Ukraine at D+40: Confronting disinformation at the UN.
N2K logoApr 5, 2022

Russia recasts, on the ground, combat failure as all part of the plan. At the UN, it recasts that failure as humanitarian restraint.

Ukraine at D+40: Confronting disinformation at the UN.

Fighting in Ukraine shifts as Russia retreats from Kyiv to reconstitute and shift forces to the Donbas and the Black Sea.

The UK's Ministry of Defence watches the redeployment of Russian units as they retreat from scenes of atrocities around their initial objectives and redeploy to the Donbas: "Russian forces are continuing to consolidate and reorganise as they refocus their offensive into the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine. Russian troops, including mercenaries from the Russian state-linked Wagner private military company, are being moved into the area." Redeployment is unlikely to be swift; the Russian units withdrawing are going to require some reconstitution: "Ukrainian forces have retaken key terrain in the north of Ukraine, after denying Russia the ability to secure its objectives and forcing Russian forces to retreat from the areas around Chernihiv and North of Kyiv. Low-level fighting is likely to continue in some parts of the newly recaptured regions, but diminish significantly over this week as the remainder of Russian forces withdraw. Many Russian units withdrawing from northern Ukraine are likely to require significant re-equipping and refurbishment before being available to redeploy for operations in eastern Ukraine."

US National Security Advisor Sullivan sees a long war ahead, Bloomberg reports, one that could last for months. “All indications are that Russia will seek to surround and overwhelm Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine,” Sullivan said early this week. The coming offensive, US intelligence services think, will have a narrative importance more significant than any tactical success it might achieve: it's likely to be used, assuming things work out as Moscow hopes, as evidence of Russian progress and battlefield competence that (Moscow hopes) will obscure the current record of failure, brutality, and ineptitude. 

Russian atrocities draw widespread outrage.

After the United Nations Secretary General this morning called for an immediate end to the war against Ukraine ("a humanitarian cease-fire"), Ukrainian President Zelenskyy addressed the United Nations Security Council. He denounced, in detail, Russian atrocities in Bucha and other cities Ukrainian forces have now been retaken. The war crimes he described were horrific. He also called attention to the worldwide implications of Russia's war of choice, particularly with respect to the contributions it's making to food shortages in Africa and elsewhere. He asked what the point of the UN Charter can be if its central article, Article One, which prohibits wars of aggression, is so easily flouted by a permanent member of the Security Council. It's turned its veto into a right to kill.

We all know, he said, what Russia will tell the world. "They will blame everyone, just to justify their own actions," he said, comparing the current situation to the shootdown of a Malaysian airliner, to atrocities in Syria. In these cases and in others, President Zelenskyy said, Russia has insisted that there are differing accounts, and divergent interpretations, but this is done just to sow confusion. In this case, however, the evidence is incontrovertible, and preserving that evidence, and publicizing it, is vitally important. "The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes," he said. And he called for trials like those held in Nuremberg after World War Two, pointedly reminding Russian diplomats that the Nazi foreign minister Ribbentrop didn't escape punishment in 1946.

His peroration called for equal treatment of all nations, and an end to the privilege Russia has enjoyed as a permanent member of the Security Council. "Either remove Russia as an aggressor and a source of war...or else dissolve yourself altogether." He asked the Council to watch a brief video in which names of towns were displayed, without narration, over images of dead civilians, many of them naked, some of them burned, many of them with hands bound behind their backs, clearly executed at close range.

After President Zelenskyy's address, the members of the Security Council spoke. The US said that it had independently assessed that war crimes, including the abduction of children and the large-scale deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, had been committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. The US permanent representative added that the Americans were seeking the expulsion of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council: Russia's membership therein is both offensive and dangerous. She called for the General Assembly to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council, and appeared to suggest that Russia's membership in the Security Council itself should also be reconsidered.

The Albanian permanent representative called the Russian atrocities "revolting," and wished Ukraine victory. He drew attention to Russian military failure ("Russia's army has been defeated by the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian army") but said that was old news. What's new, he said, is the horrific evidence of atrocity, and that evidence will be, he said, impossible to refute. "You cannot fool satellite images; you cannot blind independent journalists on the ground." He predicted a war of attrition in Eastern Ukraine, and directly blamed Russia's president for the tragedy.

Russia's representative, in a strikingly mendacious response, asked that the UN recognize Russia's humanitarian work in Ukraine. He deplored Ukraine's interference with those efforts. He characterized Russia's mass abduction of Ukrainian citizens to Russia as a voluntary, humanitarian effort. He addressed President Zelenskyy directly, to "place on your conscience the ungrounded accusations against the Russian military which are uncorroborated by any eyewitnesses." He accused Ukraine of betraying hopes of an end to Ukrainian attacks against Donetsk and Luhansk, of conducting a campaign against the Russian language, and of failing to comply with the Minsk agreements. He also reiterated Russian claims that the Nazis are "running the show" in Ukraine, and are bent on destroying Russian language and culture. He called for the world to "cut out the malignant Nazi tumor" that's engulfing Ukraine and would eventually engulf Russia. Russia would do that, he said, and would succeed. And in a strikingly creative explanation of Russian combat failure, he explained military incompetence as evidence of humanitarian restraint.

The Irish representative, whose statement followed Russia's, called the Russian account "cynical" and the evidence of Russian crime indisputable. She called for an immediate Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, and for the national and international prosecution of Russian war crimes.

China's representative called for further negotiation between Russia and Ukraine with the aim of ending the conflict and preventing its expansion. It called upon the parties to abide by international humanitarian law, especially those protecting civilians and noncombatants. He called for a thorough investigation of evidence of atrocities in Bucha and elsewhere. It took a more measured view of the conditions on the ground than other nations' statements did, but China's presentation fell short of clear support of Russia's line.

France's permanent representative wasn't buying the Russian statement at all, calling it, frankly, disinformation, and saying that Russia had added the disgrace of lies to the disgrace of murder, and she called for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes. Russia's war, she said, was a war of aggression, and called upon the Russian people themselves to redress the criminal actions of President Putin. The British representative placed blame for the war solely on Russia, and called for the prosecution of war criminals.

Russia was given the last word, and its representative deplored the West's unfair treatment of Russia. He called the March 30th withdrawal from Bucha a "gesture of good faith," and claimed that "not a single civilian suffered from any violence" while Russian forces controlled the town, and he asked that the world recognize the humanitarian aid Russia brought to the Kyiv oblast as a whole. And that shelling around Mariupol? It was the work of Ukrainian guns. Says Russia. And any atrocities around Bucha must have been the work of the Ukrainians themselves. He makes much of bodies seen to be wearing white armbands, which he explained Russian forces asked civilians to wear, presumably the better to protect them. The atrocity stories are just Ukrainian disinformation. Russia's representative closed by accusing the West of "fueling anti-Russian hysteria everyday," and that the blood of future "provocations" will be on Western hands.

But of course the victims were civilians--that's the point: Russia is accused by the world of widespread massacre of civilians.

Russian cyber operations against Ukraine.

Security firm Intezer followed up CERT-UA's (Ukraine's CERT) discovery of a new malware framework being used in phishing campaigns.

"A recently developed malware framework called Elephant is being delivered in targeted spear phishing campaigns using spoofed Ukrainian governmental email addresses. The four malware components delivered are used for stealing credentials, documents, and to provide remote access to the infected machine.

"Two of these components were first reported on by the Computer Emergency Response Team for Ukraine (CERT-UA) in March 2022. They named the two components GraphSteel and GrimPlant. When investigating these events, we have identified that Elephant has also been delivered via phishing emails from spoofed Ukrainian email addresses. Elephant is a malware framework written in Go. The activity has been attributed to UAC-0056 (TA471, SaintBear, UNC2589) by CERT-UA."

Hate breeds hate under the morally coarsening impact of an unjust war.

Whatever the Russian permanent representative to the UN might say, the evidence of Russian war crimes is as clear and irrefutable as is the evidence of aggression. Beijing is more-or-less following the Russian line, for its own tactical purposes, but Beijing is an outlier. Russian atrocities in Ukraine seem to be partially matters of policy, partially signs of a breakdown in discipline among poorly trained troops.

That said, not everything done in even the most defensive of wars is legitimate. The Telegraph reports, "Residents of a village near the town of Izyum reportedly 'treated' the troops of Russia's 3rd Motor Rifle infantry division to the traditional "pirozhki", which resemble a Cornish pastry, laced with an unknown poison." Two are said to have died, and twenty-eight others are thought to have been hospitalized. Both poison weapons and perfidy (actions that undermine the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, such as feigned surrender) are illegal under the laws of war. The Telegraph adds that "The Ukrainian military intelligence described the incident as an ingenious way to 'offer resistance to the occupying troops by all possible means.'" Such encouragement is unworthy and illicit. To be sure, aggression conducted with both casual and calculated violence will incite hatred beyond reason, and anyone with a functioning moral imagination can understand that, but whatever happened around Izyum, Ukrainian military intelligence services should know better to incite either civilians or soldiers to violate the laws of war.