Ukraine at D+182: Nuclear accident fears.
N2K logoAug 25, 2022

Russian strikes on Ukraine's Independence Day hit and kill civilians at a rail station. Kyiv warns of the risk of Russian forces inducing a nuclear accident at the power plant in Zaporizhzhia. Comparison and contrast between Russian and Ukrainian methods of cyberwar.

Ukraine at D+182: Nuclear accident fears.

Russian strikes on Ukraine's Independence Day hit a rail station and nearby homes in the eastern Ukrainian town of Chaplyne, killing at least twenty-two (perhaps as many as twenty-five) civilians and wounding more, the BBC reports.

Concern rises over nuclear safety at Zaporizhzhia.

According to the AP, Kyiv has asked the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to send inspectors to the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, which the Ukrainian government says is effectively being used by occupying Russian forces to hold Ukraine (and any other countries downwind) hostage to the possibility of nuclear accident. The Telegraph reports that Ukrainian workers who've continued to operate and maintain the plant are being pressured by Russian forces in advance of any IAEA inspection to present a pro-Russian front. A source within the plant's workforce told the Telegraph:

"We all worry about the possible visit of the IAEA representatives. That they will set up some provocations and then blame them on Ukraine. It feels like that’s exactly what they plan to do. They grabbed our management by the balls: for the period of the visit, they plan to minimise the presence of our staff, and put a couple of their representatives in every control room, who will loudly shout how they were waiting for ‘liberation from the Kyiv regime’. Now I understand that their army is weak, but their FSB service is working. One of their methods here is to take the control room workers to the basement,” said the engineer, using a Russian colloquialism for detention and torture by secret police. Our management keeps silent about it, not to create panic, but people who return after those basement ‘conversations’ don’t say anything at all. It will be no surprise if during the mission they will suddenly start saying what they were told to say.”

Russian forces are believed, sources in the Ukrainian government tell the Guardian, to be planning to disconnect Zaporizhzhia from Ukraine's grid. The pretext for implementing the plan would be combat damage to power lines that make this connection. Disconnection is said to risk inducing failure in the plant's cooling system.

"In early March," the UK's Ministry of Defence tweeted in its morning situation report, "Russian ground forces assaulted and seized Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). On 21 August 2022, imagery indicated that Russia maintained an enhanced military presence at the site, with armoured personnel carriers deployed within 60 metres of reactor number five. Russian troops were probably attempting to conceal the vehicles by parking them under overhead pipes and gantries. Russia is probably prepared to exploit any Ukrainian military activity near ZNPP for propaganda purposes. While Russia maintains the military occupation of ZNPP, the principal risks to reactor operations are likely to remain disruption to the reactors’ cooling systems, damage to its back-up power supply, or errors by workers operating under pressure."

Ukrainian and Russian cyber operations at six months.

POLITICO reviews Ukraine's offensive cyber operations during Russia's war, and concludes, loosely, that Kyiv has successfully executed portions of a playbook hitherto associated with Moscow. It outlines four areas where it regards Ukraine as having been particularly successful. The first has come to be generally recognized: Ukraine has been far more successful than Russia at influence operations, at "controlling the narrative." It's done so without widespread use of coordinated inauthenticity, and it's operated in a highly distributed way that contrasts sharply with the Russian centralized, top-down approach to propaganda. It's also relied heavily on truth-telling. Moscow's approach has found some limited traction in Africa and Latin America, but Ukraine has been far more successful in shaping international opinion.

The second success is related, insofar as it also involves an influence campaign. Ukraine has succeeded in persuading Western tech companies to abandon Russia, effectively inducing a undesirable form of the Internet autarcky Russia has long sought.

Third, Ukraine has succeeded in attracting international hacktivist support. Their work has been largely at a nuisance level, but it's been embarrassing to its Russian targets. Russia has also made extensive use of hacktivists, but these have for the most part been at best privateers, and often fronts for units of intelligence and security services. Ukraine has succeeded in "crowdsourcing" some of its cyber operations. (Volunteers, many of them domestic, have also provided defensive resiliency to Ukrainian networks, ABC News reports.)

Finally, Ukraine has been able to use data against Russian interests, including both analytic tools from firms including Palantir and facial recognition tools from Clearview AI.

In a look at the Russian phases of the cyber conflict, Trustwave researchers describe the distinctive and characteristic tool of Russian operations: wipers. Those tools saw some success in the early days of the invasion, but have grown less prominent as the war has progressed.

A look at Russia's NewsFront and related media operations.

The Stanford Internet Observatory has published A Front for Influence: An Analysis of a Pro-Kremlin Network Promoting Narratives on COVID-19 and Ukraine, by researcher Christopher Giles, which describes the background to Twitter's takedown of several long-running disinformation operations centered around the Russian media outlets NewsFront, Kherson Live, and Ukraine Today. The first of these is well-known and widely recognized as a Russian government operation. The other two, less prolific, have had more success at flying under the radar. "The influence tactics used in this network are not novel," the study reports. "The network included accounts created in bulk, which then coordinated and amplified specific narratives or were used to promote propaganda news sites." Among the recurring themes are NATO responsibility for Russia's war against Ukraine and American responsibility for the COVID pandemic.