Ukraine Update 26 February, 2022 (Early Afternoon)

Good afternoon. At this moment, events and actions taking place in Ukraine continue to be at least partially blanketed by the fog of war. This has been the case since the first shots were fired early Thursday morning and will likely continue for some time. However, the fog is gradually starting to lift, and at this point the amount of hard information available will allow some conclusions to be reached and questions answered….

-Russia’s offensive is behind schedule and continues to face significant delays. Whether this is because of Ukrainian resistance or the fact that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, is unclear. It could be a combination of the two factors that have slowed the Russians down. On social media there have been a number of videos posted purportedly showing Russian supply convoys destroyed on roadways, victims of Ukrainian ambushes or air attack. Russia’s overall progress on the battlefield over the first two days of the war has been marked by success in some sectors and a lack thereof in others. It’s overall success, though, will be measured by how quickly it can capture Kiev.

-US DoD officials are estimating half of the Russian forces that had been massed alongside the Ukrainian border have entered the country. This leaves a considerable number of troops, vehicles and equipment uncommitted and available as reinforcements or replacements if required.

-Turkey does not intend to close the Bosphorus off to Russian warships, despite the flurry of claims that followed a tweet by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this morning. Ankara is bound by the Montreaux Treaty to allow Russian warships access to their Black Sea homeports.

-Ground based Ukrainian air defenses appear to be active still, if reports about the destruction of two Russian Il-78 cargo planes south of Kiev are accurate. The air picture remains convoluted, to say the least. Many reports and claims are going around, with little substantial information to back them up.

Next update will come in the early evening and with luck, I’ll focus it on preparations in Kiev for another  upcoming night of heavy fighting.

Ukraine Update 23 February, 2022 (Afternoon)

Ukraine is in the midst of another round of cyberattacks this afternoon. Earlier today around 4 PM, Kiev Time, a massive denial of service (DDoS) attack targeting government ministries and banks began. As of now, a number of government websites remain offline and there has been no comment identifying exactly which banks have been affected. Naturally, Russian involvement in the attack is suspected.

The cyberattacks came not long after media reports surfaced claiming US intelligence is expecting a full-scale Russian invasion to commence within 48 hours. Newsweek broke the story initially, adding that the Biden administration has relayed this information directly to Ukraine’s president. An unnamed US official also told Newsweek that there have been violations of Ukrainian airspace today for short periods of time, possibly by Russian combat aircraft. This would fit the assessment of a major attack coming within 48 hours, as last minute air reconnaissance sorties would be launched regularly in the final days leading up to the attack.

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Russian naval activity in the Black Sea and especially in the Mediterranean is being scrutinized carefully at this hour as well. The Russian Navy has two surface action groups (SAG), each one centered around a Slava class cruiser operating in close proximity to NATO carrier groups in the Mediterranean. A third SAG, is also underway in the Black Sea, positioned either to support a Russian amphibious landing against Odessa, or launch anti-ship missile attacks against any NATO carrier group that enters the Aegean Sea. The Mediterranean is a restrictive, tight waterway, especially east of Sicily. The first few hours of a Russia-NATO conflict would turn the eastern half of the Med into a shooting gallery.

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A state of emergency will take effect in Ukraine at midnight, 24 February, 2022. “Across the territory of our country, apart from Donetsk and Luhansk, a state of emergency will be introduced,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev. Ukraine’s parliament is expected to approve the measure within the next day or so. A state of emergency declaration will allow additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.

Ukraine Update: 20 February, 2022 (Early Evening)

Earlier today, CBS News reported that a US official revealed US has intelligence confirming that Russian commanders have received orders to proceed with an invasion of Ukraine. Subunit commanders on the ground are now making plans for operations in their sectors of the battlefield. The process of orders going down the chain of command is similar to a telescope. The theater commander receives orders from Moscow explaining in detail the political and strategic objectives of the upcoming campaign. The theater commander’s battleplan is broad, encompassing the big picture. Orders then go out to division commanders who formulate ops plans for their respective operating areas. The process continues down the line to regiment, battalion commanders and so forth.

By itself, this report could be disregarded as inaccurate, or the result of intentional Russian disinformation. However, there have been some other developments today that indicate the Russians could very well be on the cusp of moving. Russia’s Aeronautical Information Center issued a NOTAM (a Notice to Airmen) Sunday which will close most of the airspace over the Sea of Azov starting at midnight between Sunday and Monday. There have also been numerous reports of Russian naval vessels entering the Sea of Azov throughout Sunday. Three amphibious assault ships were among the vessels heading north into the sea. Now, Russia has been running naval exercises in the Black Sea for over a week now and the initial NOTAMs and warnings to maritime traffic did indicate the Sea of Azov will be used for part of the exercise. Some restrictions were dropped earlier in the week, yet its  possible that today’s notices are bringing them back into play.

Right now its after midnight in Ukraine. The NOTAM is active and all that can be done for the moment is to adopt a ‘wait and see’ posture between now and dawn. I’ll be posting another update later in the night.

Ukraine Update: 14 February, 2022 (AM)

Moscow is projecting the appearance of leaving a door open for further discussions of its security concerns, even as Russian military exercises continue and, in some cases, intensify. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting a need for further discussion, even as he emphasizes his nation’s worries about “the endless, in our opinion, and very dangerous expansion of NATO to the East.” At the moment, Putin is referring to the possibility of Ukraine becoming a NATO member. Putin met with his senior advisors today for an update. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Putin’s positive comments on more dialogue with NATO and the West while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that some of the military exercises are drawing to a close while others will end in the near future.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has embarked on the shuttle diplomacy circuit. Today, he is in Kiev discussing the crisis with Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky. Scholz has come under fire for Germany’s somewhat skittish support for Ukraine lately and hopes this trip will help to erase the looming misperception that Berlin has been reluctant to back Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia to curtain natural gas supplies to Germany.The German chancellor will arrive in Moscow tomorrow for talks with Vladimir Putin.

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 As Scholz arrived in Kiev, Western nations are withdrawing more embassy staff and military personnel from Ukraine. More airlines are also avoiding Ukrainian airspace as the crisis with Russia continues. The Ukrainian government announced it was ready to assume financial responsibility for the safety of aircraft flying through its airspace. Kiev has dedicated over $500 million to keeping its airspace open to commercial flights in the face of many insurance and leasing companies balking at carriers use of Ukrainian airspace as tensions and the threat of Russian military action rise.  

Ukraine Update: 12 February, 2022 (Afternoon)

US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin spoke for an hour this morning. Although an administration official has said the discussion was “professional and substantive” the conversation has not changed the situation. “The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead,” the official said. “Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility if it does the damage to Ukraine, European security and yes, Russia will be profound.” It has been accepted in Washington that military action is imminent at this point despite the threats of economic sanctions which have dominated Western responses in recent weeks. The main question remaining is: When will Russia move?

US officials have stated off the record that Wednesday is the most probable time for the commencement of hostilities. Personally, I’m in agreement. The exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea will both be reaching points where the it will be difficult for Western intelligence to determine if movements and actions are a part of the scripted exercises or the lead up to hostilities. Wednesday is not a given, either. An attack could be launched before then or after. In all likelihood, Putin’s original plan was probably not to attack after the Olympic games in Beijing ended. But given recent events, moving sooner will be beneficial. Russia’s strategic objectives have not changed, yet the fact NATO is now moving additional military forces into Eastern Europe gives him the incentive to start operations as soon as possible. Wednesday is most probable; however, it could come earlier in the week.

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Today, the US State Department has ordered an additional reduction of personnel for the US Embassy in Kiev. With the threat of war looming, and US citizens having been warned to leave Ukraine immediately, this move was expected. A core team of diplomats and personnel (what was formerly called a skeleton staff) will remain in place at the embassy but it will not be enough to coordinate evacuation procedures for US citizens there after hostilities begin. The Pentagon has also ordered the withdrawal of 150 Florida National Guardsmen who have been in Ukraine since later 2021 as part of a training mission. Great Britain is also withdrawing its troops who have been training Ukrainian forces.