Ukraine Update 11 March, 2022

  • Videos making the rounds on social media Friday evening appear to show large-scale Russian rocket attacks against the Ukrainian city of Nikolayev (Mikolaiv). Fear is growing that the city will soon be entirely in Russian hands, setting the stage for it to be a multi-direction attack on Odessa, 115 kilometers southwest of Nikolayev. At present, Russian forces are closing in on Odessa from three directions. If the city falls, Ukraine faces the danger of losing its entire Black Sea coastline to Russian control.  
  • Ukrainian intelligence is claiming 18 Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) have been rendered combat ineffective due to losses, with 13 others entirely destroyed. As with the majority of similar claims by the Ukrainian government or military, this one is currently lacking independent confirmation. Until it is confirmed, this information should be taken with a hearty grain of salt.
  • A purge of Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service) appears to be underway. Numerous reports from Moscow earlier today claim that Vladimir Putin’s dissatisfaction with the intelligence service’s dreadfully inaccurate estimates of Ukrainian resistance has led to the arrests of Col Gen Sergei Beseda, head of the foreign intelligence branch of the FSB and his deputy. Changes ae apparently coming to the FSB in light of its failures, which are partly responsible for the Russian military’s dismal performance in Ukraine so far.
  • The eastern axis of Russia’s land offensive in Ukraine is picking up momentum as it moves closer to Kiev. The danger facing Ukraine capital has increased significantly over the last day as indications of a major Russian assault in the near future grow more solid and numerous.
  • Reports have surfaced about a core of Ukrainian government officials having arrived in Poland to lay the groundwork for a Ukrainian government-in-exile, should it become necessary. I will discuss this more tomorrow. However, given events over the past 36 hours, Ukraine’s government is making preparations should the worst-case scenario come about.

Ukraine Update 1 March, 2022 (Early Afternoon)

Good Afternoon!

-The Russian defense ministry has released a statement warning that it will be carrying out strikes against specific targets in Kiev and is advising residents nearby to leave the area at once. The targets in the crosshairs are the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the 72nd Main Center for Information and Psychological Operations (PSO). “In order to suppress information attacks against Russia, the technological facilities of the SBU and the 72nd main PSO center in Kyiv will be hit with high-precision weapons,” the statement said, according to TASS. “We call on Ukrainian citizens attracted by Ukrainian nationalists to carry out provocations against Russia, as well as residents of Kyiv living near relay nodes leave their homes.” Relay nodes include television towers and earlier this morning, videos of Kiev’s largest tower being attacked were visible across numerous media and social media platforms. The fact that this attack was made in broad daylight came as a surprise to some observers.  More attacks are expected in the coming hours as darkness has arrived in Ukraine.

-The Polish government has confirmed it will not be transferring some of its air force’s combat aircraft to the Ukrainian air force. Slovakia’s defense ministry also stated officially that its aircraft are not going to Ukraine. So, the EU push to get member-states to send MiG and Sukhoi warplanes, similar to what the Ukrainians fly, to replace losses suffered by the Ukrainian air force, is officially dead. The Polish government grew anxious yesterday as reports that Polish airbases would be used by the Ukrainian pilots surfaced in the media. It is unclear whether or not this played a role in the program, or if the deal even truly existed in the first place. Disinformation and rumors are simply rampant at this point in the conflict.

-Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s impassioned speech to an emergency session of the EU Parliament was very well received. The Ukrainian president is pressing for a fast track to EU membership for his country, and at least in the short term, the Union looks determined to push the membership request through if at all possible.

-The situation in Odessa remains unknown at this hour as the fog of war continues to hang over the city and surrounding area. News of an aborted Russian amphibious assault this morning has been followed up by reports of Russian sailors staging a mutiny aboard the amphibious group’s ships or in their home port of Sevastopol. Photo and video coming out of the city show scenes of civilians hunkering down and preparing defenses around the city. An amphibious landing is certainly possible, as is an attack from the west out of Transnistria, where a sizeable force of Russian troops is positioned.

Ukraine Update 24 February 2022 (AM)

Good morning. As anticipated, Russian military operations against Ukraine commenced around 0500 hours Kiev time today. Following a televised speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he announced Russia was undertaking a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” the country under the pretense that Russia was defending itself, the first attacks began. In the opening hours, the fog of war was thick. A constant stream of reports were being broadcast from dozens of sources. Predictably, most of these ended up being false or deliberate disinformation. But it took time to separate the good, confirmable information from the less reliable or outright false reports crowding social media and other outlets. In light of this, I decided not to post an update around midnight since solid information was in such short supply.

For now, here’s a brief summary of military events of the past ten hours or so. I’ll cover political events in the early afternoon update

Military

-Russia commenced operations around 0500 Kiev time this morning. The first phase of the day’s operations were performed with textbook precision and timing. Airstrikes and missile attacks were conducted against Ukrainian military targets. Primarily, airfields, air defense headquarters and depots of various types were targeted in the first attacks. The Russian military claims its forces have destroyed the Ukrainian air defense system.

-Rumors of Russian amphibious landings at Odessa and Mariupol early in the morning appear to have been false, although there are reports of heavy fighting outside of Mariupol now and the live webcams that were broadcasting regularly from the city center have gone off the air. Odessa has been struck by a cruise missile attack, according to sources I consider reliable. However, the exact location of the attack remains unverified. Web cameras from various parts of that city are active and show no indications of fires, smoke or damage visible.

-A Russian airmobile attack (heliborne troops) has captured Antonov International Airport (aka Hostemel Airport) west of Kiev. Video was captured of Russian Mi-17 and Mi-8 helicopters flying low over Hostomel. Ukrainian interior ministry officials confirm the attack. Again, this is an operation directly out of the textbook. Russian doctrine calls for airmobile forces to be inserted deep into the enemy’s rear area to capture airfields, bridges and other vital objectives in the opening hours of a war. In this case at least, the operation appears to have been pulled off with a high degree of success.

-NATO military forces in Eastern Europe have increased their alert levels and adopted a defensive posture in view of the fighting having begun in Ukraine.

-Russian forces are entering Ukrainian territory from the east, north and south. Their progress on the ground is unknown at the moment, but its safe to assume that, at least for the prongs coming out of Belarus and Crimea, that Kiev is their objective.

I’ll try to get the next update out by 1 PM at the latest. –Mike

Ukraine Update: 10 February, 2022

The game pieces are set in place. Large scale military exercises have commenced in Belarus, the Black Sea and other areas. The buildup to hostilities is in its final phase with pressure on Ukraine intensifying by the hour and Moscow’s geopolitical moves shrouded in ambiguity.

Now is the time for Western focus to shift to the big picture and the realities of the moment.  Russia now appears far more likely to move militarily than it is to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. This has been apparent for weeks now. However, misreads on Russian intentions both geopolitical and military by Western diplomats and intelligence agencies have kept their heads embedded in the sand for weeks. During that period of miscues, precious time has been lost.

Russia’s upcoming naval exercises on the Black Sea are raising a considerable amount of concern. With the arrival of the final batch of amphibious assault ships and an additional Kilo class conventionally powered attack sub, the Black Sea Fleet announced that missile and gunfire exercises will take place between 13 and 19 February with the exercise expected to end on the 20th. A portion of the exercises will take place near the southern coast of Ukraine.

Ukraine is already complaining that the exercises are tantamount to a blockade since they will make safe navigation in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov very difficult. The foreign ministry of Ukraine said Russia’s actions “show blatant disregard for the rules and principles of international law.” Kiev has long accused Russia of attempting to strangle trade from its through de facto blockades. Ukraine, a leading exporter of steel, grain and sunflower oil, carries exports through ports on the Black and Azov Seas. These ports will be adversely affected by the upcoming Russian naval exercises.

Ukrainian Security Services Seize Russian Tanker

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From the Strait of Hormuz to the Black Sea, Tanker Seizure appears to be the latest rage. At the current pace I’m expecting to see it become an Olympic sport in time for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. This time it was Ukraine seizing a Russian oil tanker in the port of Izmail in the Odessa region of Ukraine. Ukrainian security services seized the Nemya, a Russian-flagged tanker that it suspects was one of the ships that took part in the blocking of the Kerch Strait in November, 2018. That incident led to Russia seizing three Ukrainian ships and nearly spilled over into a much larger conflict.

The Russian government was fast to respond, calling the seizure illegal and warning of consequences should the Russian crew be taken hostage. Ukrainian security services allowed the crew members to depart the ship and leave the country, stating that the sailors had no part in the November incident.

This action comes at a time when the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been working to arrange a prisoner exchange with Russia to get back the Ukrainian sailors apprehended by Russia back in November. It is too early to suggest just how severely today’s seizure will impact the effort, though it is fair to assume there will be a visible effect.

The detention of the Nemya marks the first major incident between Russia and Ukraine since Zelenskiy’s election in April. Despite the fact that the summer months have regularly been a time when fighting escalates in Eastern Ukraine, this summer has been relatively quiet so far. Zelenskiy’s geopolitical skills will be put to the test in the coming days and weeks as the drama involving the Nemya, and the Ukrainian sailors still in Russian custody plays out.