Ukraine continues its counteroffensive, pushing farther east into occupied territory beyond Kharkiv. Russia retaliates with long-range drone and missile strikes against civilian infrastructure and (perhaps) some military targets. Russia's partial mobilization has drawn widespread criticism from across Russian society: too warlike for the doves, just half-stepping in the view of the hardliners, and both capricious and harsh for everyone in the middle. In cyberspace, current Russian activity seems to focus on cybercrime against Ukrainian and EU targets.
Ukraine at D+214: Rigged voting and botched mobilization. And a counteroffensive.
Ukrainian forces have continued their counteroffensive, pushing eastward through the city of Kupyansk, which had served as the Russian administrative center of those portions of the Kkarkiv Oblast Russian forces had occupied, the Wall Street Journal reports. Russian retaliation has consisted, as has been its recent pattern, of long-range drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian civil and military targets. The civilian targets include cities, Odesa among them. The Russian drones, Al Jazeera reports were supplied by Iran.
Saturday morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) described Russia attempts (with missile strikes, note, not maneuver units, aircraft, or either cannon and rocket artillery) to breach dams in an evident attempt to impede Ukrainian advances. "On 21 and 22 September 2022, Russia struck the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskyy Donets River using short range ballistic missiles or similar weapons. This follows a strike on the Karachunivske Dam near Krivyy Rih in central Ukraine on 15 September 2022. Ukrainian forces are advancing further downstream along both rivers. As Russian commanders become increasingly concerned about their operational set-backs, they are probably attempting to strike the sluice gates of dams, in order to flood Ukrainian military crossing points. The attacks are unlikely to have caused significant disruption to Ukrainian operations due to the distance between the damaged dams and the combat zones."
Referenda in occupied Ukrainian territories were conducted amid widespread coercion.
Referenda on annexation were conducted over the weekend in Ukrainian territory that remains under Russian occupation. Widespread coercion of voters has been reported. The AP characterizes the vote as "preordained," which generally reflects international consensus on its legitimacy. There are reports that Ukrainian prisoners of war are being forced by their captors to vote in the referenda, and they certainly aren't being encouraged to vote "no" to annexation.
Partial mobilization turns rockier than the Kremlin had hoped.
Saturday saw two policy developments in Russia. The Telegraph reports that President Putin signed a new law imposing stiffer penalties on military personnel who refused orders, and he dismissed Deputy Defense Minister General Dmitry Bulgakov. No reason was given for the dismissal, but General Bulgakov had been responsible for logistics, which have been a standout failure even by the low standards Russia's war effort in general has sent.
Sunday's report from the MoD highlighted a call in the Duma that partial mobilization be extended to the Rosgvardia, the internal security national guard formations. "On 21 September 2022, high-profile Russian nationalist Duma member Aleksandr Khinstein called for the partial mobilisation of Russia’s military to be extended to the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia). Rosgvardia units have played an important role in both combat and rear-area security in Ukraine and are currently facilitating accession referendums in occupied areas. The force is intended for use in domestic security roles, to ensure the continuity of Putin’s regime. It was particularly ill-prepared for the intense fighting it has experienced in Ukraine. With a requirement to quell growing domestic dissent in Russia, as well as operational taskings in Ukraine, Rosgvardia is highly likely under particular strain. There is a realistic possibility that mobilisation will be used to reinforce Rosgvardia units with additional manpower."
This morning the MoD's situation report described the arrival of the first classes of newly mobilized troops at their stations. "The initial tranches of men called up under Russia’s partial mobilisation have started arriving at military bases. Many tens of thousands of call-up papers have already been issued. Russia will now face an administrative and logistical challenge to provide training for the troops. Unlike most Western armies, the Russian military provides low-level, initial training to soldiers within their designated operational units, rather than in dedicated training establishments. Typically, one battalion within each Russian brigade will remain in garrison if the other two deploy and can provide a cadre of instructors to train new recruits or augmentees. However, Russia has deployed many of these third battalions to Ukraine. Many of the drafted troops will not have had any military experience for some years. The lack of military trainers, and the haste with which Russia has started the mobilisation, suggests that many of the drafted troops will deploy to the front line with minimal relevant preparation. They are likely to suffer a high attrition rate."
The partial mobilization has prompted more internal friction and pushback than the Kremlin had evidently hoped. The New York Times reports protests against the call-ups, which have swept up men who were not supposed to be mobilized: the old, some students, some without military experience, and even some of the ill or disabled. The partial conscription is said, according to the Times, to have hit poorer, remoter districts hardest, and there have been protests both in the hinterlands and in the larger and, by Russian standards, wealthier and more cosmopolitan cities. The call-up has pleased no one. Those generally out of sympathy with the war or at least the necessity of their serving in it are opposed on obvious grounds, and the hard-liners are complaining that partial mobilization is a half-measure that won't serve victory.
Influential members of the Duma have called for the correction of mistakes and errors that have marred the call-up. The Telegraph quotes two of them. "'Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And, I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society,' said Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house. In an apparent attempt to deflect blame from the Kremlin, she said that governors of Russia’s 85 federal regions held 'full responsibility' for implementing the order, and that they must 'ensure the implementation of partial mobilisation is carried out in full and absolute compliance with the outlined criteria. Without a single mistake.' Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, said 'complaints are being received' and that 'if a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it."
Defense One speculates that disapproval of the mobilization may represent an incipient movement against President Putin, but there's a long way to go before such discontent becomes a serious threat to the regime.
Cybercrime in the hybrid war.
Observers continue to expect a renewed offensive from Russia in cyberspace, but so far that hasn't materialized. What is being seen, News 24 and others report, is some apparently financially motivated celebrity doxing by Russophone gangs.
In Ukraine itself, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reports having taken down a gang based in Lviv that it says was responsible for compromising almost thirty-million accounts and earning roughly UAH 14 million (about $380,000) in the process. (BleepingComputer reads this as accounts belonging to thirty-million individuals.) The SBU says the hoods it took down were working for the Russians:
"The security service neutralized a hacker group that acted in the interests of the aggressor country in Lviv. Criminals hacked active accounts of Internet users from Ukraine and the European Union, gaining access to personal data of citizens. They sold this confidential information through the anonymous Darknet platform, and received money through electronic payment systems YuMoney, Qiwi, and WebMoney, which are prohibited in our country. According to preliminary data, the hackers sold approximately 30 million accounts and received a "profit" of almost UAH 14 million."
The SBU says the Russian organs were interested in the stolen accounts for their potential in spreading and amplifying disinformation. "Their 'wholesale customers' were pro-Kremlin propagandists. It was they who used the received identification data of Ukrainian and foreign citizens to spread fake 'news' from the front and create panic. The goal of such manipulations was large-scale destabilization in countries. It was also established that hacked accounts were allegedly used on behalf of ordinary people to spread disinformation about the socio-political situation in Ukraine and the EU."
A criminal investigation into the Lviv incident continues.