Ukraine at D+627: Infantry assaults and shifting narratives.
N2K logoNov 13, 2023

Russia shifts its narrative about the war: it's less a fight against Nazis, and now a fight for restoration of a historic unity and a struggle against "Russophobia."

Ukraine at D+627: Infantry assaults and shifting narratives.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported Saturday that "Russian forces launched a large-scale missile and drone strike series against Ukraine on the night of November 10 to 11, targeting Kyiv Oblast for the first time in 52 days. Ukrainian military sources reported on November 11 that Russian forces launched 31 Shahed 131/136 drones, two Kh-59 missiles, one Kh-31 missile, one P-800 Onyx anti-ship missile, and an S-300 missile against various targets in Ukraine, and specifically targeted Kyiv Oblast with either an Iskander-M or an S-400 missile. Ukrainian air defenses downed 19 Shaheds (primarily targeting front line areas), one Kh-59 missile, and used a Patriot air defense system to destroy the ballistic missile targeting Kyiv Oblast. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces were targeting an air defense system at the Boryspil Airport near Kyiv City. The Kyiv City Administration stated that it has been 52 days since Russian forces last launched a missile strike against Kyiv Oblast."

Ukraine's GUR organized sabotage raids against rail lines within Russia proper, in the Ryazan Oblast southeast of Moscow. Another raid hit a military propellant factory in the Tambov Oblast, farther yet to the southeast. Russian sources also claimed to have shot down a number of Ukrainian drones inside Russian territory.

Milbloggers see an "infantry renaissance," which is one way of putting it.

Russian milbloggers have been writing, some of them with palpable irony, that Russia is on the brink of an "infantry renaissance," which is one way of spinning the situation: severe losses of armored vehicles have driven Russian commanders to reliance on expensive frontal assaults by dismounted infantry.

On Thursday the ISW offered a pessimistic assessment of Russian operational maneuver. "The Russian military command will likely struggle to redeploy combat-effective reinforcements to respond to ongoing Ukrainian operations in eastern Kherson Oblast while conducting defensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and sustaining other offensive efforts in eastern Ukraine." Russian milbloggers said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces had made multiple local advances throughout the sector.

The ISW added Friday, "Russian milbloggers are likely hyperfocusing on east bank Kherson Oblast due to the significant Russian information space neuralgia about Russian military issues in the area. Some Russian milbloggers appear to be less concerned about the possible near-term threat of Ukrainian operations on the east bank and are more upset about the poor Russian conduct of the war and mistreatment of military personnel. A Russian milblogger complained that Russian forces struggle with the 'ossification' of poor habits and conduct within the Russian military. These habits include poor communications, lack of proper preparations before or support during assault missions, conducting rotations in columns, Russian commanders selling frontline aid, and uninterest in learning from military mistakes and acknowledging poor battlefield realities. The milblogger specifically emphasized the importance of Russian military professionalism and becoming the best army in the world. Other Russian milbloggers reiterated standard complaints about Russian military capabilities in Kherson Oblast but claimed that Russian forces still inflict high casualties on Ukrainian forces operating on the east bank. Another prominent milblogger claimed that the situation near Krynky, Kherson Oblast is a 'tactical problem' for Russian forces but not a strategic threat."

The UK's Ministry of Defence in this morning's situation report highlighted drug and alcohol abuse among Russian troops. "In September 2023, independent Russian media outlet Vertska reported that up to 15% of Russian soldiers in Ukraine were using drugs, including amphetamines and cannabis, and that they were easy to obtain even on the frontline. These reports are credible and follow numerous reports since the invasion of a high rate of disciplinary incidents, crimes and deaths related to alcohol abuse amongst the Russian force. Russian commanders likely frequently punish drug and alcohol abusers by posting them to Storm-Z assault detachments, which have effectively become penal units. One of the core drivers of poor Russian discipline and substance abuse likely remains the continued lack of opportunity for combat troops to rotate away from the front line."

Wagner Group, now under government control, resumes recruiting.

The Wagner Group is now largely under the control of the Rosgvardia, the UK's MoD wrote Sunday. "As of late October 2023, large elements of the Wagner Group private military company had likely been assimilated into the command structure of Russia’s National Guard (Rosgvardiya) and resumed active recruitment. This Wagner arm under Rosgvardiya is likely led by Pavel Prigozhin, son of the late Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin. Other groups of Wagner fighters have highly likely joined another Russian PMC, Redut, which according to a Radio Free Europe investigation now has 7,000 personnel in total. On 1 November 2023, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov stated that Wagner Group medics had joined Chechen Akhmat special forces. Previously, on 25 October 2023, Kadyrov had stated that 170 former Wagner fighters had already joined Akhmat. The Russian state is now exercising more direct control of Wagner Group activities and former personnel following the mutiny in July 2023 and subsequent death of Wagner’s leadership in August 2023."

Other Russian force generation initiatives.

Russia is working to replenish its forces in ways that will serve its purposes in Ukraine as well as prepare it for a war against NATO. The ISW reports, "The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is pursuing three simultaneous and overlapping force generation efforts as it seeks to manage short- to medium-term requirements in Ukraine while also pursuing long-term restructuring to prepare for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov have explicitly framed Russia’s announced long-term force restructuring as increasing conventional capabilities against NATO. The Russian MoD is also creating new formations intended as reinforcements for Russia’s war in Ukraine separate from the peacetime Russian force structure, specifically the several new formations reportedly forming entirely in occupied areas of Ukraine and under the command and control of operationalized 'groupings of forces' in Ukraine rather than under existing Russian military districts. The MoD appears to be undermining its long-term restructuring effort, however, by rushing some new formations - which were likely intended to form a strategic reserve or be the basis of long-term force restructuring – as rapid reinforcements to Russian forces in Ukraine. The Russian MoD’s use of ongoing force structure changes to rush newly created and understrength formations to Ukraine will likely impede the accomplishment of the parallel objective of restructuring Russian ground forces to orient on conventional warfare with NATO as the main adversary."

The new force structures seem not to touch the root problems Russian forces have encountered in Ukraine: poor training, poor logistics, poor command, and poor leadership. The ISW puts it more gently: "The retention of pre-war doctrinal structures in Shoigu’s reform scheme suggests that the Russian military has either not learned the lessons of combat in Ukraine or else is for some reason confident that the tactical problems that have led to the current positional war will not recur in future wars."

Threats to Black Sea shipping.

"On 8 November 2023, a civilian Liberian flagged cargo ship, likely the Kmax Ruler, was struck by a Russian anti-radar missile at Pivdennyi port, Odesa, Ukraine," the UK's MoD reported Friday. "Ukrainian officials stated that this was likely a KH-31 (AS-17 KRYPTON) air launched missile. A harbour pilot was killed, and three crew members and a port worker injured. Ukraine's Infrastructure Minister said the ship was loading freight iron ore destined for Russia's strategic ally, China. The AS-17 was likely being used to target Ukrainian military radars in the area. It is a realistic possibility the air launched AS-17 missile in the absence of a live military radar signature, locked onto the civilian ship's radar. If so, this would demonstrate poor weapons employment tactics on behalf of the Russian pilot."

This Friday the ISW reported successful Ukrainian strikes against Russian Black Sea Fleet units. "Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) stated that Ukrainian surface attack drones sank two Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) small landing ships in occupied Crimea on November 10. The GUR published satellite imagery and reported that the Ukrainian surface attack drone strike on Uzka Bay near Chornomorsk, occupied Crimea, sunk one Project 1176 Akula-class small landing ship and one Project 11770 Serna-class small landing ship. The GUR reported that the Serna-class ship was carrying a crew and was loaded with armored vehicles, including BTR-82 armored personnel carriers, and that Russian forces previously used Serna-class ships to provide cover for Russian BSF ships during raids when Russian forces lacked naval air-defense equipment."

Ukraine, without a significant navy of its own, has used anti-ship missiles and surface drones to render, the New York Times reports, Russia's Black Sea Fleet ineffective.

A narrative shift in Russian influence operations.

"Russia’s State Archive Agency has published a collection of documents 'On the historical unity of the Russians and Ukrainians,'" the UK's MoD wrote Saturday. "It opens with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s July 2021 article on the subject, immediately followed by his address on the situation in Ukraine given on 21 February 2022, the eve of the invasion. The book features 242 documents ranging from the 11th century to the 20th century, which are used to justify the Kremlin’s current policy and support the claim that foreign subversion turned Ukraine into “anti-Russia”. The documents are accompanied by Putin’s interpretative comments."

President Putin is not the only senior leader to pick up this theme, the MoD added. "Last week former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ostensibly wrote an article on the history of Russo-Polish relations. He accused Poland of conducting an aggressive revisionist 'Russophobic' policy, warning this could lead to the destruction of Polish statehood and threatening that Russia and Belarus are able to provide an adequate military response if necessary. The weaponisation of history by the Russian leadership is intensifying, aimed at inculcating anti-westernism in the minds of the Russian population and intimidating its immediate western neighbours."

Report: Ukrainian colonel organized NordStream sabotage.

An investigation by the Washington Post and Der Spiegel concludes that a Ukrainian colonel, Roman Chervinsky, organized the September 26th, 2022, sabotage of three of the four NordStream pipelines. Chervinsky is currently being held in Ukraine on unrelated charges of what the Post characterizes as "abuse of power."

Ukraine expects Russian cyber and kinetic attacks against its energy infrastructure.

Ukraine Energy Minister German Galushchenko (as POLITICO transliterates his name; other sources render it "Herman Halushchenko") said in an interview with POLITICO that Ukraine expected Russian attacks on energy infrastructure, and that a response in kind would "only be fair." Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty says the Minister also claimed that Ukraine had adequate energy reserves to carry it through the winter.

Russia will selectively ban VPNs.

Russia will, Reuters reports, block only those virtual private networks (VPNs) a state-constituted expert commission deems to pose a security threat. VPN use has risen dramatically in Russia since 2022. A 2017 law requires VPN operators to filter content banned by state authority. There was some reluctance in the Duma to enact an outright comprehensive ban on VPNs. This latest move seems a compromising, incremental step in that direction.

Anonymous Sudan claims attacks on ChatGPT and Cloudflare.

Bloomberg reports that Anonymous Sudan claimed responsibility for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that intermittently interrupted OpenAI's ChatGPT last week. The Russian hacktivist auxiliary cited OpenAI's Israeli investments as justification for the operation, thus posing as a more-or-less Islamist group instead of the Kremlin front it is. Anonymous Sudan offered an explanation in its Telegraph channel for its attack on OpenAI.

"Some reasons why we targeted OpenAI and ChatGPT :-

  • "OpenAI's cooperation with the occupation state of Israel and the CEO of OpenAI saying he's willing to invest into Israel more, and his several meetings with Israeli officials like Netanyahu, as Reuters reported.
  • "AI is now being used in the development of weapons and by intelligence agencies like Mossad, and Israel also employs AI to further oppress the Palestinians.
  • "OpenAI is an American company, and we still are targeting any American company 
  • "ChatGPT has a general biasness towards Israel and against Palestine as it has been exposed in twitter, in general there's huge bias of the model towards some topics which has to be fixed"

The group also claimed responsibility for DDoS attacks against Cloudflare. CyberDaily quotes Anonymous Sudan's Telegram channel: "“Cloudflare is strongly down by skynet / Godzilla-Botnet / AnonymousSudan.” Skynet is a DDoS-for-hire operation. Cloudflare quickly restored normal operations.