Ukraine at D+673: Largest air strikes of the war hit Ukraine.
the cyberwire logoDec 29, 2023

Russia conducted its largest air strikes of the war as Western observers seek to decode Russian war aims.

Ukraine at D+673: Largest air strikes of the war hit Ukraine.

Russia overnight conducted its largest aerial attack of the war, sending one-hundred-twenty-two cruise and ballistic missiles as well as thirty-six drones against Ukrainian targets. The AP reports that Ukrainian air defenses shot down most of the inbound missiles (eighty-seven missiles and twenty-seven drones were destroyed), but the forty-four that got through exacted a high toll on the ground, with about twenty dead and an unknown number (at least eighty-six) wounded. The targets were largely civilian. "Among the buildings reported to be damaged across Ukraine were a maternity hospital, apartment blocks and schools," the AP writes.

According to the Telegraph, Russia is shaking up its air defense leadership in occupied Crimea in the aftermath of Ukraine's destruction of the amphibious warfare ship Novocherkassk this week. President Putin is said to be "furious" over the sinking, and to have directed a hunt for Ukrainian sympathizers in the occupied province.

Western support for Ukraine seen as flagging.

"Ukraine is losing," begins the headline on an op-ed in the Telegraph, which goes on to add, "but the UK must stand by it." From the US, POLITICO reports a "quiet shift" in US strategy away from supporting Ukraine's fight to eject Russian forces from all the territory they occupy and toward negotiation between Kyiv and Moscow.

Such shifts in mood and incipient shifts in policy have not gone unnoticed in Moscow. Foreign Minister Lavrov sees, CNBC reports, a "quiet change" in Western strategy toward the quiet negotiation said to have been offered by Russia through various diplomatic back channels.

A New York Times op-ed offers a view of how Ukraine might best accept the reality of a partial Russian conquest. "But if Mr. Putin turns out to be serious," that is, if the rumored back-channel offers of negotiations are more than simple disinformation, "Ukraine should not pass up an opportunity to end the bloodshed. Recovered territory is not the only measure of victory in this war."

The Institute for the Study of War continued to point out that Russia has continued to signal that it retains its maximalist goals. Writing about the Times' op-ed, the ISW argues, "The oped largely ignores near-constant Kremlin public signaling of Russia’s continued maximalist goals in Ukraine. The oped argues that Ukraine should not “pass up” this opportunity to possibly achieve a ceasefire despite the fact that there are multiple reasons to believe that Putin’s pro-ceasefire signaling may not be sincere, such as Putin’s demonstrated untrustworthiness and the possibility that he may intend to use time spent on prolonged negotiations to his political and military benefit. The piece argues that Ukraine does not need to regain all its territory to emerge victorious from the war, but that a 'strong, independent, prosperous, and secure' Western-oriented Ukraine is also a victory. The piece appeals to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to engage in ceasefire negotiations and not see negotiations as a defeat, implicitly blaming Zelensky – not Putin – for the absence of serious negotiations."

The Times op-ed isn't entirely defeatist or appeasing. "The first stage of talks, they proposed, would be focused on agreeing to stop hostilities, disengaging the forces and installing a third-party monitoring mission. The next hurdle would be to devise a security arrangement that would give Ukraine the assurances it needs while taking account of Russia’s opposition to a full NATO member on its western border. Many other issues would enter into the mix — Russian war crimes, reparations, sanctions. And any armistice would be far short of a final settlement." And it concludes, "Halting Russia well short of its goals and turning to the reconstruction and modernization of Ukraine would be lasting tributes to the Ukrainians who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the existence of their nation. And no temporary armistice would forever preclude Ukraine from recovering all of its land."

GRU cyber campaign incorporates novel malware.

A phishing campaign run between December 15th and 25th against both Polish and Ukrainian targets has been traced to Russia's GRU, specifically to APT28, Fancy Bear. CERT-UA published details of its investigation into the attack technique: "In the process of investigating the incidents, it was found that the mentioned links redirect the victim to a web resource where, with the help of JavaScript and features of the application protocol 'search' ('ms-search'), a shortcut file is downloaded, the opening of which leads to the launch A PowerShell command designed to download from a remote (SMB) resource and run (open) a decoy document, as well as the Python programming language interpreter and the Client.py file classified as MASEPIE." The Record notes that the campaign appears intended to propagate across networks, and that it's not confined to compromises of individual devices.