Ukraine at D+505: Russia copes with hard-war dissent.
N2K logoJul 14, 2023

Fighting remains an artillery-heavy slog as Ukraine pushes against Russian entrenchments. Moscow tries to deal with hard-war dissatisfaction with the way it's conducted its war.

Ukraine at D+505: Russia copes with hard-war dissent.

Fighting continues to be marked by slow Ukrainian progress against entrenched Russian forces, and by continued Russian long-range strikes against cities. Fighting along the line of contact remains largely an artillery war, RUSI explains. Al Jazeera reports that Ukrainian air defenses remain effective against Russian drones and cruise missiles.

US President Biden has ordered the callup of a number of military reservists, not to exceed 3000, to support Operation Atlantic Resolve. This operation, held since 2014, is an exercise that "provides rotational deployments of combat-credible forces to Europe to show our commitment to NATO while building readiness, increasing interoperability and enhancing the bonds between ally and partner militaries." Atlantic Resolve is at present especially important with respect to maintaining a higher state of NATO readiness during Russia's war against Ukraine. Stars & Stripes reports that Defense Department sources explained that the President's order isn't a deployment order. Rather it makes Reservists available for deployment should US European Command decide they're needed.

Wartime exigencies have led Russia to scale back its Navy Day fleet review, the UK's Ministry of Defence reports. "On 12 July 2023, Russian state media reported that nuclear-powered submarines of Russia's Northern Fleet will not be taking part in the main Navy Day fleet review in St Petersburg on 30 July 2023. Since the current Navy Day format was established in 2017, this would be the first year that no nuclear-powered submarines have been involved. The change is likely primarily due to allow for maintenance and to retain availability for operations and training. There is also a realistic possibility that internal security concerns since Wagner Group’s attempted mutiny have contributed to the decision."

Dismantling the Wagner Group.

The US Department of Defense assesses that the mercenary Wagner Group, which had represented some of the more effective Russian ground combat power in Ukraine, will no longer play any role in the fighting. “At this stage, we do not see Wagner forces participating in any significant capacity in support of combat operations in Ukraine,” a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday.

President Putin, the AP reports, gave an account of the meeting he held with Yevgeny Prigozhin and subordinate Wagner commanders. He says he gave them an opportunity to return to the line as a unit, under their same field commander, but that Mr. Prigozhin declined. President Putin also represented the mercenary formations as extralegal, probably illegitimate. “There is no law on private military organizations. It simply doesn’t exist,” he said. The Ministry of Defense has continued to disarm Wagner Group formations in Russia.

Major General Popov's dismissal.

The AP describes the dismissal of Major General Ivan Popov (callsign "Spartacus") from his post as commanding general of 58th army in the Zaporizhzhia sector. General Popov had been particularly scathing in his criticism of Russia's Ministry of Defense. “I faced a difficult situation with the top leadership when I had to either keep silent and act like a coward, saying what they wanted to hear, or call things by their names,” he said in a message to his troops. “I didn’t have the right to lie for the sake of you and our fallen comrades.” The AP notes that the General has drawn some sympathy and attention from figures in or close to the Russian establishment. (Duma member Andrei Kartapolov is among those, for example, who think the General's criticisms should be addressed, and Mr. Kartoplov has been a reliable supporter of the Kremlin line.)

For now, the General's appeal, directed to President Putin, remains within the familiar Russian tradition of seeing wicked boyars around the throne as the problem--if only the Tsar knew, and so forth. The Institute for the Study of war summarizes: "Popov’s attempt to directly appeal to Putin for support and his insubordination of Gerasimov’s command is indicative of a pattern of corrosive behavior that has developed within the Russian command and the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine." Milbloggers, who are as a group, remember, hard-war nationalists, differ in their reactions to General Popov's public dissent, but even those who criticize it object to its public character, but generally endorse its contents. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty describes other ways in which the special military operation has proven backward striking, bringing about some of the very conditions (like NATO expansion) it was intended to avert.

Ghostwriter's continued activity focuses on Poland and Ukraine.

Yesterday Cisco Talos researchers described the recent activity of a Belarusian threat actor engaged in cyberespionage between April of 2022 and June of 2023. "Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) has attributed the July campaign to the threat actor group UNC1151, as a part of the GhostWriter operational activities allegedly linked to the Belarusian government." The attack begins with a malicious Microsoft Office document, usually either an Excel or PowerPoint file, which, if opened, delivers an executable downloader and a payload hidden in an image file. "The final payloads include the AgentTesla remote access trojan (RAT), Cobalt Strike beacons and njRAT." The targets are Ukrainian and Polish military and governmental organizations.

Hacktivist auxiliaries swap DDoS attacks.

Russian and Ukrainian hacktivist auxiliaries have both recently conducted distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) calls it "crowdsourced cyber warfare," the principal organizers of which have been, on the Russian side, NoName057(16), and on the Ukrainian side, the Ukrainian IT Army. None of the attacks, CEPA rightly notes, have amounted to much more than a nuisance. They are, however, easy to mount, and require little in the way of technical skill to pull off. They may represent the upper limits of the crowdsourced approach to organizing a cyber auxiliary.

Lessons learned from cyber warfare in Russia's war.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies looks at the record of the war so far and draws some lessons that might inform thinking about cyber warfare in the future. In sum, the lessons suggest that some of the catastrophic fears that have surrounded cyber warfare appear less likely after a year-and-a-half of operational experience. The study draws three major conclusions:

  • "Cyber operations will play a supporting rather than decisive role in major theater wars." Intelligence collection and operational deception are likely to be cyber's most prominent contribution, once the shooting starts.
  • "War will still be a continuation of politics by other means and rely on the more tangible effects of violence than on the elusive effects of compromising information networks." As the fight escalates along the spectrum of conflict, sure kinetic effects will be preferred to the uncertain results of cyber operations.
  • "The merits of cyber operations continue to be their utility as a tool of political warfare because they facilitate an engagement short of war that leverages covert action, propaganda, and surveillance but in a manner that poses a fundamental threat to human liberties."

The study concludes with appropriate policy recommendations: increase public-private partnership, improve cyber diplomacy and international information-sharing, and work to counter "cyber-enabled information operations."

The CyberWire recently drew its own lessons from the cyber phases of Russia's special military operation. They may be found here.

Surovikin watch.

So says that no, really, Andrei Kartapolov, head of the State Duma Defence Committee had it right: Colonel General Surovikin actually is just taking a breather, and he's doing it in Rostov-on-Don. Honest. Might someone vacation in Rostov? Sure, well maybe, why not? There are the cafes on Pushkin Street, the zoo, some museums, and a water park. There's no picture of the General on the post, but it does have a nice shot of an "I-heart-Rostov" sign. Still, Rostov is not only the place where Mr. Prigozhin's troops took charge and started their march on Moscow, but it's also closer to the front than most holiday makers would want to be, but perhaps General Armageddon's tastes run in another direction.

The city fathers of Rostov have warned the inhabitants, by the way, to brace themselves to defend their city against the aggression of the "collective West," in the form of terrorist attacks by Ukrainian diversionary troops equipped and acting under NATO orders, and wearing, illegally, Russian uniforms taken from Russian "heroes." No, really, Rostov seems like an unlikely place for a weary soldier to rest up, but who knows? There don't seem to have been any actual Surovikin sightings.