Heavy Russian artillery fire continues along the line of contact, The strikes are regarded as a preparation for a renewed offensive in the Donbas, as spoiling attacks against a feared Ukrainian counter-offensive in the southern region, as direct terrorism of the civilian population, as a crude expression of a deterrent to HIMARS attacks against high-value targets, and, finally, as a form of attack Russia's army is actually able to carry out. In the cyber phase of the hybrid war, the GRU seems to be trolling researchers who look into its activities.
Ukraine at D+144: Firing for whatever effect.
Russian artillery strikes continue throughout the area of operations. "It is not only missile strikes from the air and sea," Reuters quotes Vadym Skibitskyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence, as saying late Saturday. "We can see shelling along the entire line of contact, along the entire front line. There is an active use of tactical aviation and attack helicopters. Clearly preparations are now underway for the next stage of the offensive." Ukrainian sources say Russian forces are preparing for a renewed offensive with the objective of taking Sloviansk, in eastern Donetsk.
Ukrainian officials also accused Russia of intensifying its attacks against civilians in a policy of direct terrorism. The Guardian says Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, told it "that monitoring of Russian strikes suggested an increased emphasis in recent weeks on terrorising Ukraine’s civilian population. 'We have a system to monitor and track all airstrikes and other attacks in our country and what we have noticed recently is a tendency to destroy more and more civilian targets. They have decided to terrorise civilian population. That’s not my emotions but what our monitoring is telling us.”
Russia prepares for a renewed offensive in the Donbas...
The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Saturday offered an appreciation of the low-level combat that's continued in the Donbas during Russia's operational pause for reconstitution. "Russian offensive operations remain reduced in scope and scale, with fighting west of Lysychansk focussed on Siversk and Bakhmut. This is despite Russian claims to have entered the outskirts of Siversk town earlier in the week. Russia has previously made premature and false claims of success. This is likely at least in part aimed at demonstrating success to domestic audiences and to reinforce the morale of the fighting forces. Ukrainian defence has been successful in repulsing Russian attacks since Lysychansk was ceded and the Ukrainian defensive line was shortened and straightened. This has allowed for the concentration of force and fires against reduced Russian attacks and has been instrumental in reducing Russia’s momentum."
...and for a prolonged defensive operation along the Black Sea coast.
The MoD followed this up Sunday with an assessment of Russian moves to reinforce defensive positions along the Black Sea, particularly around Kherson. "Russia is reinforcing its defensive positions across the occupied areas of the South of Ukraine. This includes the movement of manpower, equipment and defensive stores between Mariupol and Zaporizhia, and in Kherson. Russian forces in Melitopol are also increasing security measures. Ukrainian forces have been applying pressure on the Russian defensive line in Kherson Oblast for over a month now, and recent political statements from both Zelenskky and the Deputy Prime Minister have warned of forthcoming offense operations to force Russia out of the areas it currently controls. Russian defensive moves are likely a response to anticipated Ukrainian offensives, to demands made by Defence Minister Shoygu on a recent visit to the Donbas, and also to the attacks Ukraine is launching against command posts, logistic nodes and troop concentrations. Given the pressures on Russian manpower, the reinforcement of the South whilst the fight for the Donbas continues likely indicates the seriousness with which Russian commanders view the threat."
Challenges of reconstituting combat units.
Estimating losses is always difficult, but the UK's senior military officer, Admiral Tony Radkin, offered a tally over the weekend. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty quotes the Admiral as saying that Russian casualties in its war against Ukraine--both killed and wounded--so far amount to about fifty thousand. The Russian army has also lost about seventeen-hundred tanks and some four-thousand other armored fighting vehicles. The losses are high by any standard, but Admiral Radkin dismisses any notion that heavy losses and battlefield reverses will result in President Putin's being forced from office as "wishful thinking."
There are other signs that sustaining personnel levels in Russian forces continues to be a challenge, as Moscow resists full wartime mobilization and relies on contract soldiers. The MoD reported this morning: "Russia has used private military company Wagner to reinforce front-line forces and to mitigate manning shortfalls and casualties. Wagner has almost certainly played a central role in recent fighting, including the capture of Popasna and Lysyschansk. This fighting has inflicted heavy casualties on the group. Wagner are lowering recruitment standards, hiring convicts and formerly blacklisted individuals. Very limited training is made available to new recruits. This will highly likely impact on the future operational effectiveness of the group and will reduce its value as a prop to the regular Russian forces. Wagner head, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, has recently been made a Hero of the Russian Federation for Wagner’s performance in Luhansk. This, at a time when a number of very senior Russian military commanders are being replaced, is likely to exacerbate grievances between the military and Wagner. It is also likely to impact negatively on Russian military morale."
Ukraine shakes up its security services and its prosecutors.
The AP reports that yesterday, July 17th, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed two senior members of his government, SBU (state security) chief Ivan Bakanov (described as a childhood friend and former business partner of the president) and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova. The dismissals were prompted by concerns about treason and collaboration with Russian occupation forces. “In particular, more than 60 employees of the prosecutor’s office and the SBU (state security service) have remained in the occupied territory and work against our state,” Zelenskyy said, adding in his regular video address to the nation that, “Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the state’s national security, and the links recorded between Ukrainian security forces and Russian special services raise very serious questions about their respective leaders."
Bakanov's firing wasn't unexpected. He had been criticized over security breaches, and there has been speculation about his departure for a month. Vendiktova was replaced by her deputy, Oleksiy Symonenko.
GRU said to be trolling researchers who look into Sandworm.
Dark Reading reports that ESET, which will be offering a report on countermeasures to the Sandworm malware Industroyer 2 at Black Hat next month, says its being trolled by the GRU. "The Sandworm attackers disguised the loader for one of its data-wiping variants as the IDAPro reverse-engineering tool — the very same tool the researchers had used to analyze the attackers' malware." ESET thinks this is no coincidence, but rather a right-back-at-you from the Aquarium to let ESET know that the GRU knows what ESET's studying, and that the GRU doesn't care. ESET's Robert Lipovsky said, "It's fairly clear the attackers are fully aware we are onto them and blocking their threats. They are maybe trolling us, I would say." Lipovsky also said the GRU deployed a Trojanized version of ESET security products in the course of its attacks on Ukrainian networks. "They were sending a message that they were aware we are doing our job protecting the users in Ukraine," he observed.