Russia has the counteroffensive jitters, although no Ukrainian counteroffensive is so far underway. In cyberspace at midweek, it's mostly hacktivism and disinformation.
Ukraine at D+406: Drop ship these, sir.
Russian occupiers read explosions in Melitopol as a harbinger of a Ukrainian offensive. While the explosions are well-attested by both sides in Russia's war, they don't necessarily mean that a Ukrainian offensive is imminent. Melitopol is in the Zaporizhia Oblast, near the Sea of Azov. It's not close to the line of contact, but it's seen heavier Ukrainian partisan activity than many other occupied regions. Russia's President Putin characterizes the situation in the occupied Ukrainian territories as a matter of internal security, and the partisan actions as "terrorism." He adds, the Telegraph reports, that Ukraine's operations in Russian rear areas are "receiving help from a third country, from Western special forces.” He did not specify the Western country supplying the special forces.
Ukraine continues to contest Bakhmut. President Zelenskyy said the situation was difficult, and that Ukraine would consider withdrawing its forces if they risked encirclement, but that for now those forces would continue to hold.
Russian command shake-ups reported.
The UK's Ministry of Defence this morning reports a change in Russian command. "As claimed on Russian social media, the Russian MoD has highly likely dismissed Colonel-General Rustam Muradov as commander of the Eastern Group of Forces (EGF) in Ukraine. The EGF under Muradov has suffered exceptionally heavy casualties in recent months as its poorly conceived assaults repeatedly failed to capture the Donetsk Oblast town of Vuhledar. The operations attracted intense public criticism from across the spectrum of Russian commentators - including Muradov’s own troops. Muradov took over the EGF after its disastrous attempt to assault Kyiv from the north-west during the initial full-scale invasion. He is the most senior Russian military dismissal of 2023 so far, but more are likely as Russia continues to fail to achieve its objectives in the Donbas."
The Institute for the Study of War reports that another senior officer, Colonel-General Nikolai Grechushkin, has been relieved as Deputy Head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The Institute sees the firing as part of a purge prompted by President Putin's dissatisfaction with Russian internal security.
A note on Russian army ranks: a colonel-general is a very senior officer, typically regarded as the equivalent of a US Army four-star general.
Russia's turn in the Security Council chair immediately becomes an occasion for disinformation.
It's Russia's turn to chair the United Nations Security Council, and it used its first week in that role to convene a meeting to share its own view of the widespread abduction of Ukrainian children. It featured a video presentation by the director of Russia's child protection agency, Maria Lvova-Belova, presently wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes involving the kidnapped children. Ms Lvova-Belova said she welcomed the opportunity to “dispel the fakes and show the opposite side.” She added that Russia did not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and claimed that Russia's custody of the children was protective, and that Moscow stands ready to help reunite the children with their families. Criticism of Russian policy, she said, amounted to lies designed to slander Russia. “We have no doubt that this is a campaign to discredit our country and attempts to conceal their irresponsible actions about children,” the New York Times quotes her as saying. Several Western members of the Council walked out on the presentation, returning once it was over to denounce Russian disinformation. It seems likely that Russia's month in the chair will be devoted to more such tendentious propaganda.
Make sort-of-love, not war: nuisance-level hacktivism in the interest of Ukraine.
Marital aids, not drones. The Ukrainian hacktivist group Cyber Resistance took control of an AliExpress account organized by the Russian milblogger Mihail Luchin to solicit donations for Russian forces. Numerama reports that the hacktivists then used the pirated account to spend about €23,000 on tacky erotic novelties. InformNapalm explained the motive: "The hacktivists of 'Cyber Resistance' punished Z-volunteer Mikhail Luchin. They hacked his email and charged $25,000 worth of adult toys to his card, which is linked to AliExpress. He planned to spend the money to buy #drones for the #Russian #army." The hacktivists themselves counted coup in their own Telegram channel, posting (in what the New York Post archly calls "a happy ending") "But instead of drones, Misha will now send truckloads of d*ldos, str*p-*ns, and other things useful to every Russian to the occupiers, which we ordered and paid for with his card on AliExpress.” OK, but really, boys. AliExpress is Alibaba's e-commerce service. First Post says that Mr. Luchin attempted to return the items but found that all sales were final, so he'll try reselling the marital aids to raise even more money for Russia's cause.