ISW published its most recent Russian campaign assessment at 5:30 pm ET on March 21.

The ISW Russia team has relaunched its Ukraine Conflict Updates as a semi-weekly synthetic product covering key political and rhetorical events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. This update covers events from March 18—21.

Key Takeaways March 18-21

  • The Kremlin is unlikely to withdraw its maximalist political demands of Ukraine in ongoing negotiations, despite the Russian military failing to achieve its objectives.
  • The Kremlin staged a 195,000-person rally in Moscow attended by President Putin on March 18 to falsely portray high levels of public support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Kremlin bans of Facebook, Instagram, and other major western platforms in Russia are likely intended to coerce these companies to meet Russian censorship standards to retain their market share in Russia.
  • Russian officials continue to downplay the impact of new sanctions and proposed retaliatory measures against international companies that have left Russia.
  • The Kremlin continued to set conditions for a possible false flag chemical or radiological attack in Ukraine by promoting false claims of threats from United States-funded biolaboratories in Ukraine.
  • Eastern European NATO heads of state called for a more proactive NATO military posture and response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the leadup to an emergency NATO summit on March 24.
  • China publicly stated it will not provide financial or military assistance to Russia and pledged further humanitarian assistance to Ukraine but blamed the United States for the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine Conflict Update 18 | Institute for the Study of War (

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  1. Xenophon says:

    William Burns’s assessment of Putin and his thought processes re:Ukraine.

    From 2014 to 2021, after a significant career at State during which he served as Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2005 to 2008, Burns served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This interview was done while he was at Carnegie, before he rejoined government in 2021 as DCIA. (10.25.2017 frontline interview) 50 minutes, but well worth it.

    Recent assessment of Putin, before Intelligence Committee Open Session 3.8.22 (short)

    “Is Putin crazy??”, before Intelligence Committee Open Session 3.8.22 (short)

    Regarding Ukraine, Burns is the most experienced and qualified of the Biden team.

    I hope the Biden team is listening to, and continues to listen to, his counsel.

    • Ed Lindgren says:

      Xenophon –

      I recently completed reading Mr. Burns’ memoir of his career in the State Dept. as a FSO. He served under every administration from Reagan through Obama. Based on the book (and I am well aware that individuals writing their memoirs tend to blow their own horn), I certainly agree with your assessment that Mr. Burns is “the most experienced and qualified of the Biden [national security] team.” Perhaps the only ‘adult’ sitting around the table. Burns was well aware of the Russian sensitivities regarding potential NATO membership for Ukraine.

      Mr. Burns noted in his book that, of the five administrations he worked under, he felt that G. H. W. Bush pulled together the most competent foreign policy and national security team.

      Thanks for the links to the Burns’ interviews!

      Source: William Burns, 2019, The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal, Random House

  2. Fred says:

    “The Kremlin continued to set conditions for a possible false flag …..”

    I was tempted to write a post titled “Cry Havock and Unleash the White Helmets of War” but thought with the host info-ops, cancel culture, and general lack of humor in the air it would not be appreaciated; especially if I included links to Dempsey explaining to Barack why we shouldn’t get involved directly in Syria (discussed extensively on SST); or that Milley in no Dempsey and Barack’s people behind Biden would be quite willing to have him take the fall for their policy blunders.

  3. KMD says:

    Not drinking the Koolaid.
    Arthur Ponsonby’s Ten Commandments of War Propaganda.
    1. We do not want war
    2. The opposite party alone is guilty of war
    3. The enemy is the face of the devil
    4. We defend a noble cause. not our own interest.
    5. The enemy systematically commits cruelties; our mishaps are involuntary.
    6. The enemy uses forbidden weapons.
    7. We suffer small losses, those of the enemy are enormous.
    8. Artists and intellectuals back our cause.
    9. Our cause is sacred.
    10. All who doubt our propaganda are traitors.

    A brief history lesson of the region currently engulfed.

    This is not our fight!

  4. Babeltuap says:

    Seeing reports the Nazi Azov soldiers are murdering Ukraine civilians. I do not know if it’s true but I have seen many reports on it.'Shot-Them-All'-Cries-Mariupol-Refugee:8

    The 2014 coup, nobody knows who murdered the protesters. The stopped the investigation for some reason. Now why would they want to kill civilians? Maybe to get the US involved…makes sense to me.

  5. Xenophon says:

    A view of the Ukraine situation by seasoned and versatile U.S. retired diplomat Chas Freeman

    Charles “Chas” W. Freeman, Jr. (Chinese: 傅立民, born March 2, 1943)[1] is an American retired diplomat and writer. He served in the United States Foreign Service, the State Department, and the Defense Department in many different capacities over the course of thirty years.[2] Most notably, he worked as the main interpreter for Richard Nixon during his 1972 China visit and served as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992, where he dealt with the Persian Gulf War.[3],_Jr.

    Colonel Lang, I do not know your opinion of Chas Freeman. He experienced a blackball in February 2009 when the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis C. Blair nominated Freeman as chair of the National Intelligence Council. Chas Freeman’s views we’re not in sufficient conformity with what has become a dominant force in U.S. foreign policy decisions. Understanding the “writing on the wall”, Freeman withdrew his name from consideration.

    Freeman’s experience, key vantage points, and native intelligence provide clear-eyed insights.

    • Pat Lang says:

      I know Freeman well but have not been in touch with him for a number of years. He is very close to the Saudis, very close.

  6. Leith says:

    Putin may have a scapegoat now if this story is true. “General Yershov, 6th Army Commander, has been sacked and put under house arrest pending investigation.”

    Yershov was reportedly fired because of extensive casualties, perhaps more than 2000 in 6th Army alone.

    6th Army, according to JominiW’s maps, looks to have had nine to 12 BTGs in the Izium area SE of Kharkiv for the last two weeks. Considering 600 to 800 troops per BTG, that could mean anywhere from 20% to 37% casualty rate. But an additional likely reason for his being cashiered may be the defeat of his advance south and SW from Izium by a combined operation of two UKR brigades?

  7. fakebot says:

    1. The problem remains the nuclear threat. As badly as this war has gone for them, they could make good with one of those nuclear threats against a Ukrainian city. For that reason they can insist on getting what they want without compromise. If we’re smart, we will find a way to make some sort of workable agreement with them before things get to that point. There might be some comprises found if we provide Putin with a sufficient enough fig leaf.
    2. Pew polls suggest Russians by and large support the war. They also seem to support going to war with Poland. Hardly any major Russian personalities or celebrities have spoken out against the war. We should be careful not to underestimate the average Russian’s support for this war.
    5. I believe they may resort to these false flag tactics, but this is trickier said than done. Putin may be making a grave mistake here.
    6. Will a more proactive posture make a difference or will it create a bigger impasse towards a deal that could end this war? Putin appears greatly committed to his folly so far. A more proactive posture, depending on what that means, might not help end this mess.

    Finally, and I say this with all due respect, Russia’s pretext might be about de-Nazifying Ukraine, but we all well know that this is a conflict owing to many of the same reasons that led to the Cuban missile crisis. The tactics and courses of action the Russians have resorted to bear an awful resemblance to some of our own hairbrained ideas like Operation Northwoods and the Bay of Pigs. Thank God we weren’t dumb enough to take those mistakes further and that cooler heads prevailed. Unfortunately, Putin was dumb enough to make these mistakes.

    Maybe he really is terminally ill and time isn’t on his side. Maybe with the way things were going he got tired and wanted to bring it all to a head. IDK what compelled him to do this, but for all the risks he took and as dumb as this decision was, I don’t have any reason to believe Putin will make a deal with his tails between his legs or that there will be a coup in Russia. We should be getting more serious about making a deal with him and save whatever we can of Ukraine before they start to demonstrate they mean those nuclear threats.

  8. Jovan P says:

    This is not a ,,campaign assessment” it’s facts clothed in MSM propaganda and terminology.
    I guess the ISW ”knows” what are the Russian military objectives, what are the ”true” levels of support of the Russian society for the sp. op, how to ”coerce” major western platforms into banning hate speech for your own country and citizens, how the Kremlin set’s conditions for possible false flag attacks…

    One question for TTG if I may – was there any attempt in the past, from the Baltic peoples, to make some kind of deal with the Russians? I’m partially aware of the complex history in their relationships, but this I do not know.

    • TTG says:

      Jovan P,

      For starters, I suggest you read an old research paper I wrote in 1981 when I was attending the SF Officers Qualification Course. Although 40 years old (My God, I’m old!), it sets the stage for the state of Russian-Baltic deal making.

      The next round of Baltic-Russian deals was in 1990-1991. Again, the deal making process didn’t really involve diplomats sitting across a table. In 1991, Gorbachev sent his Alpha Group and elements of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division to Vilnius to do his negotiating. The “negotiations” of January 13th, Bloody Sunday, resulted in 14 dead and over 140 wounded Lithuanians. One Russian soldier died in a friendly fire incident.

      The nature of negotiations in Riga and Tallinn were equally contentious, though not as bloody. Eventually, a deal was reached and all three Baltic nations regained their independence.

      Since those days, relations between the Baltic nations and Russia continue in a more peaceful manner. The Russian-Baltic economies were deeply intertwined. Economic deals continue to be made and implemented in good faith. However, there has been a steady and mutual effort to unwind those economic ties. Those efforts are accelerating with recent events. Beyond whatever messianic dreams of a greater Russia that may be swimming around in Putin’s head, I think most Russians and Balts are content with policies of peaceful coexistence and less economic interdependence.

  9. Rodney says:

    Reads like CNN.

  10. FarNorth says:

    “China publicly stated it will not provide financial or military assistance to Russia and pledged further humanitarian assistance to Ukraine but blamed the United States for the war in Ukraine.“

    Vs. from their own reference:

    “China isn’t considering supplying Russia with military equipment or providing financial support to aid Moscow’s forces in the Ukraine invasion, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang said in an interview that aired on Sunday”

    Financial aid for the war effort in reference vs. financial assistance to Russia in headline.

    A bit different, maybe important, maybe not.

  11. MJ says:

    Take it with a huge grain of salt, Sergei Shoigu has supposedly disappeared with “heart problems”.

    Putin really must be missing the Soviet Union. You will know it’s serious when Soviet…err Russian Leaders “have a cold”.

  12. Leith says:

    No fraggings reported yet, on either side.

    But Yahoo News is repeating the Daily Beast story of an angry Russian tank driver deliberately running over his commander. Truth or UKR fiction?

  13. Philip Owen says:

    Russia seems to have givwen up advancing except in Mariupol. They are digging in instead. My comments about the army’s socks on the last piece from Patrick Armstrong seem to have been prescient. Around Mikolayev intercepted phone calls suggest that half the men are coming down with frostbite (but it could be trenchfoot as temperatures are not that low). In WW1, the British Army lost 75,000 men dead due to trenchfoot.

  14. mcohen says:

    Where is the wagner group now and who are they hunting down.

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