Ukraine at D+390: Summits in Moscow and Kyiv.
N2K logoMar 21, 2023

Reports of Ukrainian drone strikes against Russian supply lines and minor advances around Bakhmut as China and Russia hold a summit in Moscow. The Kremlin doesn't want its staff using iPhones, and Russian privateers and auxiliaries continue to attack the healthcare sector.

Ukraine at D+390: Summits in Moscow and Kyiv.

The Telegraph reports that Ukrainian forces have made local advances against Russian positions around Bakhmut, pushing Russian units away from the key highway supplying Ukrainian defenders in the city. Wagner Group boss Prigozhin has published a letter he sent to Russia's Ministry of Defense in which he warns that Ukraine can be expected to open a major offensive around Bakhmut in late March or early April, and that the Russian army must take steps now to stop it. “I ask you to take all necessary measures to prevent the Wagner private military company being cut off from the main forces of the Russian army, which will lead to negative consequences for the special military operation,” Al Jazeera quotes Mr. Prigozhin as saying.

Ukrainian authorities say that a train carrying Kalibr cruise missiles destined for Russia's Black Sea fleet was destroyed in an explosion as it passed through the occupied Crimean city of Dzhankoi. Local accounts report hearing drone engines before an explosion, but there's no independent confirmation of the Ukrainian report, Al Jazeera says.

Summits, in Moscow and Kyiv.

China's President Xi continues his talks with Russian President Putin in Moscow. Japan's Prime Minister Kishida is arriving in Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. The AP quotes a statement by Japan's Foreign Ministry to the effect that Prime Minister Kishida will express his “absolute rejection of Russia’s one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force, and to affirm his commitment to defend the rules-based international order.”

In Moscow, President's Putin and Xi are expected to discuss China's twelve-point peace plan, the Washington Post reports. That plan would represent a face-saving option for Russia, with its calls for an end to sanctions and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity (but without calling for Russia to withdraw from the territory it presently occupies). Thus a frozen conflict would replace, temporarily, Russia's maximalist objective of complete subjugation of Ukraine. In the meantime, the territorial integrity China's plan is interested in preserving would be Russia's continued occupation of the Ukrainian provinces it claims to have annexed (but doesn't fully control). The two leaders hailed one another as "dear friends."

Wagner Group convict fighters begin to reach the end of their contracts.

This morning's situation report from the UK' Ministry of Defence reviews the situation of the Wagner Group's convict troops. "In the coming weeks, thousands of Russian convicts who have fought for Wagner Group are likely to be pardoned and released. Wagner prisoner recruitment peaked in autumn 2022, with inmates being offered commutation of their sentences after six months of service. Although approximately half of the prisoners recruited have likely been killed or wounded, evidence from Russia suggests the group is following through on its promise to free survivors. The certificates issued to freed Wagner veterans claim to have been endorsed by the decree of President Putin. With Wagner now likely banned from recruiting more prisoners, this exodus will worsen its personnel problems. In addition, the sudden influx of often violent offenders with recent and often traumatic combat experience will likely present a significant challenge for Russia’s war-time society."

iPhones are no longer welcome in the Kremlin.

Citing reports in the Russian media outlet Kommersant, the Register says that members of President Putin's staff have been told to get rid of their iPhones, replacing them with Android devices, or with phones using either Chinese operating systems or Russia's homegrown Aurora. The Daily Star says that the word around Moscow is that Apple products are particularly susceptible to monitoring by American intelligence services. Users have been told that, by the end of the month, they should either toss their iPhones or "give them to the kids."

Russian cyber auxiliaries and privateers devote increased attention to the healthcare sector.

A review in SC Media tracks the recent trend on the part of Russophone cyber threat actors to attack the healthcare sector in countries unsympathetic to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Prominent among the groups making the attacks are two criminal ransomware gangs, LockBit and BlackBasta (this latter generally regarded as a rebranding of the nominally defunct Conti) and the hacktivist auxiliary KillNet. CISA and the FBI urge threatened organizations "to prioritize patch management or network segmentation of known, exploited vulnerabilities, in addition to training users how to recognize and report phishing attacks and enforcing 'phishing-resistant' multi-factor authentication."