Ukraine at D+263: Withdrawal to defensible lines.
N2K logoNov 14, 2022

Russian forces continue to consolidate their fallback positions. Another wiper attack is observed, "From Russia with Love."

Ukraine at D+263: Withdrawal to defensible lines.

Russian forces have apparently completed their withdrawal across the Dnipro. They're also shortening their lines on the east bank of the river, abandoning Nova Kakhovka, the second largest city, after Kherson, in the region, the Telegraph reports.

Hard-war critics inside Russia continue, the New York Times writes, to express outrage over the retreat. Aleksandr Dugin, the geopolitical theorist whose views are thought to be influential in the Kremlin (although exactly how influential is disputed) said, “The authorities in Russia cannot surrender anything else. The limit has been reached.”

Ukraine consolidates its hold on Kherson.

Saturday morning the UK's Ministry of Defence discussed the Russian withdrawal from Kherson in its daily situation report. "On 11 November 2022, Russia’s Ministry of Defence claimed their withdrawal from Kherson had been completed. Russian forces highly likely destroyed road and rail bridges over the Dnipro River as part of this process. The completion of the withdrawal came only two days after its announcement. It is likely that the withdrawal process had already started as early as 22 October 2022 when Russian-installed figures in Kherson urged civilians to leave the city. There is a realistic possibility that Russian military equipment and forces in civilian attire had been evacuating in conjunction with the 80,000 stated evacuated civilians in recent weeks. Kherson was the only regional capital city captured since February by Russian forces so the withdrawal brings significant reputational damage. The withdrawal is a public recognition of the difficulties faced by Russian forces on the west bank of the Dnipro river. It is likely that Ukraine has retaken large areas of Kherson oblast on the west bank of the Dnipro River, and that its forces are now largely in control of Kherson city itself.It is likely that Russia is still attempting to evacuate forces from other areas of the oblast across the river to defensible positions on the east bank.

TASS was authorized this weekend to disclose that Russian occupation authorities had established a "temporary capital" for the annexed region in a resort town on the Sea of Azov, northeast of Crimea. "Today, Genichesk where all key government agencies are located is a temporary administrative capital of the Kherson Region," an occupation official told the Russian news service. The AP reports that Ukrainian forces are reestablishing basic services in Kherson, which was left in a state of "catastrophe" by the retreating Russian army. Citizens have been tearing down the Second World War patriotic plaques the occupiers had hastily erected throughout the city.

Ukrainian forces' effective use of highly accurate, long-range (roughly 70 kilometers) HIMARS rocket artillery is credited, the Telegraph reports, with making Russian positions in Kherson untenable. Coverage of the Russian retreat in the Washington Post sees the withdrawal as likely to have a strongly negative effect on Russian domestic opinion.

Another wiper campaign from a Russian cyber auxiliary.

CERT-UA reports new activity on the part of the group it tracks as UAC-0118, a Russian cyber auxiliary that styles itself either From Russia with Love (abbreviated "FRwL") or Z-Team. The initial attack spoofed the website of Famatech’s legitimate Advanced IP Scanner, and the malicious site offered a “Free Download” button. Pressing it, Help Net Security says, directed the victim to a Dropbox account that hosted a version of the Vidal information-stealer misrepresented as Advanced IP Scanner.

Vidar steals ("among other things," CERT-UA notes) Telegram session data that, if poorly protected by multi-factor authentication, in many cases enable access to the victim's Telegram account. From there the Z-Team established a VPN connection and deployed Cobalt Strike and a range of reconnaissance tools. The final stage of the attack deploys a recently developed version of Somnia ransomware. BleepingComputer reports that Z-Team hasn't demanded ransom from its victims and indeed boasts that they've removed the possibility of decryption. Thus this series of Somnia infestations should be regarded as wiper attacks.

CERT-UA observes that Z-Team used other resources obtained in the criminal-to-criminal market, notably the services of at least one unnamed initial access broker. The victims are said to be a range of unspecified Ukrainian organizations.

The effect of weather on military operations during the winter.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence assessed the probable effect of winter weather on operations in the war. "Winter will bring a change in conflict conditions for both Russian and Ukrainian forces. Changes to daylight hours, temperature and weather will present unique challenges for fighting soldiers. Any decisions that the Russian General Staff make will be in part informed by the onset of winter. Daylight will reduce to fewer than 9 hours a day, compared to 15-16 in the height of summer. This results in fewer offensives and more static defensive frontlines. Night vision capability is a precious commodity, further exacerbating the unwillingness to fight at night. The average high temperature will drop from 13 degrees Celsius through September to November, to zero through December to February. Forces lacking in winter weather clothing and accommodation are highly likely to suffer from non-freezing cold injuries. Additionally, the 'golden hour' window in which to save a critically wounded soldier is reduced by approximately half, making the risk of contact with the enemy much greater. The weather itself is likely to see an increase in rainfall, wind speed and snowfall. Each of these will provide additional challenges to the already low morale of Russian forces, but also present problems for kit maintenance. Basic drills such as weapon cleaning must be adjusted to the conditions and the risk of weapon malfunctions increase."

In sum, it's more difficult to live in the field during winter. The New York Times explains that both sides will have to cope with adverse weather, but that it will prove more difficult for the more poorly supplied and equipped force--in this case the Russian force--to do so.

Russia looks for longer term solutions to its problems with troop quality.

"On 9 November 2022, Education Minister Sergey Kravstov stated that military training will return to Russian schools, beginning in September 2023," the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) observed in Sunday morning's situation report. "This reprises a Soviet-era programme where students had mandatory military training, a programme which ended in 1993. This training included contingencies for a chemical or nuclear attack, first aid and experience handling and firing Kalashnikov rifles." An earlier revival of such training was attempted in 2014, after Russia invaded and occupied Crimea, but it seemed to have little effect. "It was hoped that the initiative would improve the quality of conscripts. Eight years later, little has changed, and the quality of Russian conscripts remains poor, with low morale and limited training. A training programme is currently being drafted and will be completed by the end of 2022. It will then undergo an approvals process. The Russian MOD supports this process, stating that no less than 140 hours per academic year should be devoted to this training." This is similar in duration to what a US high school student taking Junior ROTC might encounter.

The MoD goes on to explain, "This training likely intends to prepare students with military skills as they approach conscription age and to increase the take-up for mobilisation and conscription drives. This initiative is also likely to be part of a wider project to instil an ideology of patriotism and trust in public institutions in the Russian population." The decision recognizes the poor performance of Russian troops in combat, but it remains to be seen whether military familiarization in schools will prove a realistic way of fixing it. As a standalone reform it would be inadequate, since it wouldn't touch the logistical or leadership failures that have marred Russian combat performance, but it's not easy to deliver effective military instruction in a secondary school--the things that can effectively be taught there (marching, drill and ceremonies, some small arms familiarization, and so on) are unlikely to touch Russia's training problems. The program is clearly intended to produce reforms over the long haul. It indicates at least some official awareness that all is far from well in the ranks.

Leadership in the Wagner Group.

Russian forces have been reported ready to impose harsh consequences for attempted desertion, combat refusal, and even retreat in the face of the enemy. An example of the sort of leadership present and future Russian soldiers might expect was on display in the Wagner Group over the weekend. Yevgeny Nuzhin, a Russian convict serving a sentence for murder, had been recruited and released to serve with the Wagner Group in Ukraine. At the front he had surrendered to Ukrainian forces, been either recaptured or exchanged (it's unclear which, although this morning news reports, like this one in Meduza, are trending toward a prisoner exchange), and subsequently returned to the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group then executed as a traitor, using a sledgehammer for the killing. The execution was filmed and posted on the Wagner Group's Grey Zone Telegram channel under title "A dog receives a dog's death," as a deterrent to other fighters who might consider surrender or defection. Reuters reports that Wagner Group chief Evgeny Prigozhin commented on the video. "Nuzhin betrayed his people, betrayed his comrades, betrayed consciously," he said. "Nuzhin was a traitor." Mr. Prigozhin continued his commentary on his fighters propaganda of the deed with a warning. "Do not forget, there are not only traitors who throw away their automatic guns and go over to the enemy," he added. "Some traitors are holed up in offices, not thinking about their own people. Some of them use their own business jets to fly to those countries that seem neutral to us so far. They fly away so as not to participate in today's problems. They are traitors too."

Should this prove representative of Russian leadership techniques, and it seems characteristic at least of the prison-yard style that prevails in the Wagner Group, the best Russian officers will soon be able to hope for with respect to good order and discipline will be malicious compliance. Look to the letter of the orders you issue, gentlemen.

Mr. Prigozhin is widely believed to aspire to the job of Defense Minister, and should he realize that ambition, he may well take his hard-war, yardbird style with him.