Ukraine at D+82: Micromanagement and failed military reform.
N2K logoMay 17, 2022

Ukraine winds up its resistance in Mariupol, but it amounts to a Pyrrhic victory for Russia as its military failures continue in the Donbas. The cyber phase of the hybrid war remains characterized by politically aligned cybercrime and nuisance-level hacktivism. As Sweden and Finland formally apply for NATO membership, scholars consider the meaning of Article 5 in cyberspace.

Ukraine at D+82: Micromanagement and failed military reform.

The morning situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) reviews the damage Russia's failed attempt to take Kyiv left in its wake. The MoD sees the wreckage as evidence of Russian readiness to use artillery indiscriminately against civilian targets. "In the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, approximately 3,500 buildings are estimated to have been destroyed or damaged during Russia’s abandoned advance towards the Ukrainian capital. 80% of the damage has been caused to residential buildings. The scale of this damage indicates Russia’s preparedness to use artillery against inhabited areas, with minimal regard to discrimination or proportionality. Russia has likely resorted to an increasing reliance on indiscriminate artillery bombardment due to a limited target acquisition capability, and an unwillingness to risk flying combat aircraft routinely beyond its own frontlines. In the coming weeks, Russia is likely to continue to rely heavily on massed artillery strikes as it attempts to regain momentum in its advance in the Donbas."

Russia is achieving a costly success in Mariupol, as Ukraine begins the evacuation of its soldiers from their long-held strongpoint in the Azovstal plant. The victory is Pyrrhic; Russian forces continue to stall elsewhere, the Los Angeles Times reports. The recent loss of Kharkiv, now completely in Ukrainian hands, is seen as a particularly telling setback, in the Telegraph's assessment. Already a secondary objective, chosen as an easier prestige task when the attempt to take Kyiv and decapitate the Ukrainian government failed, the capture of largely Russophone Kharkiv failed unambiguously. Sources tell the Telegraph that President Putin and Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov have assumed direct, personal control over operations in the Donbas, directing tactical operations of battalions.

The New York Times reviews Russian combat performance and traces the history of what is now a clearly failed program of reform the Russian army undertook after poor performance during its incursion into Georgia in 2008. Corruption, demographic changes (particularly a sharply falling birthrate), and institutional rigidity combined to leave the army between two possible outcomes, no more an army of mass mobilization, it was not yet an agile professional force, and it had none of the advantages of either.

An assessment of the Russian cyber threat.

An op-ed by Akamai in CSO warns that "the cyberwar against pro-Ukrainian countries is real," and then goes on to describe the nature of those threats. They're the sorts of activity that have been much in evidence recently: Russian-aligned cybercriminal gangs engaged in ransomware, and Russian-aligned hacktivist groups engaged in distributed denial-of-service attacks. The author urges organizations to apply sound best practices to protect themselves. Against ransomware they recommend network segmentation. Against DDoS they recommend "conducting service validations, confirming authorized mitigation service contacts, reviewing and updating runbooks, performing operational readiness drills, and updating your emergency methods of communication."

NATO expansion.

Sweden this morning joined Finland in formally seeking NATO membership. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine motivated the decision. “We are leaving one era and moving into another,” the Prime Minister said. “To remain outside of NATO alone, would put Sweden in a very vulnerable position. So the best thing for Sweden’s security and the Swedish people’s security is that we join NATO together with Finland."

Turkey is the sole dissenter within NATO to the admission of Finland and Sweden. Ankara is aggrieved, the BBC reports, by what it perceives as the two Nordic countries' support for Kurdish separatists. All current NATO members must agree to the admission of a new member, and thus continuing Turkish objections would amount to a veto on membership.

NATO's Article 5 in cyberspace.

With a hybrid war in progress and NATO directly adjacent to that war's active theater of operations, the European Leadership Network has published an essay that argues for greater clarity in how the Atlantic Alliance will execute its commitment to collective defense when the attack comes in cyberspace. The authors offer five recommendations:

  • "In the event of adversarial cyberspace actions warranting Article 5 action, the NATO Commander becomes the commander and coordinator for all cyberspace activities, both defensive and offensive, by NATO nations within the area of hostilities.
  • "NATO identifies, establishes, prioritises, and continually refines critical infrastructure and key resources within member nations, as well as criteria for what constitutes necessary action for collective responses.
  • "NATO identifies limits of activity, or 'red lines' resulting in Article 5 response discussions.
  • "NATO members present the NATO Commander intelligence identifying indications, warnings, and attribution of cyberspace attacks, both for response action and, where applicable, public consumption.
  • "NATO members present legal constraints and capabilities of nations to the NATO commander allowing maximisation of nations’ capacity and capability."