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. soldiers participate in a NATO live-fire exercise at the Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland, March 16. 2022. During the annual event, the soldiers practice their skills to test their readiness and cohesiveness while working with NATO allies and contributing to the NATO enhanced forward presence mission in Poland. Photo by Staff Sgt. Walter Carroll.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Russia is now in Day 82 of its 3-day ‘special military operation’. Russia invaded Ukraine to weaken the NATO alliance, topple the Ukrainian government, install a puppet government friendly to Russia, and to seize a significant amount of Ukrainian territory that would make it a land-locked country economically dependent upon Russia. Thus far, the only significant gains are additional territory captured in the Donbas region and the establishment of a land bridge from the Russian border along the eastern side of the Sea of Azov, and on to Crimea.
Ground Situation. The Russians have failed to achieve significant territorial gains over the past month. The ground that has been seized resulted in huge losses in personnel, vehicles, and equipment. The Russians are lacking key enablers such as drones, night vision goggles, and bridging equipment – and is experiencing low morale and combat effectiveness. The Donbass offensive has stalled. The Russians had planned to use Izium (Google Maps) as a base from which to push further west into Ukraine; it has a significant amount of troops in the city and and surrounding area. Now the city is in danger of encirclement by the Ukrainian forces. The Pentagon estimates that there are about 105 Russian battalion tactical groups in Ukraine (as of May 13).
Analysis by John Spencer. A retired military officer and now military analyst is interviewed about his perspective of the Russian invasion and how it may end. He says Russia had a decent plan but military incompetence led to total failure. “Has Russia been beaten? This military expert says that moment is coming soon“, Salon, May 10, 2022.
Fight for the Skies. The air space is still contested. Ukrainian fighters are still flying. Aircraft is hindered by the presence of multiple air defense systems of the Ukrainians and the Russians. Most Russian aircraft are operating within Russia’s borders and launching air to ground missiles at targets in Ukraine within range of the Russian territory.
Maritime Activities. Dr. Basil Germond, a professor at Lancaster University, UK, is an expert in naval and maritime affairs. He analyzes Russia’s use of naval forces in the Ukraine war, its aspiration to control the northern coast of the Black Sea from the Russian Federation borders to Moldova, and its desire to dominant the Black Sea. “Ukraine War: The Limits of Traditional Naval Power and the Rise of Collective and Civilian Seapower”, E-International Relations, May 10, 2022. Snake Island is still in the news. Read “Why the battle over Ukraine’s Snake Island matters for the world“, GZERO, May 12, 2022.
Moskva. The Ukrainian military published audio from the Russian flagship of the Black Sea, the Moskva, that was attacked by missiles and that the crew needed to be rescued. The ship sank on April 14th after being struck twice and began tilting on its side.
Russia and the Enemies Within. There are deepening rifts between the Russian military and the Federal Security Service (FSB) over the failures of intelligence and military incompetence on the battlefield. Some members of the Russian military suspect that the FSB may be working against the Kremlin’s efforts to win in Ukraine. (Radio Free Europe, May 8, 2022).
Russian Attacks Stopped. The news of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine is mixed. There are some reports that attacks by the Russians that have made some minimal gains. However, many attacks have not gained much territory at all. Some estimates put the Russian loses at one third of the ground forces since the invasion took place on February 24th.
Russian Unit Destroyed at River Crossing. A number of Russian armored vehicles were destroyed and personnel killed while attempting to cross Siversky Donets River on May 11th over a pontoon bridge. Apparently the Russian vehicles were gathering in a tight group at each end of the bridge and caught in an artillery barrage. There are reports that a significant part of a battalion’s worth of vehicles (as many as 80) were put out of action. Over 400 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded. About 550 troops of the 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade tried to cross the river at Bilohorivka in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces. “Russia takes losses in failed river crossing, officials say”, Military Times, May 13, 2022.
Ukrainian Tractor Brigade. The John Deere’s of Ukraine have been providing a significant service to the Ukrainian military. As Russian tanks, self-propelled artillery and rocket launchers, and other armored vehicles are disabled or abandoned the farmers of Ukraine have been coming to the rescue. The ‘Tractor Brigade‘ has been both cleaning up the battlefield and bringing valuable tank and armored vehicles to Ukrainian military repair shops where they are put back into action; but this time against the Russians. The Ukrainians now have more tanks than when the war started. The Russians – not so much. (Twitter, May 15, 2022).
Kharkiv Counteroffensive. The second largest city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, is an area where the Ukrainians have been successfully pushing the Russians back. For several days, the counterattacks have resulted in more territory liberated from the Russians. There are reports that the Ukrainian troops defending Kharkiv have pushed some Russian troops across the Russian border (Reuters, May 16). This is putting some of the logistic supply lines of the Russians in jeopardy further to the south. The battle for the city of Kharkiv may now be over. View a detailed map of the Kharkiv battle zone. (Twitter, @IAPonomarenko, May 15, 2022).
Mariupol – Defenders Still Holding Out. As of Sunday (May 15), the Ukrainian defenders continue to hold a small section of the city in the steel factory known as Azovstal. A large convoy of from 500 to 1,000 cars and vans carrying refugees from Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday (May 15). There are approximately 1,000 Ukrainian defenders still fighting; many of them wounded. The fight for the city began over 80 days ago with 3,500 Ukrainian defenders from the National Guard’s Azov Regiment, 36th Marine Brigade, and other units. There is no medicine left and the wounded are operated on with no anesthesia. Turkey has offered a sea evacuation for wounded Ukrainian fighters; but Russia has refused the offer. (Reuters, May 14) Nearly 90% of the city has been destroyed with over 20,000 residents believed dead due to the house-to-house fighting and massive bombardments by the Russians. The city, once holding over 500,000 residents, is situated along the coastal road network that will provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea.
Missile Attacks on Lviv Oblast. On Sunday (May 15) several missiles struck military facilities in the Lviv region. Other than these periodic airstrikes, the city is operating under conditions of normalcy. Gas and fuel shortages persist.
Situation Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. The UK Ministry of Defence provides an update situational map of the Ukraine battlefield (May 15). View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces. And while we are discussing maps – NATO in 1990 vs 2015.
CRS Reports on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has been publishing reports periodically on various topics of the Ukraine War. These CRS reports are listed in this six-page PDF published on May 13, 2022.
Panzerfaust 3. An antitank rocket that has it roots in fighting the Soviets in World War II is now being used against the Russians again – in Ukraine. This shoulder-fired weapon has made an impressive showing against Russian armored columns. With its Simrad Optonics sight and targeting mechanism, the Panzerfaust can engage targets up to ranges of 600 meters. The weapon costs about $11,000 and rounds are around $300; an inexpensive option for destroying Russia’s best tanks. “Panzerfaust 3: The Cold War Weapon Wrecking Russian Tanks in Ukraine”, Historynet.com, May 5, 2022.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine. Since May 11th over six million Ukrainians have fled their country since late February. The people leaving are predominantly women, children, and the elderly.
Negotiations. There is not much progress in the current state of negotiations. Turkey, France, and other nations are attempting to restart the dialogue; but not with much success. Some evacuation of civilians has taken place as a result of agreements between Ukraine and Russia; but many do not happen due to Russian targeting of the evacuation routes to safe areas to the Ukraine interior. Turkey has indicated they would assist in the evacuation of the remaining Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol; but Russia isn’t agreeing.
Worldwide Food Supplies Affected by Ukraine War. The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on global food supplies is being magnified by nations imposing bans on food and fertilizer exports to preserve stocks for their domestic needs. The financial crisis of 2008 around the world led to nations doing the same; which then contributed to food shortages in nations that traditionally import food. This led to food riots in many parts of the world, to include the Middle East. Wheat importing nations include Turkey, Egypt and several African countries. Russian and Ukraine provide about a third of the world’s wheat and barley as well as other agricultural products. David Uren provides the details in “Food supplies squeezed by Ukraine war and trade bans”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, May 16, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Ukraine Wins Eurovision 2022. The Ukrainian rap and folk band Kalush Orchestra won the competition at a European music event over the weekend. It has generated a lot of publicity for the Ukraine nation. The band has released an official video of its winning song “Stefania”. It was filmed in Bucha, Irpin, and other cities near Kyiv that were liberated from the Russian occupation in early April. The song was first dedicated to the singer’s mother, and when the war broke out, the song took on a lot of new meanings. It carries a powerful message. (YouTube, May 2022).
Russia and InfoWarfare . . . Just Not That Good at It. Jeff Schogol says that “Russian memes are working about as good as Russian tanks.” Prior to kicking off its “mega-sized Charlie Foxtrot in Ukraine”, the Russians were widely regarded as masters of deception and propaganda. Jeff points out the many flaws in the aggressor’s IO campaign in “Russia actually isn’t as good at information warfare as everyone thought”, Task & Purpose, May 11, 2022.
Cyber and InfoWar Failure. In 2008 the world was distracted with the Beijing Olympics. Russia took advantage of this distraction with an attack on Georgia. Russia conducted cyber-attacks, a media campaign to form the narrative, and military action to “come to the aid of the South Ossetians” in Georgia. In 2022, Russia calculated that the world, distracted with the 2022 Winter Olympics and COVID-19 pandemic, would ignore its invasion of Ukraine. This time, however, Russia’s cyber and information campaigns, did not perform effectively. Read more in “How to Terminate Russian Disinformation”, Europe’s Edge, CEPA.org, May 12, 2022.
Telegram. The popular messaging service has about 500 million active users and is used by many in Europe and around the world. It has become a source of information about the Ukraine war for many – on both sides of the conflict. It was founded by Pavel Durov and his brother – both of St Petersburg, Russia. Pavel now lives in Dubai, having fallen out of favor with the Russian regime. (Business Insider, March 28, 2022).
CRS Report on “Hacktivists”. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine a growing number of nongovernmental hackers have conducted offensive cyberspace operations against Russia. Ukraine’s volunteer “IT Army” is comprised of thousands of hackers from within Ukraine and from other countries. there are some legal considerations that should be factored in by hacktivists from the United States. “Hacktivists and the Ukraine-Russia Conflict: Legal Considerations”, CRS, May 13, 2022, PDF, 4 pages.
Cell Phones and War Zones. Jeff Schogol writes on how Russian troops are proving that cell phones in war zones are a very bad idea. (Task & Purpose, May 13, 2022).
Finland and NATO. After much talk the past several weeks, Finland has officially announced that it will apply for NATO membership. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint news conference on Sunday (May 15). The Finnish parliament will consider the decision over the next several days. Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia – so the nation is pragmatic about its defense. Despite a small population of about 5.5 million, the nation can actually field a large army of 280,000 once fully mobilized. The cornerstones of its national defense posture is conscription and a large, well-trained reserve. Its army is equipped with modern weapons systems bought from several countries. Read more about the Finnish defense forces in “What Would Finland Bring to the Table for NATO?”, War on the Rocks, May 9, 2022.
And Sweden? In the next several days we may see news reports of Sweden deciding to join NATO; some media outlets say that May 17th is the big day. Sweden also shares a border with Russia. Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party says it is in favor of joining NATO. This reverses its decades-long opposition. And Switzerland? Could neutral Switzerland lean closer to NATO?
Blinken Meets with Ukrainian Foreign Minister. Secretary of State Blinken met with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday (May 15) during the G7 and NATO ministerial. (DoS, May 15). The G7 Foreign Ministers’ issued a joint statement on Russia’s war against Ukraine. (DoS, May 14, 2022).
Austin Speaks with Russians. On Friday (May 13) Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu urging an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.
NATO. The Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday (May 15) that Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as the Kremlin had planned. He says that Ukraine can win the war.
“Russia failed to take Kyiv. They’re pulling back from around Kharkiv, their major offensive in Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives.”
U.S. Ukraine Supplemental Aid Bill. The flow of equipment to Ukraine by the United States may very well be interrupted if the $40 billion bill is not passed by Congress. Senator Rand Paul is currently one of the reasons it has not been passed. Attempts to insert language authorizing the Afghan Adjustment Act failed. The bill has been passed by the House of Representatives.
Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act. The Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting provides a detailed examination of the recent legislation signed by President Biden that allows a constant flow of military aid to Ukraine. (May 10, 2022).
More US Troops to Europe. The United States will begin an additional deployment of troops to Europe to replace those forces sent to Europe earlier this year. One of the units to be replaced will be an element of the 82nd Airborne Division; to be replaced by 101st Airborne Division elements. Around 10,500 personnel will be sent to various East European countries in a one-for-one replacement plan. “Pentagon Announces Deployments to Replace Forces in Europe”, DoD News, May 13, 2022.
Modern Resistance. Russia’s aggressive actions over the past two decades have forced Baltic and Nordic states to examine their defense posture, assess critical gaps, and take action to fill the gaps. One strategy that has emerged is the resistance operating concept – where all segments of the population engages in total defense strategies based on peacetime social resilience and war time resistance. Sandor Fabian, a former Special Forces officer in the Hungarian military, provides us with a detailed account of this new concept of resistance – something the Ukrainian people have demonstrated in their remarkable performance against the Russian aggressors. Read “Modern Resistance – Learning from Non-Western Examples”, Journal on Baltic Security, May 12, 2022.
Podcast – The State of Play in Ukraine. Two national security analysts who are following events in Ukraine closely discuss the current situation in Ukraine. Rob Lee, FPRI Senior Fellow and Michael Kofman, of the Russia Studies Program at CNA, are interviewed by Aaron Stein. Foreign Policy Research Institute, May 13, 2022, 50 minutes.
Siberia – What’s the Future? Some international analysts are viewing the poor performance of the Russian military in Ukraine as a sign of the decline of the ‘Russian ’empire’. Just as the 10-year war in Afghanistan helped lead the way to the disestablishment of the Soviet Union; it is possible that one of the end results of the Ukraine War and other misadventures may cause the decline of Russia as a nation along with a redefining of its borders. Russia’s control over Siberia – the size of the U.S. and India put together – is only 157 years old. China plays the long game. It is a population-rich and resource-poor nation; while Siberia is population-poor and resource-rich. The China-Russia border is almost 3,000 miles long and is the legacy of the Convention of Peking of 1860. China’s population outnumbers Russia’s population by 10 to 1. Read an article first published in 2015 on this topic in “Why China Will Reclaim Siberia”, The New York Times, January 15, 2015. (Subscription).
Ukraine War, Weapons, and Australia. Defense experts in Australia are looking at the novel way that weapons are being used by the Ukrainians against aircraft, tanks, and armored vehicles. They believe valuable lessons can be learned from the war that would modernize the Australian military to be able to fight in the future. “Australia must learn defence lessons from Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, May 16, 2022.
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
Ukraine Conflict Info. The Ukrainians have launched a new website that will provide information about the war. It is entitled Russia Invaded Ukraine and can be found at https://war.ukraine.ua/.
Ukrainian Think Tanks – Brussels. Consolidated information on how to help Ukraine from abroad and stay up to date on events.