Nuclear Weapons. For decades the U.S. had buried the thought of the use of nuclear weapons in Europe. But times have changed. Tyler Bowen argues that some serious thought should be given to the possibility of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. “Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and NATO’s Crisis of Nuclear Credibility”, War on the Rocks, April 20, 2022.
Podcast – Helping Ukraine Win. Spirit of America founder and CEO Jim Hake discusses his entrepreneurial approach to providing private U.S. assistance in the form of non-lethal aid to Ukraine. The Truth of the Matter, CSIS | Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 19, 2022, 21 minutes.
“Are We Letting Putin Win?” Dr. Guy Millere, a professor at the University of Paris and author of 27 books on Europe, writes that Washington may be agreeable to giving Putin a small victory and an off-ramp to end the Ukraine War. Millere believes that the U.S. is more concerned with ending the war – even if Putin gets some of what he wants – at the cost of Ukraine. “Are We Letting Putin Win?”, Gatestone Institute, International Policy Council, April 21, 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