Ukraine at D+568: Anti-shipping strikes assessed.
N2K logoSep 15, 2023

An increasingly isolated President Putin holds summits with North Korean and Belarusian leaders.

Ukraine at D+568: Anti-shipping strikes assessed.

Little has changed on the ground: Ukrainian forces continue their deliberate advance in the direction of Melitopol. The Ukrainian General Staff claims "partial success," as the Institute for the Study of War puts it, around Bakhmut, Klishchiivka, Andriivka, and Kurdyumivka. Ukraine's Eastern Group of Forces said it has ejected Russian forces from Minkivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka.

Ukraine says its surface drones hit two Russian patrol vessels in the Black Sea. Russian sources say the uncrewed boats were successfully repelled.

Post-strike assessment of damage to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

The UK's Ministry of Defence concludes that the two Black Sea Fleet warships hit Wednesday by Ukrainian missiles were both effectively destroyed, and that damage to the Fleet's repair facilities was extensive. "In the early hours of 13 September 2023, multiple missiles struck the Sevmorzavod shipyard within Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) Sevastopol naval base. The landing ship Minsk and Kilo 636.3 class submarine Rostov-na-Donu were hit while undergoing maintenance in dry docks. Despite the Russian Ministry of Defence downplaying the damage to the vessels, open-source evidence indicates the Minsk has almost certainly been functionally destroyed, while the Rostov has likely suffered catastrophic damage. Any effort to return the submarine to service is likely to take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There is a realistic possibility that the complex task of removing the wreckage from the dry docks will place them out of use for many months. This would present the BSF with a significant challenge in sustaining fleet maintenance. The loss of the Rostov removes one of the BSF’s four cruise-missile capable submarines which have played a major role in striking Ukraine and projecting Russian power across the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean."

Pariah summitry: North Korea and Russia.

The meeting this week between Russia's President Putin and North Korea's Chairman Kim ended with Chairman Kim proclaiming his solidarity with Russia against "imperialism," although it was unclear whether that solidarity would immediately extend to bulk shipment of the 122 mm, 130 mm, and 152 mm artillery shells President Putin urgently needs. Chairman Kim, however, did invite President Putin to visit him in the DPRK "when it's convenient," an invitation Reuters says President Putin accepted "gratefully."

The Atlantic Council called the meeting a "pariah summit." North Korea has been an internationally isolated pariah state for years, and Moscow's courtship of Pyongyang in the hopes of receiving decades-old artillery ammunition to replenish its depleted stocks is generally regarded abroad as a humiliation. "When Putin unleashed the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022," the essay concludes, "he seems to have genuinely believed Ukrainian resistance would crumble in a matter of days. More than eighteen months later, Russian troops are on the defensive in Ukraine and Russian cities are under attack. As a result of the invasion, Putin’s personal standing among the international community has plummeted to record lows, while Russia’s reputation as a military superpower lies in tatters. Previously regarded as the world’s number two army, Putin’s military is now dependent on Iranian drones and North Korean munitions."

Ukraine has charged North Korea with supplying artillery ammunition for more than a month, the Telegram reports. The Russian requests, if met, would represent an increase in supply, but so far no new agreement appears to have been reached.

An essay in the Telegraph makes a similar argument. "it is an indication of just how badly Russia’s “special military operation” is progressing in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin finds himself having to turn to North Korea’s oddball dictator, Kim Jong-un, for help."

Pariah summitry: Belarus and Russia.

While Pyongyang isn't Moscow's only friend, it's a member of a shrinking circle. Still, Moscow will always have Minsk. Belarusian President Lukashenka will meet President Putin today in the Russian resort town Sochi. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained that "Belarus is our closest ally, the heads of state meet regularly." Today's meeting was confirmed after the European Parliament passed a resolution linking Belarus with Russia's war against Ukraine. The 19th article of the resolution addressed "Involvement of the Lukashenka regime in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine," and it states: "Considers that, by enabling Russia’s unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine, the Lukashenka regime has become an accomplice in the crimes committed by Russia, which implies responsibility for the destruction and damage caused to Ukraine; deems, furthermore, that the special international tribunal on the crime of aggression perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine must have jurisdiction to investigate not only Putin and the Russian political and military leadership, but also the Belarusian leadership; calls, therefore, for the EU institutions and the Member States to take all the actions necessary to enable the criminal prosecution of Belarusian officials who are complicit in the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide committed against Ukraine; welcomes, in this regard, the steps taken towards the establishment of an ICC country office in Ukraine; calls for the EU and its Member States to find legal pathways for seizing assets of the Belarusian leadership and related Belarusian entities involved in the Russian war effort and, if possible, using them to support the reconstruction of Ukraine."

Belarus has permitted Russia to stage forces on its territory for use against Ukraine. It also provided a temporary haven for Wagnerite mutineers, which got them out of Russia and neutralized them until Moscow could deal with them. The process of dispersal, imprisonment, and absorption into Russian regular formations of the Wagnerites is well advanced. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty published satellite imagery showing that the camp established for Wagner Group fighters in  Tsel, Belarus, was undergoing progressive dismantlement. The camp as initially established could accommodate some 5400 troops. Its capacity is now down to about 2300.

Considering Internet autarky for information control.

Cybernews reports a growing mood in Russia's Duma that favors tighter control over online information. Virtual private networks (VPNs) would be restricted or banned under measures being discussed by lawmakers. Sentiment in favor of giving Roskomnadzor, the nation's Internet governance agency, tighter control over information is growing but not yet unanimous. The model for the restrictions under consideration is China's Great Firewall, a restrictive but imperfect and to a degree porous system of information control.

Starlink service in the Black Sea.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat of Massachusetts) wants, Axios reports, a Congressional investigation into Starlink's decision to decline providing service in the vicinity of Sevastopol last year. The absence of Starlink connectivity interfered with Ukrainian plans for a drone strike against units of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. She's particularly concerned about the specifics of contracts the US might have with SpaceX, and the vulnerability of purchased services to corporate decisions. "We need to investigate how this happened, what's in those contracts that permits him to have this kind of power," she said. She also called for a Defense Department investigation: "That kind of activity poses a danger to the United States, to Ukraine and to the rest of the world."

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall took a more relaxed view of Starlink's decision. In an interview with CNBC at this week's Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber conference, Secretary Kendall said, “At the time, SpaceX made some unilateral decisions about what to do for Ukraine. They were not on contract to the U.S. ... I think they were definitely donating their services essentially, so they had discretion." He doesn't believe Defense Department contracting has loopholes that would enable contractors to make operational decisions. “We write our contracts to basically ensure that we can get the services we need, as expected from them, and those are enforceable contracts, whatever the business arrangement may be — whether it’s individual ownership or a publicly held company. We write agreements with those businesses, they get us what we need at a reasonable cost,” he added. Those contracts, he said, are enforceable.

Starlink connectivity, or any absence thereof, has not seemed to be an operational issue for Ukrainian forces in the region since last year.