Ukraine at D+529:  Ukraine's view of the war's cyber phases.
N2K logoAug 7, 2023

As Moscow and Kyiv exchange drone strikes, the head of Ukraine's State Special Communications Service assesses the progress of the cyber phases of the war.

Ukraine at D+529: Ukraine's view of the war's cyber phases.

Ukrainian strikes against Russian shipping continued with attacks against two tankers, one in the Black Sea proper, the other the Kerch Strait. The tanker hit in the Strait, Sig, was said to be under tow to a port where it might be repaired. Russia's Foreign Ministry excoriated the strikes as "terrorism." Ministry representative Maria Zakharova, was also aggrieved by the lack of international support for Russia's cause. “The Kyiv regime, meeting no condemnation from western countries and international organisations, is actively applying new terrorist methods, this time in the waters of the Black Sea," she said. “There can be no justification for such barbaric actions, they will not go unanswered and their authors and perpetrators will inevitably be punished.”

Russian forces conducted unusually heavy drone and cruise missile strikes against Ukrainian cities Saturday and Sunday. The Military Times reports that some seventy drones and missiles were launched by Russian aircraft from a distance--the aircraft were flying over the Caspian Sea. According to Al Jazeera, Ukrainian authorities say they shot down all thirty Iran-made Shahed-136/131 UAVs and thirty out of the forty cruise missiles used in the attacks. Russian military spokesmen said that the targets were "airbases around the settlements of Starokostiantyniv in the Khmelnytskyi region and Dubno in the Rivne region."

In what the Institute for the Study of War reads as a response to Russia's ongoing campaign of strikes against grain export infrastructure in Odesa and the Danube River ports, Ukraine has issued a notice to mariners warning that Russia's Black Sea coast was a "war risk" area. The notice affects the "internal and external roadsteads at the ports of Taman, Anapa, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik, Tuapse, and Sochi, until further notice."

On Saturday the UK's Ministry of Defence offered its assessment of Ukraine's strike against Russian naval units in Novorossiysk. "During the night of 3-4 August 2023, the Russian Navy landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak almost certainly suffered serious damage after being struck while near the Black Sea Fleet’s (BSF) Novorossiysk base. Images of the vessel listing at 30-40 degrees suggest that several watertight compartments were breached, or that the crew’s damage control efforts were ineffectual.

"Routinely assigned to Russia’s Northern Fleet, the vessel has augmented the BSF since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has often ferried military and civilian traffic between Russia and occupied Crimea when the Kerch Bridge has been disrupted due to attacks. The 3600 tonne, 113 metre long Olenegorsky Gornyak represents the largest Russian naval vessel seriously damaged or destroyed since the sinking of the cruiser Moskva on 13 April 2022." It's also troubling, for the Russian navy, because Novorossiysk had been seen as a safe port. "This is a significant blow to the BSF, which previously relocated most of its units to Novorossiysk due to the high threat to Sevastopol."

Drone attacks against shipping and land targets within Russia proper represent, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy suggested, a trend. "Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia," he said, "to its symbolic centers and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process."

In this morning's situation report, the UK's MoD took up the curious failure of Russian tactical air to have a significant impact on operations. "The Russian Air Force continues to consistently deploy considerable resources in support of land operations in Ukraine, but without decisive operational effect. Over the summer, Russian tactical combat aircraft have typically carried out over 100 sorties a day, but these are almost always restricted to operating over Russian-controlled territory due to the threat from Ukrainian air defences.

"Russia has attempted to overcome this issue by increasingly using basic free-fall bombs with range-extending glide attachments. Aircraft can release these many kilometres from their targets, but they have yet to demonstrate consistent accuracy. At the start of Ukraine’s southern counter-offensive from June 2023, Russian attack helicopters proved effective. However, in recent weeks Russia appears to have been less able to generate effective tactical airpower in the south."

More challenges to narrative control: airborne casualties.

Sunday morning the British MoD reviewed last week's apparent misstep by a senior Russian army officer. "The annual celebrations of Russia's Airborne Forces (VVD) Day on 2 August 2023 have been overshadowed by an apparently unsanctioned disclosure of the scope of the casualties the elite force has suffered in Ukraine. In a recorded address for VVD Day, the VVD's Commander-in-Chief General Colonel Mikhail Teplinsky said that 8500 paratroopers had been wounded and later returned to duty or had refused to leave the front lines at all.

"The video was quickly deleted from the Russian MoD’s official channels. He did not comment on how many troops had been killed or were too seriously wounded to return to duty. The video was quickly deleted from the However, extrapolating Teplinksy’s figures endorses the assessment that at least 50 per cent of the 30,000 paratroopers who deployed to Ukraine in 2022 have been killed or wounded."

"Our goal is to push them back into the intellectual and IT Middle Ages."

Yurii Shchyhol, head of Ukraine's State Special Communications Service, reviewed the cyber phase of Russia's war in an interview published by the Kyiv Independent. He described Russian cyberattacks as unrelenting. They began as a preparation in January and February last year, in the weeks before Russia's conventional, kinetic invasion. Wiper attacks were the defining feature of that cyber prep. "It all started with an attack on state authorities, it was the largest attack in 17 years," Shchyhol said. Those initial successes have not been repeated, even though Ukraine has seen, by Shchyhol's accounting, about twenty Russian cyber attacks each day since last February's invasion.

Shchyhol puts successful defense down to quick application of lessons learned during the run-up to the war. That preparatory phase accelerated learning that had, however, been going on for some years. Moscow had mounted cyber operations at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict during Russia's invasion and conquest of Crimea in 2014, and Ukraine profited from lessons learned the hard way from such incidents at the NotPetya campaign of 2017. During the present war, successful defense has benefited greatly from quickly developed effective cooperation with both the private sector and friendly foreign governments. Shchyhol also expressed gratification over the way interagency cooperation within the Ukrainian government had improved since the beginning of the war, as the previously endemic infighting over agency equities has been replaced by an atmosphere of general collaboration.

Sanctions against Russia have also been effective, and should, Shchyhol said, continue. "They must be excluded from all international organizations and isolated from the civilized world to prevent them from accessing technologies. Only then can there become a guarantee of our future security." Despite Russia's partially successful efforts to evade sanctions, the country remains dependent on Western (and especially US) systems. "In six months to a year, it will reach a point where it won't function at all, impeding their ability to launch attacks," Shchyhol told the Independent. "Thus, time is working in our favor.”

Meduza was removed from, then restored to, the Apple Podcasts platform.

Meduza, an independent Russian-language news service operating from Riga, Latvia, said Friday that Apple removed Meduza's flagship podcast "What Happened" from the Apple Podcasts streaming platform. What Happened focuses on news affecting Russia, and Meduza isn't particularly sympathetic with the Russian regime. Apple's suspension notice read, "We found an issue with your show, [What Happened], which must be resolved before it’s available on Apple Podcasts. Your show has been removed from Apple Podcasts." Meduza says that no further explanation was offered, but the outlet says that it was effectively outlawed by Russia this past January, when it was designated an "undesirable organization."

According to Meduza, Roskomnadzor, Russia's Internet governance authority, complained to Apple about Meduza earlier this summer, and Meduza believes that Roskomnadzor's complaint may have prompted the suspension. Whatever the cause, the ban was short-lived. Meduza wrote in a Sunday update, "Two days after it was removed, 'What Happened' is again available on the Apple Podcasts streaming platform. Apple did not provide a reason for suddenly removing and restoring the podcast."