Ukraine at D+239: A war against infrastructure.
N2K logoOct 21, 2022

Russia targets Ukrainian power generation plants as Ukraine maintains its counteroffensive. Russian cyber operations still haven't shown up in Moscow's campaign to disable Ukraine's infrastructure.

Ukraine at D+239: A war against infrastructure.

Ukraine maintains its pressure on Russian forces in Kherson proper as Russia's commanding general seems to set expectations for difficult times ahead. "It is already a very difficult situation," General Surovikin said on Russian television. An exception to the general story of Russian retreat under pressure seems to be the town of Bakhmut, where CNN reports that the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group are holding their ground and possibly making local gains.

Iran continues to provide Shahed loitering weapons to Russia, along with trainers to familiarize the customers with the drones. The Telegraph cites Israeli sources as saying that some of the Iranian trainers have been killed in combat. Russian strikes against civilian infrastructure, especially in Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia, where electrical power facilities seem to be the principal targets. Ukraine has also warned, the Telegraph reports, that Russian forces have mined a large dam near Kherson with the intention of destroying it and flooding the surrounding countryside in a false flag provocation they would blame on Ukraine. (Russia denies any such activity.)

Partial mobilization coming to an end?

Russian official sources are suggesting, according to Newsweek, that the partial mobilization has met its objectives, and that therefore it may now be over. Moscow's Mayor Sergey Sobyanin blogged (and was quoted by TASS) that "the goals of the partial mobilization set pursuant to a presidential decree and mandated by the Defense Ministry have been achieved in full.... The call-up notices sent out in the process of mobilization to the places of citizens' residence and businesses cease to be in effect." It seems unlikely in the extreme that the call-up has delivered the 300,000 to 700,000 (accounts differ) soldiers it was intended to produce, but the program has been deeply unpopular, as the Washington Post and Foreign Policy report. The Kremlin may be attempting to declare success and find a face-saving exit from a chaotic and divisive attempt to reconstitute its forces.

The state of Belarusian cooperation with Russia's war.

The prospect of Belarusian deployment of its own forces against Ukraine seems at most diversionary misdirection. The UK's Ministry of Defense this morning reported on the state of the joint Russian-Belarusian deployment announced last week. "On 14 October 2022, Belarussian president Aleksandr Lukashenko said that 70,000 Belarusian troops and up to 15,000 Russians would be involved in a new Russian-Belarussian Group of Forces. On 15 October 2022, the Belarussian authorities released a video claiming to show the arrival of Russian troops in Belarus. However, to date it is unlikely that Russia has actually deployed a significant number of extra troops into Belarus. Russia is unlikely to be able to generate combat-ready formations of the claimed size: its forces are committed in Ukraine. The Belarussian military highly likely maintains minimal capability to undertake complex operations. The announcement is likely an attempt to demonstrate Russian-Belarussian solidarity and to convince Ukraine to divert forces to guard the northern border."

Three points. here. First, Russia does not seem able to be able to generate the forces necessary to reopen a northern front in its war. Second, it's in Russia's interest to induce Ukraine to divert forces from the south as the counteroffensive in Kherson gains momentum. Third, Belarusian military capability is probably limited. Its forces amount to a chimp's copy of the Russian army, and that model has been exposed during the present war. Belarusian forces are unlikely to be able to make a decisive contribution even should they be deployed.

Zhora calls Russia's cyber campaigns a failure.

Ukrainian cybersecurity leader Viktor Zhora, formally Deputy Chairman and Chief Digital Transformation Officer at the State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection, characterized Russia's efforts to achieve strategic results in cyberspace as a failure. Significantly, in Meritalk's account of remarks Zhora delivered this week at Mandiant's Worldwide Information Security Exchange in Washington, that cyberwar has been waged more-or-less continuously since Russia's invasion and occupation of Crimea in 2014. He credits preparation and lessons learned from eight years of cyber conflict with Ukraine's successful defense. "We worked on strengthening our capacities to counter these attacks. We were much more prepared in the beginning of 2022 instead of 2014. We took a lot of lessons from cyber aggression for the last eight years,” Zhora said. “That is one of the reasons why the adversary hasn’t reached its strategic goals in the cyber war against Ukraine.”

He also credited support from and collaboration with friendly international partners with playing an important part in Ukraine's success. That support seems likely to continue. Not only has Ukraine formed many enduring partnerships with friendly foreign agencies, but financial support also continues. The European Union, for example, plans to send €10 million through February of 2023, EU Neighbors East reports.