Ukraine at D+285: Exchanging drone strikes and cyberattacks.
N2K logoDec 6, 2022

Ukraine at D+285: Exchanging drone strikes and cyberattacks.

It's now been confirmed that strikes against Russian Long Range Aviation bases at Engels and Diaghilev were carried out by Ukrainian drones, not special operating forces. Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers based at Engels in particular have been used to attack Ukrainian infrastructure, according to Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty. Since those two attacks a third strike has hit a military aviation target near Kursk, the AP reports, hitting an oil storage facility at the airbase, the Guardian writes. Ukrainian authorities have maintained their policy of deliberate ambiguity with respect to strikes in Russian rear areas. The strikes against Diaghilev and Engels were, respectively, 280 and 300 miles from the Ukrainian border, the deepest so far accomplished, the Telegraph says, since the war began.

The UK's Ministry of Defence looked at the probable implications of Ukraine's strike against Russian Long Range Aviation. "On 05 December 2022, multiple open sources reported explosions at Engels Airbase, in Russia’s Saratov Oblast, and at Dyagilyaevo airfield near Ryazan, south-east of Moscow. Two Tu-95 BEAR heavy bombers were reportedly damaged at Engels and three people were killed when a fuel tank exploded at Dyagilyaevo. The causes of the explosions have not been confirmed. However, if Russia assesses the incidents were deliberate attacks, it will probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine. The sites are much deeper inside Russia than previous similar explosions: Engels is over 600km from Ukrainian-controlled territory. Engels is the main operating base of Russia’s Long Range Aviation (LRA) within western Russia and is home to more than 30 heavy bombers. These aircraft contribute to Russia’s nuclear deterrent and have also frequently been used to launch conventional cruise missiles at Ukraine. The LRA is likely to respond by temporarily moving bombers to dispersal airfields. The Russian chain of command will probably seek to identify and impose severe sanctions on Russian officers deemed responsible for allowing the incident."

Russia responded with missile strikes and renewed attempts to advance against Bakhmut, the Wall Street Journal reports.

On the moral equality of soldiers.

Political philosopher (and author of the influential Just and Unjust Wars) Michael Walzer argues, in an essay appearing in Foreign Policy, that ordinary Russian soldiers aren't responsible for injustice of the war they find themselves fighting.

"War is a special place, a highly coercive place, and people caught up in it have to be judged with reference to their actual circumstances. Think of yourself in that place, very young, conscripted, believing in your country’s leaders, or maybe skeptical but not ready for heroics, quickly finding comrades among others like yourself, and fighting first of all with them and for them.

"Assume that you don’t commit murder or rape. Surely you would want, and expect, to return to your family when the war was over. You might have to deal with mental trauma, remembering the fear and horror of battle. You shouldn’t have to deal with a guilty conscience.

"The question about the moral burden of an unjust war has a correct answer. It is indeed commendable to object and resist. But those who accept mobilization have not acted wrongly. Individuals should be tried and punished for the crimes they committed; the rest of the soldiers should go home soon, I hope."

Walzer is trading on the familiar distinction between jus ad bellum, the rightness of going to war at all, and jus in bello, the right conduct of war. Violations of the former are crimes against peace, of the latter are war crimes. The traditional principles of jus ad bellum are just cause (usually defense against aggression or humanitarian intervention), last resort (going to war only after all other alternatives have been exhausted), declaration by a proper authority (no private wars or filibustering), right intention, reasonable prospect of success, and proportionality (the good to be achieved by the war not being outweighed by the inevitable evils of war itself). Political and senior military leaders are typically held accountable for jus ad bellum.

The principle of jus in bello, which are binding on all combatants, are expressed in international laws of armed conflict, and they are discrimination (between combatants and non-combatants), military necessity (avoidance of irrelevant destruction unnecessary for military purposes), and proportionality (avoidance of unnecessarily severe measures, like destroying a city block to kill a single enemy sniper). Ordinary soldiers are held to account for jus in bello, but not for jus ad bellum. Walzer argues two points. First, ordinary soldiers are effectively coerced by their state. Second (this is implied rather than explicitly stated) given the persuasive and propagandistic capabilities of a modern state, ordinary soldiers are typically in a state of what moral philosophers call "invincible ignorance" with respect to the justice of the war in which they're fighting: they may be in no position to know whether the war is just or unjust. (Their leaders, of course, know exactly that.)

People who resist or avoid service in an unjust war do so heroically, but that's a matter of moral and legal supererogation, not obligation.

Large DDoS attack hits Russian state-owned bank.

Reuters reports that state-owned VTB, Russia's second largest bank, has sustained a major distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. "The bank's technological infrastructure is under an unprecedented cyber attack from abroad," VTB said in a statement quoted by Reuters. "The largest not only this year, but in the whole time the bank has operated." While VTB said the attack originated outside of Russia, it also said it was disturbed by the amount of attack traffic originating from Russian IP addresses, and that it was cooperating fully with official investigation. Computing reports that VTB said customer funds and data were safe. Reuters includes an interesting disclaimer above its story: "This content was produced in Russia where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine."

Compromising Western infrastructure to stage cyberattacks.

Scottish deception-as-a-service security firm Lupovis ran an exercise to see whether its honeytraps would attract Russian cyber operators. They did. The researchers found that "The most concerning finding from our study is that Russian cybercriminals have compromised the networks of multiple global organisations, including a Fortune 500 business, over 15 healthcare organisations and a Dam Monitoring System. These organisations were based in the UK, France, the US, Brazil and South Africa, and Russian criminals are rerouting through their networks to launch cyberattacks on Ukrainian [targets], which effectively means they are using these organisations to carry out their dirty work." A surprising fraction of the attacks targeted healthcare organizations. The findings reemphasize the important role cybercriminals continue to play in Russia's war effort.

Cyber operations against national morale.

Oleksandr Potii, deputy chairman of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, characterized Russian hybrid operations, and their cyber components especially, as representing an assault on Ukrainian morale. Politico quotes him as saying, “Classic cyberattacks, phishing, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) threats, ransomware on critical infrastructure, these cyberattacks continue, but we have a new method of cyberattack: to influence political processes, social processes, civil society and political society. To destabilize the social-political situation in different countries, cities, and regions.”

One swallow does not a spring make...

...anymore than one Mercedes limo makes for a line of communication over the Kerch Strait, Mr. President. Still, the photo op is the closest he's come to the fighting since he started it all back in February. The choice of an upscale German car is a little questionable: an Aurus Senat would have been more patriotic (or, if you're going for a man-of-the-people look, maybe a Lada Priora).