Ukraine at D+487: After the march on Moscow.
N2K logoJun 26, 2023

The march on Moscow is over, Ukraine's counteroffensive continues, and how much Mr. Prigozhin's mutiny weakened the Russian government remains to be seen.

Ukraine at D+487: After the march on Moscow.

Wagner Group boss Prigozhin is in Belarus, his march on Moscow canceled. The long-term effects of the abortive mutiny remain to be seen, but they won't ease the difficulties Russian commanders face as they confront Ukraine's counteroffensive. Minimally, they will be deprived of the services of the Wagner Group, which will have to be either dispersed and absorbed into the regular military (or some new contract force) or else reconstituted under new management (with a new contract from the Ministry of Defense). The Wagner Group was brutal, but it was also, by the admittedly low standards of the Russian military, probably the most effective force fighting for Russia against Ukraine. (The best paid, too.) Ukraine sees the mercenaries' departure as an opportunity.

The extent to which the incident has weakened President Putin is also unclear, although many Western observers see it as a severe shock to his authority. (See, for example, the discussions in the New York Times, the AP, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Business Insider, and the Telegraph.)

President Putin himself likened the march on Moscow to the events of 1917: "It’s a strike in the back of our country and our people. Exactly this strike was dealt in 1917 when the country was in world war one, but its victory was stolen. Intrigues, and arguments behind the army’s back turned out to be the greatest catastrophe, destruction of the army and the state, loss of huge territories, resulting in a tragedy and a civil war. Russians were killing Russians, brothers killing brothers. But the beneficiaries were various political chevaliers of fortune and foreign powers who divided the country, and tore it into parts." He said he wouldn't permit a repetition of 1917 (whether the February Revolution that brought down the Tsar or the October Revolution that brought down Kerensky and led to the Bolshevik takeover or both was unclear), and he promised retribution. “Those who prepared the military mutiny, who raise weapons against combat brothers, have betrayed Russia, and will pay for this."

It's not known exactly why Mr. Prigozhin stood down. Explanations range from his judgment that success was impossible to direct threats by the Russian organs against his family. It's also unclear why Mr. Prigozhin was offered retirement in Minsk. Russian state media themselves are baffled by this, "aghast" at Mr. Putin's declining to execute Mr. Prigozhin.

Still, for now at least, Defense Minister Shoigu remains in office, and the REMFs seem to have won. And in the West, officials worry about the security of Russia's nuclear arsenal.

The progress of Ukraine's counteroffensive.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence sees Ukrainian advances along the southern zone. "As part of its broader counter-offensive, Ukraine has gained impetus in its assaults around Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast. In a multi-brigade operation, Ukrainian forces have made progress on both the northern and southern flanks of the town. There has been little evidence that Russia maintains any significant ground forces operational level reserves which could be used to reinforce against the multiple threats it is now facing in widely separated sectors, from Bakhmut to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, over 200km away."

The gains are real but not, in terms of area retaken, large. "Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said early on June 26 that Ukrainian forces have retaken 130 square kilometers in the south since the start of Kyiv's long-anticipated counteroffensive," Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports. That's slightly less than the total area of the British Virgin Islands--not negligible, but not very large, either. The counteroffensive remains in its early stages, Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian ground forces said late last week, with operational reserves so far uncommitted.

Russian ISPs blocked Google News as tension with the Wagner Group mounted Friday.

Internet observatory Netblocks found that five Russian ISPs blocked Google News on Friday as tensions between the Wagner Group and the Ministry of Defense rose during the run-up to the Wagnerites' abortive march on Moscow. Google News has been blocked before, the New York Times observes, most prominently in March of 2022, when Roskomnadzor announced an interdict of the service after Google blocked some online content that spread disinformation in support of Russia's war against Ukraine.

Ukrainian hacktivist auxiliaries break into Russian radio broadcasts.

Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports that Ukrainian operators have increasingly hacked into Russian radio broadcasts to insert pro-Ukrainian messages. When the current wave began in early June, the message was that Russia had declared full mobilization and martial law in response to a large-scale invasion of Russia. Outrageous as they were, the messages gained enough traction to draw an official denial from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The style and substance of the incursions into Russian broadcasts is very much in the hacktivist style: uncoordinated, opportunistic, and chaotic. Whether they're particularly effective is a matter for some debate. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty quotes Bogdan Litvin, national coordinator of the Russian anti-war movement Vesna, who thinks the hacks represent a missed opportunity. "The effectiveness of such hacks depends on what is transmitted," Litvin said. "The sound of sirens and explosions and warnings of rocket attacks are not going to increase opposition to the war. Most likely, they will increase a sense of fear, which is not going to help change public opinion." He thinks that, conceptually at least, hacking Russian radio isn't a bad idea, but he adds, "The way it is being done now might have undesired effects such as a short-term consolidation around the authorities…and support for repressive measures." Better to convince Russians that their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers are dying for a bad cause than to stage the equivalent of jump scares and holler "boo!"

New EU sanctions are directed against Russian IT firms.

Computing reports that the eleventh round of European Union sanctions enacted against Russia will hit that country's IT sector particularly hard. The European Council singled out companies holding a license from the FSB authorizing them to work "at the Russian security level of 'state secret' as well as companies holding a "weapons and military equipment license from Russia's Ministry of Industry and Trade. It's not just their work on conventional military systems that puts them on the EU's list. "The Council has also assessed that information warfare constitutes a key means by which Russia implements its war of aggression against Ukraine and commits gross violations of international law and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."