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: Staff Sgt. Dave Servida, 436th Aerial Port Squadron ramp supervisor, directs weapons cargo bound for Ukraine onto a C-17 Globemaster III during a security assistance mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 19, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cydney Lee)
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Failed Winter Offensive (Russia) and Future Counteroffensive (Ukraine). The results of fighting over the winter was costly for both sides of the conflict. Now all eyes are watching the Ukrainian military for its expected spring offensive. Some analysts believe it will be a major attack at one focal point with the intent to thrust deep into the Russian rear area reaching the Sea of Azov. But others think it will be a series of shorter offensives spread across the front line. Currently, Ukraine is attacking Russian logistical depots and command and control centers behind enemy lines with artillery and missiles. Ukrainian officials are being quiet on when the counteroffensive will take place and have mounted a campaign against public disclosure of details – “Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm”. (Twitter, June 4, 2023)
Has It Begun? There is speculation that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has already begun. U.S. officials say there are signs that a counteroffensive is now underway. Fighting is raging at several points on the front line. Most military analysts believe the attack will be concentrated on southern Ukraine in an attempt to sever the land bridge between western Russia and occupied Crimea.
News Reports on Counteroffensive:
- “This is Ukraine’s D-Day”, by Jamie Dettmer, Politico Europe, June 6, 2023.
- “Ukraine Intensifies Attacks on Russian Frontline Positions”, The New York Times, June 5, 2023. (subscription)
- “Is Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Here?”, The New York Times, June 5, 2023. (subscription)
- “Ukraine war: Kyiv says troops advance on eastern front”, BBC News, June 6, 2023.
NATO-Trained Units and the Coming Offensive. Ukrainian units have had personnel trained by European nations for months. Some of these units have been made from scratch – like the brand-new 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade that received its training at a NATO base in Germany. The 47th brigade and other assault units have been armed with Western weapons, including Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and Leopard tanks, that will allow it to cross minefields and trenches into the deep Russian rear area of operations. “NATO-trained units will serve as tip of spear in Ukraine’s counteroffensive”, The Washington Post, June 4, 2023. (subscription)
Battle for Bakhmut. The fight for the small industrial city on the frontlines in eastern Ukraine is in a temporary operational lull. The Russians appear to have reached their culminating point (no more capacity to conduct offensive operations) and are relying on the use of artillery and mortars to continue the fight around the city. The Russians announced that they achieved their objective of capturing the city. The Russian paramilitary organization, the Wagner Group, is pulling its forces to the rear for rest and refit; while the ground held is being turned over to regular and airborne Russian military troops. A Ukrainian defense spokesman said that at the end of May Ukrainian forces maintained control over the southwestern outskirts and entrance to Bakhmut City.
Increased Global Support for Ukraine. The Biden administration has given the green light for other nations to provide F-16s to Ukraine. This is one of many ‘signals’ that global support for Ukraine has increased and that nations are more willing to provide more lethal offensive weapons to that nation; weapons that can strike deep behind enemy lines and threaten Russian positions in Crimea. Ukraine is enjoying strong support throughout most of the world – even as the conflict rages on. Some think the conflict is at a turning point. “Did Ukraine just win the war?”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, May 30, 2023.
Microsoft Report – Russian Cyber Operations. A Microsoft Threat Intelligence report has been published that analyzed Russian tactics over the twelve-month period since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The 18-page PDF examines what the investigative team has learned about Russian state tactics so far and what may be on the horizon. “A year of Russian hybrid warfare in Ukraine”, Microsoft, March 15, 2023. The United States is reported to have provided $37 million in cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine. (The Kyiv Independent, June 5, 2023).
Tank Numbers. When the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022 they had a significant advantage in tanks and armored vehicles. However, the tank numbers are now about equal due to Russian losses and tanks provided to Ukraine by European nations. “Ukraine now probably has as many tanks as Russia”, Euromaiden Press, June 1, 2023.
Minefields and Fortifications. The Russians have been digging in for months in anticipation of an expected Ukrianian offensive to recapture territory taken by the Russians since February 2022. One expected axis of approach for the Ukrainian offensive is Zaporizhzhia region and the city of Melitopol. However, it is unknown if Ukraine has the necessary quantity of mine clearing and fortification breaching equipment to rapidly push through the Russian lines. “To liberate territory, Ukraine must smash fortified Russian defenses”, The Washington Post, June 2, 2023. (subscription)
SOF – Preparing the Battlefield. Expectations are high for a widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive; perhaps too high. However, Kyiv is already making the first moves of the campaign with its special operations forces. “Ukrainian Special Forces – Preparing the Battlefield”, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), May 22, 2023.
Chechen Leader Criticizes Wagner Group. Ramzan Kadyrov has come out vocally against the leader of the Wagner Group – Yevgeny Prigozhin. He says that the leader of the Russian paramilitary group should not criticize the Russian military and should provide more vocal support for Putin. Chechen “Akhmat” forces have been active on the frontlines supporting the Russian occupation of Ukraine. Prigozhin has accused the Kremlin of fabricating a rift between him and Kadyrov.
The Other Russian Mercenaries. While the Wagner Group gets most of the headlines there are numerous private military groups in Russia . . . some fighting in Ukraine. “Everyone is talking about Wagner. But who are Russia’s other mercenairies?”, Euronews, May 16, 2023.
Sabotage Cells in Russia. Ukraine has cultivated sabotage agents inside Russia and is giving them drones to stage attacks. The drones have been launched from inside Russia; some targeting the Kremlin. (CNN Politics, June 5, 2023).
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.
Fight for the Skies
Air Attacks Continue. Despite reports over the past several months that Russia has been expending its supply of missiles the pace of the air attacks is continuing. A combination of drone and cruise missiles have targeted command and control nodes and logisitical facilities over the past four weeks – many times in the nations capital of Kyiv. In the past month over 400 Iranian Shahed drones and 114 cruise missiles (Politico) have struck Ukraine.
F-16s for Ukraine. There is a lot of support for NATO nations to provide F-16s to Ukraine. After months of public lobbying by Ukraine there appears that some may be going to Ukraine. In May, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. will support training Ukrainian pilots to fly the aircraft and has said he supports the providing of F-16s to Ukraine by Poland and other European nations. While the public may have high expectations for the F-16 there are many factors that will need to be taken into account. “What F-16s Will (and Won’t) Do For Ukraine”, The RAND Blog, May 31, 2023. See also “Ukraine’s Quest for Air Superiority: The Implications of F-16 Fighter Jets in the Conflict”, SOFREP, May 20, 2023.
Drones – Cost Effective. One defense expert has conducted research on the cheapest and most effective means of destroying infantry or armored units. He has found that, in many instances, the use of small drones comes out on top. “Study shows drones the cheapest, most effective in battle against Russian invasion”, Euromaiden Press, May 28, 2023.
Ukrainian Naval SOF Unit. A quiet but intense battle is raging near Kherson, which Ukraine recaptured from Russia last year. The fight is happening along the Dnipro River, which divides Ukrainian and Russian-held territory. The 73rd Naval Center of Special Operations appears to be leading the effort for Ukraine. “A secretive SEAL-like unit is leading Ukraine’s shadowy battle against Russia in a vital corner of the country”, Business Insider, May 28, 2023.
Importance of the Black Sea. Mara Karlin, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities spoke at the Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum in Bucharest, Romania in mid-May 2023. In her comments she stated that the Black Sea is a crucial crossroads for the world and is an area of critical geostrategic importance. “U.S. Official Looks to Deter Russia in Black Sea Region”, DoD News, May 19, 2023.
Report – Middle East and North Africa: Implications of the Russia-Ukraine War. Congressional Research Service (CRS), updated June 2, 2023, PDF, 30 pages.
Documentary on Mariupol. A film named “20 Days in Mariupol” made its premiere in Ukraine on June 3, 2023, when it was seen by the first time by some of the Ukrainian medics and first responders who were chronicled in the documentary. The film is a joint project between The Associated Press and PBS Frontline and footage was taken from three Ukrainian journalists who were in Mariupol during the seige and capture by the Russians. “Award-winning Mariupol documentary screened for 1st time in Ukraine”, AP News, June 4, 2023.
Ukraine and Military Observers. History shows us that sending military officers to observe foreign wars yields benefits. We should send some to Ukraine to prepare our forces for the future. “U.S. Military Observers and Why They Are Needed in Ukraine”, War on the Rocks, May 12, 2023.
Additional U.S. Assistance. On May 31, 2023, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that President Biden has authorized the 39th drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine. This will provide an additional $300 million worth of equipment. The security package includes significant air defense capabilities, ammunition for HIMARS and artillery, and other field equipment. Some of the air defense equipment includes additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems, Avenger air defense systems, Stinger antiaircraft systems, and AIM-7 missiles for air defense. A Fact Sheet on U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine (dated May 31, 2023) details the security assistance provided to Ukraine since February 2022.
Body of U.S. Green Beret Recovered. Nick Maimer, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier, was killed in the embattled city of Bakhmut in mid-May 2023. He was performing humanitarian work and training defense forces when he was killed. The Russian paramilitary organization, Wagner Group, turned the body after efforts by Perry Blackburn, another former Green Beret associated with the non-profit organization AFGfree, interceded into the affair. “Body of US Special Forces Veteran Turned Over by Russian Mercenary Group”, Military.com, May 26, 2023. Watch a video about the death of Maimer in “CNN pieces together clues about American killed in Bakhmut”, CNN World, May 26, 2023.
What Ukraine Must Do to Win. Two retired U.S. Special Forces officers, Erik Kramer and Paul Schneider, provide their perspective on what the Ukrainian military needs to do to be victorious in the conflict with Russia. They are co-founders of the Ukraine Defense Support Group headquartered in Kyiv, Ukraine. They observed a series of common trends: lack of mission command, effective training, and combined arms operations. The logistic and maintenance systems are ad hoc. The use of special operations forces needs to be fine-tuned. One specific aspect of training that is needed is the implementation of a 30-day train-the-trainer program that focuses on mission command of combined arms from the brigade level down. “What the Ukrainian Armed Forces need to Do to Win”, War on the Rocks, June 2, 2023.
What is Russia’s Strategy? Putin may have already attained his goals in Ukraine. He has occupied the entire western coastline of the Sea of Azov, captured vital Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, established a land corridor between Russia and Crimea, and occupied swaths of agricultural and industrial regions of eastern Ukraine. His military will outlast Ukraine’s in a war of attrition, the vital support of western nations may ebb over time, and Ukraine’s economic future is in peril. Read more in “What Is Russia’s Strategy in Ukraine?”, Modern War Institute at West Point, June 5, 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