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.
Map: Donbas Region of Ukraine, US Department of Defense, March 29, 2022. According to a recent Russian military press conference Russia has attained its immediate operational goals and will now focus on the ‘liberation’ of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Read more on the Donbas region below.
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Russian Campaign Update
Donbas Region. The Russians have stated that it will now concentrate on the Donbas region of Ukraine as the main effort. This area is a historical, cultural, and economic region in southeastern Ukraine. Parts of Donbas are controlled by separatist groups who call themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Prior to the February 2022 invasion 2/3’s of the Donbas region was held by the Ukrainian government and 1/3 by the separatists.
Ground War. The Russians conducted offensive attacks in the Donbas region and in the seaside city of Mariupol. The Russians are withdrawing some of their units from their positions northwest of Kyiv and positioning in Belarus for refit and resupply. These units will likely cross the Belarus / Russia border and circle around through Russia to be inserted into the Donbas area of operations. There are new reports (early April 1) on social media that there was a large pullout of Russian troops from the north and west of Kyiv (unconfirmed).
Maritime Activities. Very little Russian naval activity has taken place for the last few days. The Black Sea has become a danger zone for shipping due to Russian warships firing on merchant ships and the presence of mines. Navigational warnings are out on the northwest, west, and southwest parts of the Black Sea.
Fight for the Skies. As of Thursday (Mar 31) the Russians have launched over 1,400 missiles into Ukraine. Neither Ukraine nor Russia have air superiority of the airspace above Ukraine. Both nations field sufficient anti-aircraft systems to make flights over Ukraine dangerous for pilots.
Where Not to Dig in Your Defensive Position. Russian troops in the vicinity of Chernobyl (think nuclear radiation contamination) have been moved from that area and are heading north into Belarus. Apparently they dug in defensive perimeters, disturbing radioactive soil, and now hundreds of Russian soldiers are sick.
Manning Shortage. National security experts often cite the vast resources of Russian manpower versus the finite numbers of the Ukrainian military. They then draw the conclusion that in a prolonged struggle, Russia will simply grind away at the Ukrainian army. After 2007, Russia made a stab at modernizing its military – buying equipment, but maintaining a much smaller army. Now it appears that Russia does not have enough soldiers – and that the differences between a conscript and contract soldier is very important within the context of the Ukraine conflict. “Is the Russian Military Running Out of Soldiers?”, National Interest, March 28, 2022.
Russian Conscripts to be Drafted. A decree was published by the Russian government on Monday (Mar 28) that stated Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 will be drafted from April 1 to July 15. The Russian Defense Ministry says conscripts won’t be sent to any ‘hot spots’. “Putin ordering draft of 135,000 amid difficulties in Ukraine war”, The Hill, March 31, 2022.
A Clueless Putin? Some news reports say that U.S. intelligence sources believe that President Putin has been misinformed about the invasion by his aides who are fearful of his reaction to the real situation on the ground in Ukraine. He apparently was unaware that ‘conscripts’ were deployed to and fighting in Ukraine. His aides have been giving him ‘good news’ instead of ‘bad news’ and during the weeks prior to the invasion provided an optimistic outcome to the invasion. He has responded with the firing of several intelligence and senior military officers.
The Ukrainian military conducted some local counterattacks in the Kyiv vicinity, in parts of northeastern Ukraine, and in the south. They seem to have the Russians on their back foot. Weapons from NATO and other countries continue to flow into Ukraine. The Ukrainians are holding onto the cities and key terrain in southern Ukraine along the coast of the Black Sea. The cities in this region face a ground force threat from the direction of Crimea as well as shelling and possible amphibious landings by Russian naval forces afloat in the Black Sea. Some social media accounts are reporting that Ukrainian helicopters crossed the Russian border and blew up a Russian fuel depot.
Kyiv. Russian forces were pushed north of the E-40 highway that runs east-west from Kyiv to western Ukraine. Some news reports say that the Hostomel airport northwest of the city is now in Ukrainian hands. About 20 per cent (and perhaps much more) of the Russian forces to the north and northwest of Kyiv are repositioning to Belarus. The capital city of Ukraine was considered the primary objective of the Russians and would have would allowed Russia to put in place its puppet government.
Mariupol. Located on the Sea of Azov, the coastal city of Mariupol is situated along the road network that would provide Russia with a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea. It has been a long slog for the Ukrainian defenders and horrific for its civilian residents. Most observers have been predicting the capture of Mariupol ‘in the next few days’ for the last few weeks. Over 100,000 residents await evacuation. There are accusations that the Russians are illegally deporting Mariupol residents to the Russian-occupied territories of Donetsk Oblast. Read more in “Voices from the siege of Mariupol”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2022.
Mykolayiv and Odessa. The Ukrainians are holding fast in Mykolayiv. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper River close to the coast of the Black Sea, Mykolayiv is a strategic objective for the Russians that is on the road to Odessa located further west along the coast of the Black Sea. Odessa is safe for the time being although it is getting shelled, especially in the neighborhoods along the shoreline. This is key terrain for the Russians. The capture of Mykolayiv and Odessa would pave the way for the Russians to control the entire shoreline of the Sea of Azov from the Donbas region all along the northern coastline of the Black Sea to the breakaway (Russian-held) Moldovan region of Transnistria. This would greatly enhance Russia’s strategic position in the Black Sea and reduce the economic power of Ukraine.
Negotiations. The talks continue. Various news and social media accounts say the two sides are getting closer to an agreement. Some observers say that this is just a ploy for Russia to look good in the international press while at the same time repositioning and refitting its troops for the next phase of the war.
A Possible Peace Deal? Conflict resolution isn’t just for wooly-headed idealists. Although the defeat of the Russian army, withdrawal of the Russian forces from all of Ukraine (including Crimea), and the replacement of Putin as the leader of Russia are all desired outcomes . . . it isn’t going to happen. Most all wars end via negotiations. And compromises must be made. “The Realist Case for a Ukraine Peace Deal”, Belfer Center Harvard University, March 29, 2022.
Video – Negotiating With Putin. A video compilation delivers highly relevant insights from Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Rex Tillerson on chatting with Putin. These former U.S. Secretaries of States provide some excellent advice on future negotiations with the Russians. Belfer Center, Harvard University, March 26, 2022, 55 minutes.
Russia and Nuclear Power Plants. Since the invasion on February 24 the Russians have seized two of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. The Chernobyl nuclear plant (closed 2000) was seized on the first day of the invasion. On March 4, the Russians attacked and captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service provides more details on the four nuclear power plants currently operating in Ukraine, reactor safety systems, reactor safety risks from Russian attacks, and the international response. Russian Military Actions at Ukraine’s Nuclear Power Plants, CRS IN11883, March 31, 2022, PDF, 4 pages.
Refugees, IDPs, and Humanitarian Crisis. As of March 31, 2022, over 4 million refugees have left Ukraine according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). The long term problem of Ukrainian refugees across Europe needs to be addressed. Read more in “With the Ukrainians, Avoid the Mistakes of Other Refugee Crises”, RAND Corporation, March 25, 2022.
Wheat and Ukraine. The ‘breadbasket of Europe’ will soon be trying to sow the soil at the same time it is fighting for its national survival. Planting season has arrived. But most of the country’s men are at war. Not only will this affect the supply of food over the next year for Ukrainians, but it will have a drastic effect in Africa and other parts of the world. “Ukraine’s other fight: Growing food for itself and the world”, AP News, March 29, 2022.
Military Trainers and Weapons
U.S. Vet Trains Ukrainians. For two weeks in March, Matt Gallagher – a U.S. war veteran and book author – trained Ukrainian civilians in the basics of urban combat in the city of Lviv, Ukraine. Here is his story. It is a good read. “Notes from Lviv”, Esquire, March 31, 2022.
California NG and Ukraine. The California National Guard has had a close working relationship with the Ukraine military and the Ukraine National Guard since 1993. Over the past 29 years the CA NG, as part of the State Partnership Program, has been paired with Ukraine – forming close partnerships between units and individuals that have lasted for decades. “Ukraine-California Ties Show Worth of National Guard Program”, The Sentinel, March 18, 2022.
US Not Training Ukrainians in Poland? The Department of Defense and Biden administration are taking extreme pains to ‘deny’ that the US is training Ukrainian troops in Poland. President Biden, during his visit to Poland last week, managed to confuse everyone when he indicated that American troops were training Ukrainian soldiers on Polish territory. Defense reporters are ‘digging into’ the story; perhaps wondering, if as these various weapons systems are handed off to the Ukrainians in various locations in southeast Poland that maybe ‘a little training’ might be taking place. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, has been insisting that any conversations or discussions about the weapons and material being handed to Ukrainians are not “training in the classic sense”. “US Says It’s Just Hanging Out with Ukrainian Soldiers While Giving Them Weapons, Not Training Them”, Vice News, March 30, 2022.
Javelin Missiles. One of the many factors for the ability of the Ukrainians to hold off a larger invading army with lots of tanks are the use of the Javelin anti-tank missiles. The U.S. has been providing the Javelins for several years. Read about the capabilities of this anti-tank weapon and how the Ukrainians are employing it on the battlefield. “DEEP DIVE: The U.S. Military Program to Arm Ukraine with Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles”, The Sentinel, March 2, 2022.
Bushmaster Troop Carriers. It appears that Australia will soon be helping out Ukraine with some armored vehicles. The Australian designed and built Bushmaster will likely be transported by C-17s in a matter of weeks. The vehicles are highly mobile and will safeguard its occupants against mines, IEDs, small arms, artillery blasts, and fragmentation. The Australians have about 1,000 Bushmasters in their inventory. some are in service with the UK Special Air Service, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and other nations. Could Australia’s Abrams tanks be next? “Australia to send Bushmaster armoured vehicles to Ukraine”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, April 1, 2022.
Cyber and Information Operations
Ukraine’s Internet – Still Working. Constant attention by telecom workers and exaggerated assumptions about Russia’s cyber capabilities has proved some cyber experts wrong. Many thought that Russia would interrupt Ukraine’s use of the internet, but it hasn’t happened. Although a decline in traffic has taken place, messages on social media and other means are getting out to the rest of the world. That is helping Ukraine drive the narrative about Putin’s War. In addition, essential services are still up and running as well as the cellular phone service. Read more in “How Ukraine’s Internet is still working despite Russian bombs and cyberattacks“, The Washington Post, March 29, 2022.
Spies Sent Home. A number of European countries have sent Russian ‘diplomats’ home. Many of them are probably up to no good – conducting intelligence gathering missions. Several nations expelled Russians on Monday (Mar 28) and Tuesday (Mar 29). In previous days, other nations have done the same. “Europeans expel dozens of Russian envoys to combat espionage”, AP News, March 29, 2022.
U.S. Forces to Remain – For a While. The 82nd Airborne Division elements (about a brigade), air units, and others (totaling about 20,000) sent in February and March will likely remain there for a while. Most are now in the frontline NATO states of the Baltic republics, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. The USS Harry S. Truman carrier Strike Group will remain in the Mediterranean Sea for an indefinite period as well. The United States continues to provide Ukraine with a mixture of weapons systems, body armor, food, helmets, small arms, ammunition, and medical supplies. The 100 Switchblade drones that has captured the world’s attention have yet to reach Ukraine.
Podcast – Russia’s New Line. Polina Ivanova, Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, talks about the recent Russian military press conference (Mar 25) that seemed to walk back Russia’s war aims in the Ukraine conflict. Lawfare Podcast, March 28, 2022, 35 minutes.
UK’s Integrated Review. For the past few years, the United Kingdom has embarked on a doctrinal shift and transition from Europe and the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region. It has reorganized its forces and taken on new equipment requirements to make this new adjustment. This major endeavor was called the Integrated Review or IR. In fact, it prompted a restructuring of British special forces as well. Now the problem of Russia once again emerges as a primary concern for Europe. “What is to be done? Ukraine and the IR”, Wavell Room, March 23, 2022.
Ukraine War – Winners and Losers. Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at the big picture and predicts who the winners and losers are in the war thus far. Ukraine and NATO look like winners, Russia and the United Nations look like losers. Germany has stepped up and China is caught in the middle. “The early winners and losers in Putin’s War”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, April 1, 2022.
Full Force Russian Invasion and NATO Half Measures. History may very well judge the West harshly for being over cautious and not intervening earlier and more decisively in the Ukraine conflict. At the same time that we withhold equipment vital to Ukraine’s defense (aircraft, tanks, etc.) and refrain from more effective actions (no-fly zone and boots on the ground), we encourage the Ukrainian’s to fight on against overwhelming odds. Two former intelligence officials share their thoughts with us in “The Cruelty of Half Measures in Ukraine”, The Cipher Brief, March 28, 2022.
SOF News welcomes the submission of articles for publication. If it is related to special operations, current conflicts, national security, defense, or the current conflict in Ukraine then we are interested.
Maps and Other Resources
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
Maps of Ukraine
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/.
UNHCR Operational Data Portal – Ukraine Refugee Situation
Ukrainian Think Tanks – Brussels. Consolidated information on how to help Ukraine from abroad and stay up to date on events.
Janes Equipment Profile – Ukraine Conflict. An 81-page PDF provides information on the military equipment of the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces. Covers naval, air, electronic warfare, C4ISR, communications, night vision, radar, and armored fighting vehicles, Ukraine Conflict Equipment Profile, February 28, 2022.
Russian EW Capabilities. “Rah, Rah, Rash Putin?”, Armada International, March 2, 2022.
Arms Transfers to Ukraine. Forum on the Arms Trade.