Ukraine at D+497: Ground combat grinds on.
N2K logoJul 6, 2023

Moscow and Kyiv accuse one another of preparing to sabotage the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Ukraine at D+497: Ground combat grinds on.

Russian missiles struck Lviv this morning, damaging residences and killing four civilians.

Fighting on the ground is marked by slow Ukrainian progress, evidently seeking attrition of Russian forces first, taking and holding ground second.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence describes a dislocation of Russian troop deployments. "Military formations drawn from across Russia are currently bearing the brunt of Ukraine’s counter offensive. In Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the 58th Combined Arms Army is defending heavily entrenched lines; normally it secures Russia’s volatile Caucasus region. Around Velyka Novosilka, the 5th Combined Arms Army and Naval Infantry hold the front; they are routinely based 7000km away as a balance to Chinese power. Around Bakhmut, the defence is now largely formed around airborne regiments normally stationed in western Russia, who normally act as an elite rapid reaction force in case of tensions with NATO. The way Russia is accepting risks across Eurasia highlights how the war has dislocated Russia’s established national strategy."

Russia, Ukraine, trade accusations of plans to sabotage the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Moscow and Kyiv yesterday accused one another of planning to sabotage the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, thereby inducing a radiological incident comparable in scale to the late-Soviet disaster at Chernobyl. The plant is controlled by Russian occupation troops, but the Ukrainian staff remains on-site to look after its operation. As a safety precaution, the plant's six reactors have been shut down, but that doesn't remove the risk of contamination should the reactors be damaged in an explosion.

Ukrainian sources have warned that Russian troop withdrawals from the vicinity of Zaporizhzhia could be a precursor to a deliberately staged incident, the Guardian reports. Russian official media have downplayed the effects of an incident at the plant, saying that Russian troops were trained and equipped to operate without difficulty in a contaminated environment. (Few informed observers credit such claims.)

TASS quotes Leonid Slutsky, leader of the LDPR party and chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, on what Ukrainian action against Zaporizhzhia would look like: it would be a provocation, blamed on Russia. "Everything indicates that Zelensky intends to lay ‘his last card’ on the table ahead of the NATO summit and blow up the Zaporozhye NPP. The objective is monstrous - to use a nuclear terrorist attack in order to place the blame on Russia and force the collective West to get directly involved in the Ukraine conflict," Mr. Slutsky said. The Russian Foreign Ministry has also taken the line that Ukraine is preparing a provocation. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pronounced the warning. "Russia will continue to ensure protection of the ZNPP and will respond extremely harshly to any Ukrainian attacks on this facility," she said. "Once again, we call on the UN and IAEA management not to turn a blind eye to the situation around the ZNPP and to say it clearly who is to blame for the ongoing events and who actually poses a threat for security and functioning of this civilian facility."

Official ambivalence toward Mr. Prigozhin.

There were costs associated with the Wagner Group's march on Moscow, but according to the Institute for the Study of War, it appears that the Group's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, won't be expected to help cover them. The city of Rostov-on-Don, briefly occupied by the mutineers, assesses the damage done in the course of the occupation at 92.5 million rubles (roughly $1 million), but that will be written off. And as part of the agreement Belarusian President Lukashenka brokered between Mssrs. Putin and Prigozhin, the Russian government will return more than 10 billion rubles (about $11 million) in assets the government seized from the oligarch after he briefly went rogue. The Russian Media Monitor has posted video of the government's search of Mr. Prigozhin's properties. They're opulent; he evidently likes to do well by himself.

The Telegraph reports that Mr. Prigozhin has been shuttling between Russia and Belarus, apparently to pick up weapons seized from his forces during the mutiny.

Where is Mr. Prigozhin right now? It's not clear. He'd been thought to have decamped to Belarus, where he would live under some degree of protection from the government in Minsk, but President Lukashenka has said that in fact Mr. Prigozhin is in Russia, specifically in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

Hacktivist auxiliaries remain active in the war.

OODA Loop has an overview of "non-state actors'" recent cyber operations in the war. Hacktivists operating in the Ukrainian interest (and, we add, certainly with some degree of coordination with the competent Ukrainian government agencies) have devoted some attention to interfering with Russian rail traffic. The rail operator RZD disclosed yesterday in its Telegram channel that its website and mobile app had been taken down by a cyberattack. The Ukrainian IT Army claimed responsibility, tweeting, "Hear that? Seems like the trains on Russian swamps have lost their steam. Buying a ticket? That's a tough one, offline counters are playing the 'frozen statue' game too. The terrorist state is not just heading, but gleefully racing to 'Chaos Central'."

The IT Army is also recruiting. "Our cyber warriors at ITArmy are playing the role of a virtual Robin Hood - wrecking enemy infrastructure and keeping nothing for ourselves! Do you know what the enemy feels when their servers are crashing and wallets are emptying? Join us!"

Belarusian dissidents have also been active. The Belarusian Cyber-Partisans claimed to have successfully intruded into the systems of the Belarusian State University, wiping systems and shutting down domain controllers. The university acknowledges having problems--its website, for example, has experienced outages--but denies having come under a cyberattack. Its problems are due to "technical issues," the university says.

And pro-Russian hacktivist auxiliaries have also stayed busy. NoName057(16)'s DDoSia project is directed against Ukraine and that country's supporters in the West. It's also hit one domestic victim: Russia's Wagner Group, whose sites were attacked as the mutiny was under way. An essay in CSO considers the likelihood that the eclipse of the Wagner Group and other holdings of Mr. Prigozhin, like the Internet Research Agency, will result in more active, more coordinated and less constrained, Russian activity in cyberspace.