Russia’s Frightening Multi-Prong Invasion Of Ukraine Has Only Just Begun (Updated)
After Russia’s initial cruise missile barrage and the beginning of a multi-vector ground assault, the war for Ukraine is just in its beginning stage.
At around 5 AM local time, after a fiery speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a "special military operation" in Ukraine's contested Donbas region. Of course, just as expected, the actual military operation that commenced had elements that occurred far outside of this region as Russian forces launched opening standoff missile attacks on command and control facilities, air defense sites, airbases, and other key targets in a move to blunt Ukraine's ability to defend itself and shatter its command and control capabilities. The widespread use of land-attack cruise missiles was especially clear, along with long-range anti-radiation missiles used to knock out radar sites. Special operations also appeared to have played a major part in these opening maneuvers that were largely focused on 'shaping the battlefield' for what was still to come.
Author's Note: We have posted a new piece with the latest live coverage of Russia's war on Ukraine, which you can find here.
Meanwhile, it appears that a multi-pronged ground offensive emanating from Ukraine's northeastern border with Russia, as well as south from Crimea, and north from Belarus, is still in its beginning stages. There is the worry that such a multi-directional attack could trap Ukrainian forces concentrated in the east, severing their supply lines from the west, while leaving the capital of Kyiv vulnerable to being sacked from the north. Amphibious operations are still a very real possibility, as well, with Odesa and Mariupol being prime targets. Regardless, at least as it stands now, by every indication, it appears the scale of Russia's invasion operation is among the largest feared.
You can catch up on all of these events in our last rolling coverage piece here, but suffice it to say, we are still very early on in what will be a complex, multi-stage, protracted conflict that has a far larger scope and risk component than many anticipated. Night two of the operation will likely tell a much fuller story as to what we can expect going forward.
With all that said here are the latest updates:
There are growing worries of a massive refugee crisis if Russia goes for a wide-scale invasion of Ukraine that include millions of people displaced across the country. Roads are already packed heading west out of the capital:
Meanwhile, President von der Leyen of the European Union had remarkably blunt words about Russia's attack on Ukraine and how Europe will respond to it, stating in part:
We will not let President Putin tear down the security architecture that has given Europe peace and stability over the past decades. We will not allow President Putin to replace the rule of law with the rule of force and ruthlessness. He should not underestimate the resolve and strength of our democracies.
History has proven: Societies and alliances built on trust and freedom are resilient and successful. And this is exactly what autocrats fear. The European Union stands with Ukraine and its people. We will continue to support them. Ukraine will prevail.
It appears Ukraine's naval base in Ochakovo was struck during the missile barrage last night:
Russia may have already set up checkpoints near Kharkiv. This would fit with the actions we have seen there, including a massive artillery barrage to the north of the city, then the movement of Russian forces from the north to the south, and the deployment of attack helicopters to the area. We will have to see if more video, images, and other accounts can corroborate that the Russians have indeed made it this far already.
Maybe what's most worrisome are indications that Russia, and possibly Belarus, is launching a northern front by coming down from the Belarussian border just north of Kyiv. A very high-quality highway has been built connecting the capital with the border that would allow very quick access to Kyiv by Russian forces, but it could also become a massive death trap if Ukraine has ambushes set up as super anti-tank missile engagement zones.
Large columns of Russian military vehicles can also be seen moving from the south to the north via the now abandoned border crossing between Ukraine and Russia-occupied Crimea:
We are also getting the first claims by Ukrainian forces that it destroyed Russian armor:
The missile strikes were partially centered on military airfields, as expected, and their surrounding infrastructure, such as this one that hit what appears to be a nearby warehouse:
Russia's stock market has plummeted 30% since opening today:
Multiple NATO members are calling for enacting Article 4 which would result in direct consultations amongst the membership of the alliance:
UPDATE: 4:27 AM EST—
This is the nature of distributed capabilities in Odesa at this time:
The battle for Kharkiv appears to be heating up:
President Zelensky is speaking now. He says the government is issuing arms to anyone who is capable and willing to handle them. He is encouraging any Ukrainian to fight for their country. Blood is also needed to help the injured. He is also calling on businesses to keep supplies flowing to Ukrainians. Zelensky says Ukraine has now officially severed all relations with Russia and proclaims that has chosen evil and Russia attacked as Nazi Germany did in World War II.
Meanwhile, on the western borders of Belarus and Ukraine America's surveillance aircraft have repositioned from over Ukraine and are hard at work likely on the periphery of their sensor's ranges:
Multiple reports state there is a run on ATMs in Ukraine as people seek to secure cash for the crisis:
Russian stock market is now down a whopping 45%:
UPDATE: 6:50 AM EST—
The Romanian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker fighter jet has landed in the country, likely after it was unable to return to its own base after that came under Russian attack.
The Su-27 was identified as it approached Romanian airspace in the north of the country. A pair of Romanian Air Force F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept it, under NATO Air Command control, as is normal for any such unauthorized flight in alliance airspace. The Romanian jets took off around 6:15 AM local time.
The Romanian jets intercepted the Su-27 that was then escorted for landing at Bacau, where it touched down at 07:05 AM.
According to the Romanian Ministry of Defense, "After landing, the Ukrainian military pilot made himself available to the Romanian authorities, and the legal measures required in these situations will be taken."
The incident highlights the weight of the Russian onslaught against critical Ukrainian military infrastructure, including airbases. Normally, the bulk of the Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 fleet is based at Myrhorod in central Ukraine, with a detachment at Ozerne, west of Kyiv.
UPDATE: 7:15 AM EST—
So far, despite claims from Ukrainian authorities that they have shot down a number of Russian aircraft, which have in turn been denied by Russia, there have been few pieces of positive evidence of such losses on either side.
However, we now have apparent confirmation that at least one Russian Aerospace Forces Ka-52 Hokum attack helicopter has been forced down, reportedly near Hostomel, northwest of Kyiv.
Video shows the helicopter, armed with anti-tank guided missiles and carrying external fuel tanks, on the ground, with apparent damage, possibly as the result of a detonation by a proximity-fused anti-aircraft missile, although this cannot be confirmed.
Interestingly, the Ka-52 has its national markings, Russian Aerospace Forces titles, and individual code number painted over, but it does wear a white V symbol, reportedly an identifier for Russian military assets arriving in Ukraine from Belarus.
Additional video, which may or may not be from the same incident, shows various Russian rotorcraft, including Mi-24 Hind assault helicopters, apparently coming under fire from Ukrainian defenses. The flash of pyrotechnics at around the nine-second mark is suggestive of flares launched by the helicopter's self-defense system as it comes under attack:
The Ka-52 incident and the video above reportedly originate from a Russian air assault operation that seeks to seize control of Hostomel Airport, which is owned by the Antonov aircraft manufacturing company and operated by its subsidiary Antonov Airlines. This airline provides heavy and outsize cargo transport for clients around the world, including on behalf of NATO. Even more significantly, Hostomel is only around 15 miles from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
UPDATE: 8:00 AM EST—
At least one more, reportedly Russian, aircraft has been lost during the fighting today, although it's not yet clear what type was involved, or if indeed it was brought down by hostile action. The video below has been identified as showing the demise of another Russian Aerospace Forces Ka-52 attack helicopter, a type that does feature ejection seats for its two crew. One parachute can be seen, with the crew member subsequently rescued from the water by boat. It remains possible that a fixed-wing type was involved in the incident, which reportedly occurred near Vyshhorod, north of Kyiv.
UPDATE: 9:06 AM EST—
Ukrainian authorities now say that Russian forces fired at least 30 Kalibr cruise missiles at targets in the country in the initial stage of this invasion. More missile strikes continue to be reported.
Though Ukraine's aerial combat capabilities, writ large, have been a primary target of Russia's operations so far, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense says that at least some of its Turkish-made TB2 armed unmanned aircraft are still being employed against invading forces. The Russian Defense Ministry says that it has shot down at least four TB2s as the air war component of this larger conflict continues.
Latvian Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks has said that U.S.-made Stinger short-range surface-to-air missiles that the country just supplied to Ukraine this week have already been employed with some success against Russian forces.
Ukraine also says that Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons (NLAW) guided anti-tank missiles that the United Kingdom delivered in January have been employed against Russian armored vehicles.
As fighting on the ground also continues, the Ukrainian government is reportedly moving to declare a general mobilization of the country's armed forces, something that needs approval from parlaiment. Voltuneer militias appear to be mobilizing already and could subsequently begin to carry out partisan/guerilla/resistance operations in areas where Russian forces have made gains.
On the diplomatic front, Ukraine has now formally severed ties with Russia and is calling on other countries to do the same.
Outside of Ukraine, NATO has now activated its defense plans, which could include new deployments of combat aircraft and other forces along its periphery with Russia. NATO still has yet to officially activate its own standing Response Force, but Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the alliance will take all steps necessary to defend its territory. There is no indication that there are any plans to intervene directly in the conflict in Ukraine.
Six U.S. Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters have already touched down in Estonia today, though this appears to be part of a number of deployments that President Joe Biden announced before Russia's invasion began.
UPDATE: 10:10 AM EST—
Fighting has reached the outskirts of Ukraine's capital Kyiv, with reports that Russian airborne forces have or are at least attempting to secure multiple airports. The Ukrainian military has now called on reservists to help hold the line there and elsewhere in the country.
There are separate reports that Russian forces have made a second crossing over the Dnieper River north of Crimea.
Ukraine's Ministry of Defense has now highlighted the use of U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank guided missiles in operations against Russian forces.
There are also reports that Russian forces have crossed the border from Belarus into Ukraine's Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Satellite imagery had previously shown a pontoon bridge had been briefly established across a section of the Pripyat River in Belarus' companion Polesie State Radioecological Reserve earlier this month, highlighting the potential for this area to be a vector for attack. Ukraine's Interior Minister has warned that fighting here could risk spreading radiation-contaminated material.
Turkey, which is a NATO member, has now come out forcefully against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying that the Kremlin's actions represent "a serious threat against our region and the world." This notably comes after a Turkish-owned ship in Odesa suffered damage during an earlier Russian striker there. This is significant because Ukraine had earlier called on Turkey to exercise its right to prevent warships from entering the Black Sea from the Mediterranean during a conflict.
The U.S. military is continuing to proceed with its previously announced deployments of additional forces to bolster NATO's eastern flank. Other member states have begun to announce their own plans to deploy forces to help bolster the alliance's force posture in response to the conflict in Ukraine.
UPDATE: 11:00 AM EST—
The U.S. military has now provided its own assessment of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its objectives, saying they believe the central aim is to "decapitate" the government in the country and replace it with a pro-Russian regime. A senior U.S. defense official also provided additional information about the weapons and other capabilities Russia has employed so far.
Interestingly, the senior defense official speaking earlier included medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) among the weapons that Russia has used to strike Ukraine already. At least officially, Russia does not have any such missiles that would meet the established definition of an MRBM. This may well simply have been a misstatement in reference to Russia's Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles, which have been employed.
President Zelensky has now issued his own statement regarding fighting in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, saying that Russian forces appear to be attempting to seize the now-defunct Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Reports continue to come in about engagements between Ukrainian and Russian forces elsewhere.
Russian control of Ukrainian territory appears to be expanding, as well. Very conservative estimates of Russia's advances, such as the one in the Tweet below, show that forces have already pushed into a number of areas along Ukraine's northern, eastern, and southern borders. How far exactly the Kremlin intends to push into Ukraine remains to be seen.
As the fighting continues in Ukraine, details about civilians fleeing the country are beginning to emerge. Ukrainian officials say that traffic through checkpoints along the Polish border to the west has increased. To the south, Moldova says that at least 4,000 people have crossed into the country and that they have established temporary camps to house them.
The European Union is moving forward on new sanctions packages in response to the conflict.
Anti-war protests have begun to spring up in certain areas of Russia. Russian authorities have already arrested some protesters.
UPDATE: 11:55 AM EST—
Ukraine's President Zelensky has provided an update on the extent of Russia's advances on the ground, saying that the southern front presents the biggest concerns at present. Unconfirmed reports suggest that a canal designed to supply water to the Crimean Peninsula from mainland Ukraine, which was blocked in 2014, has now been opened. This is something that had previously been identified a very likely Russian objective in any future offensive.
Ukrainian forces have separately mounted a counter-attack to recapture an airport near the capital Kyiv, among other continued fighting across the country. There is an unconfirmed report that Russia may be attempting to leverage one or more airfields in Ukraine under its control now, including around Kyiv, as bridgeheads to bring in more forces.
As an aside, the only An-225 Myria heavy airlifter, one of the largest planes ever built, is at an airport near Kyiv that is currently under Russian control. So far, the plane appears to have escaped the fighting unscathed.
The Ukrainian government has also reported the surrender of at least some Russian forces during the course of the conflict so far. Both sides are clearly suffering casualties as the Kremlin's offensive grinds on.
At the same time, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is calling for more volunteers to join the fight, saying that it has simplified the process of enlisting in the country's armed forces. "Take only the passport. We give weapons to all patriots!"
You can continue to read our continuing rolling coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine here.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com