Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 15MAR22–1; 1645 Eastern/2245 Kyiv

1.) Overnight, Russian missile attacks struck Kyiv, hitting several residential buildings including one 15 story high-rise that suffered through a subsequent fire. The building looked to have fires raging on many of its floors. Presumably, Russia managed to hit some military targets in between striking numerous residential buildings, but this isn’t yet confirmed. Ukrainian officials suggest dozens of fatalities, but this is also currently unconfirmed. In any case, this appears to be the largest number of explosions reported in Kyiv since the very beginning of the invasion, back when Russian forces thought they would be able to simply march into the city within a few days’ time. Kharkiv and Mariupol continue to receive frequent bombardment. Recent drone footage of Mariupol shows widespread destruction.

Analyst’s Comment: While the bombardment and targeting of Ukrainian civilian centers and infrastructures isn’t new at this stage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this activity does seem to represent the preponderance of current reporting through open source. It appears that, in large part, Russian advances throughout Ukraine have stalled and, in some cases, been rolled back to some degree — especially around Kharkiv and areas north of Mariupol, where in the latter case Ukrainians are trying to establish a “humanitarian corridor” in order to evacuate civilians and resupply the city. Russian ground forces just do not seem to be making any significant gains as of late. It could be an operational pause, during which Russian forces rest and refit and organize themselves for another offensive. It could also be the result of the widespread issues with logistics we’ve discussed, or difficulty back-filling losses of men and equipment. Make no mistake; there’s still substantial Russian combat power left in Ukraine, even if recent assessments have suggested that Russia has lost about 10% of the assets deployed in Ukraine. At least this combat power exists on paper. The logistical situation to apply that combat power might be problematic. Russian forces may be girding for a renewed offensive in the coming week. An influx of foreign fighters might help them in that respect. In any case, there appears to be a decided lack of aggression on the part of Russian ground forces, whatever the reason. It seems that at the moment, Russian commanders are content with lobbing explosives into Ukrainian cities. Perhaps this is an attempt at “enabling operations,” in which these attacks are intended to knock out Ukrainian assets, thereby enabling ground forces to advance more easily. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case. It looks haphazard and indiscriminate, mostly striking civilian targets. I suspect that at this point Russia is ambivalent about Ukrainian civilian casualties, and I expect to see many more in the coming days and weeks ahead. Frankly, however, I don’t see the situation regarding Russian advancement changing that much over the next week. In other words, these cities, such as Kyiv, Kharkiv (which suffered 65 strikes on Monday alone), and others, will see more and more missile and artillery strikes against seemingly random places. I do not believe that Russian forces will make substantial gains in the short term (7–10 days). End Comment.

1.a.) That said, satellite imagery shows the convergence of amphibious landing ships and surface combatants southeast of Odessa. There’s been a lot of speculation regarding the amphibious lift capacity in the Black Sea, and this lift capacity remains significant. However, we have not seen them make any moves to land troops. I’m no longer convinced that the Russians had ever planned on conducting an amphibious assault, at least not in the early stages of the invasion. For one, they haven’t a lot of experience doing it, and certainly not doing it contested. Secondly, I think that the presence of those amphibious assault ships was designed to threaten, as in divert Ukrainian forces away from the cities east of Odessa, such as Mariupol. In other words, a feint. That said, if an attempt does happen, I suspect that Ukrainian forces will use multiple launch rocket systems and other assets to engage those ships attempting to disembark landing craft. I don’t see the Russian air force being able to conduct suppression in the vicinity of Odessa at this time, although they seem to be attempting to do so. Recently, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense claims that Russian Naval and Air Forces fired 90 missiles against Odessa, some of which were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses. Odessa has had three weeks to prepare. A main thoroughfare in the city is littered with anti-tank traps. Piloting low-flying aircraft around Odessa will be undoubtedly problematic for the pilots.

1.b.) Ukrainian officials in Mariupol state that more than 2,500 civilians have died since the invasion began. This is an astounding number of fatalities.

2.) US defense officials have revised their estimates of Russian troop losses upward to between 6,000 and 8,000.

Analyst’s Comment: For perspective, this would amount to more official Russian fatalities than suffered throughout the entirety of the First Chechen War, which lasted for nearly two years. Russian claims that 5,732 troops were killed or missing during that war. It would also represent more killed than suffered in the Second Chechen War, major combat operations during which lasted around nine months, but was followed by an almost nine-year insurgency. This is more than the number of killed US troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan over twenty years. The number of wounded or otherwise incapacitated in Ukraine so far is undoubtedly significantly higher, and I can’t help but wonder how effective Russia’s casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) capabilities are. If we accept the ratio of 3:1 wounded to killed in action, then Russian wounded may be close to 24,000. These numbers may also represent, in part, why the ground offensives throughout Ukraine have stalled and why Russia is seemingly desperate to recruit Chechens, Syrians, and others to come to Ukraine. However, it should be pointed out that Russia will never release accurate numbers of its losses. Like the Roman legions two thousand years ago, Russian armies always kill tens of thousands of their enemies and always lose little more than a handful. This, of course, is sarcasm. Russian losses in Chechnya may well have been substantially higher. End Comment.

2.a.) A US defense official states that while Russia has deployed into Ukraine 100% of the forces it had previously assembled, at least 10% of those forces are out of the fight. It is not clear if this means killed, outright destroyed, or simply rendered combat ineffective. I assume it does include the destroyed vehicles and, likely, losses of men in terms of killed and wounded. The pieces of the puzzle may be coming together that will allow us to get a better idea of Russia’s combat capabilities.

2.b.) Oleksiy Arestovich, advisor to President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, told Reuters that the war will likely be over by early May because Russia will have run out of resources to continue to fight. Arestovich likely has better information than I do, but I am somewhat skeptical of this claim. It is, however, possible given all we’ve seen in the last three weeks. If it is true, it may be reflected in an increasing willingness of Russia’s delegation to come to some sort of agreement with Ukraine.

3.) As we previously reported in this space, Melitopol has a new mayor, installed by the Russian occupation of that city. Her name is Galina Danilchenko. She recently announced that, because of a “great deficit in trustworthy information being circulated,” Russian TV channels would soon begin broadcasting in Melitopol. This clearly did not sit well with the Ukrainian government, as Ukraine’s prosecutor general will begin investigating Danilchenko for treason, which comes in response to Melitopol city council members requests. Those members charged that Danilchenko was “dissolving the city government and transferring its powers to a People’s Deputies Committee.” The prosecutor general’s office stated that Danilchenko was “fulfilling the task set to her by her Russian Federation representative.” Further:

“In announcing the creation of a body not defined by Ukrainian law, this People’s Deputies Committee, the suspect called on Ukrainian citizens for their support and citizens of Melitopol to stop resisting the occupying forces.”

4.) According to US intelligence officials, Russia’s Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles have been using what are called “penetration aids,” or PENAIDS, in order to defeat Ukrainian interception efforts. PENAIDS come in many different varieties, and I used to study them as they pertained to ICBMs. And because I’m an intel nerd, I just spent an hour reading about PENAIDS and ICBMs. Hobbies aside, these Iskander-M parts appear to be decoys containing some manner of an electronics package that is fired from the missile itself, and then broadcasts false signals to confuse surface to air interceptors and associated radar systems. These have never been seen before on Iskander-Ms used in other parts of the world, such as in Georgia in 2008. They will be of great interest to NATO foreign material exploitation specialists who will no doubt examine them and figure out how to defeat them. The United States has an exceptional foreign material exploitation (FME) program.

5.) President Putin has signed a law allowing for the nationalization of 500 civilian aircraft, and to subsequently redeploy them for domestic use. Beyond the fact that the value of these planes equates to about ten billion USD, this is a very interesting development. I cannot see these aircraft flying very long. It is unlikely that they’ll ever be used again for any sort of service outside of Russia, since they will inevitably suffer from maintenance issues due to the myriad sanctions that won’t be lifted any time soon. I’m not an aviation engineer or mechanic, but some of the information I’ve seen suggests that due to the maintenance issues — they’ll be flown in Russia without proper spare parts — virtually no nation will ever let them be flown in their airspace again. Asian-Pacific countries are especially strict about recorded maintenance, and these aircraft will no longer have airworthiness certifications. As an aside, I remember a story from my air wing days, possibly apocryphal but certainly plausible, about Russian MiG maintainers drinking or distilling brake fluid, which resulted in inadequate readiness for platforms like the MiG-25 interceptor.

6.) The Russian-Ukrainian delegation will be meeting for the sixth time. Ukrainian officials express optimism that Russia is more willing to have constructive talks. I still find it very unlikely that Russia will agree to anything substantive at the moment (see above). The sole purpose of these talks seems to be posturing to delay.

6.a.) Russia has sanctioned the Canadian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Defense Minister. And a bunch of Canadian members of parliament. Also, it was reported that President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and “senior White House staff” are prohibited from entering Russia. I doubt any of the latter were planning on vacationing in St Petersburg any time soon, so all this is roughly as impactful as sanctioning my dog from chewing up rope toys. Russia has also left the Council of Europe, probably as a preemptive move to avoid expulsion.

6.b.) President Zelenskyy is scheduled to remotely address Congress tomorrow, 16 March 2022.

7.) I’ve seen a couple of videos of what can only be called Ukrainian “Technicals.” Technicals are, if you aren’t aware, essentially non-military vehicles with military weapons attached to them somehow. Think of the movie “Black Hawk Down.” Or the Mad Max series. Ukrainians have been seen putting captured Russian heavy machine guns on all sorts of things. In one video, what looks to be a 12.7mm machine gun of some type is affixed to a mount welded into the trunk of a convertible BMW. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen that configuration before.

8.) US officials have confirmed to NBC that Russia asked China for military equipment and other supplies, to include field rations, shortly after it began its invasion of Ukraine. In Rome, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan met with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi over seven tense (yet candid…) hours. It’s likely that the discussion about potential aid to Russia from China took up a considerable amount of that time. The White House isn’t disclosing details from the meeting, only the usual vague statements one typically hears, such as that the US has “deep concerns” about Chinese/Russian relations and that “the potential implications and consequences of certain actions” might be significant. In light of Russia’s request for aid, it seems likely that Putin and Chinese President Xi did discuss this war at some point before it began. It doesn’t take an exceptionally good analyst to have assessed that Russia would, likely at Chinese request, wait until after the cessation of the Olympic Games on 20 February to begin. Which is what happened. While China has not condemned Russia’s actions very strongly, I doubt that they really approve of the situation, but will wait to see how it plays out hoping to seek some advantage out of it. Additionally, several cities in China are currently under COVID-related lockdowns.

9.) The UN reports that three million refugees have fled Ukraine. This number of human bodies is very hard to comprehend. For reference, it is more people than live in Chicago, and almost twice as many as live in Philadelphia. They are all people who will need food, shelter and, likely, other humanitarian support. They are people, three million of them, who have had to leave their homes and their lives have been put on hold.

10.) A cameraman from Fox News was killed near Kyiv, reportedly by incoming Russian fire.

11.) Germany is reportedly planning to buy “dozens” of US-made fighter aircraft, primarily F-35s, in order to replace their aging Typhoon fighter. These platforms are intended to be nuclear-capable, and I don’t think the mention of that was accidental. Germany has endeavored to substantially increase its military expenditures. With similar sentiments throughout Europe, and an invigorated NATO, it seems clear that Putin’s fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

12.) Beware of sensationalist headlines. Numerous sites are reporting a buildup of some 30,000 NATO troops and several dozen warships in and around Norway. This is simply Cold Response 2022, an exercise that takes place every other year and one that usually gets very little media coverage. With tensions between Russia and NATO, however, some headlines give the impression that this is a bigger deal than it is. It was scheduled well in advance of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Though, to be fair, we all now know that exercises can be cover for other things, like invasions.

On a personal note, I have begun to literally incorporate the writing of these INTSUMs into what I can only describe as fever dreams. Dreams in which I am trolling open-source media and constructing words into sentences that hopefully someone finds useful. I almost never remember my dreams, so this is a little strange. It might also explain why I’m tired. I can only imagine what one must feel like in Kyiv or Mariupol or Kharkiv, but I’m sure their dreams are haunted by more fearful things.

More later. Thanks for reading.

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Halen Allison

Former Marine intelligence analyst. Current writer of words. Eventual worm food.