Ukraine at D-180; Bracing for escalation.
N2K logoAug 23, 2022

The FSB blames Ukraine for the assassination of Daria Dugina, (with an assist from Estonia and the UK), although outsiders are so far largely unconvinced by the attribution. Ukraine expects a spasm of Russian strikes against cities in response to the car bombing outside Moscow, especially as tomorrow marks Ukraine's Independence Day. 

Ukraine at D-180; Bracing for escalation.

Russia continues airstrikes and artillery fire in the vicinity of the Zaporizhia nuclear facility, with rocket fire hitting the cities of Nikopol, Krivyi Rih, and Synelnykovsky. Ukrainian operations against Russian rear areas in the Crimea have shaken Russian confidence in the security of that occupied region, the Wall Street Journal reports. HIMARS strikes also hit buildings housing the puppet government of the Russian-occupied Donetsk province.

Ukraine braces for widespread Russian strikes.

The Washington Post reports that the Russia's FSB quickly blamed the assassination of nationalist personality Daria Dugina on Ukraine's special services, attributing the actual attack to a woman the FSB said was connected to the Azov battalion (long a target of particular Russian odium), and who has since fled to Estonia (a sharp critic of Russia's war and a perennial target of Russian cyberattacks). The speed of the attribution, the positioning of Dugina's even more famous father at the scene, the disabled security cameras in the vicinity of the explosion, and other aspects of the car bombing, have aroused skepticism, and Ukraine has denied any involvement in the assassination. The Telegraph points out other implausibilities about the bombing, like the apparent ease with which the alleged bomber entered and left the country. Adding to the confusion is a claim of responsibility on behalf of the "National Republican Army," a Russian dissident group that may or may not exist.

Rossiya 1 presents the views of official Russian pundits on the special military operation in the wake of Ms Dugina's assassination. "The time of peace is at an end," says one, and thus no more Mr. Nice Guy. The interlocutors single out three principal villains in what they now present as Russia's victimization: Ukraine (of course), Estonia, and the UK (with the "British Royal Family" in the lead). Observer of Russian media Julia Davis sees the discussion as a call for further mobilization, and a sideways acknowledgement of the growing challenge of manning and equipping Russian combat forces.

Estonia has declined to respond to Russian demands for information about, and extradition of, any alleged bomber.

Tomorrow is Ukraine's Independence Day, and President Zelenskyy has warned Ukrainians to be wary of "particularly ugly" Russian attacks in response to Ms Dugina's assassination. "One of the key tasks of the enemy is to humiliate us, Ukrainians, to devalue our capabilities, our heroes, to spread despair, fear, to spread conflicts," the President said, "Therefore, it is important never, for a single moment, to give in to this enemy pressure, not to wind oneself up, not to show weakness.”  Many Ukrainian cities are canceling planned Independence Day observances.

Bridging operation across the Dnipro seeks to reopen a Russian supply route to the Kherson pocket.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence describes Russian preparations to construct a pontoon bridge over the Dnipro River. "Over the weekend, Russia probably started moving barges into position to construct a substantial floating bridge over the Dnipro river, immediately beside the damaged Antonivsky road bridge. The crossing is the key link between Russian-occupied Kherson and the east. For several weeks, Russian forces and local civilians have relied on a ferry crossing of the waterway. If Russia completes the improvised bridge, it will almost certainly increase the capacity of the crossing point compared to the ferry. A floating bridge would likely still be vulnerable to Ukrainian offensive action." Establishing a pontoon bridge should be a matter of hours, not days, and yes, such bridges are vulnerable to indirect fire. Ukrainian HIMARS strikes continued against the remaining (and damaged) bridge across the Dnipro, the Telegraph reports.

Poland and Ukraine conclude cybersecurity agreement.

The governments of Poland and Ukraine have concluded a memorandum of understanding concerning cybersecurity, formalizing cooperation in the fifth domain. Ukraine's SSSCIP describes the purpose of the agreement as organization of joint efforts for "repelling the enemy in cyberspace." The statement adds, "The memorandum aims to strengthen the joint fight against crimes in the digital space, as well as to share experience and detailed information about cyber incidents [faster and more effectively]." Janusz Cieszyński, Poland's Secretary of State for Digital Affairs and Government Plenipotentiary for Cybersecurity, said, "The reason I am here, signing this important MoU, is to work hand in hand with our Ukrainian partners so that we all know more about the danger we are faced with, learn from each other and become more cyber resilient.” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Digital Transformation, commented, “The first world cyberwar is ongoing. Therefore, joining efforts and exchanging practices is a logical step in this area. With Poland, we have not only a common physical border, but also a joint problem in cyberspace, where we experience the same kind of attacks. I am sure that together we will become stronger and more effective."

Greek natural gas supplier under criminal cyberattack.

The Greek natural gas provider DEFSA disclosed over the weekend that it had been the victim of a ransomware attack. "DESFA suffered a cyberattack on part of its IT infrastructure by cybercriminals that have tried to gain illegal access to electronic data, with a confirmed impact on the availability of some systems and possible leakage of a number of directories and files." BleepingComputer connects the incident with Ragnar Locker, a pioneer of double-extortion attacks that both steal and encrypt data. Ragnar Locker, which claimed responsibility and leaked proof-of-compromise data Friday, is a gang long believed to be based in Russia. An attack on a European natural gas distributor during Russia's war against Ukraine is consistent with privateering aligned with Moscow's interests. The Record reports that DEFSA has refused to negotiate with its attackers.

Targeting and trolling.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry has credited holiday photos taken by Russian tourists in occupied Ukraine with providing valuable targeting information. “Maybe we are being too hard on Russian tourists,” the Telegraph quotes the Ministry's Twitter feed. “Sometimes they can be really helpful. Like this man taking pictures of Russian air defence positions near Yevpatoria, in occupied Crimea. Thank you and keep up the good work!” The picture shows a middle-aged guy in Speedos posing, evidently deliberately, in front of a Russian missile launcher. The Telegraph explains that such open sources are delivering targets to Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry is, we think, obviously trolling its Russian opposite numbers. Overhead imagery provides much more timely and accurate target indicators than does any selfie by Ivan Speedovich. That said, tourist, soldier, and bystander photos posted to social media have been an OPSEC headache for Russian forces since the invasion began, and have probably contributed more to an understanding of the Russian order of battle than to direct targeting. But still, if you must selfie while enjoying the sun and the fun, it looks better if there's a SAM TEL in the background. Keep snapping, bros. If order-of-battle and pix of combat vehicles are your hobby, well, we hear that everyone needs one.