Ukraine at D+244: Dissent, pro- and anti-war.
N2K logoOct 26, 2022

Ukraine advances in Kherson and Luhansk as Mr. Prigozhin criticizes Russia's war effort as insufficiently harsh. Ukraine documents Russian cybercrimes in the hope of eventually seeing the prosecuted.

Ukraine at D+244: Dissent, pro- and anti-war.

The Washington Post describes the current Ukrainian counteroffensive against Kherson and Bakhmut. They're said to have made particular progress against the Wagner Group mercenaries holding the section of the line around Bakhmut, and to have retaken key rail junctions in Luhansk.

Sabotage attempt against Russian rail line.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence focuses on what the MoD regards as a rising problem for Russia: sabotage by domestic dissident groups opposed to the war. "On 24 October 2022, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region announced that an explosive device had damaged the railway near the village of Novozybkovo, approximately 15km from the Russia-Belarus border. The line is the main rail link between Russia and southern Belarus. The Russian anti-war group ‘Stop the Wagons’ (STW) claimed responsibility for the incident. This is at least the sixth incident of sabotage against Russian railway infrastructure claimed by STW since June. This is part of a wider trend of dissident attacks against railways in both Russian and Belarus. The Russian authorities have previously clamped down on STW’s online presence. The Russian military primarily relies on rail transport for deploying forces to Ukraine, but with a network extending to over 33,000km, largely transiting isolated areas, the system is extremely challenging to secure against physical threats. The Russian leadership will be increasingly concerned that even a small group of citizens has been sufficiently opposed to the conflict to resort to physical sabotage."

It's unclear from reports whether the sabotage was successful or unsuccessful, whether it was an attempt or an actual disruption, but in either case the incident suggests that domestic dissent is a growing problem for the Kremlin.

Partial mobilization and other difficulties.

Russian President Putin seemed to acknowledge that Russia's conduct of the war faced "issues." Business Insider quotes Mr. Putin's remarks to the Coordination Council he established to help oversee support of the special military operation. "Now we are faced with the need to more rapidly resolve issues associated with providing support for the special military operation and the need to counter economic restrictions that were imposed on us, which are truly unprecedented without any exaggeration," he said, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin. 

The partial mobilization itself continues to be marked by chaotic, indiscriminate conscription and an inability to provide newly mobilized troops with military basics, the AP reports. "Videos on Russian social networks showed conscripted men complaining of cramped, filthy accommodations, toilets overflowing with trash and a lack of food and medicine. Some showed men displaying rusty weapons," the AP says. "In one video, a group of draftees milled in a field, claiming they had been left there with no food or shelter. Other clips depicted men forced to sleep on bare benches or tightly packed on the floor." All armies have problems, but this is well outside the norm.

Higher-level, nationalist dissatisfaction.

There have been rumors for some time that Wagner Group boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin has been the highly placed individual expressing criticism of the way Russia has conducted its war against Ukraine. The Washington Post this morning confirmed that Mr. Prigozhin has indeed been telling President Putin that the war is being mismanaged. Mr. Prigozhin's criticisms are directed largely against the Ministry of Defense, and he is in no respect a man of peace. Instead, his advocacy has been for a harsher war against Ukraine, one in which civilians would feel the full effect of a scorched earth campaign. In this advice he resembles the Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov who has been similarly critical of the conduct of the war.

The immediate targets of the criticism are Defense Minister Shogu and his senior generals. The Post cites sources in the US Intelligence Community who see Mr. Prigozhin as a lifelong outsider seeking the cachet of official position. In any case, the influence of Mssrs. Prigozhin and Kadryov indicate the importance of a shadow hierarchy in Russian government. Recent Russian tactics have indeed been harsher, especially since the appointment of General Sergey Surovikin to overall command.

Documenting cyber war crimes.

Russian atrocities have been extensive and horrific. The Guardian reports that a thousand bodies have been discovered in Kharkiv. Ukraine and others have been engaged for some time in documenting these crimes with a view to prosecution of those responsible. According to Bloomberg, Ukrainian authorities have also been documenting Russian cyberattacks, also with a view to prosecution of those responsible. Victor Zhora, chief digital transformation officer of Ukraine’s Special Communications and Information Protection Service, said his government was collecting evidence of malicious cyber activity and sharing it with the International Criminal Court. “Our intention is to bring this to justice after the war, and perhaps this will be the first prosecution of the first global cyber-war and cybercrimes that were conducted with kinetic operations and war crimes in Ukraine,” Zhora said.