Ukraine at D+132: Preparing for more attrition in the Donbas
N2K logoJul 6, 2022

Russian forces seek to reconstitute themselves as they move to the next phase of their said-to-be-original but actually recently restricted war plan: conquest of the Donbas. Other nations look for lesson in Russia's hybrid war, and cybercriminals exploit suffering in a phishing campaign directed against Ukrainians.

Ukraine at D+132: Preparing for more attrition in the Donbas

The current situation map of Ukraine shows little change in the lines.  The most recent report from the UK's Ministry of Defence follows the progress of the Russian Eastern and Western Groups of Forces. "Russia likely continues to consolidate its control over Lysychansk and Luhansk Oblast. To the north, it has committed most of the remaining available units from the Eastern and Western Groups of Forces to the Izium axis. Over the last week, Russian forces have likely advanced up to another 5 km down the E40 main road from Izium, in the face of extremely determined Ukrainian resistance. Russian forces from the Eastern and Western Groups of Forces are likely now around 16 km north from the town of Sloviansk. With the town also under threat from the Central and Southern Groups of Forces, there is a realistic possibility that the battle for Sloviansk will be the next key contest in the struggle for the Donbas." The Ukrainian governor of Donetsk has urged citizens to leave what is becoming the most active front of Russia's war. Up to 350,000 people may evacuate the province.

Reconstituting Russian forces and maintaining them in the field.

Russia's three-month advance through Luhansk has come, the AP reports, at a significant cost in casualties (many of whom, according to the Telegraph, haven't been evacuated to the rear). The tactics the Russians have settled on depend upon heavy use of artillery to reduce built-up areas. The early stages of the war, and Russia's failure to take Kyiv, showed the Russian army to be incapable of maneuvering a combined arms force rapidly, against opposition, and even less capable of supplying it. Thus in the Donbas the Russian commanders have settled on tactics that take advantage of what they can do: deliver artillery from relatively static positions, displacing only when necessary, and not moving into positions contested by enemy infantry or armor. This is an approach Western provision of artillery systems to Ukraine is designed to thwart. While much coverage of the war has singled out the use of HIMARS rockets against Russian ammunition supply points and of M777 155mm howitzers against Russian infantry, this misses the real importance of those systems. HIMARS and the M777, especially when coupled with counterbattery radars, should be understood, first of all, as artillery killers, and this role is the important one. If Ukraine can deprive Russia of its artillery, Ukraine will have taken away Russia's one effective arm.

Replacing combat losses may be challenging Moscow's resources. Reuters reports on the Duma's passage of two measures that, the news service says, effectively place the economy on a war footing. One empowers the government to set working conditions, especially hours, that would enable it to require overtime, double-shifts, and so forth, and to suspend vacations and days off. The other allows the government to compel production and delivery of war materiel. "The load on the defence industry has increased significantly. In order to guarantee the supply of weapons and ammunition, it is necessary to optimize the work of the military-industrial complex and enterprises that are part of cooperation chains. Right now, when the countries of the collective West are building up their military presence on the border with Russia, intensifying sanctions pressure, increasing arms supplies to Ukraine, the importance of passing the bills cannot be overestimated," Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov explained to the Duma. The passage of the bills is a preliminary measure. They will need to undergo two more readings in the lower house and then secure passage before being sent to the president for final approval.

There's also apparently some jailhouse recruiting going on. Russia has been reluctant to move to full conscription, and so is looking elsewhere for manpower. The Telegraph reports that "Relatives of inmates at two prisons outside St Petersburg, IK-7 Yablonevka and IK-6 Obukhovo, told Russian news outlet iStories on Monday that prisoners have been promised 200,000 rubles (£2,800) a month and an amnesty if they survive six months of 'voluntary' service."

Notes on the cyber phases of a hybrid war.

Mobile provider Kyivstar has continued to provide service during the war, as it struggles to work through disruption. That disruption has been, in Bloomberg's account, largely kinetic and, sadly, sometimes lethal. Physical destruction of infrastructure has been more of a problem than cyberattacks, effective versions of which haven't appeared since the opening days of the war saw interference with ViaSat ground stations. The relatively small role Russian offensive cyber operations have played in the war so far has not prevented others from drawing lessons from Russia's conduct of its hybrid war. China is said, by CyberScoop, to be watching the action in cyberspace especially closely, with a view to sorting out its options in the event of war to conquer Taiwan. The consensus lessons are "Strike quickly, pick targets that would cripple the enemy early on and rely on attack methods that never have been observed in public."

And cybercrime persists in wartime.

Criminals continue to shape their social engineering to events, especially tragic events. ZDNet reports that Ukrainian police have arrested nine alleged members of gang the authorities say are using the promise of European aid checks to beleaguered Ukrainians as phishbait in a tiresome (and unusually heartless, even by low criminal standards) version of familiar fraud. Victims are directed to a bogus website that presents them with an equally bogus application for assistance. "Through the websites, Ukrainians were offered to form an application for the payment of financial assistance from the countries of the European Union," Ukrainian police say. The victims are invited to provide their banking information so they can receive aid, and then the criminals simply rifle whatever they've been given access to. If convicted, the nine alleged thieves face up to fifteen years in prison.