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: 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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The war has turned into a strategic quagmire for the Russian president. Early in the conflict the Ukrainians stopped the Russian military’s attack on the capital of Kyiv and forced the Russians back. The second largest city of Ukraine is Kharkiv located in the northeast of the country; the Ukrainians were successful in defending the city and eventually pushed the Russians back. The Ukrainians are making headway in the south and in the east as well. Any advances the Russians are making are relatively small incremental and limited gains, mostly in the east but at great cost.
Ukrainian Gains on the Ground. It appears that Russia is slowly losing its grip on the region around the southern city of Kherson (Wikipedia). Some Russian troops west of the Dnieper River (Wikipedia) could soon be surrounded. Advances are being made due to the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) provided by the U.S. (Breaking Defense, Oct 18, 2022).
Offensive in the South. For several weeks the Ukrainian military is pursuing the Russians along three lines of attack in the southern city of Kherson. There is the possibility that a significant Russian force may soon be encircled in this area of operations. Kherson has been occupied by the Russians since early March but the Ukrainians seem intent on taking it back. Russian authorities have said they will assist in helping civilians evacuate Kherson for safer areas in Russia. In fact, an evacuation seems to already be underway. “Russia orders evacuation in Kherson amid Ukrainian advances”, The Hill, October 14, 2022. See also “Ukraine poised for crucial blow to Putin in battle for Kherson”, by Colin Meyn, The Hill, October 21, 2022.
Fight in the Skies
Air Defense Requirements of Ukraine. The United States and its allies are working to increase the air defense capabilities of Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian forces have had some success at shooting down the Russian missiles but they need more air defense capabilities. “Ukraine Urgently Needs Air Defense Capabilities”, DoD News, October 14, 2022.
The Ukrainians are holding their own in the skies; they have been able to rebuff Russian missile and drone attacks. (Coffee or Die Magazine, Oct 19, 2022) Although Russian cruise missiles and drones have been successful in attacking some infrastructure (energy) targets in Ukraine. The Russian Air Force has met with much less success. One of the reasons is the Ukrainians use of Kropyva software (Forbes, oct 18, 2022) to track Russian warplanes. The Russian Air Force, despite having numerical superiority, has had difficulty in taking out the Ukrainian aircraft and air defense forces.
Russian Missile Strikes. Massive missile strikes were conducted by Russia in mid-October in retaliation for the Ukrainian targeting of the Kerch Strait Bridge. The Russians attacked major cities across Ukraine with Kh-55 and Kh-101 cruise missiles launched from strategic bombers. In addition, the Russians used Shahed-136 drones (Iranian) against Ukrainian infrastructure. The Russian airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure will likely not have much effect on Ukraine’s military capability and probably will not lower the morale of the Ukrainian civilian population.
Running Low on Missiles? Some commentators are speculating that these type strikes will not be as frequent in the future as Russian cruise missile inventories are running low. In addition, Russia lacks sufficient numbers of precision guided missiles to severely impact the battlefield. “Russia’s airstrikes, intended to show force, reveal another weakness”, The Washington Post, October 14, 2022.
Drone Warfare. Iran is providing Russia with Shahed-136 drones (Wikipedia) that are being used in attacks against Ukrainian targets. There are reports that Iranian (New York Times, Oct 18, 2022, sub) and/or Syrian technicians are in Crimea training Russians on the use of the drones. Many of these drones have been interdicted by the Ukrainian air defense systems. The use of drones by Ukrainian and Russian forces in the conflict has revealed a new aspect of warfare (1945, Oct 18, 2022) – low cost weapon systems can have an outsized effect on the battlefield. The Iranian drones have increased Russian strike capability and lethality (Long War Journal, Oct 18, 2022) in the conflict. There are indications that Iran may supply Russia with surface-to-surface missiles as well
There are usually from five to ten Russian warships operating in the Black Sea. For several months they have been firing rockets into Ukraine; although many have been intercepted. The Black Sea Fleet has been exercising caution since its flagship was sunk by the Ukrainians this past April. There are reports of Russia using dolphins for maritime security. See “Russia’s Killer Military Dolphins Are Defending Its Crimean Naval Base”, Military.com, October 14, 2022.
Generals Fired. At least eight Russian senior generals have been moved out of positions since February 2022, the start of the invasion. The Defense Ministry has moved General Sergei Surovikin to lead the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Annexation of Ukrainian Territory. The Russians have formally annexed areas of eastern Ukraine into the Russian Federation. Parts of this annexed territory are not under the control of the Russians. There likely will be a growth of irregular activities and resistance by the occupied population. The international community has declared the action illegal.
Moves by Putin. The Russian president is intent on his war with Ukraine – and it appears he is doubling down. He has mobilized thousands of Russians and hastily sent them to the war zone. His military is striking civilian infrastructure – damaging logistical centers, transportation hubs, and energy facilities (Washington Examiner, Oct 18, 2022). In addition, he is using the energy card with Western Europe to try and diminish its support for Ukraine. There have been massive blackouts across the country – a deep concern now that winter is approaching.
Russia’s Mercenaries – The Wagner Group. The mercenary group has become a vital cog in Moscow’s military machine and has proved to be the most capable infantry that the Russian army has in Ukraine. The leadership and many members of the group have deployed to Syria, Mali, and the Central African Republic. The group is reported to have better leadership than the Russian army and many of its members are former Russian special operations personnel. “Wagner Mercenaries Buttress Russia’s Battered Army”, Barrons, October 20, 2022.
Foreign Volunteers. The foreigners flocking to the fight on the side of the Ukrainians are getting a lot of media attention. The question remains as to the effectiveness of these volunteers. On an individual basis, the integration of foreigners into the Ukrainian military is certainly helpful. However, there is real value in some of the activities of organizations like the Mozart Group – specialists and subject matter experts – providing valuable training to members of the Ukraine military.
Cyber and Information Operations
Russia’s Narrative. NATO and the international community views the Ukraine / Russian conflict as a war of aggression by Russia. However, from the Russian perspective, this is framed as a war against NATO. Putin still has significant support among the Russian elite and general population. But there are cracks appearing.
Deception, Kherson, and Kharkiv. In early September, the Ukrainians conducted a classic deception campaign. They ‘signaled’ a building of forces in the south of Ukraine to take the Kherson region back from the Russians. In order to defend Kherson, the Russians pulled units out of the north and eastern conflict zones and repositioned them in the south. But . . . the Ukrainians mounted a large offensive in the Kharkiv region pushing the Russians out of large swaths of territory. “The Kherson Ruse: Ukraine and the Art of Military Deception”, Modern War Institute at Wet Point, October 12, 2022.
The End of the War. Brian E. Frydenborg is seeing Ukraine becoming victorious over Russia in the current conflict. While it may take many months or longer, he believes that major ground combat operations in Ukraine could be a thing of the past. He does note that conflict may very well take place for a long time along Russia’s border with Ukraine. He thinks that the Ukrainians will likely pursue more territory in the east than try and take Crimea. “This Is the Beginning of the End of the War”, Real Context News, October 6, 2022.
Ukraine and Inspiration. Daniel Elkins, the founder of the Special Operations Association of America, has spent considerable time in Ukraine. He provides his perspective on the valiant Ukrainians fighting the invaders and occupier’s. “Why Ukrainians Will Always Inspire Me”, Newsmax World, October 20, 2022.
Podcast – The Great Equalizer: Irregular Warfare in the City, Modern War Institute at West Point, October 21, 2022, 48 minutes. John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point and Sergeant Major Charles Ritter, of the Special Warfare Center and School explore the realities of urban combat in densely populated areas and whether urban spaces favor the insurgent or the government.
How Did the CIA Get it Wrong? Most national security observers thought that Russia would quickly overwhelm Ukraine, capture Kyiv, and remove the government in a matter of days in February 2022. They were wrong. The Central Intelligence Agency didn’t do much better according to some critics. High-tech surveillance may have blinded the U.S. how corruption has weakened the Russian military. In the early days of the conflict CIA intelligence assets and ‘special operations personnel’ were pulled out of Ukraine, but now – according to some observers – they are back in. “The CIA Thought Putin Would Quickly Conquer Ukraine. Why Did They Get It So Wrong?”, The Intercept, October 5, 2022.
Ukraine and Future Regret. Douglas Macgregor, a retired military officer, provides an alternative view of the U.S. involvement in the Ukraine Russia conflict. He believes that Ukraine’s current gains on the battlefield will be short-lived. Russia will put to good use its vast economic resources and greater manpower pool – and will soon be on the offensive. The U.S. will be stuck with supporting a loser in the conflict. Read more in “War and Regrets in Ukraine”, The American Conservative, October 19, 2022.
NATO’s Response. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, made up of 30 nations, has been very strong in its support of Ukraine. One open question is how long with this support last. The conflict appears to becoming one lasting years not months. Thus far, the nations of NATO have, to varying degree, been providing significant amounts of military weapons and equipment. There are some challenges looming ahead. Winter is coming and much of the energy needs of Europe (especially Germany) are met with the importation of gas and oil from Russia. In the longer term, is the question of whether NATO can keep its focus on the Ukraine conflict.
Forfeiture of Russian Oligarch’s Assets. A recent Congressional Research Service fact sheet outlines the background, legal context, and process for the issue of seizure warrants for luxury yacht and airplanes located in various foreign countries and owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs. “Forfeiture Trail for Russian Oligarch’s Luxury Assets”, CRS, October 13, 2022, PDF, 2 pages.
101st Abn Div in Romania. The U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division is in Europe making its contribution to the NATO alliance. The division’s air assault mission provides a unique military capability to NATO forces. Currently deployed just miles from the Ukrainian border it stands in the way of any Russian aggression toward Romania – a NATO member. “Elite U.S. troops practice for war just miles from Ukraine’s border”, Yahoo! News, October 21, 2022.
Canadian Sappers Train Ukrainians. Canada has announced that it will be sending approximately 40 combat engineers to Poland to help train Ukrainian sappers on engineer reconnaissance, explosives, mining, and demining. Canada is already training new Ukrainian recruits in the UK and training Ukrainian artillery personnel on the M777 howitzers that Canada donated to Ukraine. “Canadian Sappers to Help Train Ukraine Forces in Poland”, Barron’s, October 11, 2022.
EW, ALE, GLE, and Ukraine. The U.S. Army is looking to air- and ground-launched platforms to more effectively wage electronic warfare. The ALE and GLE platforms would be outfitted with equipment capable of jamming, spoofing, or collecting intelligence. This enhancement of capability would be crucial in neutralizing the capabilities of advanced adversaries (Russia and China). The war in Ukraine highlights the importance of flexible assets in the air and on the ground. “Jam, spook and spy: US Army looks to energize electronic warfare”, C4ISRNET, October 9, 2022.
Europe – More Aid as Well. Ukraine will be receiving four IRIS-T air defense systems and additional MARS rocket systems and howitzers from Germany. Spain is sending four HAWK launchers for aid defense.
Artillery Rounds – Keeping the Russians at Bay. One of the key aspects of the ground war in Ukraine is the prominence of indirect fire or artillery on the front lines and in the rear areas just behind the front lines. Ukraine’s fight against Russia has gobbled up an incredible amount of artillery rounds, with over a million provided by the U.S. alone. “Ukraine Has Received Over a Million Artillery Rounds From the U.S.”, The War Zone, October 21, 2022.