Ukraine at D+593: Middle East war's implications for the war in Ukraine.
N2K logoOct 10, 2023

Russia sees renewed war between Hamas and Israel as an opportunity to sap international support for Ukraine. 

Ukraine at D+593: Middle East war's implications for the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces continued their push in the vicinty of Bakhmut, over the weekend and today. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on October 6th that a spokesman for the Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces said they were prepared to continue offensive operations through the Fall and Winter. Supply will be more important than weather.

Sunday morning the UK's Ministry of Defence described a Ukrainian economy-of-force operation in Donetsk. "The Velyka Novosilka sector, west of the Donetsk Oblast town of Vuhledar, has become relatively quiet over the last four weeks, with fighting much less intense from its height in June-July 2023. Over the summer, Ukraine almost certainly liberated at least 125 square kilometres of territory on this axis. Ukrainian operations in this sector have tied down elements of the 36th and 5th Combined Arms Armies of Russia’s Eastern Military District, preventing them from reinforcing other areas. It has also drawn in a number of Russian airborne units. While this axis has stabilised, Russian forces likely remain in a defensive posture to guard against possible future Ukrainian offensive operations. It is unlikely there will be a significant drawdown of Russian forces from this axis in the next six weeks."

Reuters reports that Russia launched thirty-six drones against Ukrainian cities last night, targeting Odesa, Mykolaiv and Kherson. Ukrainian sources say twenty-seven of the incoming drones were shot down.

A Hroza buried its dead, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations explained and justified the missile strike that killed 52 civilians at a memorial wake in the Ukrainian village last week. It wasn't an accident. Rather, Russia's strike was deliberate and justified because Ukrainian "neo-Nazis" were at the service, which was held to honor “a high-ranking Ukrainian nationalist.” And besides, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council, there were probably air defense systems in the village, and this “is a serious violation and leads to the type of tragedy that we’ve talked about today.” His story found few takers, even in China's delegation.

Russia is also seeking reinstatement in the UN's Human Rights Council, the Guardian reports. The AP reports that this is a longshot campaign--both Albania and Bulgaria are likelier to receive seats on the Council than Russia.

The significance of Crimea and the Black Sea.

The UK's Ministry of Defence reported Saturday on drone strikes against facilities in the Russian resort city of Sochi. "On 1 October 2023, the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi was struck by uncrewed aerial vehicles for the second time in two weeks. Media reporting stated a helicopter landing site at Sochi Airport was damaged. The previous attack on 20 September 2023 caused a large fire at an oil storage facility, near the airport. It was the first recorded strike on the area since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sochi is a popular holiday destination, heavily associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and serves as the summer base for many of Russia’s elite. Strikes near the city mark a further example of the war directly affecting Russia’s population well away from the Ukrainian border."

The ISW sees Ukrainian operations against occupied Crimea as one of Kyiv's major successes, especially given Crimea's use by Russia as a principal staging and logistical area. "Ukrainian forces have conducted a campaign of strikes against Russian military infrastructure, headquarters, and logistics routes in Crimea since June 2023 in order to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for Russian defensive operations in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian strikes on logistics routes are disrupting Russian supplies to Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblast. Strikes on Black Sea Fleet assets are degrading its role as a combined arms headquarters but have not defeated it as a naval force. Ukrainian strikes generate outsized morale shocks among Russian commanders and in the Russian information space. Western provision of long-range missiles to Ukraine would amplify this ongoing, essential, and timely campaign to weaken Russia’s ability to defend southern Ukraine."

While Russia's war against Ukraine is not fundamentally a naval conflict, action against the Black Sea Fleet is not a sideshow. The Black Sea Fleet is a combined arms organization that disposes of significant air, missile, and ground combat power. It's not purely a "fleet," despite its name, and despite the number of naval units under its command.

Partnership between Moscow and Tehran.

On Monday the British MoD's situation report described the nature of Russo-Iranian partnership, especially as it relates to Russia's receipt and use of Iranian drones. "Russia’s partnership with Iran has strengthened in recent years, almost certainly accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. International isolation has forced Russia to redirect its foreign policy efforts towards previously less-desirable partnerships to gain diplomatic, economic and military support. Iranian military aid to Russia’s campaign in Ukraine has included hundreds of one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAV) and artillery munitions. Iranian OWA UAVs have been a core element of Russia’s campaign of long-range strikes into Ukraine. This arrangement has now been extended to include assembling and production of these UAVs, under licence, in a facility in Russia. Russo-Iranian diplomatic and economic ties have also intensified. Russia’s engagement with Iran through multinational forums will almost certainly increase following Iran’s recent admission into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and its invitation to join the economic BRICS forum. Iran recently claimed that Russia had invested USD $2.76bn into Iran in 2022-23. Economic ties are highly likely to deepen as Russia seeks to mitigate sanctions."

Hamas attacks against Israel exploited in Russian influence operations.

The Hamas attacks into Israel have afforded Russia an opportunity for influence operations. The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) published an appreciation of Russia's reaction to the strikes from Gaza. Reactions from Moscow mixed "Schadenfreude and mockery," largely directed at Russian "relocants" who moved to Israel to get away from the war against Ukraine. There's no evidence Russia (despite ties to Hamas) had advance notice of the attacks. Instead, analysts see the renewal of war between Israel and Hamas as likely to compete with Ukraine for Western attention. “This mess is beneficial for Russia, because the globalist toad will be distracted from Ukraine and will get busy trying to put out the eternal Middle Eastern fire.” CEPA quotes Russian propagandist Sergey Mardan as explaining, “Iran is our real military ally. Israel is an ally of the United States. Therefore, choosing a side is easy!”

One piece of direct Russian disinformation about the attacks is the manifestly false claim (by propagandist Vladimir Solovyov) that Ukraine is Hamas's principal arms supplier.

The ISW on Saturday characterized the likely course of Russian narratives. "The Kremlin is...primarily blaming the West for neglecting conflicts in the Middle East in favor of supporting Ukraine and claiming the international community will cease to pay attention to Ukraine by portraying attention to the Middle East or alternatively Ukraine as a zero-sum comparison." Had the US and its allies not been meddling with Russia, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, they would have been able to manage Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Kremlin will also use the claimed distraction of the West to shore up flagging domestic morale. Internationally, the Hamas attacks and Israeli response will be used as occasions for the kind of disruptive, entropic disinformation that has long represented Russia's most successful information operations: the goal will be confusion and distraction, not persuasion.

KillNet and Anonymous Sudan disrupt Israeli websites.

Among the hacktivist groups who've rallied to support Hamas in its current attack against Israel are two familiar Russian auxiliaries, KillNet and Anonymous Sudan. When the Israel government service site gov[dot]il was knocked offline over the weekend (it was back in operation Monday), KillNet claimed credit and counted coup. "Israeli government, you are responsible for this bloodshed. Back in 2022, you supported the terrorist regime in Ukraine," Cybernews quotes a KillNet Telegram post. "You betrayed Russia. Today, Killnet officially informs you of this! All government systems of Israel will be subject to our attacks!" Anonymous Sudan claimed responsibility for hacking into Israel's Red Alert civil defense app to send false warnings of inbound missile strikes.

KillNet and the IT Army of Ukraine say they'll follow ICRC guidelines.

The BBC reports that prominent and opposing hacktivist auxiliaries stated over the weekend that they intended to abide by the guidelines officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recommended last week. Russia's KillNet and the IT Army of Ukraine both said that they intended to follow rules that would clarify the extension of international humanitarian law to activities in cyberspace. The guidelines aim principally at protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure from harm. See CyberWire Pro for an extended consideration of the ICRC's recommendations.

Russian elections and the theater of constitutional democracy.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the hard-war, pro-Russian leader of the one-time rebellious province of Chechnya, has proposed that the next Russian presidential election be either canceled outright or held with a single candidate on the ballot: President Putin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov addressed that proposal yesterday, the ISW reports, ruling it out because of President Putin's commitment to democracy and constitutionality. For all that, Mr. Peskov said it was practically, even theoretically, impossible for any candidate to seriously challenge President Putin. Russia, he said, is too solidly behind him, united as never before.

This morning the UK's MoD also looked ahead to the Russian presidential elections. "Russia’s presidential election will take place on 17 March 2024. Russian President Vladimir Putin will almost certainly run again, despite having not yet publicly announced his intention to do so. There is speculation that Putin’s election campaign will begin informally in November 2023." The country's elections are neither free nor fair, but they retain an importance. "While elections in Russia are subject to interference and control by the Kremlin, they remain a core tool of political legitimisation. It is almost certain that Putin’s election campaign will focus on the theme of Russia as a separate civilisation in need of defence from external enemies – a narrative frequently used to justify the state’s actions and Putin’s consolidation of power. In the build-up to the election, the Kremlin will almost certainly seek to minimise unpopular policy moves. It is therefore highly unlikely that any further mobilisation wave will be implemented before the March 2024 presidential election."