The missile war continues, Ukraine receives arms from the West, and Russia tightens control over domestic opinion.
Ukraine at D+460: Missile exchanges.
Heavy Russian strikes continued over the weekend, with a mix of missile types deployed against Ukrainian cities. The Institute for the Study of War reported that a total of forty Kh-101/Kh-555 air-launched cruise missiles and thirty-eight Shahed-131/136 drones were fired during the night of May 28th to May 29th, with eleven Iskander-M/K ballistic missiles fired on May 29th. The Ukrainian General Staff says thirty-six Kh-101/Kh-555 missiles were destroyed, as were thirty Shaheds and all eleven Iskanders. Kyiv received far more attention from the strikes than its immediate military importance warrants. More strikes, described as "heavy" hit Kyiv early this morning.
For its part, Russia claims that Ukraine launched eight drones against Moscow in what the Kremlin denounced as a "terrorist attack." Russian authorities say they shot down five and jammed the other three, rendering the attack "inconsequential."
Fighting continues in Bakhmut.
On Saturday, the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) took stock of the Russian situation in Bakhmut. "Wagner Group forces have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions around the Donetsk city of Bakhmut. On 25 May 2023, Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin said the withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut had begun and that transfer of positions to the Russian Ministry of Defence (MOD) would continue to 01 June 2023. The Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister also corroborated the rotation out of Wagner forces in the outskirts of the town. As of 24 May 2023, so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces have likely entered the city to start clearance operations. In recent weeks, elements of the 31st Brigade of Russia’s Airborne Forces (VDV) have likely moved from the Svatove-Kreminna area to reinforce Bakhmut’s flanks. Ukrainian forces had taken 20 square kilometres on Bakhmut's flanks as of 16 May 2023. The rotation out of Wagner forces is likely to continue in controlled phases to prevent collapse in pockets around Bakhmut. Despite Prigozhin’s ongoing feud with the Russian MOD, Wagner forces will likely be used for further offensive operations in the Donbas following reconstituting its forces."
The Washington Post notes that Ukrainian forces continue to contest Bakhmut, and that Russia hasn't finished securing the dead city, whose wreckage the Telegraph compares to that of Stalingrad in the Second World War.
Stakhanovites and snitches.
Saturday's report from the UK's MoD focused on Russia's evolving understanding of the economic requirements of the war against Ukraine. They're more stringent than Russia expected when it invaded last year. "In recent weeks the tone of public debate in Russia has moved beyond merely punishing those who criticise the 'Special Military Operation' towards mandating citizens to actively make sacrifices in support of the war effort. Russian state-backed media and business groups have petitioned the Economic Ministry to authorise a six-day week for workers in the face of the economic demands of the war, apparently without additional pay. On 21 May 2023, leading Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan mooted that citizens should work for two extra hours in munitions factories each day, after their regular jobs. The evolving tone of conversation clearly echoes a Soviet-style sense of societal compulsion. It also highlights how the leadership highly likely identifies economic performance as a decisive factor in winning the war."
Tuesday morning the UK's MoD described the economic burden the war has imposed on Russia's economy. "On 25 May 2023, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that Russian military spending grew by 9.2 per cent in 2022 to USD $86.4 billion. SIPRI assesses this equates to 4.1 per cent of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)." This assessment is tentative at best. "Russia’s true military spending is highly uncertain due to the increased use of classified budget lines, especially since February 2022, and the lack of transparency. Russia has only recently resumed publishing headline expenditure breakdowns after suspending this in May 2022. It is almost certain that military spending remains elevated, and this is putting pressure on Russian government finances."
Social pressure to support Russia's war has taken forms more sinister than Stakhanovite appeals for longer hours and heroic efforts to over-fulfill the plan. The spirit of Pavel Morozov is also reappearing, as Russian civil society breathes the corrosive atmosphere of informer culture. The Washington Post reports a Stalinesque surge in eavesdropping, informing, and denunciation. "Private conversations in restaurants and rail cars are fair game for eavesdroppers, who call police to arrest 'traitors' and 'enemies.' Social media posts, and messages — even in private chat groups — become incriminating evidence that can lead to a knock on the door by FSB agents," the Post writes. And the snitches have strong official support. "The effect is chilling, with denunciations strongly encouraged by the state and news of arrests and prosecutions amplified by propagandist commentators on federal television stations and Telegram channels. In March last year, Putin called on the nation to purge itself by spitting out traitors 'like gnats.' He has since issued repeated dark warnings about internal enemies, claiming that Russia is fighting for its survival."
NoName disrupts British airport's system.
Russian hacktivist auxiliaries affiliated with the NoName group claimed responsibility for a denial-of-service attack that briefly disrupted London City Airport's website Sunday morning, Simple Flying reports. Flight operations were unaffected.
The EU draws lessons from Ukraine's performance against Russia.
Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy lead, reflected recently on the lessons Europe might learn from Ukraine's combat record, which he finds generally impressive and worthy of emulation. He brackets cyber with electronic warfare, and thinks Ukraine has shown the importance of both. "Every day it becomes clearer how well Ukraine has used electronic warfare to degrade enemy radio signals and radars and to disable drones and missiles. Electronic warfare capabilities, including but not limited to cyber, are increasingly relevant."
Russian troops in Crimea exercise smoke capabilities.
On Monday the situation report from the British MoD concentrated on Russian use of smoke in exercises around Crimea. "On 24 May 2023, Russia conducted a security exercise around the Crimea Bridge, which links the Russian city of Kerch to the occupied peninsula. This included the creation of a smoke screen, partially masking the bridge. The smoke screen was laid by TDA-3 truck-mounted smoke generators, likely of the 28th Brigade of Russia’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops. Russian doctrine considers the use of smoke part of maskirovka (camouflage and deception) - upon which it places strong emphasis. However, in practice, Russian maskirovka has generally been ineffectual in the Ukraine war, likely because of a lack of a strong central planning function and poor low-level battle discipline."