Ukraine at D+271: Diversionary strikes and missile barrages.
N2K logoNov 22, 2022

Kinetic war continues against targets once thought particularly vulnerable to cyber interference. Diversionary and partisan operations grow in prominence.

Ukraine at D+271: Diversionary strikes and missile barrages.

Russian missile strikes continue against Ukrainian cities, with particular attention being paid to the country's power grid and to residential areas. The AP reports that intermittent power blackouts have been severe, and that Kyiv is telling Ukrainians to brace for a hard winter. Russian and Ukrainian artillery continue to exchange fire along the front, and according to Al Jazeera Ukraine has begun to evacuate civilians from recently liberated areas that the Russian army is punishing with shellfire.

Reported attack on Russian Black Sea oil terminal.

Ukrainian diversionary units are active in Russian rear areas, as are partisan formations. Partisans are irregulars, guerrillas, whereas diversionary forces (a Soviet-era term) are what the US would call "special operations forces," organizations like the US Army Green Berets and Rangers, or the US Navy's SEAL teams. The New York Times describes recent diversionary operations; Foreign Policy has an account of partisan warfare.

In a still-developing situation, various reports say that a Russian oil terminal in Novorossiysk was attacked over the weekend. The UK's Ministry of Defense (MoD) says, in this morning's situation report, "On 18 November 2022, multiple Russian and Ukrainian media outlets reported that an attack took place at an oil terminal in Novorossiysk port on Russia’s Black Sea coast." Note that Novorossiysk is not a Ukrainian city--it's on Russia proper's Black Sea coast. It's grown in importance to Russia's Black Sea Fleet since Ukrainian attacks on vessels in Sevastopol motivated the Fleet to move a number of its units to more protected waters. "A major base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) is close to the oil terminal. The BSF relocated many of its submarine operations to Novorssiysk after its Sevastopol base in occupied Crimea was struck by Ukraine over the summer."

The logistical implications of the strike are probably more important than any direct tactical effects. The MoD continues, "Russian commanders will likely be concerned about threats to the Novorssiysk-based amphibious landing ship flotilla. These vessels are relatively vulnerable without escorts and have assumed a more important role in supplying Russian forces in Ukraine since the Kerch Bridge was damaged in October. Full details of this incident are yet to emerge. However, any demonstration of a Ukrainian capability to threaten Novorssiysk would highly likely represent a further strategic challenge for the BSF. It would also further undermine Russia’s already reduced maritime influence in the Black Sea."

Note that the causes of such incidents can be difficult to determine. The large explosion at a pipeline near St. Petersburg, for example, looks as if it may have been an accident as opposed to sabotage, Energy Intelligence reports, although the blast remains under investigation.

Ukraine warns of Russian provocation designed to draw Belarus further into the war.

Ukraine's military intelligence service warns that it has indications that Russia may be planning provocations in Belarus and elsewhere with the aim of drawing Belarus into more complete participation in the war. "It has become known that several terrorist attacks are planned on the territory of Belarus soon – they will be artificially provoked man-made disasters at critical infrastructure facilities. The locations of possible ‘incidents’ are territories surrounding the borders of EU countries and Ukraine, in particular, the Hrodno and Brest regions. One of the main targets is the 'Ostrovets' Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP) in Belarus."

Kinetic attacks on data centers eclipse cyberattacks.

Killnet continues its program of nuisance attempts against Western targets of opportunity. The hacker auxiliary group has recently turned its attention to, among others, the British Royal Family, ComputerWeekly reports. These have been the now-familiar and largely ineffectual distributed denial-of-service attacks. Killnet made large and baseless claims of success, saying that it had hit three targets in the UK: Bankers Automated Clearing Service (BACS), the London Stock Exchange, and the official website of the Prince of Wales. The group said the "royal official site" was down, adding, "Perhaps this is due to the supply of high-precision missiles to Ukraine. Also today all medical institutions, government services and online services stop working.” No one else sees any signs of such successes.

In general, kinetic strikes against Ukraine's energy infrastructure, data centers, and telecommunications have been far more consequential throughout Russia's war than have cyberattacks. Meritalk offers a summary of last week's remarks to that effect by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy Mieke Eoyang.

Russian officials deny civilians being evacuated from Crimean city.

A number of Russian occupation authorities denied that civilians were being evacuated from the northern Crimean city of Armyansk, which sits astride the narrow Perekop peninsula connecting Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland. They claim the rumors originated as "fake news" in bogus Telegram channels. Radio Free Europe's Krim Realii service quotes Vasyl Telizhenko, the local head of the Russian government in Armyansk as saying, "The situation in the city is stable. All enterprises and institutions of the city work as usual. As for the reports about the alleged evacuation, this is all fake information. I call on everyone to calm down and trust only verified information." That is, watch official state t.v. and stay off social media.

Partial mobilization issues.

Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports, citing a story in Kommersant, that a Russian colonel has been sent to pretrial confinement as he faces charges of demanding a bribe (specifically a washing machine) from the head of a local recruiting station. Colonel Ivan Mertvishchev, Kommersant reports, was inspecting recruiting operations, and was told by the officer in charge of one region that, no, things weren't going well. The colonel told the malcontent that such attitudes weren't going to be career-enhancing, but that if the wayward officer got the colonel a washing machine all might be forgotten, if not necessarily forgiven. The officer played along, but only to set up an FSB sting that involved protracted negotiations over what model of washing machine might be acceptable. "Under pressure from the evidence collected by the FSB and the investigation," Kommersant says, "the officer fully admitted his guilt."

There's some sniffish chatter about this incident on Twitter (like this post from Radio Free Europe's Robert Coalson: "The alternative headline to this story was 'Russian Colonel Too Chicken To Go To Ukraine To Get His Own Washing Machine") but cut the brother a break. Dude's assigned to the General Staff and they don't get out much. If he'd been fortunate enough to be deployed to Kharkiv (or what the hey, even to Armyansk, probably safer, for now at least) he'd have got that washing machine all by his own self (or maybe just with the help of two or three conscript privates to carry it off for him). And that would have just been honest looting--"Commerce without its folly-swaddles," as Ambrose Bierce said of piracy--not unseemly and unofficerlike bribery. Stay clean, Comrade Colonel. And don't feel too bad about missing out: we hear Russian washing machines aren't exactly Maytags.