Curated news, analysis, and commentary about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tactical situation on the ground, in the air, and on the seas. Additional topics include NATO, aid to Ukraine, refugees, internally displaced personnel, humanitarian efforts, cyber, and information operations.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Fight for Bakhmut. The Russians have still not yet captured all of Bakhmut, a small industrial city in eastern Ukraine. They do control the eastern portion of the city and approaches to the city from the north and south. However the Ukrainian forces have continued to defend the western portion of the city as well as a landroute to the west from which they receive supplies, ammunition, and personnel replacements. The city sits along key roads and railways in the Donbas region; however, control of the city is unlikely to tip the war’s outcome.
- “Ukraine forces Russian troops to impale themselves on Bakhmut and then reload”, Washington Examiner, March 10, 2023. (subscription) Months of fighting have been costly for both sides; however, the Russians have expended a lot of equipment, material, and personnel in its quest to capture Bakhmut. The Urkrainians have made it very difficult for the Russians. The head of the Wagner Group, a paramilitary mercenary firm spearheading the Russian attack on Bakhmut, says the Ukrainian forces are putting up “colossal resistance” but insisted the Russian offensive would succeed.
- “Bakhmut: The Battle That Decides the Ukraine War?”, 1945, March 16, 2023. As spring approaches many observers will be looking for signs of where the much-awaited Ukrainian offensive will take place. Will it be in the north, the south, or central region? Perhaps a clearing of Russians from Bakhmut is planned. The offensive will likely take place in early May when the ground is firm, Ukrainian troops finish their NATO training, and western armored vehicles and tanks are fully integrated into the Ukrainian military force structure.
- “Defending Ukraine’s ‘highway of life’ – the last road out of Bakhmut”, The Washington Post, March 12, 2023. (subscription) A two-lane hardball road that connects Bakhmut to the rest of Ukraine is held by various units of the Ukrainian military. The Russians want to capture the road to prevent the medical evacuation of Ukrainian wounded and the transport of supplies and reinforcements to the Ukrainian fighters of Bakhmut. Who controls the road is key to the battle of Bakhmut.
- “The Wagner Group is losing so many fighters in Bakhmut that it’s launching a recruitment drive”, Task & Purpose, March 11, 2023. No longer able to recruit from Russia’s prisons, the mercenary group is seeking volunteers from high schools across Russia.
Inexperienced Troops. Both Ukraine and Russia have lost thousands and thousands of their veteran, professional soldiers. Both nations are filling their ranks with inexperienced conscripts with little battle experience. In a war of attrition, this favors Russia – a nation with a much larger population pool to draw upon. The morale of the Ukrainian troops has shifted over the last few months; with fewer talking about victory and with complaints of ammunition shortages.
News Updates. A detailed daily update of the war – a daily review – is provided by Euromaidan Press. And, of course, there is the always comprehensive daily report by the Institute for the Study of War.
Situation Maps. War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. The Institute for the Study of War presents a map that depicts the assessed control of terrain in Ukraine. View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces as well as varioius other topics.
Tanks. “The Tactical and Strategic Value of Tanks”, Strategika, Hoover Institution, March 10, 2023. A lot of discussion has taken place on the value of tanks over the past year – a topic that has come to the forefront as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. Some say the ‘tank is dead’ – yet much is made of the huge impact the provision of western tanks like the Abrams, Challenger, and Leopard 2 will make when deployed to Ukraine. Sweden has announced that it will transfer 10 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Other nations have also contributed or have stated their intention to contribute tanks to the fight.
- Poland has already sent 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. (Euromaiden Press, Mar 9, 2023).
- Refurbished Leopard 1 tanks will arrive in Ukraine this spring. (The Warzone, Mar 11, 2023).
- The Russian Army is running out of T-72 tanks quickly. (Forbes, Mar 12, 2023).
- “Western Tanks vs Russian Armor: Who’s Winning”, SOFREP, March 8, 2023.
Artillery Comparison. Both nations are lobbing less artillery shells across the lines than last summer. The Russians are firing some 10,000 shells a day while the Ukrainians are firing about 3,000 a day. A combination of heavy daily use and limited stockpiles are the cause.
Fight for the Skies
U.S. Drone Downed by Russian Aircraft. A Su-27 jet fighter struck a U.S. Air Force ISR MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle’s propeller causing U.S. forces to bring it down into the international waters of the Black Sea. The bump in the sky happened after two Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on it. The incident took place on Tuesday morning, March 14, 2023. U.S. drones routinely fly a circular type route over the Black Sea monitoring the situation over Ukraine. “Russian Fighter Strikes U.S. Unmanned Aircraft”, U.S. Department of Defense, March 14, 2023. Watch a video of the incident, “US video shows moment Russian fighter jet collides with US drone”, Fox News, March 16, 2023.
Poland’s MiG-29s. Warsaw may be sending some fighter jets to Kyiv in a couple of months. This may happen if a broader coalition of nations join in the effort. “Poland my give Ukraine MiG-29 jets in next 4-6 weeks”, Reuters, March 14, 2023.
F-16s – a Mistake? The effectiveness of airpower on the battlefield in the Ukraine Conflict has been limited. Surface to Air missile systems like the Starstreak MANPAD have been so effective that pilots rarely attack enemy positions – the odds of success and survival are low. The F-16s are a fourth-generation fighter that would have to survive a fifth-generation SAM threat (systems like the S-400). Supplying F-16s to Ukraine would be a costly mistake. A better strategy would be to provide air-defense systems like the Patriot to kill Russian air power – and to continue to provide weapons like artillery and tanks to win on the ground. “Why Sending F-16s to Ukraine Would be a Mistake”, Real Clear Defense, March 16, 2023.
Russia’s Grom Standoff Weapons. Recent images of wreckage found on the battlefield indicate that air-launched standoff weapons are being employed by Russia. This is the first confirmed use of the Grom missile in over a year. This missile is believed to have been introduced in 2010. It has a warhead of about 700 pounds with a range of 62 miles. The weapon may offer a precision-guided fire-and-forget capability that can be used to strike static targets from a notable distance. “Evidence of Russia Using Grom Standoff Weapons in Ukraine Emerges”, by Emma Helfrich, The War Zone, March 15, 2023.
Black Sea Region. One of the most strategically important areas of the globe is the Black Sea. It can influence the course of events in the Ukraine Conflict. “The Black Sea Strategic Triangle in 2023 and Beyond”, Hoover Institution, March 7, 2023.
Black Sea Grain Deal. The deal to allow Ukrainian exports of grain to transit from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea through the Russian naval blockade to destinations around the world is set to expire on March 18. “Moscow open to extending Black Sea grain deal”, The Washington Post, March 13, 2023. (subscription)
Tracking Weapons. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has sent over $27 billion in security aid to Ukraine. These weapons are state-of-art; MANPADS, HIMARS, ATGM, MLRS, and more. Tracking these sophisticated weapons systems, without monitors on the ground observing, is challenging. One way of doing this is using OSINT to track the weapons systems. “Digitizing the Battlefield: Using Social Media to Track U.S. Weapons in Ukraine”, by Laura Courchesne, Lawfare Blog, March 14, 2023.
Ukraine and the Budget. U.S. Defense officials left Ukraine aid out of the Pentagon’s new budget request. DoD plans to continue to seek emergency funding from Congress. DoD is concerned that Republican opposition to the Ukraine aid could derail Congressional negotiations over the defense budget. “Pentagon keeps Ukraine aid out of budget, punting to divided Congress”, Defense News, March 13, 2023.
CIA Director Visit. William Burns, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, met with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on March 15 to discuss the current security situation in eastern Europe.
India – Russia Relations. The south Asian nation of India has long been a strategic partner of Russia in the diplomatic and international relations community. It also depends heavily on Russian weapons exports for its military. However, the Ukraine Conflict has caused India to re-evaluate its foreign policy towards Russia. “Continental Drift? India-Russia Ties After One Year of War in Ukraine”, Stimson, March 9, 2023.
A Grinding War of Attrition. There are some national security observers who believe that the present rate of western aid and support to Ukraine will only result in a years long battle of attrition between Ukraine and Russia. Some advocate for a stepping up of the assistance and perhaps a revision of the ‘no boots on the ground’ stance. Hans Petter Midttun, a Norwegian military officer with lots of time in Ukraine, provides the details and his perspective. “The new strategy NATO needs to avoid a protracted war in Ukraine”, Euromaiden Press, March 13, 2023.
Putin, Ukraine, and History. Learn a little bit of history about Russian and Ukraine . . . Kyivan Rus. A great read if you have the time. “Imposing the Past: Putin’s War for History”, by Jade McGlynn, War on the Rocks, March 15, 2023.
Certain Victory for Ukraine? What about Casualties? A central theme has emerged in most western media outlets that Ukraine is beating Russia on the battlefield. Much is made of Russia’s personnel, equipment, tank, and aircraft losses. Less is known and reported on the personnel losses of the Ukrainian military. However, what is known is that Ukraine has suffered significant losses. It has been a brutal battle of attrition; one that Russia – with its much larger population base, would likely win. “The danger of downplaying the Ukrainian battlefield toll”, Responsible Statecraft, March 15, 2023.
Long Wars and Ukraine. George Friedman, a strategist on international affairs, writes about how quick victories by an attacker will sometimes end up being a protrated conflict. “Ukraine and the Long War”, Geopolitical Futures, March 15, 2023.
Resources about the Ukraine Conflict
Maps of Ukraine
Weapons of the Ukraine War.
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.
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