Ukraine at D+399: Slaughterhouse Bakhmut.
N2K logoMar 30, 2023

Russian leaders apparently feel they cannot afford to cut their losses in Bakhmut. As ground forces falter, Moscow turns its attention to cyberespionage.

Ukraine at D+399: Slaughterhouse Bakhmut.

Bakhmut remains a prestige objective whose moral importance to Russia's war far exceeds its military value, the New York Times explains. It's difficult to see how Russia could shift away, at this point, from its sustained assault on the town. A victory would be pyrrhic; a clear defeat disastrous.

The Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told the US House Armed Services Committee, "For about the past 20, 21 days, the Russians have not made any progress whatsoever in and around Bakhmut." The Telegraph went on to quote him as describing Bakhmut as "a slaughter-fest for the Russians." Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin yesterday put a grim but positive spin on the slaughter, claiming to have practically destroyed the Ukrainian army. He regrets to say that his own forces have been "badly damaged," but adds that if properly reinforced to the point where they can take the city and "perish in the meatgrinder of Bakhmut and take the Ukrainian army with it," the destruction will have been worth it. "That means we played our historic mission," he explained.

With its offensives apparently stalled and its deployed forces depleted, "Russian media reporting suggests that the authorities are preparing to start a major military recruitment campaign with the aim of signing up an additional 400,000 troops," the UK's Ministry of Defence tweeted this morning. "Russia is presenting the campaign as a drive for volunteer, professional personnel, rather than a new, mandatory mobilisation. There is a realistic possibility that in practice this distinction will be blurred, and that regional authorities will try to meet their allocated recruitment targets by coercing men to join up. Russian authorities have likely selected a supposedly ‘volunteer model’ to meet their personnel shortfall in order to minimise domestic dissent. It is highly unlikely that the campaign will attract 400,000 genuine volunteers. However, rebuilding Russia’s combat power in Ukraine will require more than just personnel; Russia needs more munitions and military equipment supplies than it currently has available."

Cyber operations assume more importance as Russia's forces stall on the ground.

The Voice of America reviews more comments from Ukrainian officials and experts in allied countries to the effect that Russian cyber operations seem to be rising as Russian offensives fall short. Russia is preparing for a long war. Its intelligence services are working to establish persistence in adversary networks, its hacktivist and criminal auxiliaries are taking the fight to Ukraine's Western sympathizers, and its attempts to influence opinion continue unabated (both domestically and internationally).

Prominent among the currently active Russian threat groups is the APT variously known as TA473, Winter Vivern, and UAC-0114. Proofpoint this morning released a report on the actor's recent efforts. They're for the most part running phishing expeditions "exploiting Zimbra vulnerability CVE-2022-27926 to abuse publicly facing Zimbra hosted webmail portals. The goal of this activity is assessed to be gaining access to the emails of military, government, and diplomatic organizations across Europe involved in the Russia Ukrainian War." TA473 is notable for the amount of time and care it expends on reconnaissance of its targets.

FSB arrests US journalist.

Russia's FSB has arrested US journalist Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who works from the paper's Moscow bureau, the AP reports. He was taken into custody in Ekaterinburg in the course, the FSB claims, of trying to obtain classified documents. The Wall Street Journal said of the arrest, “The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

Recognizing the importance of OSINT.

Tom Tugendhat, the UK's minister of state for security, has published an op-ed in the Telegraph in which he extols the value of open-source intelligence (OSINT) and describes steps the Government is taking toward institutionalizing OSINT collection and analysis. The center of that push will be the establishment of an Open-Source Intelligence Hub.