Ukraine at D+631: Ukraine warns that Russia's cyberwar will spread.
N2K logoNov 17, 2023

Russia prepares for the arrival of F-16s in Ukraine, begins its winter missile and drone campaign, and expands cyber operations.

Ukraine at D+631: Ukraine warns that Russia's cyberwar will spread.

The Institute for the Study of War reports a surge in Russian drone and missile strikes on October 15th and 16th. The strikes are regarded as an early stage of a campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure.

Manning the Russian force.

Heavy Russian losses are, the New York Sun reports, showing signs of eroding domestic support for the war. Kyiv claims that Russia has lost 315.620 soldiers killed or wounded, which is only marginally higher than the UK's Ministry of Defence estimate of 302,000. Ukrainian losses have also been high, but amount to about half the Russian total. Russian combat vehicle losses have been similarly high, with over 2000 armored vehicles destroyed so far during the fight for Adviikva.

Russia has made heavy use of convicts at the front, typically driving them forward in dismounted infantry assaults. The Atlantic Council describes a new Russian recruiting initiative: offering enlistment bonuses for contract soldiers. These are said to be one-time payments of a million rubles. That's less extraordinary than it might sound. A million rubles is about $11,000, and that's not far out of line with bonuses other armies offer. The U.S. Army, for example, offers reenlistment bonuses of several thousand dollars to soldiers in selected specialties. But it's unusual for an army like Russia's, which has tended to be short on cash and in any case to rely on conscription. The bonus program is a further sign of Kremlin reluctance to move closer to full mobilization.

Preparing for the arrival of F-16s.

Russia's air force is deploying Mainstay control aircraft closer to the front, where they're being used to identify aerial targets for air defense systems. "For the first time, Russia has likely started using A-50 MAINSTAY D, its Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, to identify targets over Ukraine for its SA-21 long-range ground-based air defence missile system," the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported in Friday's situation report. "This adds to MAINSTAY’s core mission of co-ordinating fighter aircraft. Compared to SA-21’s usual ground-based radar, MAINSTAY can use its radar to spot adversary aircraft at longer ranges because its altitude allows it to see further around the curvature of the earth."

The deployment is probably motivated by the pending delivery of F-16s in Ukraine, which would give that country's air force significant new capabilities. The MoD explains, "Russia has likely expedited integrating MAINSTAY and SA-21 partially because it is concerned about the prospect of Ukraine deploying Western-provided combat aircraft. There is a realistic possibility that Russia will accept more risk by flying MAINSTAY closer to the front-line in order to effectively carry out its new role."

The tempo of cyber operations in Russia's hybrid war.

Viktor Zhora, deputy chairman of Ukraine's State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, told IRISSCON this week that CERT-UA logged 2054 cyber incidents in the first ten months of 2023, which represents no decline from the total of 2194 tracked throughout 2022. The attacks' principal goal this year has been espionage, some of it intended to collect for immediate tactical purposes. Closed-circuit video systems, for example, have often been targeted with the aim of collecting information on the results of drone and missile strikes.

The activity hasn't been entirely confined to cyberespionage. Attacks against operational technology (OT) systems have also been observed, with Industroyer2Incontroller, and CosmicEnergy deployed by the GRU against Ukrainian electrical power distribution systems. The Irish Times reports that Zhora warned that other governments could expect similar attacks, from Russia and from other authoritarian and outlaw regimes. “While cyberattacks have been often considered a weapon of the future until recently, experience of the ongoing war has clearly shown to the whole world that the future has come,” he said. “We can say for sure that cyberspace has become a real warfare domain. There are no boundaries that can stop cyber attackers.” He urged that countries prepare themselves for a coming extension of cyberwar. “It’s just a matter of time before other authoritarian regimes start their cyber wars against the West,” Zhora added. “It’s crucial now for everyone to realise the degree of danger posed by the combined use of conventional and cyber warfare. Democracies should immediately adapt their military doctrines to address emerging cyberspace-based threats. Cyberattacks should be treated in the same manner as conventional military aggression and should result in a similar response.”

Russian operations against countries it considers unfriendly are no novelty. The GRU's Sandworm has been active against electrical power distribution systems in Denmark, and this is the sort of activity against which Zhora warned IRISSON.