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: U.S. Air Force airmen assigned to the 352d Special Operations Wing, based out of RAF Mildenhall, U.K., conduct air operations out of an MC-130J Commando II April 23, 2020, over Greece. Air Commandos always maintain a ready and capable force, postured to execute global response operations whenever they are called. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena).
Do you receive our daily newsletter? If not, you can sign up here and enjoy it five (almost) days a week with your morning coffee (or afternoon tea depending on where in the world you are).
Big Picture of the Conflict
Russian Mobilization. There is some speculation that the Russians may announce a general mobilization. Although not immediately available, this additional manpower could be a major factor several months from now. The history of Russian wars over the last two centuries reveals that the current war in Ukraine may last significantly longer than a year. Russia will most likely default to a strategy of attrition on the battlefield; with its vast advantage in population, it can mobilize more soldiers than Ukraine. “The History of Russian Conflict Behavior Tells Us That the War in Ukraine Will be Long”, Real Clear Defense, April 29, 2022.
Ground Situation. Russian units that were based in the Kyiv region and northern part of Ukraine have been repositioned to the Donbas region. Many are understrength and are being merged into new units. By focusing activities in the Donbas region the Russians will concentrate their forces, shorten supply lines, and simplify their command and control structure. The Russians are gradually intensifying the offensive in the east of Ukraine along the entire front.
Ground attacks are preceded by artillery and rocket strikes. The movement has been incremental – as the maneuver units are ensuring that the arty and rockets have sufficiently weakened positions that they are attacking. In addition, the ground units are ensuring they don’t get too far of their logistical support. The Russian advance is occurring from three directions – the north, east, and from the south. The US DoD is estimating that the Russians have 92 operational battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine. Not all BTGs are fully manned. Estimates of the total of BTGs in the Russian army range from 168 to 184.
Missile Attacks Continue. As of Friday (Apr 29) the Russians have launched over 1,950 missiles against targets in Ukraine (DoD estimate). The preponderance of the strikes were against Mariupol and the Donbas region. Western Ukraine, Kyiv, and Odesa are experiencing some missile strikes as well – mostly against logistical and supply centers, transportation nodes, and electrical producing plants.
Putin to Have Surgery. Russian President Putin will be undergoing a cancer operation in the ‘near future’, possibly just after the May ‘victory parade’ to be held in Moscow. While in surgery his powers will be exercised by Security Council chief Patrushev. There are news reports that Putin has abdominal cancer and Parkinson’s.
Russian CoS Wounded? General Valery Gerasimov may have suffered a slight leg wound as a result of a Ukrainian rocket attack on a Russian command post in Izyum, Ukraine on Saturday (Apr 30). Some news reports indicate that he may have left just prior to the attack. Up to 30 Russian officers were killed in the attack.
Artillery. All types of big guns are arriving in Ukraine. These long-range weapons will be extremely important for the type of warfare to be conducted in the Donbas region where the lines of the conflict are more clearly defined – many of them established over eight years of conflict. The artillery will assist the Ukrainians in defending territory, countering Russian artillery and rocket fire, and during counterattacks or a general counteroffensive. The long-range artillery will prove to be decisive in this ‘new phase’ of the war. The United States, Canada, and France are providing artillery that fire the 155-mm round. The M777 towed howitzer 155-mm has a range of 25 miles (Excalibur precision guided munition or PGM rounds) while the Russian D-30 122-mm has a range of 18 miles. “Western artillery surging into Ukraine will reshape war with Russia”, The Washington Post, April 30, 2022.
U.S. Training Ukrainian Military in Germany. Personnel from the Ukrainian military are being introduced and trained up in Germany on equipment that the U.S. is providing to Ukraine. This equipment includes artillery, armored vehicles, and radar systems. About 160 members of the Florida National Guard were part of the Joint Multinational Training Group in Western Ukraine and were ordered out of Ukraine prior to the Russian invasion. The unit is now in Germany and have reunited with Ukrainians to continue training. Ukrainians are being trained in three different locations in Europe, Germany being one of the locations. “U.S. Troops Train Ukrainians in Germany”, DoD News, April 29, 2022.
Ukrainian SOF Describe Battle for Key Airfield. In the opening hours of the Russian invasion 30 attack helicopters appeared over the horizon approaching the Hostomel airport located northwest of Kyiv. Ukrainian special operations forces and other units quickly surrounded and defeated the Russian SOF units that had landed and they were dispersed. What followed was two more months of heavy fighting. Two Ukrainian SOF members describe fending off the Russians and appeal for more weapons and support from the West. (The Globe and Mail, Apr 22, 2022).
Kharkiv. The Ukrainians have launched several small counterattacks out of Kharkiv city and are lessening the partial encirclement of the city by the Russians. The villages of Verkhnia Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske, and Prilesne have been liberated from Russian control. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city located in the northeast of the country.
Mariupol. Members of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade and the Azov Regiment are still holding out in the Azovstal plant. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is under siege by the Russians. This city is situated along the coastal road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. Twenty civilians are reported to have been evacuated to Ukrainian held territory from the Azovstal plant on Saturday (Apr 30). About 100 people were evacuated on Sunday (May 1). There are reports that more evacuations will take place on Monday (May 2). There are over 600 wounded in a Ukrainian field hospital in the Azovstal plant.
Kherson – Rubles, Lenin, and a Referendum. Starting on Sunday (May 1) the Russians have begun the process of changing the local currency of the occupied city of Kherson to the Russian ruble. The introduction of the Russian currency is meeting some resistance from the city dwellers who are entering their third month of Russian occupation. There is speculation that the Russians will introduce a referendum asking Kherson residents if they want to declare independence from Ukraine; the result of which is a foregone conclusion. The Russian occupiers have erected a statue of Lenin that had been removed in February 2014 in the wake of the pro-Western EuroMaiden Revolution. The only safe route for leaving Kherson is south through Crimea and then into Russia, on to Georgia, and then flying to Europe. It is becoming evident that the Russians intend to stay. “Ukraine war: Resistance to Russian rouble in Kherson”, BBC News, May 1, 2022.
Mykolayiv and Odessa. The fighting is continuing in the Mykolayiv region. The Russian continue to shell the populated areas in this region; but have not made any noticeable advances on the ground. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River close to the coast of the Black Sea, Mykolayiv is a strategic objective for the Russians that is on the road to Odessa located further west along the coast of the Black Sea.
Negotiations. Another prisoner exchange took place on Saturday (Apr 30). Seven military and seven civilian prisoners were released to Ukrainian custody.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine. The UNHCR has registered 5,468,629 refugees as of April 29th. Poland has taken in over 3 million Ukrainians. As of Friday (Apr 29) 1,289,000 Ukrainians have returned to Ukraine.
Nukes in Kaliningrad? Russian officials have been warning the West and the Baltic states on their ‘interference’ with the Russian ‘special military operation’. They have warned of the dangers of escalation with threats of nuclear retaliation. One of those threats is the movement of nuclear weapons into Kaliningrad as a counter to increased support of Ukraine by Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland. However, according to some military analysts, the Russians have kept nukes in Kaliningrad for years. “Lithuanian officials puzzled by Russia’s threat to deploy nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad”, LRT.it, April 14, 2022.
American Killed in Ukraine. Willy Joseph Cancel, a former U.S. Marine, has died while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces a week ago on Monday (Apr 24). He was reportedly employed by a military contractor. The DoD spokesman, John Kirby, indicated that he believes the company was not contracted with the DoD and the DoD does not have any contractors working in Ukraine. He served in the Marines from 2017 to 2021. After his service with the Marines he was employed as a corrections officer in Tennessee. He had also worked as a volunteer fire fighter in New York. He was 22 years old and leaves behind a wife and young child. “Marine veteran killed fighting in Ukraine, relatives say”, Marine Corps Times, April 29, 2022. Read also, “Combat death puts spotlight on Americans fighting in Ukraine”, Military Times, May 1, 2022. Many Americans in Ukraine are not fighting, but rather assisting in providing humanitarian assistance. “Deliveries to Bucha: US Army veteran trucks aid to battle-scarred Ukrainian towns”, Military Times, April 29, 2022.
Two British Volunteers Detained by Russians. The non-profit Presidium Network said that two UK citizens were detained at a checkpoint in southern Ukraine on Monday (Apr 24). The two captured aid workers were working independently but were in touch with the Presidium Network. They were trying to rescue a family from a village south of the city of Zaporizhzhia at the time of their capture. The two men had crossed into Russian controlled territory. “Ukraine war: Two UK aid workers captured by Russia, says NGO”, BBC News, April 29, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Russia’s Cyber Attacks. Heather Dinniss, a senior lecturer at the International Law Centre of the Swedish Defence University, examines the history of Russian cyber attacks against Ukraine. She covers the years pre-ceding the February 2022 invasion as well as during the past few months. “Military Networks and Cyber Operations in the War in Ukraine”, Articles of War, Lieber Institute West Point, April 29, 2022.
Report – An Overview of Russia’s Cyberattack Activity in Ukraine, Microsoft Digital Security Unit, April 27, 2022. Read the 21-page PDF here.
Russian Cyberattacks Against US. With the immense support provided to Ukraine, national security observers have feared that Russia would mount some significant cyberattacks against the United States. “Feared Russian cyberattacks against US have yet to materialize”, Defense News, April 29, 2022.
False Flag Operation in Transnistria? Russia is calling attention to a series of explosions that took place in the breakaway region of Transnistria, Moldova. Western nations believe it is a false flag operation to give cover to more Russian involvement in Moldova. About 1,500 Russian troops are stationed in Transnistria. “Russia Further Sows Justification for Potential Transnistria Offensive as Ukraine Warns of ‘False Flag’ Operation”, Forbes.com, April 28, 2022.
Finland – Soon to be a NATO Nation? Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine the status of ‘neutral’ nations in Europe may very well change – perhaps within weeks or months. Finland is acutely aware of the threat posed by Russia – it fought the 1939-1940 Winter War against the Russians . . . finally agreeing to a truce that resulted in a territorial loss for Finland. Emily Rauhala describes the steps that Finland is taking to deter Russian aggressive moves on its borders. Some reports state the Finland will apply for NATO membership on May 12th. “How Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine pushed Finland toward NATO”, The Washington Post, April 30, 2022.
Nancy Pelosi Visits Kyiv. House Speaker Nancy Pelois and five other Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives visited Ukraine and met with President Zelensky on Sunday (May 1). Their next stop will be in Poland for more meetings. (Axios, May 1, 2022).
EU Oil Embargo. Member states of the European Union are finalizing plans to enact an oil embargo against Russia. Europe’s biggest oil supplier is Russia, providing about one-quarter of the bloc’s yearly needs. The Europeans will make up the shortfall from other sources including Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Persian Gulf countries.
More Weapons for Ukraine
$33 Billion Aid Package. President Biden is asking Congress to provide billions more in aid to Ukraine. The money would provide military equipment, economic assistance, and humanitarian aid.
US Lend-Lease Bill. The US House of Representatives passed a bill that will speed up weapons supply to Ukraine. The Ukraine Democracy Lend-Lease Act of 2022 was passed by a vote of 417 – 10. The bill will by pass some of the bureaucratic procedures that have slowed down weapons shipments. The ten NO votes were all Republicans.
Denmark and Polish Weapons. The Danes are handing over 25 Piranha III armored personnel carriers (APCs) to the Ukrainians. The vehicle is made by the Swiss company MOWAG and is a highly regarded APC. Denmark is also providing 50 M113 tracked APCs and some M10 mortars with thousands of rounds. The Poles are sending over 200 T-72 tanks to Ukraine.
Stingers – Dwindling Stocks. The CEO of Raytheon, the manufacturer of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile, says that it could take a year or more to make more weapons for countries that donated them to Ukraine. The company won’t be able to ramp up production for the Stingers until 2023. The U.S. Department of Defense hasn’t bought a Stinger in over 18 years and the components for the missile are no longer commercially available. “Raytheon chief warns of delays in replenishing Stinger missile stocks”, Politico, April 26, 2022.
M113 APCs. At least five states are sending M113 armored personnel carriers to Europe to be given to Ukrainian forces. At the request of the Department of Defense, the governors of West Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana are sending over 200 of the APCs to Europe. The DoD stopped buying the M113s in 2006. The APC will offer Ukraine transportation for its infantrymen and protection from small arms fire and artillery. As a tracked vehicle it will be able to traverse in fields and on dirt trails. The M113s are still operational and have had upgrades through the years. “US National Guard’s aging battle taxis find new use in Ukraine fight”, Defense News, April 29, 2022.
Abrams Tanks Needed by Poland. The transfer of weapons and ammunition has been a lifeline for the Ukrainian military. Anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, artillery, APCs, drones, and other types of equipment has been flowing into Ukraine. Poland will be buying 250 Abrams tanks, which will allow it to send its older T-72 tanks to Ukraine. “To Help Ukraine, the Administration Needs to Get Abrams Tanks to Poland Faster”, Real Clear Defense, April 29, 2022.
EUCOM’s Role? United States European Command (EUCOM) has been playing a key role in tracking logistics and transportation of military equipment to Ukraine. Headed up by a U.S. two-star Naval officer from EUCOM’s J-4 logistics directorate, a special staff with 15 donor nations ensure the swift delivery of weapons into Ukrainian hands. “What is EUCOM’s Ukraine Control Center?”, Air Force Magazine, April 29, 2022.
Russia and War Crimes. The level of evidence available on Russian war crimes in Ukraine is compelling. The Russian military has a manual describing in detail what a war crime is and provides clear guidance to military commanders on the battlefield. “Russian Leaders Know They’re Committing War Crimes. Their Laws of War Manual Says So”, by Evan Wallach, Lawfare Blog, April 25, 2022.
U.N. Peacekeeping Force for Ukraine? It sounds unlikely but, following precedent established during the Korean conflict in the early 1950s, it could be done. “Time for a U.N. Peace Enforcement Operation in Northern Ukraine?”, Lawfare Blog, April 27, 2022.
Economic Warfare. Aaron Klein examines the economic impact of the multiple levels and varieties of sanctions that have been imposed on Russia. He warns us that the real damage to Russia’s economy from sanctions will take time. When assessing the progress of economic warfare, patience is important. “Multiple battlefields in time and space”, Brookings Institute, April 29, 2022.
America’s War. The United States is playing a leading role for a new coalition of nations that are supporting Ukraine and weakening Russia. In the initial days of the Russian invasion the U.S. response was measured, mostly in an attempt to not provoke Putin further with hopes that he would halt his offensive. Now that the full intent of Putin is known (we think) the U.S. has significantly stepped up its support of Ukraine. “Ukraine Is Now America’s War, Too”, by Robin Wright, The New Yorker, May 1, 2022.
Consequences of Russia’s Aggression. The geopolitical and military landscape of Europe and Asia has changed dramatically as a result of the thus-far, failed Russian invasion of Ukraine. After two months of fighting, some long-term outcomes can be predicted. “Geostrategic Consequences of Russia’s War Against Ukraine”, The RAND Blog, April 26, 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.