Russia strikes Ukrainian cities as it prepares for Victory Day and waits for Ukraine's spring offensive.
Ukraine at D+438: Victory Day eve.
Russia continued large-scale drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian cities. Many of the attacks, including one by a hypersonic missile, were stopped by Ukrainian air defenses, but of course some reached their targets. The large proportion of Iranian-supplied Shahed drones expended in the attacks suggests again that Russian industry is incapable of keeping up with demand for strike weapons. As Russia prepares for its scaled-back Victory Day ceremonies, occupation authorities began evacuating civilians from the southern portions of occupied Ukrainian territory.
The Wagner Group says it's getting ammo and won't be pulling out of Bakhmut after all.
The Guardian reports that Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin says Russia's Ministry of Defense has agreed to supply him with ammunition after all, and so the Wagner Group will hold its positions in Bakhmut after all. Vladimir Solovyov says, in his evening show, that while he has the utmost respect for Mr. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group, ammunition management is an exercise in applied mathematics, and one that's the province of commanders. In any case, Mr. Solovyov explains, it's necessary to husband ammunition carefully to withstand the coming onslaught of the "Ukro-Reich" (sic).
Tomorrow is Victory Day, but its observance will be muted.
Saturday morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) summarized the events surrounding Russia's cancellation of Victory Day celebrations. "Six Russian regions, occupied Crimea, and 21 cities have cancelled their 09 May Victory Day parades citing security concerns. Victory Day commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Moscow's Victory Day celebration is likely to go ahead but on a smaller scale. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reception following the parade (last held in 2019) will not go ahead. The traditional March of the Immortal Regiment, where family members display photographs of deceased veterans of the Second World War, associated with Victory Day, has also been cancelled. This follows the recent cancellation of the Russian-hosted International Army Games."
The reason for the cancellation seems twofold: a newfound sense of vulnerability brought about by the drone incident over the Kremlin (provocation or not) and a sense that discontent over the special military operation may boil over during the patriotic ceremonies. "The timing of the UAV strike on the Kremlin a few days before Victory Day shows Russia’s increasing vulnerability to such attacks and has almost certainly raised the threat perception of the Russian leadership over the Victory Day events," the MoD writes, adding, "The potential for protests and discontent over the Ukraine war are also likely to have influenced the calculus of the Russian leadership."
To put Victory Day in context for a largely American audience, cancelling Victory Day is like calling off the 4th of July. It's a more somber observance, not as cheerfully celebratory as Independence Day, but occupying a comparable place in the nation's patriotic culture and imagination. The Guardian describes Mr. Putin's decision to hold a more subdued version of the traditional parade in Moscow, and lays out the significance of observances.
Mobilization and labor shortages.
On Sunday the MoD published an appreciation of labor shortages in Russia, how they've been driven by complex causes that include both mobilization and flight from mobilization, and how they're likely to inhibit the national economy. "Russia is almost certainly facing its worst labour shortage in decades. The Russian Central Bank surveyed 14,000 employers and found that the number of available employees was at its lowest level since 1998. Over the last three years, Russia’s population has reportedly decreased by two million more people than expected due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. Russia saw up to 1.3 million people leave the country in 2022, including many younger and well-educated people in high-value industries. The Russian Ministry of Communications said that about 10% (100,000) of the IT workforce left the country in 2022 and did not return. Mobilisation, historically high emigration, and an ageing and shrinking population is limiting the labour supply. This will likely lead to a reduction in the potential growth of the Russian economy and risks stoking inflation."
The manpower shortage extends to the Russian army. This morning's report from the MoD describes current Russian recruiting efforts. Those efforts are focused on marginalized populations. "Russian military recruiters have been targeting central Asian migrant workers in Russia to serve in Ukraine. Recruiters have visited mosques and immigration offices to recruit. At immigration offices, staff who speak Tajik and Uzbek routinely attempt to recruit migrants. Radio Free Europe reported recruiters offering sign-up bonuses of USD $2,390 and salaries of up to USD $4,160 a month. Migrants have also been offered a fast-track Russian citizenship path of six months to one year, instead of the usual five years," the report says. "The high monthly salary and sign-up bonuses will entice some migrant workers to sign up. These recruits are likely sent to the Ukrainian frontlines where the casualty rate is extremely high. Recruiting migrants is part of the Russian Ministry of Defence’s attempts to fulfil its target of 400,000 volunteers to fight in Ukraine." The Russian authorities want to keep further mobilization as quiet as possible. "The authorities are almost certainly seeking to delay any new overt mandatory mobilisation for as long as possible to minimise domestic dissent."
Russian hacktivists interfere with French Senate's website.
The "NoName" group, which has been heard from intermittently during Russia's war, took to Telegram to claim credit for a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) action on Friday, SecurityWeek reports. Cybernews quotes NoName's explanation. “We read in the media that France is working with Ukraine on a new “aid” package, which may include weapons," the group said in its Telegram channel, "...and, without thinking twice, we crashed the website of the French Senate.” NoName complained, justifying their attack. The Senate tweeted that it was remediating the attack and working to restore full service.
According to PC Gamer, a Finnish newspaper, Helsinin Sanomat, has created a custom version of the first-person-shooter game Crowd-Strike: Global Offensive that's designed to bypass Russian wartime censorship. "As the Russian government has de facto suppressed its national press and blocked access to foreign media," said Antero Mukka, the paper's editor-in-chief. "Counter-Strike has remained as one of the rare channels that allows us to communicate independent information to Russians about real events from the war." The version that's delivering the information is a specially designed map, "de-voyna" ("voyna" is "war" in Russian), that resembles a wrecked Ukrainian city. Some of the underground sites players visit (cellars, bunkers, etc.) contain news of Russia's war against Ukraine in both Russian and English.
BleepingComputer reports that Crowd-Strike: Global Offensive is popular among Russian gamers, who represent about a tenth of all players worldwide.