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: Soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment fire an AT4 anti-tank weapon at Zdar Military Area in Northwest Czech Republic, March 4, 2022. The soldiers are participating in Saber Strike 22, a two-week, multinational exercise that enhances readiness and relationships between NATO allies in the European region. Photo courtesy of DoD.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Russian Campaign. Several days ago the Russians, as they retreated from the Kyiv area and northern region of Ukraine, announced that the first phase of the ‘special military operation’ was complete and that they would begin the second phase of the operation. This was the securing of the Donbas region. Most military analyst have concluded that the second phase has begun.
The Russians have strengthened their position in the Donbas region with the intention of taking as much territory as they can. As of Friday (Apr 22) they had up to 85 battalion tactical groups in the region. The was a brief pause in attacks on the remaining defenders of Mariupol and reports of a humanitarian convoy leaving the city on Saturday (Apr 23). The Ukrainian military has stopped several Russian small scale advances on the Donbas front and assesses Russian units as not properly organized and suffering from low morale.
The current Russian offensive may further exhaust and deplete Russian units. The stage would then be set for limited counterattacks by Ukrainian forces – units that are receiving constant and timely resupplies of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, and other military equipment for its fully-mobilized population. The Russians are now conducting forced mobilizations of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied areas of the Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Kharkiv oblasts. This action is in violation of Article 51 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Russian Push to Transnistria and Moldova? A Russian military commander mentioned on Friday (Apr 22) that Moscow aims to establish a land bridge from Crimea to Transnistria (Wikipedia). The breakaway republic in Moldova (Google maps) already has Russian troops.
Transnistria has been a self-proclaimed republic since 1991. It has a small population of about 500,000. There are an estimated 1,500 Russian troops based in Transnistria. The population region has not been overly supportive of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – straddling the fence on the issue. “What is Transnistria, and will Russia advance towards Moldova?”, The Washington Post, April 22, 2022.
Mykolaiv and Odesa. For the Russians to establish control of the Ukraine coastline of the Black Sea they would have to take Mykolaiv and Odesa. Although that might be a hope of Russia, most military analysts believe that Russia doesn’t have the combat power to make that happen. The Russians have failed to take Mykolaiv – which stands in the way to the capture of the Black Sea port of Odessa.
And Crimea? In fact, the Russians may find themselves on the defensive in the area north of Crimea. Ukrainian pressure could be mounting on the Russians currently occupying Kherson. If the Ukrainians re-take Kherson then perhaps Crimea could be next. The destruction of a key bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian homeland is a game changer. The bridge is the connection that passes over the Kerch Strait. Brian Frydenborg examines this scenario in detail. “How Ukraine Can Take Back Crimea from Putin’s Reeling Russian Military”, Real Context News, April 24, 2022.
Fight for the Skies. Turkey has closed air space to the Russian military and civilian aircraft heading to Syria. This will prevent the movement of Syrian fighters into Russia and subsequently to Ukraine. Russian missile attacks against Ukrainian cities continue. Repair parts shipped to Ukraine by other nations have helped its fighter jets stay operational. Mi-17 helicopters provided by the United States have increased its tactical lift capability as well as ground attack from the air.
Maritime Activities. An amphibious landing force on several ships is still positioned in the Black Sea off the coast of Odessa to land a substantial element of Russian naval infantry. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian shipping continues. Although there are naval infantry on the amphibious landing ships they may be just a diversion to keep Ukrainian troops in the Odessa area fixed.
Objective Zaporizhzhia? Russian soldiers may be trying to push to the industrial city of Zaporizhzhia (Google maps) located on the Dnieper River. Russian units are pushing north from territory they currently occupy in southern Ukraine. But the Ukrainian 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade is on the path to the city. “Dug in on the front lines, Ukrainian soldiers fight to repel the Russian onslaught”, by Michael Schwirtz, The New York Times, April 22, 2022.
Mariupol. Some 200 survivors of the besieged coastal city of Mariupol left on buses over the weekend and in a few private cars. They are now sharing their harrowing story of constant bombardment by Russian troops. They were the first civilians to depart the city in over two weeks. By nightfall four buses had reached the southeastern town of Zaporizhzhia about 140 miles north of Mariupol. Subsequent attempts of departures through the humanitarian corridor were halted due to Russian shelling. There are continuing reports that Russia is forcibly deporting Ukrainian citizens from Mariupol to Siberia, many going to Vladivostok. The Azov Battalion and 36th Separate Marine Brigade – both vastly understrength and with many wounded – continue to hold a small section of the city – with probably about 2,000 fighters. “Mariupol survivors, dazed and exhausted, describe horrors they endured”, The Washington Post, April 21, 2022.
Situation Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces. Read an assessment of the Russian offensive campaign by the Institute for the Study of War (Apr 24).
Negotiations. Russian and Ukraine have been having ‘virtual talks’ in the past few days. Negotiations were held on April 21-22. Ukraine says it will pull out of peace talks if the Russians kill Ukrainian troops captured in Mariupol. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the negotiations are stalled and that Ukraine has not yet responded to the latest version of Russian proposals. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit Moscow on Tuesday (Apr 26) to meet with Putin and FM Sergey Lavrov. He will then visit Ukraine on Thursday.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine. The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine to neighboring countries is decreasing according to the UNHCR. Thus far, over 5 million refugees have left Ukraine, most of them arriving in Poland. Warsaw is currently “at capacity” for the acceptance of new refugees from Ukraine.
Cyber and Information Operations
OSINT, IO, and Ukraine. Toby Armour examines how open source intelligence or OSINT has changed over the past several years and the impact it is making in the Ukraine War. OSINT has been playing a role in the forming of the narrative and in the information operations arena. It is also having an impact on the recording of Russian atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine. “The Russian Invasion Highlights the Impact of OSINT”, Lobo Institute, April 23, 2022.
TikTok – Swaying Young People. It is more than just a place to watch quick dance videos. Now the social media platform is an integral part of the information operations landscape – used by both sides of the conflict. “Disinformation Campaigns Skewing Young People’s View of War in Ukraine”, Voice of America, April 15, 2022.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency and Crimea. Dr. Sarah Morrison, an information security and risk analyst, examines the information operations of Russia during 2014 when it invaded and occupied Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. “The Use of the Russian Troll During Crimea”, Small Wars Journal, April 18, 2022.
Finland – Excelling at Cyber. An international competition between cyber-defense professionals was recently held in April 2022. The winner of the Locked Shields 2022 exercise was Finland. A joint Lithuania-Poland team took second and an Estonia-Georgia team took third. “Finland wins NATO cyber defense competition”, C4ISARNET, April 22, 2022.
Explaining ‘Ruscism’. A new word has evolved due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is now found in Ukrainian news media as well as social media. It roughly translates to “Russian fascism”. Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University, explains in “The War in Ukraine Has Unleashed a New Word”, The New York Times Magazine, April 22, 2022.
U.S Officials Visit Ukraine. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv, Ukraine on Sunday (Apr 24). This follows the visits by many European nations by Presidents and Prime Ministers to Kyiv. No word on when President Biden will visit Ukraine. Austin stated that Russia had suffered significant losses. He stated that the Pentagon would continue to provide weapons to Ukraine to ensure Russia continues to experience high losses. Austin conducted a brief news conference along the Polish-Ukrainian border. “Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin’s Travel to Ukraine”, DoS, April 25, 2022.
Brink to Kyiv? The U.S. may reopen its embassy in Kyiv and will likely nominate Bridget Brink – the current U.S. ambassador to Slovakia. She has been working in the Slovak Republic since August 2019 and is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Much of her experience with the Department of State is in East Europe and Central Asia.
Embassies to Reopen. The United Kingdom and Spain are reopening their embassies in Kyiv. They had been evacuated and moved to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv when the Russians invaded in late February. Fifteen embassies have reopened in Kyiv. Apparently, the U.S. Department of State is playing is safe, with no immediate plans to move back to the capital city.
Ramstein Meeting. Forty nations have been invited to a meeting that will feature Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Tuesday (Apr 26). This is not a ‘NATO’ meeting, as it includes many nations not members of the NATO alliance; however most NATO members will attend. “Long-Term Ukraine Aid to be Discussed at Ramstein Meeting”, Air Force Magazine, April 22, 2022.
WVNG Providing APCs. The West Virginia National Guard is going to provide armored personnel carriers for use by the Ukrainian military. Following a request by the Department of Defense, West Virginia will give some M-113 APCs as part of the drawdown of U.S. DoD inventories to support Ukraine. The APCs will assist in the movement of squads of infantrymen across the battlefield while providing protection from small arms fire and artillery blasts. (Office of the Governor, WV, Apr 22, 2022).
More Weapons. Some Milan anti-tank missiles (Wikipedia) and Ceasar self-propelled howitzers (Wikipedia) will soon arrive in Ukraine. The Netherlands plans to send some self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine as well. Canada recently sent four M-777 howitzers to Ukraine. (CBC News, Apr 22, 2022).
US Field Hospitals? Members of Congress have sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking the military to provide field hospitals and other kinds of medical assistance for civilian casualties in Ukraine. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman says there is no planning going on at the Pentagon at the moment for setting up field hospitals.
SAS in Ukraine? Russia Investigates. There have been several media reports that the British Special Air Service has members in Ukraine. Moscow announced on Saturday (Apr 23) it was launching a formal probe into the alleged role of Britain’s SAS on the ground in Lviv. These claims follow the capture of two Britons who were fighting with Ukraine in Donbas. Russia says that “mercenaries” will face death if captured. “Russia investigates rumours of British SAS troops on the ground in Ukraine”, Mirror, April 23, 2022.
British Training. Ukrainian military members are being trained by British forces in Poland as well as in the United Kingdom. The training is on equipment that Britain is providing to Ukraine. “Britain reveals Ukrainian soldiers are training locally”, Defense News, April 22, 2022.
Private Volunteer Groups. There are a host of private volunteer organizations that are providing aid and assistance to the Ukrainian people. Some of them are crossovers from the Afghan evacuation effort. One of them, Fill the Needs, has been operating since 2008. The organization is now assisting food kitchens in Ukraine providing help to internally displaced persons (IDPs).
And More News
Finns Prepare – Just in Case. The country of Finland – with a small population of just 5.5 million people – is training up reservists for an eventual conflict with Russia. It has fought wars with Russia in the past. Finland was invaded by Russia in 1809 and added to the Russian empire. In 1917 Finland regained its independence. In 1939 it was invaded by Russia once again and fought the ‘Winter War’. That war ended in a peace treaty once Finland agreed to cede 10% of its territory. Finland is now considering membership in NATO after seeing Russia invade Ukraine. “As Finland considers NATO membership, citizens mobilize for an invasion by Russia”, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2022.
Belarusian Railway Workers and Sabotage. A clandestine network of railway workers, hackers, and dissident security forces wreaked havoc on supply lines in Belarus. Russian forces who entered Ukraine from Belarus assumed they could depend on the country’s extensive rail network for the movement of supplies and reinforcements. The Russians didn’t anticipate that railway workers in Belarus would contribute to the logistical chaos they experienced during the Ukrainian invasion. One tactic was the disabling of the automatic signaling system which slowed railway traffic to a snail’s pace. One of the groups, called the Community of Railway Workers, received information on Russian movements and locations of key railway infrastructure from Belarus railway employees. Another group, called the Cyber Partisans, is formed of exiled Belarusian IT professionals. The Belarusian Interior Ministry has decreed that damaging railway infrastructure is an act of terrorism that carries a 20-year prison term. “The Belarusian railway workers who helped thwart Russia’s attack on Kyiv”, The Washington Post, April 23, 2022.
Russian Trenches of Bucha. Ryan Hendrickson – a retired Special Forces soldier – is in Ukraine providing updates on the conflict via his Twitter account. He recently visited Bucha – located to the northwest of Kyiv and toured some of the now abandoned Russian positions. Watch a 2-minute video he took of bunkers, trenches, and living areas of the Russians. (Twitter, Apr 22, 2022).
Podcast – Russia vs Ukraine. Ambassador Lawrence Butler and Mark Mitchell discuss the current Russian war in Ukraine. Butler spent forty years in foreign service. Mitchell is a retired Special Forces officer and former Deputy ASD Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict. Some topics discussed are the war aims of Russia, some of the questionable tactics of Russia, future of negotiations, and the effects of the war in and on the United States, NATO, EU, and the rest of the world. Veteran’s Radio Hour, April 23, 2 hours. Listen to the episode here.
Video – Ukrainian fighters resist Russian forces at Mariupol steel plant. Former CIA officer Darrell Blocker and national security and defense analyst Mick Mulroy discuss the latest on Ukraine as Putin claims his forces intent to seal off the plant. ABC News, April 23, 2022, 4 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