Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 25MAR22–1; 1500 Eastern/2100 Kyiv
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has entered its second month of a four-day operation.
1.) From Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Twitter page at 0938 Eastern on 24 March 2022: “Exactly one month since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine; it is going according to plan, and all the stated goals will be achieved…Life is returning to normal in the territories already liberated from nationalists.” Meanwhile, Ukraine and Russia both seem to agree on something and report that more than 400,000 people have been relocated from Ukraine to Russia, though the former says they’ve been forcibly removed, and the latter says they wanted to go. We are probably witnessing forced migration, which will have lasting, harmful effects. It is also a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, described in Article 49 of the same. In other words, it is a war crime. I think that we are witnessing the revelation of Russia’s true goals in Ukraine, and it isn’t “de-Nazification.” It’s the destruction of Ukraine and its people.
2.) President Biden is visiting Poland today, evidently to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda, speak with US troops in the country, and to see the humanitarian crisis taking place as a result of the Russian invasion. It will be interesting to see if seeing firsthand what is happening will induce certain sentiments in the US president. Presidents are people, too, and can be swayed just as easily as anyone else. What that might mean is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t be the first time in history that a leader had altered course upon seeing up-close human suffering. In addition to this, there’s been some news about the removal of Russia from the G-20, though that is not something the US could do unilaterally.
3.) Ukraine conducted an attack using what was believed to be a Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) against the port facility of Berdyansk. The missile appears to have struck near enough of one ship, the Alligator-class landing ship Saratov (or possibly the Orsk) and set fire to port facilities. The Saratov/Orsk suffered catastrophic damage as result of the impact, and subsequent secondary explosions and fire. It reportedly sunk at five meters in depth, though whether the missile hit the ship or hit nearby ammunition/fuel stores is unclear. The Tochka-U has a CEP of 70 meters, so it’s doubtful it was directly targeting the ship and was instead targeting the port itself. The video shows several tugboat type vessels fleeing, as well as two other Russian ships, the Kunikov and Novercherkassk, attempting to speed away from the burning Saratov/Orsk. One ship was most certainly on fire, but both were reportedly damaged. Subsequent reports suggest that fuel storage caught alight. Not likely coincidentally, Russian media released a video several days ago showing a ship offloading equipment, such as BTR-82s, at virtually the precise location the SRBM struck. Russian state news TASS hailed the arrival of these vessels as an “epic event” that “opens up new possibilities for the Black Sea in terms of logistics.” I’m sure the Ukrainians were paying close attention, and it would not be very difficult to get pretty solid targeting data, which is probably exactly what happened. They knew the ships were there and offloading equipment to supply Russian forces in southern Ukraine. The damage to the port’s facilities is unknown but look heavy. They can be repaired, however. The larger issue is the sunken Saratov/Orsk, which now blocks part of the dock. This may negatively impact Russian resupply in the region, which is likely the exact opposite of what the Russians consider an “epic event.” Ukrainian forces continue, it seems, to target Russian logistics.
Analyst’s Comment: Losing any type of warship, landing or otherwise, is significant. Russia can’t simply replace this ship, which can carry about 20 tanks and a couple hundred troops. Building ships takes time, and Turkey under the Montreux Convention won’t allow ships not based in the Black Sea to pass through the straits. Russian forces will now have to decide where they want to keep their ships, as parking them in capture ports poses significant risk. While I’m sure the Ukrainians were hoping to strike a ship or at least damage one or two heavily, I doubt they anticipated actually sinking one. I think they got lucky here, and Russia seems to have planned the storage of munitions/fuel at the port very poorly. [End Comment]
3.a.) In addition to this strike, Ukrainian Presidential Aide Arestovych claims that a successful strike was conducted at around the same time against the command post of the 49th Combined Arms Army (CAA), destroying said CP and killing Lieutenant General Yakov Rezantsev. This marks the sixth Russian general killed. Reznatsev, who commanded the 49th CAA, may have been responsible for some of the Russian activity in Mariupol. Such as…
4.) Drone footage was recently released showing the utter destruction of Mariupol. It’s the sort of scene you’d expect to see from footage of the damage caused by strategic bombing raids against Germany cities in the Second World War. When this ends, Ukraine is going to need substantial assistance in rebuilding these shattered cities.
5.) NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) seems to give a good indicator of a Ukrainian counter-offensive northwest of Kyiv, near Irpin and Hostomel. There have been reports that some Russian units are cut off entirely. Data also seems to show significant activity deep in Russia’s rear, along the logistical lines, likely showing Ukrainian engagement of convoys. Things don’t appear much better for Russian forces to the east/northeast of Kyiv, with video showing Ukrainians having captured a Russian position, vehicles and all, possibly somewhere near Nova Basan, which is some forty miles from Brovary.
5.a.) Speaking of fires, the Kyiv city council asked residents to close windows and use air filters due to the air quality as a result of fires.
6.) Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor for The Economist, reports that “Putin is “all-in” to continue the war” despite losses. Additional battalion tactical groups (BTGs) are being brought in from Kaliningrad and the Far Eastern Military District, the latter of which is a long way from Ukraine. Citing an estimate by an unnamed official, La Guardia states that “20 of Russia’s roughly 100–120 BTGs are “no longer combat effective.””
Analyst’s Comment: I’d expect to see Russia begin to rotate some of these BTGs back to Belarus or Russia in order to refit and repair damaged equipment. Additionally, BTGs with the most losses will probably be absorbed into others or reorganized into new BTGs. If Russian forces planned on operating for a few days, they did not likely anticipate having to conduct unit rotations. New BTGs from Kaliningrad and/or the Far Eastern Military District, while fresh, will not have the institutional knowledge possessed by the units they’re replacing. There will be a very steep learning curve, especially if those BTGs aren’t particularly well-trained to begin with. As a result, it seems almost certain that these units will see heavy casualties if thrown into the mix without some sort of turnover process. Obviously, they’ll be facing a highly motivated enemy that has a lot of experience and is operating on its home terrain. Similarly, losses to Russian tank and armored vehicle crewmembers appears significant and horrific. Not only will Russia have difficulty replacing these vehicles, but arguably the larger issue is replacing these crewmembers. As of this writing, Ukrainian forces have outright destroyed 124 tanks alone. Given the catastrophic explosions seen in a number of these losses, due in part to poorly designed ammunition storage and the usual Russian lack of care regarding crew survivability, it seems that a great many tankers have been killed. This says nothing of the 95 destroyed armored fighting vehicles, 149 infantry fighting vehicles, and 19 armored personnel carriers. These BTGs need adequate training in order to be effective. This will become a significant issue. [End Comment]
6.b.) Sky News reporter Deborah Haynes reports that Russian troops ran over their commander, Colonel Medvechek, who was in charge of the 37th Motor Rifle Brigade. Evidently, this was due to the number of losses the unit had suffered. While it may be circular reporting given the lack of details, some days ago it was reported that a Colonel Medvedev was run over by troops driving a tank, but that he was medically evacuated to Belarus. It’s probably the same person, but these things can be confusing. The 37th has reportedly lost ~50% of its 1,500 soldiers.
7.) Belarusian President Lukashenko stated in response to Poland’s proposal to send NATO peacekeepers into Ukraine that it “will mean World War III.” This World War Three term is thrown out a lot. It’s supposed to be the Big Bad Scary™ phrase, and the primary purpose is to whip up fear and uncertainty.
Analyst’s Musings: At this point, the only threat Russia seems to pose to the West is the nuclear option. The vaunted Russian military is increasingly looking like a myth. Granted, Russian nuclear arms are scary. I’ve seen “The Day After,” and “Threads.” I don’t relish the thought of living in a post-apocalyptic world. However, given all I’ve seen over the past month, I can’t help but wonder how well those nuclear arms have been maintained. For all I know, the launch of Russian ICBMs might result in the sound of a thousand mummies breaking wind as they struggle to lift their bulk out of dilapidated silos (see talk about precision-guided missiles, below). Don’t take these musings as evidence that I think a nuclear exchange between the US/West and Russia is something for which I’m advocating. Even a handful of strategic nuclear weapons can cause, well, a lot of things, none of which are good. These are just things I think about over drinks. [End Musings]
7.a.) On a related note, Russian state TV and other state-sanctioned media outlets have begun to frame this invasion as an existential threat. Remember that term; it’s one of Russia’s proclaimed justifications for the use of nuclear or other WMD-type weapons. The significance of this type of state messaging cannot be understated. Russian officials have said, repeatedly, that the use of such weapons is not off the table if Russia perceives itself to be under an existential threat. US officials have stated that they’ve engaged in contingency planning, and frankly, the subject is oft discussed. It’s sexy and scary and is no doubt on the nightly news, which I don’t watch. But if you do, I’m sure you’ve seen it. One senior administration official suggested that if Russia used even a small tactical nuclear device in Ukraine, then “all bets are off” in terms of NATO staying out of the conflict, but would not describe what that would mean.
8.) Russia reportedly will allow 67 ships from 15 nations stranded in Ukrainian ports safe passage out. This is allegedly due to risk of shelling and mining operations, though it is unclear whether Ukraine or Russia is the one doing either. That said, Russia doesn’t have a great track record with allowing safe passage.
9.) Three US officials speaking anonymously to Reuters have stated that Russian precision-guided missiles are failing at a rate of 20–60%, depending on the type and the day. Similarly, the failure rate for bomblets from cluster munitions also appears quite high, as does the failure rate for other munitions. Ukrainian EOD has been busy recovering unexploded bombs, rockets, and bomblets, with numerous videos showing their efforts.
10.) Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl on Thursday stated, “I think with a high degree of certainty that Russia will emerge from Ukraine weaker than it went into the conflict. Militarily weaker, economically weaker, politically and geopolitically weaker, and more isolated.” Kahl indicated that a soon-to-be released Pentagon strategy document will no longer consider Russia able to “pose a long-term systemic challenge to the United States,” but will instead list Russia as an “acute threat.” Kahl added that Russia is rapidly depleting stocks of precision-guided munitions (PGMs). Reportedly, Russia has fired over 1,250 missiles into Ukraine. Recently released footage from the Russian Ministry of Defense shows an Su-34 with dumb bombs. You never know with Russian MOD propaganda, but they haven’t appeared very savvy in the operational security environment lately.
11.) Not much is said about the “foreign legion” in Ukraine, which features soldiers from a host of nations who traveled to Ukraine to help in the fight. One recently released video, however, shows an American talking about the destroyed Russian tank, which no longer has a turret, behind him. I’ve seen the guy’s Twitter account, which I won’t share here, but he states he’s the only American of which he’s aware in his area of responsibility (AO).
As I occasionally mention, I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of things that might be of interest or significance to the events taking place. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not have an all-seeing eye. If you happen to see something you think is worth noting, feel free to let me know. More to follow as news develops. As always, thank you for reading.