Leopards remain contentious within NATO, but Germany will not prevent Poland from supplying them to Ukraine. And Ukraine signs an agreement to join NATO's cyber defense center.
Ukraine at D+333: Gerasimov's shake-up.
The New York Times reports that European and US officials believe that Russian military officers directed a front group, the Russian Imperial Movement, in a series of letter bombs sent to targets in Spain during November and December. The officials see no signs of imminent escalation, but believe the campaign was a trial for possible use of front groups in terrorist attacks should Western governments continue their support for Ukraine.
Saturday's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) sees deadlock across the front. "In recent days, the heaviest fighting has focused in three sectors. In the northeast, near Kremina, Ukraine has likely made small gains and successfully defended against a Russian counter-attack. Around the Donetsk Oblast, in [the] Bakhmut sector, Russian and Wagner proxy forces have likely been reconstituting in the town of Soledar, after capturing it earlier in the week. In the south, in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, both sides have massed significant forces, which have conducted artillery exchanges and skirmishes, but have avoided any large-scale offensive effort. Overall, the conflict is in a state of deadlock. However, there is a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut."
Germany may not be sending Leopard II tanks to Ukraine, yet, but Germany's Foreign Minister has said that Berlin won't block Poland from shipping the Leopards it's purchased to Ukraine.
Russia continues to reorganize its forces.
On Sunday morning the UK's MoD discussed the military reorganization Russian Defense Minister Shoigu announced last week. "On 17 January 2023, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans for major changes to the structure of the armed forces’, to be implemented between 2023 and 2026. This included an increase to 1.5 million personnel – an 11% increase on top of the previously announced expansion to 1.35 million. Shoigu also announced the re-establishment of Moscow and Leningrad military districts, a partial return to the Soviet era organisation of forces in Western Russia. A new army corps is to be established in Karelia, near the Finnish border. Shoigu’s plans signal that the Russian leadership highly likely assesses that an enhanced conventional military threat will endure for many years beyond the current Ukraine war. However, Russia will highly likely struggle to staff and equip the planned expansion."
General Gerasimov seeks to buck up discipline.
General Gerasimov is said to be emphasizing points of correct uniform and similar matters as he seeks to increase the level of discipline at the front. "General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff and newly appointed commander in Ukraine, has likely started his tour with a drive to improve deployed troops’ day-to-day discipline," The UK's MoD reports this morning. There's new emphasis on formal details of uniform, grooming, and the like. "Since he took command, officers have been attempting to clamp down on non-regulation uniform, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones, and non-standard haircuts." The Russian Defense Ministry has publicly flagged cell phone use as an OPSEC problem. The other items on the list are less directly connected to combat performance, and hard-war critics within Russia have noted this. "The measures have been met with sceptical feedback. However, some of the greatest derision has been reserved for attempts to improve the standard of troops’ shaving. Officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic, described the prioritisation a ‘farce’ that would ‘hamper the process of destroying the enemy’. Wagner proxy group owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin criticised military leadership, suggesting that, ‘war is the time of the active and courageous, and not of the clean-shaven.’ The Russian force continues to endure operational deadlock and heavy casualties; Gerasimov’s prioritisation of largely minor regulations is likely to confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia. Along with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, he is increasingly seen as out of touch and focused on presentation over substance."
Ukraine moves toward closer cybersecurity collaboration with NATO.
Ukraine has signed an agreement to join NATO's Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE). The CCDCOE is based in Tallinn, Estonia. Ukraine's accession to the Centre will become official once the Centre's current members sign the agreement, but that agreement is widely expected to come swiftly. Closer cooperation is seen as benefiting both Ukraine and NATO. Nataliya Tkachuk, who directs information security and cybersecurity at Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council told the Record, “Ukraine’s experience is unique. And we are ready to share it with our allies — from the public-private partnership and effective involvement of cyber volunteers to methods of detecting and neutralizing cyberattacks from Russia.”
Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine have fallen well short of expectations during Russia's war, but according to the Hill that's not for lack of trying. Ukrainian officials put the number of cyberattacks against their country during 2022 at more than two-thousand, with most of them originating in Russia. "Essentially all hackers who work with Russia, most of them don't even hide their affiliation," Yuriy Schygol, head of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection said in a media availability covered by Reuters, adding, "they are all funded by the FSB (Russia's Federal Security Service), are on military service, or are in the employ of those agencies."Breaking Defense says US officials warned late last week that while there are reasons for optimism--successful defense in cyberspace is possible--it's important for organizations to keep their guard up. (And to recognize that Ukraine has for several years worked to perfect its defenses in ways that not many other countries have.)