Ukraine at D+111: The war of attrition continues.
N2K logoJun 15, 2022

Russia slowly advances into the rubble of Sieverodonetsk, as Ukraine waits for more ammunition. Russia consolidates its influence operations in occupied Ukrainian territory. Anit-Lukashenka hacktivists resurface in Belarus, and Ukraine's SBU release intercepts of a Russian conversation about using prisoners to clear ordnance.

Ukraine at D+111: The war of attrition continues.

The situation report this morning from the UK's Ministry of Defence describes the slow Russian expansion of control in Sieverodonetsk. "After more than a month of heavy fighting, Russian forces now control the majority of Sieverodonetsk. Russia’s urban warfare tactics, which are reliant on heavy use of artillery, have generated extensive collateral damage throughout the city." The action seems ready to recapitulate the final stages of the siege of Mariupol. "Elements of Ukrainian Armed Forces, along with several hundred civilians, are sheltering in underground bunkers in the Azot Chemical Plant, in the city’s industrial zone." Ukrainian resistance has proved unexpectedly protracted and determined. "Russian forces will likely be fixed in and around Azot whilst Ukrainian fighters can survive underground. This will likely temporarily prevent Russia from re-tasking these units for missions elsewhere. It is highly unlikely that Russia anticipated such robust opposition, or such slow, attritional conflict during its original planning for the invasion."

Ukraine has renewed its pleas for more Western aid, especially artillery systems and ammunition.

Russia routes occupied Ukraine's Internet traffic through Russia.

Control of media and communications continues to advance as a matter of occupation policy in those areas of Ukraine that Russia controls. Wired describes how Internet traffic in particular has received close Russian attention. In the vicinity of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia, Internet service providers have been forced to reconfigure to connect through Miranda Media, a Russian operation. Mobile networks are receiving comparable attention, with hitherto unknown companies now providing mobile service in those areas. The integration of the occupied regions' Internet and telecommunications into Russia has been used to disseminate Russian disinformation and propaganda. It's also part of an ongoing campaign of Russification that's extended to such matters as financial services and nominal citizenship, imposing the ruble as the local currency and issuing Russian passports to civilians who remain in the occupied regions.

The Belarusian Cyber-Partisans resurface.

CyberScoop reports that the Belarusian Cyber-Partisans, a dissident group opposed to the continued rule of President Lukashenka, has released what it says are telephone conversations between the Russian embassy and Russian consulate that suggest the Moscow-Minsk alliance is less fraternal than it's publicly represented to be. The Cyber-Partisans call their interception campaign "Operation Zhara" ("Heatwave"). The recordings were, the Cyber-Partisans suggest, made by the Belarusian government itself, an unbrotherly gesture, in the Cyber-Partisans' view. In any case, the content of the calls they've released is remarkably anodyne: discussion of setting up a new facility (with several allusions to the installation of toilets), calls from people asking about their COVID vaccination certificates, inquiries about immigration, a request for advice on how to get a tow truck to Kursk, solicitous inquiries about an interlocutor's health (with attendant universal cliches like "If you've got your health, you've got everything") and so on. There's some mild bureaucratic buck-passing, but on the whole the staff in the embassy and consulate seem patient and conscientious enough. The Cyber-Partisans say they've got more coming, but if they're hoping for greater eclat, they should look for scandal, vilification, double-dealing, etc. The material they've released so far doesn't at all show the Russian diplomatic staff in a bad light: we don't know, but so far at least, they seem nice.

Ukraine's SBU releases an apparent intercept of Russian conversation.

Far from anodyne, however, is another recording of an intercepted call. Collected and released by Ukraine's SBU, the Security Service of Ukraine, the call, which the SBU says was between two Russian intelligence officers, discusses using Ukrainian "detainees" to clear mines and unexploded ordnance from Mariupol. The Telegraph reports that the number of prisoners Russian forces have taken in the region is unknown, but is believed to total roughly 2000. How they are to be used for mine clearance isn't specified, although the two speakers talk about having the detainees "dig trenches and sleep in them." But it seems unlikely that prisoners would be issued proper mine-clearing equipment, and in any case explosive ordnance disposal isn't a job for the untrained and unled. Using prisoners of war in this fashion, whether they're being driven across minefields or simply put to work on military projects, is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. If the recording is authentic, the two interlocutors are casually alluding to, and conducting low-level planning, for a war crime.