Ukraine advances in Kherson and Luhansk as Russia seeks to reconstitute its forces with a failing partial mobilization. Investigation into the Nord Stream sabotage continues, and the West considers the probable threat to energy infrastructure as winter approaches.
Ukraine at D+223: Fleeing the draft, and preparing for attacks on infrastructure.
Ukraine advances in the Donbas and along the Black Sea coast.
Ukraine reports advances both in the north, into Luhansk, and in the south, around Kherson, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Telegraph, and others report. Russian forces are said to be retreating in both zones of action, and doing so in poor order. Apparently Russian army commanders had been authorized to withdraw from Kherson as holding that city became untenable, but the Russian defenders of Lyman, a key road and rail junction in the north, had been ordered to hold their positions. They did not, and the retreat from Lyman in particular seems to have become a rout.
The setbacks are an embarrassment to Moscow, which has just declared the conquered provinces “forever” part of Russia in a formal annexation signed this week by President Putin. Mr. Putin appeared, the Guardian reports, to have acknowledged difficulties (and losses), but assured the Russian public that the situation at the front would soon be “stabilized” as Russian forces regroup.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence summarized the state of fighting in this morning’s situation report. “Ukraine continues to make progress in offensive operations along both the north-eastern and southern fronts. In the north-east, in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine has now consolidated a substantial area of territory east of the Oskil River. Ukrainian formations have advanced up to 20 km beyond the river into Russia’s defensive zone towards the supply node of the town of Svatove. It is highly likely that Ukraine can now strike the key Svatove-Kremina road with most of its artillery systems, further straining Russia’s ability to resupply its units in the east. Politically, Russian leaders will highly likely be concerned that leading Ukrainian units are now approaching the borders of Luhansk Oblast, which Russia claimed to have formally annexed last Friday.”
The Ukrainian advances in both zones seem to have succeeded in securing bridgeheads across rivers behind which Russian forces had sought to organize their defenses. With such natural obstacles overcome, further advances are likely to be more rapid.
Pro-war Russian military bloggers have, mostly in their Telegram channels, confirmed bad news about lost ground, low morale, and high casualties, the New York Times reports. The more formal official line, as represented by the commentariat on Rossiya-1, has grown increasingly somber and elegiac. There’s some stern but still relatively encouraging spin from military correspondent Aleksandr Sladkov, but other commentators acknowledge unexpectedly high losses and even hint at poor preparation. In general, however, Russia has shifted its self-presentation from triumphant rescuer to an underdog, a victim of aggression by a larger and, especially, better supplied Ukrainian force. The suggestion is that Russia is fighting for its life against all of NATO.
Partial mobilization difficulties continue.
Russian forces in Ukraine clearly require reconstitution, and the partial mobilization announced by President Putin on September 21st is intended to provide much-needed manpower. But that mobilization continues to meet with widespread resistance and botched execution. Such former soldiers and reserves who’ve been swept up in the call-up appear to be receiving at best perfunctory training and inadequate equipment–in some cases no equipment. Foreign Policy describes the mobilization as delivering “cannon fodder,” and in terms of training, logistics, and organization, that seems about right. President Putin acknowledged some errors in the conduct of partial mobilization, and has signed a decree exempting certain classes of students from being called up.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu says that the partial mobilization has brought in some 200,000 additional troops, but according to Bloomberg that seems to be at best only half the number of eligible men of military age who’ve fled to neighboring countries, especially to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia.
The estimate of 400,000 who’ve fled to avoid the call-up is if anything on the conservative side. Kazakhstan alone may have received at least 200,000, and large and uncounted numbers are fleeing to Kyrgyzstan. Foreign Policy says the outflow amounts to a migration crisis in Central Asia. Unlike the refugee crises one usually sees in wartime, this one is demographically different. Usually women, children, and the elderly are over-represented in refugee populations. In this case, however, those fleeing are men of military age.
Nord Stream and threats to critical infrastructure.
The kinetic sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic remains under investigation. NATO has formally designated the incident sabotage, but it's primly refrained from calling out a perpetrator until the investigation is complete. That said, many others consider the incident a shot across Western bows as winter approaches, a threat to take down energy infrastructure at a time when it will be most needed in the Northern Hemisphere. A Washington Post editorial makes a representative argument. " This is the kind of capability usually wielded by a state actor, though NATO did not say officially what everyone suspects unofficially: The author of this strike against Europe’s stability and security was Russia." The Post goes on to point out the cyber threat to infrastructure. "In April, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, along with the FBI and the National Security Agency, issued a joint warning about the cyberthreat to critical infrastructure such as energy and utilities. And so far, Ukraine and its supporters have kept cyber-damage to a minimum." That doesn't mean the threat has become inconsequential, and Western governments and utilities are well-advised to remain on alert.
An Atlantic Council essay presents grounds for thinking that Norway’s oil and gas production platforms in the North Sea may become targets in an expanded Russian campaign against European energy infrastructure. Those platforms experienced unexplained drone fly-bys last week, which the Council’s essay regards as in some ways more disturbing than the sabotage of Nord Stream.
US Cyber Command describes assistance missions in Ukraine.
David Frederick, executive director of U.S. Cyber Command, described US participation in Ukraine's cyber defense during his presentation at GovCon Wire’s Cybersecurity in National Security Summit. He characterized the mission as a series of "hunt-forward" operations. The US teams from the Cyber National Mission Force were dispatched to Ukraine late last year, and worked with their Ukrainian counterparts to assess and secure critical IT and infrastructure networks. Frederick noted that, in the course of operations, US Cyber Command gained valuable insight into Russian methods of cyberwar, much of which insight Cyber Command has shared not only with Government partners like CISA and the FBI, but with the private sector as well.