Ukraine at D+560: Estonia reminds the world that cyberspace is a front in the war.
N2K logoSep 7, 2023

As Russia and Ukraine exchange drone strikes (with Russia's targeting civilian marketplaces and grain facilities), Russia looks for lend-lease from North Korea. Estonia reminds the democratic world that cyberspace remains a front in a hybrid war that's not confined to Ukraine.

Ukraine at D+560: Estonia reminds the world that cyberspace is a front in the war.

A Russian missile hit a downtown Ukrainian market yesterday, killing at least seventeen civilians and wounding at least thirty two others, the AP reports. The market, in the eastern city of Kostiantynivka, was, Ukrainian authorities said, clearly and unambiguously civilian, and they're correct in this. It's not adjacent to or even near any military installations, and collateral damage isn't a realistic possibility. The missile could have been errant, the targeting wayward, but these seem unlikely. It's difficult to read the strike as anything other than a deliberate attack on noncombatants. President Zelinskiy characterized the strike as a reprisal for Ukrainian battlefield successes during its counteroffensive. He said, “When someone in the world still attempts to deal with anything Russian, it means turning a blind eye to this reality. The audacity of evil. The brazenness of wickedness. Utter inhumanity.”

That counteroffensive continued its now familiar deliberate progress. The Institute for the Study of War said yesterday afternoon that, "Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the Bakhmut and western Zaporizhia Oblast directions and have made gains in western Zaporizhia Oblast as of September 6. Geolocated footage shows that Ukrainian forces have advanced along the trench line west of Verbove (about 20km southeast of Orikhiv), and the Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes in the Robotyne—Novoprokopivka direction south of Orikhiv. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally reported that Ukrainian forces are continuing successful offensive operations south of Bakhmut."

There are reports, which, according to Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty, are confirmed by satellite imagery and other open sources (including Russian ones), that Ukrainian forces have breached the first Russian line of defense in the sector around Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. There's now fighting to the east of the second defensive line. A prominent Russian milblogger wrote in a Telegram post, "The enemy is trying to assault between Verbove and Novoprokopivka. It's serious there. There is a threat of a breakthrough. Russia is committing reserves there. The line is held by highly resistant units. Unfortunately, they are not enough." Russia's top official in the portions of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast it still occupies explained that Russian forces had withdrawn from Robotyne for "tactical reasons." Al Jazeera notes that this explanation came about a week after the town fell to Ukrainian forces. Russia is redeploying forces to confront the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged drone strikes, with Russian weapons directed against Kyiv and grain facilities in Odesa. The Washington Post reports that after protesting a Russian drone shot near its Danube border with Ukraine, Romania now acknowledges that some fragments of the drone fell into its territory.

Russia's overtaxed industrial potential moves Moscow to seek help from Pyongyang.

The Institute for the Study of War writes that "Ukrainian and Russian sources report the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) faces growing challenges in replacing basic supplies in addition to known challenges in rebuilding its stocks of precision weapons." The shortages extend from such high-tech items as microchips to low-tech matériel like truck tires. Unsympathetic assessments from Ukrainian intelligence hold that Russia can't produce enough munitions, especially missiles, to sustain its operational tempo. High-level talks between Russia and North Korea, possibly even a summit meeting between President Putin and General Secretary Kim, are expected to negotiate deliveries of key equipment from the DPRK to Russia. The US, Reuters reports, has cautioned North Korea against seeking to become an armorer for Russia.

An essay in the Guardian argues that a closer relationship with the DPRK is risky for Russia. North Korea is an isolated pariah state, and involvement with it will enmesh Russia in further international difficulties. There's also a significant reputational risk to Moscow, which cares deeply about being feared abroad. "Russia’s quest for North Korean weapons and ammunition (much like the Kremlin’s purchase of Iranian drones) suggests a high degree of desperation in the Kremlin. With Russia’s vaunted military machine having been proved something of a paper tiger by the Ukrainians, there is an implied humiliation in shopping around for weapons in places like North Korea, a disdained client state at the best of times."

To return to tires, they're vital to maintaining mobility, and they deteriorate rapidly during a hard winter. They're also finding other uses. The Russian air force is putting them on the mid-fuselage and wings of Tu-95 strategic bombers to reduce their visual and IR signature at night, and probably also to afford a degree of protection from the relatively small explosive charges carried by the Ukrainian drones that have enjoyed success against Russian military aircraft parked at their bases. The tires amount to a kind of improvised armor, like putting sandbags on a tank. Their effectiveness in that role is open to doubt.

Russian television service introduced into the occupied Donetsk.

This morning the UK's Ministry of Defence described Russian television's introduction into Donetsk, and its replacement of other alternative sources of news. "Residents of the Russian-controlled area of Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine are now receiving Russian-language local news bulletins from one of Russia’s major broadcast organisations. On 4 September, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) opened a Donetsk franchise and commenced broadcasting in the internationally unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Local news bulletins are provided by Russia’s Rossiya 1TV Channel and present the Russian view of the war. This is part of Russia’s broader effort to assert enduring control of the area. Ukraine-based Russian language television and radio stations were freely available in the now-annexed areas before 2014. After the invasion, pan-Ukraine providers continued to provide locally sourced Russian-language content. DPR-government-controlled and aligned broadcasters also rebroadcast Russian national news programming as part of a propaganda campaign but did not provide regional bulletins. Broadcasting VGTRK in Donetsk has taken over a year to achieve, having first been announced in 2022. This was almost certainly due to the refusal to work of trained local technicians. Those sympathetic to the DPR and with the required skills have now likely been brought in from Crimea, Luhansk and elsewhere. Although blocked over the airwaves, Ukrainian broadcasting is still accessible to a wide audience via the internet. Where Russian filtering restrictions are in force, audiences use VPN or other active circumvention technologies. Mobile phones linked to Ukrainian providers are highly likely unfettered."

Estonia warns of ongoing cyber threats.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas warned that cyber conflict remained a high risk, and that Russia's war against Ukraine remains a contest of influence. She called cyberspace a “front line” in the war. It's not an isolated front, however, but part of a more general threat to democracies everywhere. The Prime Minister called for global cooperation among democracies to counter that threat in ways that use their inherent advantage, which she characterized as "openness" aided by technology, to preserve their position in cyberspace.

19fortyfive describes ways in which cyber operations become increasingly effective when they're collaborative. While there's been some convergence with traditional modes of warfare, especially electronic warfare, cyber operations continue to be conducted largely within their own domain.