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: Soldiers of 1 A Squadron, Queens Royal Lancers (QRL) patrolling outside Basra, Iraq onboard a Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank during Operation Telic 4. Photo by UK MoD.
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Big Picture of the Conflict
Fight for Bakhmut. The small city in eastern Ukraine is surrounded on three sides by the Russians. The Ukrainians will likely make the difficult decision to retreat from the industrial city before it is entirely surrounded. The Wagner Group, fighting alongside the Russian military, has been in the forefront in the fight for the city using waves upon waves of mercenaries and released prisoners to attack positions of the defenders. If the defenders retreat, it will be just a few kilometers to the rear to long-planned defensive positions. The city, with a prewar population of 70,000 is largely uninhabited – most of the people have fled – about 6,000 remain. Many of the buildings in the town have been completely destroyed or damaged. The fight for this city has gone on for over nine months. It is reported by NATO that the troop losses in the battle have been five Russians for every one Ukrainian. “Ukrainian forces cling to Bakhmut as Russia attacks from three sides”, The Washington Post, March 5, 2023. (subscription)
Bakhmut – Withdrawal Soon? Ukraine may soon decide that the costs of keeping the Russians out of a the city is too high. For many months the Russians have struggled to take the city – at great material and human cost. But a dogged defense by the Ukrainians along with poor tactics by the Russians have resulted in a long slog for the Russians. The cost of holding the city by the Ukrainians may soon outweigh the benefits. Taking the town of Bakhmut would be a symbolic victory for Moscow; although it is not operationally significant. It is very likely that Ukraine will conduct a time-phased, methodical withdrawal from the city to well-prepared positions just to the west of Bakhmut. However, there are news reports that Ukrainian generals are asking President Zelensky to keep troops in Bakhmut. (The Kyiv Independent, Mar 6, 2023). The request may have been successful – there are reports that more Ukrainian reinforcements are heading to Bakhmut.
- “Ukraine may ‘strategically pull back’ from embattled Bakhmut”, The Hill, March 1, 2023.
- See also “Fortress Bakhmut” by Seth Cropsey, Real Clear Defense, March 6, 2023.
- And there is a comprehensive study of the fight in “The End of the Battle of Bakhmut?” by Phillips OBrien, Phillips Newsletter, March 5, 2023.
- “Bakhmut defenders double down – Zelensky”, BBC News, March 6, 2023.
- “Ukrainian civilians grapple with heart-wrenching decisions as Russin forces surround Bakhmut”, CBS News, March 6, 2023.
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. View more Ukraine SITMAPs that provide updates on the disposition of Russian forces. 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. They also provide an interactive time-lapse map of the war.
Stalemate on Front Lines. There has not been a lot of movement on the ground across the frontlines in Ukraine over the past few months. The long-awaited Russian offensive either hasn’t happened or was much less than expected. The Ukrainians are still waiting on the arrival of armored personnel carriers and main battle tanks from Western European nations. That, and the weather and terrain conditions are not yet condusive for large-scale maneuver operations. Once the snow has melted, the spring thaw passes, and the ground is firm then offenses by either side may very well take place. Some experts following the year believe that, although Ukraine cannot dislodge the Russians from the coast of the Sea of Azov, the Russians are not going to make much headway either. One of the biggest reasons is the Russians are not learning from their past mistakes over the last year. (Slate, Mar 6, 2023).
Tanks and Russia. A year ago it seemed as though Russia’s numerical superiority in tanks would assure the country a quick victory. Apparently the only thing all those tanks did was provide Ukrainians with a target-rich environment for their inexpensive shoulder-fired weapons and improvised explosive-laden drones. Watch a video that explores the real reasons Russian tanks keep failing in Ukraine. (Sandboxx, Feb 24, 2023, 20 mins).
Tanks and Ukraine. Western tanks will be able to outperform Russian tanks and will make a difference on the battlefield. However; that depends on how many, when they will arrive, and if the proper logisitical and maintenance programs and training are in place. “How Western Tanks Will Make a Difference in Ukraine”, CEPA, January 26, 2023. The struggle to deliver Leopard 2 tanks for use against Russian forces has exposed just how unprepared European militaries are. “Scrounging for Tanks for Ukraine, Europe’s Armies Come up Short”, The New York Times, February 28, 2023. (subscription). However, some of the modern battle tanks are making their way to Ukraine; like the Leapard 2 tanks provided by Poland. (Breaking Defense, Feb 24, 2023).
UKR Bn Completes CA Training. Ukrainian soldiers have graduated from the first battalion comined arms training course at the U.S. Army’s Grafenwoehr training area in Germany. The training was focused on the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle. About 635 Ukrainians completed the five-week long course. “Ukrainian battalion completes first combined-arms training in Germany”, Army Times, February 17, 2023.
Fight for the Skies
Ukraine SOF and Drones. An informative article describes the role of drones in Ukrainian special forces operations, how Ukrainian SF are leveraging drones for surveillance and intelligence gathering, and how the drones are enhancing the capabilities of Ukraine’s SOF. “The Role of Drones in Ukrainian Special Forces Operations”, TS2.space, March 2023.
Starlink and Drones. Portable sat-comm gear feeds drone video to Ukrainian artillery batteries and provide battlefield situational awareness to commanders. Read about the men and women of Ukraine’s 93rd Brigade “Seneca” drone unit; a unit using commercial ‘off-the-shelf’ drones, Starlink, and Google Meet in the effort to defeat the Russians. “How Elon Musk’s Starlink is Still Helping Ukraine’s Defenders”, Defense One, March 1, 2023.
F-16s for Ukraine? Retired Colonel Jeffrey Fischer lays out a plan for how Ukraine can get advanced jet fighters to fight the Russians. “Retired Air Force Colonel Lays Out ‘Affordable’ Plan to Get Ukraine F-16s”, Newsweek, February 22, 2023.
Nothing Significant to Report (NSTR) on this front. It is expected that naval warfare is poised to play a smaller role in year 2 of the Ukraine War. (Breaking Defense, Feb 24, 2023). Turkey is working behind the scenes to arrange for more grain shipments from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.
U.S. and Ukraine
SAG-Ukraine . . . Officer Reassignment. Brig. Gen. Ronald R. Ragin, deputy commander for support, Security Assistance Group-Ukraine, Germany, will be posted to be commanding general, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Europe-Africa, Germany.
More U.S. Aid to Ukraine. On March 3, 2023, the Department of Defense announced it was transferring up to $400 million in military equipment to Ukraine. The security assistance package features ammunition and support equipment. The package includes ammo for HIMARS and artillery pieces, armored vehicle-launched bridges, demolitions munitions for obstacle clearing, and more. Read a list of the equipment to be provided.
CRS Report – Aid to Ukraine. The Congressional Reseach Service has updated its U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine “In Focus” report. This one is dated February 27, 2023 and is a 3-page long PDF. Topics include an overview of programs since 2014, the provision of defense equipment, recent legislation, and the prospect of future assistance. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12040
More U.S. Funding? Not a Sure Thing. The Republicans in the House of Representatives could very well make future funding bills for Ukraine problematic. Supplemental appropriations may not pass as smoothly as it has in the past. The Biden administration will have to be more creative in its approach to Congress on this issue. There are six potential options that can be used to solve this potential problem. Read about them in “U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine is Going to Get Complicated”, War on the Rocks, March 3, 2023. For more on this topic monitor a virtual event by the Hudson Institute entitled Support for Ukraine’s Defense in the 118th Congress to take place on Friday, March 10, 2023. Luke Coffey and Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) are the featured speakers.
Accountability of U.S. Aid. Thus far, as the end of February, the United States had provided over $31 billion in support to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion one year ago. Allies and partners have provided over $19 billion during that timeframe. With so much material and equipment flowing into a combat zone it is only natural that some ‘stuff’ will be diverted. U.S. officials have been up front with their Ukrainian counterparts regarding the importance of accountability and transparency. Read more in “U.S. Ensures Accountability of Systems Supplied to Ukraine”, DoD News, February 28, 2023.
DOS and Justice in Ukraine. The U.S. Department of State explains how it is holding individuals accountable for war crimes and other atrocities in the Ukraine conflict. Read more in “Supporting Justice and Accountability in Ukraine”, DoS, February 18, 2023.
US SOF Learn Lessons From Ukraine. Russia’s struggles in Ukraine are showing US special operators that they’ll need to fight without their ‘tethers’ to win future wars. The war shows that a robust logistical network is needed to sustain frontline forces; however – for US special operators a network won’t always be available. Business Insider, February 28, 2023.
UKR SOF – “Test Your Gear”. At a special operations conference held in Florida Ukrainian SOF said that U.S. defense manufacturers should bring their gear to Ukraine to try it out againsta an enemy. “Come Test Year Gear Against Russian Forces, Ukrainians Urge US Defense Firms”, Defense One, March 3, 2023.
NATO and Undersea Infrastructure. The sabotage of the Nord Stream energy pipeline in September 2022 has the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forming up the Critical Undersea Infrastructure Protection Cell. The organization will enable better coordination between key military and civilian stakeholders and with industry. “NATO stands up undersea infrastructure coordination cell”, NATO, February 15, 2023.
Luxembourg – Providing Outsized Aid. The tiny country in western Europe has a small army of 1,000, one cargo plane, two helicopters, and fewer than 200 trucks. But it has some money to spend so it is buying weapons and military equipment on the open market and sending to Ukraine. “How a Tiny NATO Nation Tackled a Big Problem: Arming Ukraine”, The New York Times, February 17, 2023. (subscription).
UN – Demands Russian Withdrawal. The United Nations General Assembly has called for ending the war in Ukraine and demanded Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the country. The world body adopted the resolution during an emergency special session. There were 141 Member States in favor and seven against. The seven against included North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria. China, India, and Pakistan were among the 32 abstentions. “UN General Assembly calls for immediate end to war in Ukraine”, UN News, February 23, 2023.
Report – China and Russia Relations. In the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s reliance on China’s economic and political support has grown. A CRS report identifies key features of the relationship, PRC and Russian perspectives of the relationship, and areas of cooperation between the countries on matters of defense, energy, economics, and the global order. China-Russia Relations, Congressional Research Service (CRS), February 24, 2023, PDF, 3 pages.
Wagner Group and Bakhmut. Regular Russian troop formations and units of a Russian paramilitary group are engaged in the fighting against the Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut for many months. However, it appears that there may be a ‘rift’ between the two ‘allied’ forces. “Russia’s Wagner boss suggests ‘betrayal’ in Bakhmut battle”, BBC.com, March 6, 2023. The number of fighters with the Wagner Group in eastern Ukraine is apparently around 50,000 strong. Sean McFate briefs us on three ancient strategems to win against mercenaries drawn from history that could turn the tide of the war for Ukraine. “How to Defeat Russia’s Mercenaries”, Newsweek, March 6, 2023.
Mercenaries – at the End of the Ukraine Conflict. When the conflict ends in eastern Europe the thousands of mercenaries (those that manage to live through the war) will likely end up in hot spots in Africa. The Wagner Group and other international paramilitary organizations will have a huge recruit pool to hire from. “Mercenary Shocks: What the War in Ukraine Will Eventually Mean for Africa”, by Raphael Parens, War on the Rocks, February 17, 2023.
Report – Putin’s Stealth Mobilization. Candace Rondeaux and Ben Dalton provide a detailed and informative account of Russian irregulars and the Wagner Group’s Shadow Command Structure. New America, February 22, 2023.
Report – Avoiding a Long War. Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe argue that the Ukraine war is not going to end soon. In this publication they discuss U.S. policy and the trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. RAND Corporation, PDF, 32 pages, January 2023. The paper is a topic of discussion in a podcast posted by War on the Rocks, February 16, 2023, one hour, entitled One Year of War in Ukraine.
Understanding Putin. There is a lot of speculation of what Putin will do if he is ‘victorious’ in Ukraine – does he go further into eastern Europe in future years? At the same time national security observers worry on what he will do if he starts to lose in a big way – does he use tactical nukes? Most people are guessing and don’t really know. “The Guessing Game about What Putin Will Do If He Begins to Lose Even More Badly in Ukraine”, McFaul’s World, March 3, 2023. Also by McFaul is “Why Vladimir Putin’s Luck Ran Out”, Journal of Democracy, February 2023.
Podcast – European Land Warfare. Kyle Atwell hosts Dr. Benedetta Berti and Lieutenant Colonel Jordan Becker in a podcast entitled The Politics of Coalition Warfare. It focuses on the lessons learned in Ukraine and the strategic and political dynamics of the NATO alliance. Modern War Institute at West Point, March 6, 2023, 48 minutes.
Resources about the Ukraine Conflict
Maps of Ukraine
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.