Ukraine at D+496: Still sorting out the March on Moscow.
N2K logoJul 5, 2023

Russia continues to sort out the consequences of the Wagner Group's mutiny.

Ukraine at D+496: Still sorting out the March on Moscow.

Little news has broken concerning fighting on the ground. Russia continues its strikes against cities (inflicting more civilian casualties), complains that a (thwarted) Ukrainian drone operation (which the Kremlin blames on NATO) closed Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, and says it's stopped several Ukrainian attacks along the line of contact. For its part, Ukraine simply says the last few days have been "particularly fruitful." Russia has canceled its annual MAKS international air show, evidently over security concerns, with an admixture of a desire to avoid embarrassment should few exhibitors show up.

Ukraine is known to be operating east of the Dnipro River. "Since around 23 June 2023, Ukrainian forces have almost certainly restarted deploying personnel to the east bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, near the ruined Antonovskiy Bridge," the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) wrote in Saturday's situation report. "Fighting intensified on the east bank from 27 June 2023. The defending Russian force includes elements of Russia’s 7th Guards Air Assault Division, part of the Dnipro Group of Forces (DGF). In recent weeks, Russia has highly likely reallocated elements of DGF defending the bank of the Dnipro to reinforce the Zaporizhzhia sector. Combat around the bridge head is almost certainly complicated by the flooding, destruction and residual mud from the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam on 06 June 2023."

Russian defensive preparations across the front show a very heavy use of landmines, but their ability to cover the obstacles with effective fire remains in doubt. The MoD explained, Tuesday, "In recent weeks, Russia has prioritised and refined tactics aimed at slowing Ukrainian armoured counter-offensive operations in southern Ukraine. The core of this approach has been Russia’s very heavy use of anti-tank mines. In some areas the density of its minefields indicate that it has likely used many more mines than laid down in its military doctrine. Having slowed the Ukrainian advance, Russia has then attempted to strike Ukrainian armoured vehicles with one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles, attack helicopters and artillery. Although Russia has achieved some success with this approach in the early stages of Ukraine’s counter-offensive, its forces continue to suffer from key weaknesses, especially overstretched units and a shortage of artillery munitions."

Refugees produced by Russia's war.

Monday morning the UK's MoD offered a brief assessment of the human cost of Russia's invasion in terms of civilian displacement. "On 29 June 2023, Ukrainian authorities reported that, under emergency legislation,139,000 citizens have been evacuated from the combat zones in the Ukrainian controlled areas of the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Kherson regions since July 2022. This is just one part of Ukraine’s ongoing broader crisis of displacement. The UN estimates 6.3 million Ukrainians remain refugees, and over five million internally displaced. With a pre-war population of 44 million, a quarter of Ukrainians remain forced from their homes as a result of Russia’s invasion."

Continuing effects of the Wagner Group mutiny.

General Surovikin has vanished, and there have been other significant absences from appearances by leaders of Russia's Ministry of Defense. The UK's MoD this morning wrote, "General Sergei Surovikin, Commander-in-Chief Russian Aerospace Forces and deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has not been seen in public since the 23-24 June 2023 Wagner Group mutiny. Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Yunus-bek Yevkurov was notably absent from a televised appearance by the Ministry of Defence’s leadership on 03 July 2023. Reports of Surovikin’s arrest cannot be confirmed, but authorities will likely be suspicious of his long association with Wagner dating back to his service in Syria from 2017. Similarly, Yevkurov was filmed talking to Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin during the group’s uncontested take-over of Rostov-on-Don. The suspicion that has potentially fallen on senior serving officers highlights how Prigozhin’s abortive insurrection has worsened existing fault lines within Russia’s national security community.) Although largely known in the West by his brutal reputation, Surovikin is one of the more respected senior officers within the Russian military; any official sanction against him is likely to be divisive."

Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty offers an overview of public appearances of prominent Russian military and security leaders. General Surovikin, of course, is in parts unknown, but Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff Gerasimov have been keeping an unusually low profile as well. There's no suggestion that they're in custody, but they've been uncustomarily quiet. The National Guard's commander, General Viktor Zolotov, in contrast, has been very prominent in recent days.

The Jerusalem Post cites Ukrainian military intelligence leader Major General Kyrylo Budanov (not a disinterested source, so the report should be received with some reservation) that President Putin has put out a hit on Mr. Prigozhin, directing the FSB to assassinate him.

Mr. Putin reassured his Chinese and Indian counterparts at a virtual summit that Russia was "united as never before," but the work being done to ensure that Moscow has a resilient and enduring system for systematically keeping its unified citizens properly single-minded suggests some cognitive dissonance.

Prigozhin who?

In his first audio message since decamping for Belarus, the Washington Post reports that Mr. Prigozhin not only declared his "March for Justice" a success, but added that his troops would continue to fight for Russia in Ukraine, winning "the next victories." Whatever public talking he does will probably have to be on his own hook. He seems to be well on his way to becoming an un-person in Russian media. “Now it is as though he never existed,” the Guardian quotes a former Russian state media editor as saying.

Online news sites tied to the Wagner Group blocked in Russia.

Last Friday the Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked RIA FAN, Politics Today, Economy Today, Neva News, and People's News, all of which were tied closely to the Wagner Group. Working from the other side, Wagner Group boss Yevegny Prigozhin has dissolved the Patriot Media holding company, best known as the corporate parent of his troll farm, the Internet Research Agency (IRA). What effect this will have on IRA operations is as yet unclear; the troll farm may be acquired by another company. The Record reports that employees throughout Patriot Media were laid off with a bad severance package (that is, with no severance package). Should they return in some form, oligarch Yuri Kovalchuk, banker and owner of the National Media Group (NMG), is thought to be the most likely suitor for the IRA and Mr. Prigozhin's other now-blocked-and-shuttered properties.

Not blocked, but nervous, are Russia's milbloggers, strong nationalists who've posted extensively on the war, and in favor of Russia's cause. WIRED reports that they're unsure right now of where they stand in Moscow's eyes, as many of them had been close to Mr. Prigozhin and closely aligned with his hard-war rhetoric.

Microsoft debunks claims of data theft by Anonymous Sudan.

Anonymous Sudan (generally regarded as a Russian front organization) on July 1st claimed in its Telegram channels to have breached Microsoft servers and stolen data belonging to some thirty-million customers. “We announce that we have successfully hacked Microsoft and have access to a large database containing more than 30 million Microsoft accounts, email and password. Price for full database: 50,000 USD,” the group posted. Microsoft says the claim is baseless. “At this time, our analysis of the data shows that this is not a legitimate claim and an aggregation of data,” a Microsoft representative told BleepingComputer. “We have seen no evidence that our customer data has been accessed or compromised."

Just yesterday, Anonymous Sudan also announced an ongoing attack on Riot Games, an American video game developer for League of Legends. Anonymous Sudan has claimed that they have access to Riot's “back end of League of Legends.” This campaign is a continuation of attacks against American companies in response to comments made by the Secretary of State concerning the civil war in Sudan. Riot Games would appear to be merely a US-based target of opportunity.