Ukraine at D+364: United Nations vote on Russia's war expected today.
N2K logoFeb 23, 2023

Russia continues to maintain that its war is defensive, that it's the real victim here. (And Russian cyberattacks haven't had a decisive effect, but that's not for want of trying.)

Ukraine at D+364: United Nations vote on Russia's war expected today.

Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the beginning of a war that was widely expected, especially in Russia, to end in a matter of days with the fall of Kyiv and the effective destruction of Ukraine as an independent state. It hasn't worked out that way.

The United Nations will take up the war again today, and is expected to reiterate earlier condemnations of Russia's war against Ukraine. Reuters reports that "Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Russia's invasion and said the Charter was 'unambiguous,' citing from it: 'All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.'" Russia has been making its own case, portraying its special military operation as essentially defensive and therefore justified. "The West has ... brazenly ignored our concerns and continue bringing the military infrastructure of NATO closer and closer to our borders," Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said in an address to the General Assembly.

Russian pressure continues against Bakhmut and Vuhledar, but with little change to the lines.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence describes continued fighting around Bakhmut and Vuhledar. "Over the last 48 hours, heavy fighting has continued in the Bakhmut sector where Ukrainian forces are keeping resupply routes open to the west despite Russia’s creeping encirclement over the last six weeks. Further south in Donetsk Oblast, the town of Vuhledar has again experienced heavy shelling. There is a realistic possibility that Russia is preparing for another offensive effort in this area despite costly failed attacks in early February and late 2022. Russia’s Eastern Group of Forces likely still has responsibility for the Vuhledar operation. Its commander, Colonel General Rustam Muradov, is likely under intense pressure to improve results following harsh criticism from the Russian nationalist community after previous setbacks. However, it is unlikely that Muradov has a striking force capable of achieving a breakthrough.

Cyberattacks in the war so far, and their future prospects.

In the course of reviewing five predictions made at the outset of the war, Breaking Defense concludes that cyber has not been the "game-changer" it was widely expected to be. The analysis concludes that the much-discussed and feared "cyber Pearl Harbor" didn't materialize because, first, cyber weapons "are generally one-time use," that is, once they're employed, they're blown, and second, that effective defense has been shown to be possible. "Even the most obvious and expected use of cyber attacks — the degradation of civilian infrastructure like the electrical grid," the analysis says, "has come entirely from kinetic effects."

Cyber operations haven't been irrelevant, and skirmishes in cyberspace have marked Russia's war since before its troops crossed the Ukrainian border, but they haven't been decisive, and, on the Russian side at least, haven't been well-integrated into a combined arms effort.

It seems unlikely to Breaking Defense that any surprises will develop. "And while it is possible that Russia still has some unused capabilities, that seems unlikely since the Russian strategic situation has become desperate with no new capabilities becoming evident. That likely means they do not exist."

None of this means that Russian operators haven't been trying. Their attempted cyberattacks have maintained a high tempo. The Record cites a report by the Netherlands' General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD); that report says there have been many more attacks than have so far come to light. “Before and during the war, Russian intelligence and security services engaged in widespread digital espionage, sabotage and influencing against Ukraine and NATO allies.” But the attacks have been poorly integrated with other arms, and their effects have been lost in the overwhelming noise of kinetic destruction inflicted by missile and artillery fire.

W. Curtis Preston, CTE of Druva, offers some speculation about the likelihood of further Russian cyberattacks, their potential to extend well beyond Ukraine proper, and what organizations can do to prepare themselves. “As the anniversary of the war in Ukraine approaches, one cannot help but wonder what cyber-tricks Russia has up its sleeve. It's clear Russia and Putin have become extremely frustrated with the continuing and increased support Ukraine has received from the US and other NATO allies. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so it's easy to imagine a world where nation-state-sponsored cyber-attacks increase in frequency and intensity. This is another reason to take a look at your company's data protection strategy: 

  • “First and foremost, create automated air-gapped backups that cannot be compromised by a cyber attack against your infrastructure. 
  • "Segregate the backup environment as much as possible, with separate administrative logins and domains using a trusted password manager. 
  • "Continue to apply zero-trust wherever you can. At a minimum, all logins should be protected by Multi-Factor authentication (MFA), and the easiest way to do that is to employ a single-sign-on (SSO) system that supports it. All administrative accounts should also use role-based administration and least privilege to ensure that every admin has only the permissions needed to do their job. 
  • "Monitor for unusual activity in both your primary and backup systems, and ensure all logs are being regularly transferred to an air-gapped system so they will be available for forensics.”