Ukraine at D+362: President Putin's view of his war.
N2K logoFeb 21, 2023

After US President Biden's visit to Kyiv. Russian President Putin blames the West for the war, and predicts victory.

Ukraine at D+362: President Putin's view of his war.

Russian President Putin's annual state-of-the-nation speech today reiterated his familiar claims about Russia's war against Ukraine. It is, Mr. Putin maintained, a defensive military operation against Western-inspired Ukrainian aggression, which Russia had met, and would continue to meet, with justified force. “Western elites aren’t trying to conceal their goals, to inflict a ‘strategic defeat’ to Russia. They intend to transform the local conflict into a global confrontation,” the AP quotes him as saying in the course of a speech that lastest well over an hour. "It’s they who have started the war. And we are using force to end it.” 

Reuters reports that the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) website and the Smotrim live-streaming platform, both of which were important carriers of the speech, were taken down several times during Mr. Putin's address, apparently by distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Newsweek says that hacktivists aligned with imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny claimed responsibility for the DDoS, but their claims remain so far unconfirmed.

The New York Times, in its running commentary on the address as it was delivered, characterized the claims as "false," which of course they are. Mr. Putin also announced that Russia would "suspend" its participation in the longstanding START agreements aimed at reducing the threat of nuclear war.

US President Biden concluded his visit to Kyiv with pledges of enduring US support for Ukraine. Russian state media speculated about the value of killing Mr. Biden, with many of the state hosts and pundits regarding the trip as a missed opportunity to do so. The Daily Beast offers a representative summary of the Russian talk shows.

The civilian toll of Russia's invasion.

The UK"s Ministry of Defence summarizes United Nations' records of civilian casualties in Russia's war. "As of 13 February 2023, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had recorded 18,955 civilian casualties since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This consisted of 7,199 killed and 11,756 injured. 697 of the civilian casualties occurred in January 2023. The OHCHR has stated it believes that the actual figures are considerably higher. Based on other, independent analysis, over 16,000 civilians have likely been killed. Data from January 2023 indicated that the violence continued along the 1,200km front line, but was primarily concentrated in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. Throughout January 2023, there was a very high intensity, and worsening trend, of damage being inflicted on both medical and educational facilities. These incidents, and continued civilian casualties are likely largely due to Russia’s lack of discrimination in the use of artillery and other area weapon systems."

Russia's ambitions in the Near Abroad apparently extend beyond Ukraine.

Yahoo! News reports that it's obtained a document produced by Russia's Presidential Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation, an agency responsible for relations with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. This particular document outlines a strategic Russian plan for the re-engorgement of Belarus, the only one of the six countries in the agency's purview to be have remained close to Moscow. The plan calls for the formation of a "Union State of Russia and Belarus by no later than 2030." This will be achieved through cultural, political, and economic influence, staged over the remainder of the decade.

Moldova's President Maia Sandu last week asked for European support against a Russian coup attempt against her country. The Record reports that "President Sandu said Russia was 'waging hybrid war against Moldova' including through 'propaganda and disinformation' alongside 'multiple cyberattacks' and 'multiple false bomb alerts.' These actions are intended to undermine social cohesion, provoke protests and allow external saboteurs to launch a coup, she said."

Moldova's situation closely resembles that of Ukraine. Russia has effectively detached Moldovan territory in a strip along the country's eastern border, claiming in what amounts to the kind of frozen conflict seen between 2014 and 2022 in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea to be protecting oppressed ethnic Russians who desired recognition of their own state. The post-Soviet "Trashcanistan" (in Stephen Kotkin's coinage) of the illegally detached Moldovan territory now recognized as Transnistria by Russia and no one else except three other equally illegitimate and unrecognized Trashcanistans: South Ossetia, Artsakh, and Abkhazia.

Telegram's role in the cyber phases of Russia's war.

Cybersixgill this morning published a report on how Telegram has served as "the central deep web venue for the war." Telegram groups have supplanted criminal deep and dark web fora as central points for coordination of cyber action by hacktivists and auxiliaries on both sides of the war. The criminal fora have tended over time to revert to their original criminal purposes, often because of their administrators' determination to return the fora's attention to core activities, like carding.

That doesn't mean the war has receded entirely from criminal fora. War news and other information continues to circulate insofar as it shapes criminal opportunities and possibilities. "We discovered two ways that the war has affected crime. First, like with all crises, threat actors attempt to take advantage of both fear and goodwill. On the underground, actors have warned one another from falling victim to fake donation sites. Second, there was a curious increase in compromised Russian credit cards sold in underground markets in 2022: the number rose from only 769 in 2021 to 28,327 in 2022."

Some of the chatter in Russian Telegram groups has been devoted to methods of evading conscription. "Many Russians are using Telegram to avoid conscription by the Russian government," Cybersixgill reports. "For example, in a post repeated over 22,200 times across twenty different Telegram channels, an actor has offered to forge HIV-positive certificates for Russians in return for 40,000 rubles (~$550)."

Overall, however, Cybersixgill's observations confirm what has become a widespread observation about the war: the effects of Russian cyberattacks have fallen far short of expectations, even among its criminal auxiliaries. "Instead, the real impact of the deep and dark web on the war has been the ability to share news and humanitarian developments."