Russian ground forces are digging in, in place, along most of their avenues of advance, especially in the approaches to Kyiv, which suggests that the invasion continues to stall. On Saturday Ukrainian President Zelensky called upon Russia to engage in "meaningful" peace talks. “
Information operations and the persistence of independent channels of news.
Russian President Putin has vowed to purge Russia of "scum and traitors" insufficiently committed to the special military operation in Ukraine. The Kremlin has sought to crack down on both public protest and online dissent, (both now "fully criminalized," the Atlantic Council reports) but public protests, by Russian standards, have been surprisingly prominent. This suggests that news other than the official Kremlin line that the war is an ultimately defensive one waged against genocidal Nazis is getting through. Some of the channels in which it's circulating are surprising. Groups within the widely used Russian social media platform VKontakte ("VK," "In Touch") are serving as conduits for dissent and unofficial news. The groups involved are, according to Newsweek, "longstanding groups focused on common interests such as art, sports, music and celebrities." VKontakte is by no means a nest of dissenters: the executives who run it are close to the government and have themselves come under US sanction. The sharing of unofficial news on the war in Ukraine seems to be a function of the sheer difficulty of effective content moderation on a platform with more than ninety-million users.
The social media platform Telegram has surged in Russia, where it's continued to operate without the interruption and blockage experienced by Instagram, Twitter, and the like. Telegram originated in Russia, which may be why it's been permitted to operate. The Wall Street Journal quotes Ivan Kolpakov, editor in chief and co-founder of the now-blocked Russian independent media outlet Meduza (which is itself surviving in its Telegram feed) “Telegram isn’t perceived as a total enemy resource. It’s not perceived as a tool of information war against Russia. In Russia, a huge culture of uncensored journalism and so-called journalism appears on Telegram. Telegram itself told the Journal it didn't know why it hadn't been blocked, and it didn't know if it would be blocked in the future, but “We believe in freedom of speech and are proud we can serve people in different countries in difficult times.”
Russia's countervailing disinformation campaigns have not gained much traction internationally. They've been marked by opportunistic implausibility, much of it focused on misrepresentation of post-Cold War biological weapons disarmament programs. The New York Times has an account of Moscow's recent efforts, and Forbes runs a profile of the oligarch, Yuri Kovalchuk, who appears to be the de facto leader of Russia's disinformation campaigns.
Domestically, Russian propaganda has been aggressive in seeking to rally people under the sign of the cyrillic letter Z, used as a distinguishing mark on Russian armor entering Ukraine during the special military operation. Much of that rallying has a strongly xenophobic tone. CNN quotes some representative rhetoric from President Putin: "The West will try to rely on the so-called fifth column, on national traitors, on those who earn money here with us but live there. And I mean 'live there' not even in the geographical sense of the word, but according to their thoughts, their slavish consciousness."
"Protestware" as a dangerous turn in hacktivism.
Last week a hacktivist (npm maintainer RIAEvangelist) wrote source code for an npm package he called PeaceNotWar, and distributed it within the open-source by making it a dependency of a popular and widely used npm module, thus affecting the software supply chain. PeaceNotWar was designed for use against systems in Belarus and Russia, but, even if that form of supply chain attack were to be deemed legitimate, it seems indiscriminate and difficult to contain.
Since then Russian organizations have grown understandably warier of the possibility of software supply chain corruption. MIT Technology Review reports, "In response to the threat, Sberbank, a Russian state-owned bank and the biggest in the country, advised Russians to temporarily not update any software due to the increased risk and to manually check the source code of software that is necessary—a level of vigilance that is unrealistic for most users."
The CyberWire's continuing coverage of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine may be found here.