Ukraine at D+378: Russian missile strikes resume.
N2K logoMar 9, 2023

Bakhmut remains an objective, but Russia has resumed long-range strikes against other Ukrainian cities. The US sees more problems for Russia this year.

Ukraine at D+378: Russian missile strikes resume.

As fighting continued for Bakhmut, Russia launched another wave of missile strikes against Ukrainian civilian targets, the AP reports. Kharkiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia were especially hard-hit. According to the BBC, the nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia was directly targeted and is now without power.

Avril Haines, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), yesterday told the Senate that the US Intelligence Community assesses that Russia is unlikely to be able to recover from its losses or make significant territorial gains in Ukraine this year. The Guardian quotes her as listing Russia's problems as including, in addition to high casualties, “personnel and ammunition shortages, dysfunction within the military leadership, exhaustion as well as morale challenges.” And she thinks Russia's president now understands this. “Putin likely has a better understanding of the limits of what his military is capable of achieving and appears to be focused on more modest military objectives for now,” Haines said.

Turning to asymmetric warfare as symmetric warfare fails.

DNI Haines also predicted an increased turn on Russia's part to alternative forms of military power. "Russia will become even more reliant on asymmetric options such as nuclear, cyber, space capabilities, and on China," Insider quotes her as saying. 

Such alternatives have seen their own challenges. Bloomberg reviews, again, the difficult Russia has had mounting effective cyber offensives against Ukraine and Ukraine's allies. Some of this is due to deterrence, but much of the failure is credited to effective Ukrainian defenses. There has also been evidence of Russian inability to sustain focused cyber offensives over a period of time long enough to have decisive effect. It has, for example, proven more difficult than anticipated for Russian services to maintain unity of effort in the criminal gangs they rely on as auxiliaries. Some of those gangs, like Conti, splintered over Russia's war.

That said, the gangs remain important to Russia's cyber operations, and the governments of nations sympathetic to Ukraine are not disposed to overlook the criminal connections to Russia's intelligence and security services. Australian officials, for example, the Record reports, have called on Moscow to bring the ransomware gangs it shelters and enables "to heel."

Airborne command-and-control shortfalls?

Belarus has acknowledged damage, reported earlier and now confirmed, to an A-50U MAINSTAY aircraft. The UK's Ministry of Defence reports: "On 07 March 2023, Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko confirmed that one of Russia’s small fleet of A-50U MAINSTAY D airborne early warning and control aircraft deployed in Belarus had been damaged. The aircraft was almost certainly attacked by a small uncrewed air system. The MAINSTAY has likely now been moved to a repair facility at Taganrog in Russia. The transit flight reportedly took place at a lower than usual altitude, likely because of damage to the pressurised cabin. The MAINSTAY was likely providing situational awareness for MiG-31K FOXHOUND D fighter aircraft modified to launch the AS-24 KILLJOY air launched ballistic missile which Russia sees as a key strategic capability. The modification saw the jets’ internal radar removed to balance the airframe, making pilots reliant on external sources of situational awareness, such as MAINSTAY. It is a realistic possibility that joint Russo-Belarusian air activity will now be forced to rely on ground control and fighter escort until another MAINSTAY can be deployed."