Ukraine at D+617: Advantage defense.
N2K logoNov 3, 2023

In all domains, both kinetic and cyber, the advantage seems to have shifted toward the defense (and toward the robots).

Ukraine at D+617: Advantage defense.

"Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a missile strike on the Russian 'Dnepr' Grouping of Forces headquarters in Kherson Oblast on November 1," the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported. "A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces launched Storm Shadow cruise missiles and Neptune anti-ship missiles targeting Strilkove, Kherson Oblast, on the Arabat Spit and that Russian air defenses only intercepted half of the missiles. Multiple Russian sources claimed that Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, the recently named commander of the Russian 'Dnepr' Grouping of Forces operating in the Kherson direction, was uninjured. Russian opposition media outlet Astra reported that four Ukrainian missiles struck the 'Aura' recreation center near Strilkove that served as the Russian Dnepr Grouping’s headquarters."

The ISW also cites geolocated imagery in its conclusion that Ukrainian forces continue their slow and incremental advance into Russian-occupied territory. "Ukrainian forces recently advanced near Bakhmut and continued offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast on November 2. Geolocated footage published on November 1 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced further northeast of the railway line near Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut)."

The Russian attempt to recapture Avdiivka is believed, by US intelligence officials, to have been the costliest battle Russia has undertaken since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Lieutenant General Jonathan Braga, commanding general of US Army Special Operations Command, said, according to Insider, that some 17,000 Russian troops have deserted since the beginning of the war, and that itself is a heavy toll. He thinks Ukrainian information operations have significantly contributed to that toll. "Messaging has played a huge role just in the tactical and operational sense," he said.

That Russia forces are dealing with poor motivation and low morale, particularly since the "meat attacks" against Avdiivka and other objectives have become the defining Russian tactical style, seems well-established. The US is convinced that Russian officers have for some time been summarily shooting troops who refuse to advance. 

Crewed tactical airpower has been largely a no-show.

The difficulty air defense systems have coping with high volumes of inbound cruise and ballistic missiles (drones are cheaper, but also easier to shoot down) is one of the lessons of the war so far, one that Ukraine's General Zaluzhnyi mentioned earlier this week.

"Operations in recent weeks have seen the continuation of a trend which has been identified since early in the war: other factors being equal, the balance of land combat generally favours the defending force," the UK's Ministry of Defence writes in this morning's situation report. "In the south, the Ukrainian advance remains relatively static between the two main lines of Russia’s well prepared defensive positions. Around the Donbas town of Avdiivka, a large-scale Russian assault has floundered on strong Ukrainian defences. A major factor in this phenomenon has highly likely been the relative side-lining of tactical air power: both sides have maintained credible air defences, preventing combat jets from providing effective air support for assaults. Above all, the geographic size of the conflict has hampered the offensives: both sides have struggled to assemble uncommitted striking forces capable of a breakthrough because most of their mobilised troops are needed to hold the 1,200km line of contact."

Russia has lost at least four long-range air defense missile systems to Ukrainian strikes over the past week. How the need for massed air defense will comport with the rump Wagner Group's plans (reported by the Wall Street Journal and sourced to anonymous US officials who themselves cite intercepted communications) to supply Pantsir air defense systems to Hezbollah is unclear. The fate of the Wagner Group remains very murky, as senior members of the Duma denied there were plans for Wagner's remnants to be absorbed by the Rosgvardia.

AP sustains DDoS attack.

The Associated Press (AP) has reported that its site,, was intermittently unavailable Tuesday as it underwent a flood of traffic during what appears to have been a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. Anonymous Sudan, a nominal hacktivist organization that's actually a front group for Russian intelligence and security services, announced in its Telegram channel that it intended to disrupt Western media, and informed speculation (as seen, for example, in Tech Monitor) holds it likely that this group was responsible for the attack on the AP. But the AP itself says it's been unable to conclusively attribute the incident to Anonymous Sudan.

Microsoft draws a lesson from Russia's war: cyber defense now has the advantage over cyber offense.

In announcing its Secure Future Initiative, Microsoft sees Russia's hybrid war as having demonstrated that the advantage in cyberspace has swung from the offense to the defense. "The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the tech sector’s ability to develop cybersecurity defenses that are stronger than advanced offensive threats," the company writes. "Ukraine’s successful cyber defense has required a shared responsibility between the tech sector and the government, with support from the country’s allies. It is a testament to the coupling of public-sector leadership with corporate investments and to combining computing power with human ingenuity." And Redmond thinks that AI promises even more to the defenders. "As much as anything, it provides inspiration for what we can achieve at an even greater scale by harnessing the power of AI to better defend against new cyber threats."

The company has committed to improving cyber defense in these ways:

  • "First, we are taking new steps to use AI to advance Microsoft’s threat intelligence." 
  • "Second, we are using AI as a gamechanger for all organizations to help defeat cyberattacks at machine speed."
  • "Third, we are securing AI in our services based on our Responsible AI principles."

Reports of President Putin's demise may have been public opinion research.

The Telegraph, citing Ukrainian intelligence services, reports that stories circulating in October to the effect that Russian President Vladimir Putin had died, his remains frozen, and his public appearances delegated to body doubles, were deliberate Russian disinformation. They were, Andrii Yusov, a Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman, said, deliberately planted by the Russian state to assess the President's domestic popularity. Yusov said, “In this way, the empire, which is built on the work of the secret services, learns how to continue to rule." The rumors were circulated by a Telegram channel, General SVR, which represents itself as an independent voice run by a former Russian intelligence officer. It's probably not that independent voice. It's unclear how such rumors begin, whether they're deliberate plants, witting mischief, simple error, or hostile disinformation, but the possibility of their being trial balloons can't be ruled out, either.