Ukraine at D+250: Russia continues to strike civilian targets.
N2K logoNov 1, 2022

Russia completes its partial mobilization, cyberspace remains contested, and Russian disinformation takes on Black Sea grain shipments and the Nord Stream sabotage.

Ukraine at D+250: Russia continues to strike civilian targets.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said yesterday that partial mobilization was now complete. Al Jazeera quotes the Ministry as saying, "“All activities related to the conscription … of citizens in the reserve have been stopped.” This amounts to an declaration of success, but the partial mobilization was conducted with gross incompetence and was very unpopular. (Even President Putin acknowledged that mistakes were made.)

Russian missile strikes continue to hit Ukraine's civilian infrastructure.

Russian missile strikes have continued against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Several cities are suffering from power outages and disruptions of water supplies. The Telegraph reports that water shortages have been affecting the standard of care in some hospitals.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) yesterday described how Russian forces continued to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. "Russia is continuing its campaign of terror attacks on Ukraine as it targets civilian infrastructure, said senior defense officials. The Ukrainian military has been able to defend against some of the Russian attacks, but air defense remains a priority. "Damage to the electric grid and water supply are serious concerns directly harming the civilian population," a senior defense official said. The United States is working with the Ukrainian military, allies and partners to improve Ukraine's defenses." Upgrading Ukrainian air defenses has been an allied effort, with Slovakia, Germany, and Spain also recently providing new systems.

The DoD says that Ukraine continues to push Russian forces in both the vicinity of Kharkiv and Kherson. "On the ground, the battle continues with Russia’s attack on infrastructure causing widespread power outages. In and around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, Ukrainian forces have liberated some additional villages as they continue to press toward the east. Russian forces in this area are focused on reinforcing their defensive lines. Farther south, Russian forces are attempting to pursue offensive operations. In Kherson, "we continue to see deliberate and calibrated operations by Ukrainian forces as they press Russian forces along the three main axes," a senior military official said. "We assess that the Russians in this area continue to reinforce their defensive lines, as well." 

The UK's Ministry of Defence reports this morning that MiG-31Ks armed with AS-24 KILLJOY missiles have been deployed to airfields in Belarus. "Imagery showed two MiG-31K FOXHOUND interceptor jets were almost certainly parked at Belarus’s Machulishchi Airfield on 17 October, with a large canister stored nearby within a protective earth berm. United Kingdom government organization. It is likely that the canister is associated with the  AS-24 KILLJOY air launched ballistic missile, a large munition which the MiG-31K variant is adapted to carry. Russia has fielded KILLJOY since 2018, but it has not previously been deployed in Belarus. Russia has occasionally launched these weapons during the Ukraine war, but stocks are likely very limited. It continues to expend its advanced long-range munitions against targets of limited operational importance. With a range of over 2000km, basing KILLJOY in Belarus gives Russia little added advantage in terms of striking additional targets within Ukraine. It has likely carried out the deployment mainly to message to the West and to portray Belarus as increasingly complicit in the war."

Current minor themes in disinformation.

Russia had suggested that some of the USVs used against Black Sea Fleet units in Sevastopol had been launched from grain ships. The UN has investigated and determined that this wasn't possible, Reuters says. There were no grain ships anywhere near Sevastopol at the time of the attack. Indeed, there was no shipping of any kind in the grain corridors. Russia has said that its withdrawal from the grain shipment accord is only temporary, and that Ukrainian attacks have interfered with the Russian navy's ability to protect food shipments. Given that the Russian navy is the only threat to Black Sea grain shipments, it's hard to interpret this line as anything other than disinformation.

The Kremlin also shifted its narrative of the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage away from American to British suspects. The Telegraph quotes spokesman Dmitry Peskov to the effect that, "Our intelligence services have data indicating that British military specialists were directing and coordinating the attack. There is evidence that Britain is involved in sabotage, in a terrorist attack on vital energy infrastructure, not just Russian, but international." Russia is considering, Mr. Peskov said, what retaliatory action to take against the UK. Few outside Russia credit the accusations of Western sabotage in the Nord Stream incident.

Assistance for Ukraine's cyber defense.

The BBC reports that the British government has revealed the extent of cyber assistance it's rendered Ukraine. Aid amounting to some £6m has been delivered. In the course of discussing the assistance, the Government offered a brief appreciation of the state of cyber conflict in Russia's hybrid war. In brief, cyberspace remains "heavily contested," even as waves of Russian cyberattacks have not achieved the disruption widely expected at the beginning of the war. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, "Together, we will ensure that the Kremlin is defeated in every sphere: on land, in the air and in cyber space. The UK's support to Ukraine is not limited to military aid - we are drawing on Britain's world-leading expertise to support Ukraine's cyber defences." Lindy Cameron, chief executive of GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre, said, "The threat remains real and the UK's support package is undoubtedly bolstering Ukraine's defences further." The SVR, FSB, and GRU have all been active against Ukraine in cyberspace, and of the three Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU has been the most active.

Hacking Ms Truss's phone.

Russia's government has dismissed reports that its intelligence services hacked former British Prime Minister Liz Truss's phone, Reuters reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the incident as Fleet Street sensationalist nonsense. "Unfortunately, there is a shortage of material in the British media that can be perceived as serious. And we treat such publications as the yellow press," Peskov said. The possibility of Russian cyberespionage isn't, however, being taken lightly in the UK, where, according to the Independent, Tories have joined opposition MPs in calling for a full investigation of the incident.

Commentary from Sam Curry, Chief Security Officer, Cybereason

"An immediate government inquiry into the alleged phone hack is needed. Thus far the lesson is to presume compromise and act accordingly. We are talking about the most obvious of targets that everyone should assume are in the crosshairs: senior ministers of one of the most powerful nations on earth, aligned with a country at war with a pariah nation with demonstrated cyber capabilities and the will to hack. At a minimum, no high-ranking government officials should be using personal phones and devices to conduct any business. But I’d guess that many officials around the world are doing it. Also, let's not forget in a digital world, that we also have to secure their cars, homes, family phones, family iPads, etc.

"Overall, as the value of a target goes up, so should the attention to detail and the security measures. Simply having "normal" measures isn't enough when dealing with the leadership of a nation like the United Kingdom. Secondly, politics clearly played a role here. Whether or not the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson hid the breach of Liz Truss’s phone from the media, measures were hopefully taken to remediate it.

"While UK government officials claim there are robust security measures in place to prevent cyber-attacks, enforcement should really get stronger as rank increases. This is true in government as much as in the private sector and should be an object lesson to executives everywhere to make sure to not flex the muscles of privilege to get exemptions. The crosshairs of criminals and foreign powers are on you. For real.

"Today, we lack any information on how the alleged breach occurred, making it impossible to draw parallels with other similar compromises of senior officials in governments past, present or future. As details of the compromise are learned, it will become even more political, so whether it is done publicly or under the aegis of national security is irrelevant so long as lessons are learned and security improves."

There are other issues tangential to the possible compromise of Ms Truss's phone by spyware that are also arousing concern, notably the tendency of officeholders to handle official information on personal devices. Suella Braverman, who had been Home Secretary in the Truss Government before her resignation two weeks ago, admitted, the Telegraph reports, to sending a small number of official documents to her personal email. She says the material wasn't sensitive and posed no security risk.