Ukraine Conflict Update – March 23, 2023

Munitions for Ukraine

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.

Image / Photo: U.S. Airmen push a pallet holding munitions going to Ukraine into a C-17 Globemaster III at Travis Air Force Base, California, April 28, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chustine Minoda)

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Big Picture of the Conflict

Battle of Bakhmut. The fight for a small industrial city in Donetsk province continues (Google map). The struggle has gone on for many months. The Russians have been making some incremental advances on the city with huge personnel and equipment losses. The city is surrounded on the north, east, and south with one main road to the West (T0504) for the Ukrainians to evacuate dead and wounded and receive resupplies and replacement units and personnel. Read (and listen) more below:

  • The Battle of Bakhmut, Urban Warfare Project Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, featuring John Spencer, March 17, 2023, 36 minutes.
  • The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization, has been unable to fully capture Bakhmut. It has lost many personnel in almost ‘human wave’ attacks against Ukrainian defensive positions. Its incremental gains have not succeeded in cutting the T0504 highway – a critical line of communication for Ukraine. However, the mercenary group has not ceased in its efforts to take the city.
Bakhmut Ukraine

Ground Situation

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 as of March 6, 2023, 3:00 PM ET. View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces.

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 (ISW).

Limited Russian Gains. Over the past few months Russia has gained very little territory along the front lines. The incremental gains on the ground have come at a high cost of equipment and personnel. Many observers believe that the Russian offensive in the east of Ukraine has ‘culminated’.

A War of Attrition. The longer the war lasts the more likely the Russians will prevail in holding the land corridor from the Russian border to Crimea and the entire coastline of the Sea of Azov. This is one of the most important objectives of the conflict for Russia. It has the advantage in a bigger population, more resources, and greater industrial capacity.

Ukrainian Counteroffensive. It is likely that the Ukrainians will mount an offensive in the spring – likely in late April or early May. Several factors play into this scenario.

  • The Ukrainians have lost a lot of personnel in the battle for Bakhmut. Many of these soldiers were veterans of the war.
  • The main battle tanks promised by the United States and European nations are slowly being introduced; but many will be unavailable for a spring offensive.
  • Ukrainian troops need to be trained up in the new equipment being fielded by western nations. Some of this equipment will be fielded to newly formed units that need to have a train-up before being committed to the battlefield.
  • The Russians have been busy fortifying their positions and will mount a strong defense.
  • Weather and terrain are important factors. The ground has to be firm (no mud) for wheeled and tracked vehicles to travel across the countryside and on unimproved roads.

Tanks and More Tanks. A lot of press coverage is being given to the provision of modern Western tanks to Ukraine. Some national security observers say it is a ‘game changer’. Others question whether the limited quantities, long timeline to deployment, and other factors will result in limited effects this spring and summer.

  • U.S. Abrams. One of the nations providing tanks is the United States. The Abrams tank, is many months away from deployment – and there are not a lot scheduled to be sent to Ukraine. “M1 Abrams Tank: A Game Changer for Ukraine or Just a Waste of Time”, by Kris Osborn, 1945, March 16, 2023. The DoD announced that it will be sending M1A1 Abrams instead of the M1A2 Abrams. This will accelerate the delivery of 31 main battle tanks. “Abrams Tanks to Arrive in Ukraine by Fall”, SOF News, March 22, 2023.
  • Polish Tanks. Ukrainian crews have completed their training on Leopard 2 tanks in Poland. Warsaw has delivered 14 of the tanks to Ukraine. The crews and tanks will form the nucleus of a full tank battalion when combined with 8 tanks from Canada, 8 from Norway, and 6 from Spain. Poland had previously sent almost 250 T-72 tanks to Ukraine. “Poland already sent 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as Ukrainian crews finished training on them”, Euromaiden Press, March 9, 2023.
  • Russian Tanks. As the number of modern Russian tanks are depleted in Ukraine the country has been reaching back into its stock of older tanks. New reports say that T-54s and T-55s are now being taken out of storage for deployment in Ukraine. Apparently these older tanks are being ‘modernized’. The tanks date back from the Stalin era.
  • Russia’s Armata Tank. When the T-14 Armata tank was revealed in a 2015 May Victory Day parade it embarrassingly broke down. Seven years later the tank can be declared dead. Read about the demise of the Russia’s latest prototype tank. “Armata – the story is over”, by Sergio Miller, Wavall Room, February 10, 2023.

Fight for the Skies

MQ-9 Drone Incident. The Russian downing of an MQ-9 Reaper has resulted in some national defense observers examining the role of UAVs and the US involvement in the Ukraine Conflict. Liam Collins, PhD, a retired Special Forces colonel, provides his views of the incident. “Reaper Down: Three Takeaways from Russia’s Intercept of a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle”, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 17, 2023.

Ukrainian Drones. Dodging incoming Russian mortars to spot where Russia is firing from is just a day in the life of a Ukrainian drone operator. Read an informative article by Howard Altman on the training drone operators receive and how the drone teams are employed. “Ukrainian Drone Pilot’s Frontline Account of Fighting Via Eyes in the Sky”, The War Zone, March 21, 2023.

New Russian Tactic. The Russians have been using emergency marine radio buoys to conduct more accurate strikes by aircraft or attack UAVs. The ACR RLB-37 GlobalFix buoys are dropped by UAVs. The transmission device provides a very accurate location signal for aerial attacks; it transmits coordinates of its location by using satellite communication. Russia is receiving drones from Iran and China.

F-16s and ‘Private Pilots’. One of the objections to providing Ukraine with the F-16 fighter is the extensive train-up needed for Ukrainian pilots. One retired U.S. F-16 pilot has a fix for that. “Deadliest F-16 pilot offers solution to Ukraine’s jet problem”, Euromaiden Press, March 18, 2023. It has been estimated that it would take six months to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16. (Euromaiden Press, March 20, 2023).

Maritime Activities

Sabotage of Nordstream Pipelines. In September 2022 an unknown entity (Moscow perhaps?) attacked gas pipelines just outside Swedish and Danish territorial waters. This attack has awaken Europe to the vulnerability of the underwater maritime infrastructure. Read more in “Maritime Sabotage: Protecting Europe’s Soft Underbelly”, by Walker D. Mills, Irregular Warfare Initiative, March 19, 2023.

Black Sea. The latest reports from the Pentagon state that the Russians are keeping three Kalibr cruise missile-capable ships off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea. The Russians are reported to still be searching for the MQ-9 Reaper downed by Russian aircraft in the Black Sea. It is unknown if they will be successful in their recovery efforts.

Grain Exports. The Russians have agreed to extend the grain initiative agreement for four more months. Turkey was instrumental in negotiating this deal. This allows shipping vessels to transport grain from Ukrainian ports through the Black Sea to other countries around the world. Read more about Ukraine’s grain in “Saving Ukraine’s economy: the grain giant fighting for survival”, Financial Times, March 22, 2023.

Ukraine Russia Conflict

World Response

ICC and Putin War Crimes. According to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Russian President Putin is responsible for the illegal deportation of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia. The arrest warrant will obligate the court’s 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory. “ICC judges issue arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine”, Reuters, March 17, 2023.

Russia and International Law. The Congressional Research Service has published a 6-page PDF entitled The Role of International Tribunals in the Response to the Invasion of Ukraine, March 22, 2023.

China. President Xi Jinping met with President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Russia in late March. Likely topics of discussion probably included sanction evasion schemes, the supply of equipment to Russia, and Chinese involvement in a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine. It is believed that some of Putin’s goals for the summit were not met.

US Army – Permanent Presence in Poland? In an effort to improve command and control capabilities and manage forward operating sites, the Army has established the U.S. Army Garrison Poland in March 2023. The Army now has 11 locations where its troops are stationed in Poland. “Army establishes permanent garrison in Poland”, U.S. Army, March 21, 2023.

Ex-Navy SEAL (Korea) Arrested. A former Korean Navy special forces officer who went to Ukraine a year ago to help that country defend itself against Russia has been arrested upon his return to Korea. “Ex-Navy SEAL admits violating passport law”, The Korea Herald, March 20, 2023.

U.S. Airlines – Hurting Due to War. Shortly after western nations prohibited Russian airlines from flying over Europe and the United States President Putin did the same. He restricted U.S. airlines from transiting Russian airspace. This has benefited other international carriers from countries like UAE, India, and China. “Banned From Russian Airspace, US Airlines Look to Restrict Competitors”, The New York Times, March 17, 2023. (subscription)

Banner Commentary


Defeating Russia. Hans Petter Midttun, a Norwegian naval officer, provides his perspective on what needs to be done for Ukraine to defeat Russia. The Russian winter offensive seems to be failing and Russian ground attacks have decreased significantly. However, the conditions that allow a successful counteroffensive by Ukraine have not yet been set. “What Ukraine needs to defeat Russia in 2023”, Euromaiden Press, March 22, 2023.

Appeasing Russia. Critics from the far right and far left are of the same view that Ukraine is not a conflict America should be involved in. The country is far away, it has never been an ally of the U.S., and Russia has some legitimate claims on part of the country. But there are some that fear what happens is the ‘appeasers’ win out. Read why giving in to Russia is a bigger mistake than Munich (1938). “The New Appeasement”, The Critic, January 2022.

Defense Strategy. Jim Mitre, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, sees the Ukraine conflict bringing about momentum for widespread change in the Defense Department. “How the Ukraine War Accelerates the Defense Strategy”, War on the Rocks, March 21, 2023.

Video – Historical Guide to Ukraine Conflict. The invasion of Ukraine is shattering the illusion that aggression is a relic of the past and a reminder that warmongering must be deterred by forceful resistance. “The Historical Guide to Dealing with Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine”, PolicyEd, YouTube, March 14, 2023, 3 minutes.

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

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.

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