Ukraine at D+200: Ukraine retakes ground.
N2K logoSep 12, 2022

Ukrainian forces see success along all three axes of advance in its counteroffensive. The prospect of Russian cyberattacks remains a concern, and Ukraine says it's preparing for a wave of them, but so far they have yet to materialize.

Ukraine at D+200: Ukraine retakes ground.

Ukraine's counteroffensive after one week.

The AP reports that Ukrainian advances in the north have now reached the Russian border. Ukrainian forces are advancing on three axes: around Kharkiv, in the Donbas, and on the Black Sea coast, as Russian forces withdraw from ground they'd taken, and withdraw sometimes in considerable disarray, the Telegraph and others note. Ukrainian forces continued their advance over the weekend. As the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported Sunday morning, "Over the last 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have continued to make significant gains in the Kharkiv region. Russia has likely withdrawn units from the area, but fighting continues around the strategically important cities of Kupiansk and Izium."Reuters characterizes a representative portion of the situation: "In the worst defeat for Moscow's forces since they were repelled from the outskirts of the capital Kyiv in March, thousands of Russian soldiers left behind ammunition and equipment as they fled the city of Izium, which they had used as a logistics hub." Russian forces are facing severe shortages of both ammunition and artillery tubes, and, according to Breaking Defense, are being re-equipped with obsolescent armored vehicles. Those replacement rates are not keeping up with losses.

In this morning's situation report, the UK's MoD described the continuing Ukrainian advance near both Kharkiv and Kherson. "In the face of Ukrainian advances, Russia has likely ordered the withdrawal of its troops from the entirety of occupied Kharkiv Oblast west of the Oskil River. Isolated pockets of resistance remain in this sector, but since Wednesday, Ukraine has recaptured territory at least twice the size of Greater London. In the south, near Kherson, Russia is likely struggling to bring sufficient reserves forward across the Dnipro River to the front line. An improvised floating bridge Russia started over two weeks ago remains incomplete; Ukrainian long-range artillery is now probably hitting crossings of the Dnipro so frequently that Russia cannot carry out repairs to damaged road bridges." The MoD sees the situation as having a significant effect on Russian cohesion and morale. "The rapid Ukrainian successes have significant implications for Russia’s overall operational design. The majority of the force in Ukraine is highly likely being forced to prioritise emergency defensive actions. The already limited trust deployed troops have in Russia’s senior military leadership is likely to deteriorate further."

The UK's Ministry of Defence on Saturday looked back at the first week of Ukraine's counteroffensive. "Ukrainian forces launched offensive operations in the south of Kharkiv Oblast on 06 September 2022. Lead elements have advanced up to 50km into previously Russian held territory on a narrow front. Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns. A Russian force around Izium is likely increasingly isolated. Ukrainian units are now threatening the town of Kupiansk; its capture would be a significant blow to Russia because it sits on supply routes to the Donbas front line. With Ukrainian operations also continuing in Kherson, the Russian defensive front is under pressure on both its northern and southern flanks."

Attacks on infrastructure (but they're kinetic, not cyber).

As Russian forces retreat from the vicinity of Kharkiv, Reuters reports, they have retaliated with attacks against Ukrainian electrical and water utilities in the area. Those attacks were kinetic, conducted by repurposed air defense and anti-shipping missiles as the Russian army runs short on cannon artillery, and they're not the long-feared Russian cyberattacks. Ukrainian authorities denounced the attacks, the New York Times says, as "deliberate" and "cynical."

Elsewhere in critical infrastructure, external power having been restored to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the Ukrainian operators are performing a cold shutdown on the last operating reactor in the complex, according to the AP. That doesn't entirely remove the danger of a nuclear incident, but it does reduce the possible effects of any damage, whether accidental or deliberate.

Update on the cyber phase of the hybrid war.

While cyber operations in Russia's war have been eclipsed by kinetic operations, Ukrainian authorities warn that they expect an increase in the tempo of Russian cyberattacks. The Voice of America quotes Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation Georgii Dubynskyi, who told reporters at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit this past Friday, "We saw this scenario before. They are trying to find a way how to undermine, how to defeat our energy system and how to make circumstances even more severe for Ukrainians. We are preparing.” An increase in cyber operations may represent a form of escalation intended to compensate for widespread battlefield failure. "We cannot compare it with nuclear weapons, but the effectiveness of that is enough," Dubinskyi said, which of course is correct: cyber weapons aren't to be compared with nuclear weapons in terms of their effects. Ukraine also faces an insider threat, and this threat is a familiar one. "[The Russians] are developing classical operations, using not only cyber, not only software, also using some human resources," Dubinskyi said. "Using some traitors."

The effects of Russian cyberattacks continue to be felt in NATO countries that have supported Ukraine. ABC News reports that Macedonia is still recovering from a large cyber campaign Russia mounted as a punitive action for that country's pro-Ukrainian sympathies.

Signs of uneasiness in official Russian circles.

While some of the reporting has the tone of wishful thinking, and while it's good to remember that Russia is not a normal parliamentary or presidential state, and that its regime is more resistant than most to shifting public opinion, there appears to be a growing uneasiness over the prospects of the war among Russian elites and official mouthpieces. It's being tweeted, for example, that deputies (Duma representatives) in eighteen districts around Moscow and St. Petersburg have signed a call for Mr. Putin to step down. "President Putin's actions are detrimental to the future of Russia and its citizens," their statement reads in part. It's difficult to assess this, and it falls far, far short of a vote of no-confidence, insofar as there could be such a thing in Russia's system, and Moscow and St. Petersburg are a bit on the fancy side anyway. (To consider a US analogy, someone who took things said on Hollywood's Rodeo Drive and New York's Park Avenue at face value as generally representative of American public opinion would probably be misled; still, it's unusual to see any such public expression of semi-official dissent in Russia.)

Nonetheless, the legitimacy of Mr. Putin's rule depends largely upon his ability to project strength, and that ability may, as a piece in the New York Times argues, be coming into question:

"On Sunday, the Russian military continued to retreat from positions in northeastern Ukraine that it had occupied for months. State television news reports referred to the retreat as a carefully planned 'regrouping operation,' praising the heroism and professionalism of Russian troops.

"But the upbeat message did little to dampen the anger among supporters of the war over the retreat and the Kremlin’s handling of it. And it hardly obscured the bind that Mr. Putin now finds himself in, presiding over a six-month war against an increasingly energized enemy and a Russian populace that does not appear to be prepared for the sacrifices that could come with an escalating conflict.

“'Strength is the only source of Putin’s legitimacy,' Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Mr. Putin who is now a political consultant living in Israel, said in a phone interview. 'And in a situation in which it turns out that he has no strength, his legitimacy will start dropping toward zero.'”

Russia Media Monitor has a selection from the Russian weekend talk shows in which the pundits wonder about the blundering advisors who misled President Putin about how easy the special military operation would be. The Ukrainian army "is a serious army and their weapons are serious. Our military intelligence should have predicted this." One expert says that "Over the last few days we've been dealt a severe psychological blow." And, again, Russia is hard-pressed and outnumbered: "the entire war theater includes Europe and the United States." The mutual recrimination among the talking heads is striking.

On his own show, Vladimir Solovyov, stern-faced and tough-talking purveyor of the Kremlin line on Rossiya1, is concerned about what he's hearing from Kharkiv, but advised, "Don't panic; wait for the Defense Ministry's update." Russia is, in the current line, the underdog, and the real victim here. One of Mr. Solovyov's interlocutors says that Russia is facing a "horde," that is, the outnumbered Ukrainian army, and Mr. Solovyov himself points out that "We see how the entire West is supplying weapons. There's not a single NATO or even NATO country that isn't shoving something in there. We're dealing with a military-industrial complex with a combined budget of...over 1 trillion per year. I have a personal request: let's be tougher. They won't understand that we're serious until we punch them in the nose." Presumably that would be a NATO nose, NATO being the real villain, the bankers and armorers of the rising Ukrainian horde.

One of his interlocutors on Rossiya1, Moscow State Professor Vitaly Tretyakov, commented, "Not everyone realizes the paradox of the situation. There's an enormous confidence in our victory, but in response, there should be real achievements. When you're certain that we have to win, when you're certain that our pursuit is righteous, and then you see these hiccups, how can that be, if we're in the right? Social tensions could rise up, not because of the masses opposing the military operation, but because they might ask why it isn't more active. Where is our victory? Where is the advance?" Mr. Solovyov has an answer: "I'll respond to all the nervous ones at once: let's wait for the official statement from our Defense Ministry. This special military operation is a difficult man's job. Our heroes are doing what they can. Nothing is ever simple. The front line can move back and forth. What matters is how it ends."

Mr. Solovyov closes with some nostalgia for Stalin, and it's not the first we've heard him express. "Let me remind you that Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin called for the ones who panic to be shot." This also yields some insight into mainstream Russian thinking about leadership. We have a suggestion for Mr. Solovyov: volunteer for active service and do some punching yourself. You could surely ride a T-90; how hard could that be? We hear that the age limit for volunteers has been raised. Professor Tretyakov is still too old, but you, Mr. Solovyov are right in the demographic sweet spot. Or would that be sending a boy to do a difficult man's job?

Russian disinformation seeks allies in the Global South.

Russian propaganda seeks to shift blame for food shortages to Ukraine and (especially) the EU. The British Ministry of Defence describes recent Russian messaging: "On 07 September 2022, President Putin said that only 60,000 tonnes of the grain exported from Ukraine since August had been sent to developing countries, and that the majority had been delivered to EU states. Putin's claim is not true. According to UN figures, around 30% has been supplied to low and middle-income countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Russia is pursuing a deliberate misinformation strategy as it seeks to deflect blame for food insecurity issues, discredit Ukraine and minimise opposition to its invasion."