Russia's Christmas cease-fire ends almost as soon as it begins.
Ukraine at D+315: Not much of a cease-fire.
A unilaterally declared Russian cease-fire in observance of the Orthodox Christmas is unraveling only hours after it went into effect this morning, Reuters reports.
Russia announces a unilateral cease-fire in observance of Christmas.
TASS yesterday was authorized to disclose that President Putin, responding to a call from Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, has declared a unilateral Christmas cease-fire. (The Orthodox Church, following the traditional Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7th. As NPR notes, Patriarch Kirill has been an ardent supporter of Russia's war.) The cease-fire goes into effect at noon today, Moscow time (which was 5:00 AM New York time) and will continue until midnight Saturday. "Considering an address by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I am instructing the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire along the entire line of combat engagement in Ukraine from 12:00 on January 6 until 24:00 on January 7 of this year," President Putin said. "Proceeding from the fact that a large number of residents in the combat zone are Orthodox Christians, we are urging the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire to allow them attend services on Christmas Eve as well as on Christmas Day."
Ukraine has dismissed the cease-fire as an empty and cynical gesture, mere "hypocrisy." The Washington Post quotes Serhiy Nykyforov, spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the matter. "Last Easter, Ukraine proposed a truce. Russia ignored it. Just before the Catholic Christmas, President Zelensky suggested that Russia take de-escalation measures. Russia ignored it as well. Moreover, on December 25, Russian strikes killed at least 10 civilians and wounded many more,” Mr. Nykyforov said. “It is absolutely clear that this is definitely not about caring for believers or human lives.”
In its turn, Russia denounced Ukraine's reaction to the cease-fire as inhuman. Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky tweeted, "One more reminder with whom we are fighting in Ukraine - ruthless nationalist criminals who are ready to sacrifice their country and their people for the sake of Western geopolitical games and who have no respect for sacred things." (Heavy Russian combat operations during Easter and the Western observance of Christmas on December 25th are for unspecified reasons consistent with sacred things.) The Russian embassy in Washington also brought out familiar tropes: the Ukrainians are literal Nazis, and the war was instigated and is being prosecuted on behalf of the United States. Ambassador Anatoly Antonov complained that recent US actions (including this week's decision to send infantry combat vehicles to Ukraine) were "confirmation that our interlocutors in the United States have not even tried to listen to our numerous calls to take into account possible consequences of such a dangerous course by Washington." The Ambassador added, as quoted by Newsweek, "It is finally becoming clear to the whole international community that in 2014 the U.S. unleashed a real proxy-war against Russia by supporting nazi criminals in Kiev."
The unilateral cease-fire will not inhibit Russian retaliation against Ukrainian attacks. Denis Pushilin, puppet leader of Russian-occupied Donetsk, said in his Telegram channel, "The decision concerns initiating fire or advancing on our part. Yet this does not mean that we won’t respond to the adversary’s provocations! Or will give the enemy any chance to improve their positions at the line of engagement during these holiday hours."
According to Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty, two hours into the truce there were reports of both shelling and air-raid alerts, neither of which could be independently confirmed, The Telegraph writes that Russian shelling continued in Bakhmut and elsewhere, but again, these reports remain unconfirmed. The Wall Street Journal reviews international reaction to the unilateral declaration of a cease-fire: Mr. Putin's peaceful intentions generally aren't being received at face value.
France 24 reported yesterday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had asked President Putin to declare a "unilateral" ceasefire in Ukraine. President Erdogan's office said that "calls for peace and negotiations should be supported by a unilateral ceasefire and a vision for a fair solution."
Integrating auxiliary militias into Russian regular forces.
The Wagner Group has been the most notorious of the Russian auxiliary forces, but there are others. Two of them are now being integrated into Russia's army, the UK's Ministry of Defence reports this morning, and their integration will be challenging. "Militias from the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) were formally integrated into the Russian armed forces on 31 December 2022. President Putin presented the formations with their battle colours during a visit to Rostov-on-Don. Russia claims the LNR and DNR are intrinsic parts of the Russian Federation following the fixed accession referendums of September 2022. However, it has discreetly controlled both since 2014, creating DNR’s 1st Army Corps and LNR’s 2nd Army Corps and supporting them with Russian military officers. The status and identities of the DNR and LNR likely remain divisive within the Russian system. Even before the February 2022 invasion, these territories represented a significant drain on Russian finances. Now the Kremlin has overtly committed to supporting them, they will likely constitute a large political, diplomatic and financial cost for Russia which will last well beyond the current phase of the conflict."
Turla effectively recycles some commodity malware infrastructure.
Mandiant has found that Turla, a familiar threat actor associated with Russia's FSB, is piggybacking offensive cyber operations on some old commodity malware. Turla is using Andromeda malware distributed through infected USB drives to selectively install the Kopiluwak reconnaissance utility and the QuietCanary backdoor in Ukrainian targets. Re-registration of old, expired ANDROMEDA domains has proven particularly useful. As Wired points out, Andromeda is a commonplace banking Trojan criminals use for credential theft. The researchers conclude, "As older ANDROMEDA malware continues to spread from compromised USB devices, these re-registered domains pose a risk as new threat actors can take control and deliver new malware to victims. This novel technique of claiming expired domains used by widely distributed, financially motivated malware can enable follow-on compromises at a wide array of entities. Further, older malware and infrastructure may be more likely to be overlooked by defenders triaging a wide variety of alerts."
The campaign represents the first time Mandiant has seen Turla in operation against Ukrainian targets during the present war. The group seems to be using earlier battlespace preparation to pick targets of strategic interest to Russia, but Turla also seems to be acting in haste, and with the necessary disregard for operations security haste normally exacts in trade for quick results.
CISA Director notes Russian failures, but warns that shields should stay up.
The Hill reports that US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly yesterday warned that, while Russia clearly miscalculated its decision to go to war in Ukraine, and that its cyber operations have fallen short of expectations, these shouldn't be grounds for complacency. “It looks like it’s not going to end anytime soon. We need to continue to be vigilant, keep our shields up, and ensure that we are putting all those controls in place,” she said during a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The Guardian continues to recover from last month's ransomware attack.
The Guardian continues to recover from the ransomware attack it disclosed on December 21st, and the news outlet expects recovery to take at least a month. ComputerWeekly shares widespread speculation that the Guardian's coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine prompted the attack: "It can also be fairly said that reporting on major international incidents such as Russia’s war on Ukraine may leave a title exposed to malicious actions by Russia-backed or aligned groups."
Uralic chanteuse explains the special military operation in her New Year's greetings.
Yulia Dmitrievna Chicherina, a star of the “Uralic rock” music scene whose songs are often featured on Russian state media, explains what the special military operation is all about. The video comes courtesy of the Russian Media Monitor. “Decades of consumerism have attempted to turn us into an amorphous biomass. We’ve put up with it for a long time. It’s payback time. My advice for Ukropom is ‘surrender!’ All of your sins will be frozen out in our Gulags." The word "Ukropom" is a strongly pejorative slang expression for Ukrainians, usually primly redacted from translations. The Gulags (the acronym derives from "Chief Administration for Corrective Labor Camps") were the Stalin-era concentration camps through which millions passed. She goes on to explain, "Cleansed, you will return to our Russian world, which will melt everything down. And to all the faithful I’ll say, now is the time of real freedom we’ve all dreamt about. Now is the time to decide whom we want to become, immortal heroes or inglorious traitors. Everyone should take their position on their front in defense of our Motherland. I congratulate all brothers in arms with the coming new year, 2023. Hurrah!”
She looks really, really angry. And, while she looks uncomfortable and cold, Ms Chicherina is not sending her New Year’s greetings from the actual front. “Front” should be understood metaphorically–”their front,” like “my truth” in other contexts, doesn’t exactly mean the real, literal front any more than "my truth" means the actual truth. Your front might be a club, your apartment, wherever, and no shooting, ducking, fear, pain, or unusual discomfort are required.
She’s been singing about Ukrainian Nazis for years. If you’ve never heard Uralic rock, here’s her number “At the front,” from 2017, with a Donbas theme. Think of Yulia Dmitrievna as the anti-Pussy Riot.