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.
Earlier this afternoon, CBS News reported that according to an unnamed US official, Russian self-propelled artillery and mobile rocket launchers have been moved into firing positions near the Ukrainian border. Other Russian mechanized and motorized units have departed from their assembly areas and moved closer to the border, presumably to forward assembly areas where units stage and prepare for future operations. If true, these movements provide a concrete indication that hostilities are imminent. US intelligence has predicted a Russian attack will come on 16 February. Given recent events such as the upcoming visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Moscow on Tuesday, the timetable might’ve been revised.
With Wednesday anticipated to be the day a potential Russian attack might fall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared 16 February will be a national ‘Day of Unity.’ The move is an attempt to rally Ukrainians. The declaration’s aim is to “to strengthen the consolidation of Ukrainian society, strengthen its resilience in the face of growing hybrid threats, information and propaganda, moral and psychological pressure on the public consciousness.” Blue and yellow national flags will be raised above government buildings and the Ukrainian national anthem will be played on televisions nationwide at 10 AM. Zelenskiy’s move is being widely viewed as an official confirmation that an attack is expected on Wednesday, despite the Ukrainian leader’s skepticism about the day’s significance. Government officials were quick to point out the president was being ‘ironic’ when he mentioned being informed of a Russian attack planned for 16 February.
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.
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.
The fact that Russia more than likely intends to initiate military action against Ukraine is finally being accepted. For weeks now NATO, the European Union and the United States have been operating under the premise that diplomacy would break through and alleviate the crisis before it reached the critical stage. Now that it has become apparent Vladimir Putin has always intended for it to reach this point, NATO and the US are becoming serious about the defense of the alliance’s Eastern Flank. There is a significant amount of military activity going on in Eastern Europe. USAFE (United States Air Force Europe) is moving US warplanes into Romania and Poland to reinforce NATO air forces in the east. F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany have arrived in Romania and F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron/49th Fighter Wing have deployed to Lask Air Base in Poland. Great Britain is expected to deploy RAF assets to Romania as well as 1,000 troops and the US announced today that another 3,000 paratroopers will be moved to Poland by early next week.
Western governments are also advising their citizens to leave Ukraine as quickly as possible. The US, British and Israeli governments are just three of the many now issuing warnings as it becomes clear the amount of time for them to leave Ukraine could be running out.
Author’s Note: Very short update tonight and I apologize. Work interfered this afternoon. I had intended on a longer, more detailed update but unfortunately, that will have to wait until tomorrow. –Mike
This will be the first of two Ukraine Updates that will be posted on 18 January, 2022. The amount of activity in and around Ukraine, and related news and events in Europe appears to be increasing steadily with every passing hour.
Russia is continuing a drawn-out evacuation of its diplomats, embassy staff and dependents from its embassy in Kiev. The first departures began in the days leading up to the first negotiations between Russian and US officials in Europe last week. They have continued at irregular intervals since then. 50 people have left the embassy in total and a smaller number has departed from the Russian consulate in Lvov. Diplomats and staff at other Russian consulates in Ukraine have been told to be prepared to leave the country at some point in the coming days. The purpose behind this move is unknown. Some sources claim it is strictly a propaganda move to further cause uncertainty in Ukraine and the West. Traditionally, the departure of embassy staff and diplomats is a sign that hostilities are imminent. Yet until today, few people paid close attention to the comings and goings at the Russian embassy and consulates in Ukraine. In the wake of the cyber attacks last week, eyebrows are starting to be raised.
Material help from the West is continuing to arrive in Ukraine. Not in the numbers and types that will deter a potential Russian attack, but some is better than none. Great Britain has started shipping light anti-tank guided missiles to Ukraine. A small number of British troops will also arrive to assist with training. Canada has sent a contingent of special operations troops to Ukraine. The appearance of Canadian troops is expected to be part of a NATO effort to deter Russia from launching an invasion. These troops will also be tasked with helping to develop evacuation plans for Canadian diplomatic personnel in the event that an invasion does occur.
Russia has started moving military forces into Belarus, ostensibly to take part in the military exercise Joint Resolve, which is scheduled for February. The maneuvers are set to take place along the western border of Belarus, in close proximity to Poland and the Baltic States, as well as the southern border neighboring Ukraine. We’ve discussed the Russian obsession with using military exercises as cover for real military operations before. That is a topic that will be talked about more in the coming days.