Ukraine at D+544: Doxing and diversionary drone strikes.
N2K logoAug 22, 2023

Ukrainian hacktivist auxiliaries claim to have doxed a deputy chair of Russia's Duma, exposing evidence of corruption. Russian disinformation operattions targeted last month's NATO summit.

Ukraine at D+544: Doxing and diversionary drone strikes.

Ukrainian forces have made what the Institute for the Study of War calls "tactically significant gains in and east of Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast." Such an advance is tactically significant because it indicates that Ukrainian forces are now operating east of the main Russian mine belts. Ukrainian operations continue to pursue attrition of Russian defensive forces as a principal objective of their offensive.

Ukrainian media claim that drone strikes against Russian strategic bombers on Saturday and Monday were the work of Ukrainian diversionary forces operating inside Russia. At least two Backfire bombers were destroyed in the actions. The UK's Ministry of Defence looks at evidence that some Ukrainian UAV strikes have been mounted from inside Russian territory. "On 19 August 2023, a Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE medium bomber of Russia’s Long Range Aviation (LRA) was highly likely destroyed at Soltsky-2 Airbase in Novgorod Oblast, 650 km away from Ukraine’s border. The Russian Defence Ministry said that a copter-style uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) was responsible for the attack. If true, this adds weight to the assessment that some UAV attacks against Russian military targets are being launched from inside Russian territory. Copter UAVs are unlikely to have the range to reach Soltsky-2 from outside Russia. Russia has frequently used BACKFIRE bombers to launch the notoriously inaccurate AS-4 KITCHEN heavy anti-ship missiles against Ukraine. Early in the war, they also carried out the intense bombardment of Mariupol using unguided bombs."

F-16s for Ukraine.

Denmark and the Netherlands will both provide Ukraine with F-16s, Military Times reports. Greece will assist with pilot training. The Greek announcement came in the course of a joint press conference by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, during which the Prime MInister said Russian war crimes in Ukraine “must be punished under international law.”

Russia denounced plans to equip Ukraine with F-16s as an "escalation." Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov reminded the West that Russia is a nuclear power and should be respected as such. His colleague, Belarusian President Lukashenka, was less temperate, promising that Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian aggression (something no informed person actually regards as a realistic possibility) would be met immediately with "everything we have," including Russian-supplied nuclear weapons. Russian state television is even more bellicose, advocating immediate nuclear strikes against not just Ukraine, but against Western capitals, including specifically London. As soon as the F-16s show up, Mr. Solovyev says, let the nuclear missiles fly.

Where's Mr. Prigozhin?

Mr. Prigozhin, with fingers in pies that include the Wagner Group and the Internet Research Agency troll farm, is in the Sahel, whence he's published his first post-mutiny video. He says he's making Russia great in Africa, again, and working to make Africa "even more free." Why this post, and why now? It's a recruiting video. Mr. Prigozhin says he's looking for some "real strong men" to work in Africa, where the Wagner Group is "giving ISIS, al-Qaida and other gangsters hell." He looks a little over-dressed, but says he doesn't mind the heat. That's good--if you can't take the heat, then stay out of the Sahel.

US State Department advises American planning travel to Belarus to make other plans.

The US embassy in Minsk, citing "Belarusian authorities’ continued facilitation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine," and the recent build-up of Russian forces in Belarus, has advised US citizens to leave Belarus immediately.

Ukrainian hacktivists claim to dox a senior member of Russia's Duma.

The Cyber Resistance hacktivist auxiliary claims to have obtained access to emails belonging to Alexander Babakov, a deputy chair of Russia's Duma. The Cyber Resistance provided the documents--some 11 GB of material--to InformNapalm for analysis and assessment. InformNapalm in its turn says the email is also being made available to international journalists in the interest of exposing Mr. Babakov's alleged corruption. That corruption, the Cyber Resistance suggests, extends to "bribery, money laundering, extortion, supporting your mice abroad." Files posted by InformNapalm include, as the Record summarizes, "scans of Babakov’s passport, tax and financial documents, as well as his medical records." The authenticity of the material remains under investigation, but Mr. Babakov's reputation for corruption is longstanding. He's been under sanction by the EU, Switzerland, and Canada since 2014, by the US since 2017.

One sidelight cinephiles will find interesting: InformNapalm alleges that the emails include congratulations from Mr. Babakov to Mr. Steven Seagal, an honorary citizen of Russia, recipient of the Order of Friendship, and a recognized tulku. They also include communications to a third-party asking that a billion rubles be donated to the "Steven Seagal Cinematography Support Fund." The scale of the donation is justified, the communications allegedly explain, by the "scale of the personality," that personality being the auteur responsible for the environmentally themed action film On Deadly Ground. Or perhaps Mr. Babakov admires some of Mr. Seagal's other starring vehicles, like Under Siege, or Glimmer Man. A billion rubles is currently worth about $11 million. 

Russian influence operations aimed at NATO's July summit.

Graphika has analyzed Russian influence operations aimed at shaping a narrative around the Atlantic Alliance's July summit in Vilnius. The campaign featured documents the operators claimed to have been stolen from the Lithuanian government, and it exhibited a strong interest in driving a fissure between France and the other members of the Alliance. The content distributed included bogus press releases disseminated by inauthentic personae. Graphika identified two distinct operations in the campaign. The researchers attribute one to Doppelganger, which they describe as "a sprawling campaign that has impersonated media outlets and government agencies since at least May 2022 to disseminate pro-Russia messaging." The other operation is attributed to a familiar group, Secondary Infektion, known since 2014 for using fake personae to stage "falsified and hacked documents online." 

Whether the two operations were closely coordinated or simply shared a common strategic objective is unclear. The campaign was complex and extensive, but its results were negligible. "Their content received minimal shares from authentic users, and what online traction they did generate was largely in existing pro-Kremlin communities. Graphika also observed social media users, including influential pro-Kremlin figures, calling out the activity as fake, suggesting the actors often failed in their efforts to deceive online audiences." The Sekondary Infektion material in particular was marked by slovenly linguistic execution. "The posts contained grammatical errors typical of native Russian speakers, such as incorrect use of definite and indefinite articles - a consistent feature of Secondary Infektion activity."

Elon Musk considered restricting Ukrainian access to Starlink after a talk with President Putin.

The New Yorker reports that Elon Musk, concerned about his reputation in Russia, considered shutting down Starlink services to Ukraine, and that he did so after speaking with Russian President Putin. Colin Kahl, then US undersecretary of defense for policy, that avoided a complete shutdown. “If you turn this off, it doesn’t end the war," Kahl explained to Mr. Musk. “My inference was that he was getting nervous that Starlink’s involvement was increasingly seen in Russia as enabling the Ukrainian war effort, and was looking for a way to placate Russian concerns.” Mr. Musk said to Kahl, "Well, I had this great conversation with Putin." The approach to Mr. Musk, the New Yorker reports, was quasi-diplomatic, treating the businessman as if he were a head of government or at least a senior diplomat. “Even though Musk is not technically a diplomat or statesman," Kahl said, "I felt it was important to treat him as such, given the influence he had on this issue.”