Ukraine Conflict Update – January 2023

Destroyed Russian Tanks 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: Destroyed Russian tanks in the Sumy region, Ukraine. Photo by Irina Rybakova, press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, March 7, 2022.

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Top Story – Tanks for Ukraine

The biggest news of the past week is the announcement that Germany and the United States will be providing main battle tanks to Ukraine. The German Leopard 2 tank and the U.S. M1 Abrams tank on the battlefield will significantly increase the Ukrainian Armed Forces to defend against Russian offensives and provide more ‘punch’ to Ukrainian offensive operations. The announcement has generated a lot of media attention – one of the more informative and comprehensive news articles was penned by John Amble and John Spencer. “Leopards Into the Fray: How will German Tanks Affect the Battlefield Balance in Ukraine?”, Modern War Institute at West Point, January 27, 2023.

Leopard vs the Abrams. Most European nations have fielded the Leopard 2, so the delivery, maintenance, logistics, and training for the Leopard will be more easily done than the Abrams. The Leopards may very well be employed by late spring or early summer; while the Abrams are likely at least a year away from seeing combat in Ukraine. A lot of points were burned in the diplomatic effort of getting the Germans to this point; something that they will not forget, especially if they face economic reprisals from the Russians in the future.

Quality vs. Quanity. While the introduction of 100+ Abrams and Leopards will certainly give Ukraine a qualitative advantage, the fact that Russia has thousands of T-72s in storage that can be fielded over time is something to consider. Using waves of T-72s to take out the new tanks is one tactic the Russians can use; then follow with employment of the more modern and capable Russian T-90. Of course, along with the ‘quality’ of the Western tanks is the ‘long tail’ required for fuel, spare parts, maintenance, and logistics. Here is a look at some of the tanks that are found in Russia’s inventory. “Russian Heavy Metal: Putin’s Four Main Battle Tanks”, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, January 30, 2023.

Combined Arms Training Needed. The Abrams, Leopards, Challengers, and T-72s will add a good offensive punch to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, it needs to integrate the tanks with artillery and infantry. This requires training in combined arms maneuver – being versed in strategy and tactics. And that requires practice – which will be hard to do to prepare for soon-to-arrive 2023 spring offensives. “Tanks Alone Won’t Turn the Tide of the War in Ukraine”, The New York Times, January 27, 2023. (subscription)

Bridges – a Problem? One concern of fielding these modern tanks (in addition to feul, training, ammunition, maintenance, and logistics) is the state of the bridges in Ukraine. Many bridges spanning rivers in Eastern Europe will have trouble bearing the weight of tanks exceeding 60 tons. There are a lot of rivers in Ukraine; maybe not in the part that is east of the Dneiper, but enough to be worth considering. One of the real challenges of tank warfare is getting them across rickety Soviet-era bridges. (Breaking Defense, Feb 6, 2020). Check out maps that depict the location of rivers in Ukraine. (National Security Info).

Ground Situation

Static Situation. For the most part, over the past several weeks the ground war has been mostly static, with the exception of Russian forces trying to take Bakhmut (Google Maps) and Ukrainian forces mounting an offensive near Kreminna. (Google Maps). The Russians have experienced heavy casualties in their efforts to take Bakhmut.

Soledar in Russian Hands? A long fight has taken place for a town in the eastern region of Donbas – with heavy casualties on both sides. Most reports indicate that the Russians have achieved a rare but modest victory in the capture of Soledar (Google Maps).

Massive Strike on New Year’s Day. Just two minutes past midnight on New Year’s Day the Ukrainian military launched a HIMARS strike on a vocational school in the town of Makiivka (Google Maps) in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region that was being used as an assembly area for newly mobilized Russian soldiers. Estimates vary, depending on the news source, on the number of killed and injured – ranging from 200 to 600 KIA and many more WIA. In additional, military material and ammunition stocks were destroyed in the strike.

Winter Fighting – Advantage Ukraine? Brian Frydenborg writes that with the onset of winter the Ukrainians will likely fare better than the Russians. He says that logistics, morale, supply lines, and home turf are factors that favor Ukraine over Russia. “Uneven Snows: Why Winter Will Hurt Russia’s Military Far More Than Ukraine’s”, Small Wars Journal, January 1, 2023.

Another Russian Offensive? Some national security observers believe that Russia is positioning itself for another big offensive – one to take place in the next few months. Many of the Russians mobilized in the Fall of 2022 were sent to the front very quickly – lacking sufficient equipment and training. However, some were held back and formed into units; providing more capable reinforcements in time for a late winter or spring offensive. Although Russia has suffered tremendous losses in personnel and equipment – these losses are being offset with large mobilizations of Russians to fill out depleted units and establish new ad hoc units. In addition, domestic production of weapons and equipment has stepped up in Russia. Iran and North Korea have been providing assistance; in the case of Iran, a lot of drones have found there way to the Ukraine conflict. Many observers point to the Luhansk Oblast region as a target of the Russians once weather conditions improve.

Ukraine’s Bohdana Howitzer. The Ukrainian Armed Forces will soon receive 155mm howitzers that they have manufactured in Ukraine. The 2S22 Bohdana is a NATO-caliber 155-mm self-propelled howitzer on a wheeled truck. The production of these new artillery systems began in the spring of 2022. “Ukraine organized manufacturing of indigenous 155mm self-proplelled howitzer Bohdana”, Euromaiden Press, January 27, 2023.

Fight for the Skies

Ukraine Conflict in the Air. One of the surprises of the conflict in Ukraine has been the failure of Russia’s Air Force to achieve many of the objectives that national security observers thought would happen within the first few days of the conflict in February 2022. Military analysts had assumed that Ukraine’s air defenses would be destroyed and its aircraft shot out of the sky. This has not happened. However, there has been some Russian success. They have established local air superiority over the eastern zone of Ukraine where their troops hold territory; and they have been able to mount devastating attacks against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure causing electrical power and energy shortages. But still, Russia’s Air Force has been underwhelming in its contributions to the overall war effort. “How Ukraine Fought Against Russia’s Air War”, Lawfare Blog, January 22, 2023.

A Fragile Russian Air Force. The Russian Air Force has struggled over the past year in the Ukraine conflict. It entered the war lacking fully trained pilots and used the ones it had poorly. The use of veteran instructor pilots in combat roles is leading to a diminished capacity to train new pilots and to less experienced instructors due to combat losses. “Prolonged fighting in Ukraine is revealing the Russian air force’s fragility, researches say”, Business Insider, January 1, 2023.

Defeating the Russians in the Sky. Lt. Gen. Mykhailo Zabrodskyi of the Ukraine defense forces explains how the enemy air operations can be degraded. “Patriotic War: The Rivalry is in the Air”, Ukrinform.net, December 21, 2022.

‘Closing the Sky’. There are a number of emergent actions that should be taken to stop the constant rain of Russian missiles on Ukrainian military and civilian targets. “Four things Ukraine needs to close the sky in 2023”, Euromaidan Press.

Drone Warfare. In the past few years it has become apparent that large nations are not the only countries that can employ drones in warfare. During the peak of the fight against ISIS in Iraq, drones were employed by the Islamic State. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan saw very effective use of small armed drones used on a large scale. The eyes of many in the national security world are focused on how drones are changing the nature of warfare in the Ukraine Russia conflict. Turkey comes out a winner with its Bayraktar TB2 drone proving to provide a very effective punch for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Read more in “Mass-market military drones have changed the way wars are fought”, MIT Technology Review, January 30, 2023. See also “Ukraine Building Strike Drone Units”, The Defense Post, Inder Singh Bisht, January 30, 2023.

And Now . . . F-16s. Ukraine has got the decisions made for the supplying of main battle tanks by NATO countries. Next up? We will hear a lot about the need to defeat the Russians in the air and the need of F-16s to do that. President Biden says no U.S. F-16s will go to Ukraine. Olaf Scholz says that Germany will not send fighters to Ukraine as well. That doesn’t mean that F-16s won’t go to a European country that will in turn pass off their older fighters to Ukraine. France is open to sending fighters jets, as well as Poland.

Maritime Activities

There has not been a lot of maritime activity in recent months. The Russians continue to use their naval ships to launch missile attacks against Ukrainian military targets and civilian infrastructure. In addition, blockade activity continues, depriving Ukraine access to the Black Sea. The threat from sea mines remains high.

Map of Ukraine CRS April 2020

Maps

Mine Awareness Map
https://mine.dsns.gov.ua/
The State Service for Emergency Situations of Ukraine has an interactive map of mined areas.

Situation Maps.  War in Ukraine by Scribble Maps. View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces.

Maps of Ukraine
https://www.national-security.info/ukraine/maps.html


General Information

New Russian Paramilitary Group. A new military group, reportedly affiliated with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, has been active in Ukraine. The private military group has been spotted near the Ukrainian city of Vuhledar in Donest Oblast. It is said that the Patriot private military company is in competition with the Wagner mercenary group. “Another Russian Private Army Joins Ukraine War”, International Business Times, December 28, 2022.

Ukraine’s ‘Q’ Course. U.S. Army Special Forces helped the Ukrainian military set up a version of the Green Beret Qualification course. The ‘Q’ course assesses candidates under stress and pressure and teaches them the basics of their profession. Special Operations Command Europe, using members of the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, developed the course for the Ukrainians. “US special operators borrowed a unique part of Army Green Beret training to prepare Ukrainians to fight Russia”, Business Insider, January 24, 2023.

Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. View the UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation (Updated daily), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine.


Ukraine Russia Conflict

World Response

More Military Equipment to Ukraine. In January the United States announced a $2.5 billion assistance package for Ukraine – featuring Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, Stryker armored personnel carriers, ammunition, MRAPs, missiles, and more. Germany is providing Marder infantry fighting vehicles, France is providing AMX-10 light tanks, and Sweden is donating CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers. Many other European countries are also providing equipment – to include helicopters, UAVs, and more.

U.S. Financial Support. The Congressional Research Service has published a two-page brief entitled U.S. Direct Financial Support for Ukraine. PDF, January 10, 2023.
https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12305

CRS Report on Ukraine. An updated Congressional Research Service report entitled U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine describes the U.S. programs to Ukraine since 2014, types of defensive equipment, and future U.S. assistance. CRS, January 26, 2023, PDF, 2 pages.

Oversight on U.S. Assistance to Ukraine. Billions of dollars have gone to assisting the Ukrainian government and its military in their fight against the Russians. Naturally, there is concern that the money, weapons, and equipment are being used for the purpose for which they were sent. The U.S. has a plan for monitoring this vast aid flowing into Ukraine. The Inspector Generals of the Department of State, Department of Defense, and U.S. Agency for International Development are combining their efforts to provide oversight that is comprehensive, relevant, and transparent. Read more in JSOP-Ukraine Response: Joint Strategic Oversight Plan for Ukraine Response, DoS OIG, January 2023, PDF, 42 pages.

Banner Commentary

Commentary

Report – Baltic Conflict: Russia’s Goal to Distract NATO? Courtney Herdt and Matthew Zublic have published an eight-page report about the Russian threat to the Baltic states. They outline the danger that Russia poses to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithania – as well as to other nations in the region. In addition, the authors provide recommended near-term, medium-term, and long-term actions that the Baltic region states and NATO should take to mitigate the Russian threat. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), November 2022, PDF, 8 pages. https://www.csis.org/analysis/baltic-conflict-russias-goal-distract-nato

Resistance in Ukraine. Otto C. Fiala, a retired USAR Civil Affairs officer with SOF experience, provides his thoughts on the use of irregular warfare in the Ukraine conflict. Fiala is one of the authors of Special Operations Command (SOCEUR) and partner nations of the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) that was developed after the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014. “Resilience and Resistance in Ukraine”, Small Wars Journal, December 31, 2022.

‘Peace Through Exhaustion’. Many wars and conflict end without a clear victory by either side. Some end with one side more ‘exhausted’ than the other; forcing it to make some concessions at the negotiation table. Some wars end with both sides equally ‘exhausted’. The war is being fought on Ukraine soil; infrastructure damaged, an economy in ruins, high unemployment, and a limited manpower pool. The Russians are suffering heavy losses within its military ranks but it has a manpower pool three times that of Ukraine. Read more in “Peace by exhaustion in Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), January 25, 2023.

Three Scenarios Where War Ends. The Ukraine conflict could end sooner than many national security observers are forecasting. Read of a few ways that this could happen. “How the War in Ukraine Could End Sooner Than Expected”, The RAND Blog, January 17, 2023.

Russia, Manpower, and Reconsitution of Units. The Russians have taken significant losses over the past year in the Ukraine conflict. The mobilization of new recruits has not been a great success. Many have been sent to the frontlines with inadequate training and equipment as either replacements for depleted units or as members of an ad how unit haphazardly thrown together and pressed into the fight. There are lessons the U.S. Army could learn from Russia’s experience in fighting a protracted war with heavy casualties. Read more in “A People Problem: Learning From Russia’s Failing Efforts to Reconstitute Its Depleted Units in Ukraine”, by Michael G. Anderson, Modern War Institute at West Point, January 26, 2023.

Book Review – The Road to Unfreedom. Howard Ahmanson reviews a book by Timothy Snyder – a pub that intends to warn us about the threats to ‘freedom’ in America, Europe, and Russia. In his book, Snyder provides an early history of Russia and Ukraine and tries to explain something he refers to as ‘Christian fascist’ ruling ideology of ‘Holy’ Russia. “Timothy Snyder on the History Behind the Ukraine War”, Blog, January 3, 2023.


Resources about the Ukraine Conflict

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.

Weapons of the Ukraine War.
https://www.national-security.info/ukraine/weapons.html


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