Russia entrenches in its occupied territories as Ukraine prepares its spring offensive. The US investigates its leak, and Canada parries a Russian DDoS attack.
Ukraine at D+412: Ukraine prepares its counteroffensive.
Ukraine is preparing its long-awaited spring offensive, and Foreign Affairs offers a moderately optimistic assessment of its prospects for success. "Even if Kyiv ultimately has to settle for a political settlement that requires concessions," the essay concludes, "Putin will have failed to subordinate Ukraine, shear off vast tracts of its territory, including its coasts, and attach them to a Greater Russia. When the war began, it seemed as though he would succeed in achieving all this and perhaps more. Now, a Ukrainian victory, even if it does not match Kyiv’s ideal, has become not just imaginable but also probable."
Russia is constructing field fortifications and preparing for another round of conscription.
Russia continues to entrench in the territories it still holds. "Over recent weeks, Russia has continued to develop extensive linear defences in Zaporizhzhia Oblast in southern Ukraine. The area is highly likely the responsibility of Russia’s Southern Grouping of Forces (SGF)," the UK's Ministry of Defence reports this morning. "Russia has now completed three layers of defensive zones across approximately 120km of this sector. These consist of a front line of forward combat positions, and then two zones of nearly continuous, more elaborate defences. Each zone is approximately 10-20km behind the one in front. Russia has probably put significant effort into these defensive works because it is convinced Ukraine is considering an assault towards the city of Melitopol. The defences have the potential to be formidable obstacles, but their utility almost entirely depends on them being supported by sufficient artillery and personnel. It remains unclear if the SGF can currently muster these resources."
The Russian occupation leader in Crimea has described extensive preparations in the illegally annexed province as “modern, in-depth defenses” served by more than enough troops to repel an expected Ukrainian attack, Military Times reports. Both claims seem questionable. The defenses are minefields and trenchlines, which to be sure have their utility, but which are hardly cutting-edge defenses. And the poorly led human wave attacks Russia has spent the last several months conducting have so reduced the available trained manpower that troop strength, especially quality troop strength, cannot be asserted with confidence. An Atlantic Council study describes the ways in which those human wave attacks have squandered troops and degraded the morale of the survivors.
Legislation has cleared the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the country's parliament, that would make it more difficult for men of military age to avoid conscription. Anyone who might be called for service in Ukraine would be legally barred from leaving the country (as some 300,000 Russian men are thought to have done during the last round of partial mobilization). Russian officials continue to publicly deny any plans for a new round of mobilization, but the measures passing through the Duma seem preparations for exactly that. According to the New York Times:
"The measures adopted by the Duma on Tuesday also included a provision to introduce electronic draft summonses and steps to close loopholes in the system to make it more difficult for draftees to avoid notifications.
"Under the new law, a summons would be marked as formally received as soon as it landed in a recipient’s inbox on a widely used government services website. Even if the draftee did not have an account, a call-up notice would be marked as officially received seven days after being added to the registry.
"Russians called up would immediately be forbidden to leave the country. And failure to turn up at a local conscription office within 20 days of receiving a draft notice could result in a variety of penalties, including a driver’s license suspension, along with a block on registering real estate and other property and on receiving a bank loan.
"The tightening of the conscription rules comes against the backdrop of a much broader crackdown on civil liberties in Russia that began after Mr. Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022."
The Washington Post notes that Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov characterized the measures as simply a routine modernization, and not a sign of further mobilization. "“We need to improve and modernize the military accounting system,” he said.
Effects of the US intelligence leaks.
The source and effect of the US intelligence leaks remain under investigation, but it's increasingly become clear that compromised files, whatever manipulations may have altered them for purposes of disinformation, and however opportunistic their collection appears to have been, represent a major problem for the US. Ukraine isn't deterred by the leaks, which contain relatively little information about operational plans, and so Kyiv remains confident of the ultimate success of its spring offensive.
The Department of Defense and other US government agencies are also working to contain any damage the leaks may have done to relations with friendly countries. The Washington Post has a summary of the nations mentioned in the compromised documents. Many observers are struck by the degree of access to the Russian government US intelligence services appear to have achieved. US Senators have called for a full briefing on the incident, the Hill reports.
Russian cyber auxiliaries believed responsible for disrupting the Canadian PM's website.
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack interrupted the availability of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's official website for a few hours yesterday. According to IT World Canada, "The attack appears to have been timed to coincide with the government’s meeting today with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal." Service was restored by 2:00 PM ET yesterday. The Prime Minister addressed the outage at a press conference yesterday, saying, "“As you know, it’s not uncommon for Russian hackers to target countries as they are showing steadfast support for Ukraine, as they are welcoming Ukrainian delegations or leadership to visit, so the timing isn’t surprising. But in case anyone was wondering, Russia being able to bring down an official government of Canada web page for a few hours is in no way going to dissuade us from our unshakable support of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian prisoners of war executed by decapitation.
Video surfacing online shows the execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war by Russian soldiers who decapitated him with a knife. Video evidence also showed the bodies of at least two other prisoners, both headless, the Guardian reports. The video has been received in the civilized world with widespread revulsion and expressions of determination to bring war criminals to justice. Calls for beheadings, both literal and metaphorical, have been a staple of Russian state television since at least April of last year, when it became clear that the invasion had failed to achieve its promised victory.