Ukraine at D+481: An operational pause and a Darknet Parliament.
N2K logoJun 20, 2023

Ukraine continues to make slow progress during what amounts to an operational pause. Russian hacktivist auxiliaries and privateers announce a "Darknet Parliament."

Ukraine at D+481: An operational pause and a Darknet Parliament.

Ukrainian forces continue to make small, local gains against Russian resistance, including the recapture of more towns, in what the Ukrainian Defense Ministry describes as heavy fighting. That fighitng has achieved "tactical successes" in the southern zone. Russian Defense Minister Shoigu acknowledges that his army is experiencing shortages of tanks, but President Putin has publicly expressed confidence that Ukraine's counteroffensive will fail, indeed is already failing, but this seems optimistic and premature.

The Institute for the Study of War says that "Ukraine has not yet committed the majority of its available forces to counteroffensive operations and has not yet launched its main effort." The Institute reads this an an "operational pause" of the sort that's common in offensive operations, and that a pause by no means indicates that the offensive is over. Indeed, the continuing tactical successes show that it continues. Commentary in the Telegraph cautions that Ukraine's allies shouldn't expect rapid and unambiguous success, and that they should prepare for a long campaign.

Militias composed of dissident Russians fighting for Ukraine persist in conducting cross-border raids, mostly in the vicinity of Belgorod, the Washington Post reported over the weekend.

Russian forces redeploy, and show signs of applying lessons learned to their defense.

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) in Saturday morning's situation report saw Russian attack aviation achieving an advantage in the southern sector of the front. "Since the start of Ukrainian counter-offensive operations in southern Ukraine, Russia has re-enforced its attack helicopter force in the region. Imagery shows that over 20 extra Russian helicopters deployed to Berdyansk Airport, approximately 100km behind the front line. In the constant contest between aviation measures and counter-measures, it is likely that Russia has gained a temporary advantage in southern Ukraine, especially with attack helicopters employing longer-range missiles against ground targets."

Sunday the UK's MoD reported, "In recent days, heavy fighting has continued, with the most intense combat focused in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, western Donetsk Oblast, and around Bakhmut. In all these areas, Ukraine continues to pursue offensive operations and has made small advances. In the south, Russian forces often conduct relatively effective defensive operations. Both sides are suffering high casualties, with Russian losses likely the highest since the peak of the battle for Bakhmut in March."

By Monday morning, according to the UK's MoD, Russia had begun shifting forces away from ground it now regards as impassible. "Over the last ten days, Russia has highly likely started relocating elements of its Dnipro Group of Forces (DGF) from the eastern bank of the Dnipro River to reinforce the Zaporizhzhia and Bakhmut sectors. This potentially involves several thousand troops from the 49th Army, including its 34th Separate Motorised Brigade, as well as Airborne Forces (VDV) and Naval Infantry units. The DGF redeployment likely reflects Russia’s perception that a major Ukrainian attack across the Dnipro is now less likely following the collapse of Kakhovka Dam and the resulting flooding."

The New York Times summarizes some of the lessons Russia's army has applied, and notes signs of improved discipline and cohesion in the ranks. (Such improvements may not, however, obviated that army's use of barrier troops to prevent retreat.)

Casualties on both sides are described, by the Guardian, the AP, and other outlets, as "heavy."

"Unambiguously confrontational."

This morning the British Ministry of Defence reported that Wagner Group proprietor Prigozhin yesterday sent his own draft contract to the Kremlin. "On 19 June 2023, Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he was expecting a reply from the Russian MoD regarding a ‘contract’ of his own drafting which he had delivered to the ministry three days before.This follows the MoD’s own ultimatum to Wagner and other ‘volunteer formations’ to sign contracts with the MoD by 01 July 2023. Although the content of Prigozhin’s document has not been made public, the act of him delivering it raises the stakes, and is highly likely another deliberate effort to undermine the authority of the official military authorities. Prigozhin’s tone towards the MoD has become unambiguously confrontational. The MoD almost certainly sees this as deeply unfortunate at a time when it is grappling with Ukraine’s counter-offensive."

British Government commits £25 million in cybersecurity aid to Ukraine.

HM Government on Sunday announced that it would allocate £25 million to aid Ukraine's cybersecurity efforts. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak explained, "Russia’s appalling attacks on Ukraine are not limited to their barbaric land invasion, but also involve sickening attempts to attack their cyber infrastructure that provides vital services, from banking to energy supplies, to innocent Ukrainian people. This funding is critical to stopping those onslaughts, hardening Ukraine’s cyber defences and increasing the country’s ability to detect and disable the malware targeted at them." The new grant builds on and significantly expands last year's £6.35 million tranche of cybersecurity assistance.

KillNet, REvil, and Anonymous Sudan form a DARKNET Parliament and “sanction” the European Banking system.

KillNet, in partnership with REvil and Anonymous Sudan, announced last Wednesday, June 14th, that they would attack European banking systems. They seem at least in part to have kept their promise. This isn’t the general attack on the SWIFT interbank funds transfer system the operators have been threatening, and it’s always difficult to determine the effectiveness of these attacks, but it seems the hacktivist auxiliaries successfully carried out a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the European Investment Bank (EIB). EIB has confirmed that they are experiencing a cyber attack which is affecting the status of their website in a tweet on June 19th writing, “We are currently facing a cyber attack which affects the availability of and We are responding to the incident.” 

The hacktivist triumvirate also claims to have created a “DARKNET Parliament.” A communiqué announced, “72 hours ago, three heads of hacker groups from Russia and Sudan held a regular meeting in the DARKNET parliament, and came to a common decision: SOLUTION №0191. Today we are starting to impose sanctions on the European banking transfer systems SEPA, IBAN, WIRE, SWIFT, WISE.” Although the groups may have successfully disrupted the EIB’s website, the damage done is probably transitory. The incident represents another politically motivted, nuisance-level attack (accompained by tiresome, self-important, long-winded gasconade) of the sort that’s become commonplace during the current phase of Russia’s hybrid war.