Ukraine at D+358: Heavy bombardment, but an aspirational offensive.
N2K logoFeb 17, 2023

A major Russian offensive might be more aspirational than imminent.

Ukraine at D+358: Heavy bombardment, but an aspirational offensive.

Close combat having failed to take the city, Russian forces have reverted to bombardment in an attempt to reduce Bakhmut. Fires seem heaviest against the city's former residential districts. Western officials have grown increasingly skeptical that Russia has assembled forces sufficient to mount the major offensive long-feared for late winter or early spring. CNN quotes a senior US official to the effect that a major Russian offensive campaign is "more aspirational than realistic."

Mr. Prigozhin's open criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Wagner Group boss Yevgenyi Prigozhin has grown increasingly critical, in public, of Moscow's Ministry of Defense. He now estimates that taking Bakhmut will take months, and that this objective at least would have been secured more than a month ago had it not been for stifling bureaucracy. The Telegraph quotes him as saying, “To take Bakhmut you have to cut all supply routes. It’s a significant task. Progress is not going as fast as we would like. Bakhmut would have been taken before the new year, if not for our monstrous military bureaucracy ... and the spokes that are put in the wheels daily.” He has also been complaining of the Wagner Group's stolen victories, the thief being the official army.

Estimates of Russian casualties.

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) this morning offered an estimate of the total number of casualties Russian forces have sustained to date in the invasion of Ukraine. "Russian Ministry of Defence and private military contractor (PMC) forces have likely suffered 175-200,000 casualties since the start of the invasion of Ukraine." These include killed, wounded, prisoners, and missing. The MoD's estimate of numbers killed is lower than other assessments that have widely circulated. "This likely includes approximately 40-60,000 killed." That's still high, and it's been trending upward. "The Russian casualty rate has significantly increased since September 2022 when ‘partial mobilisation’ was imposed. By modern standards, these figures represent a high ratio of personnel killed compared to those wounded. This is almost certainly due to extremely rudimentary medical provision across much of the force. Artillery has almost certainly inflicted the majority of Russia’s casualties." Those at greatest risk seem to have been convict troops of the Wagner Group. "Wagner PMC forces have deployed large numbers of convict-recruits. These have probably experienced a casualty rate of up to 50%."

Belarus barks in lieu of biting.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka delivered a bellicose speech in which he blamed Ukraine for Russia's war, denied that Russia had invaded Ukraine, and promised swift retaliation should Ukraine commit aggression against Belarus. “If they commit aggression against Belarus, the answer will be immediate,” the Washington Post quotes Mr. Lukashenka as saying. “The war will acquire a completely different scale.”

But the stern talk communicated a clear disinclination to become involved. “I am ready to fight together with the Russians from the territory of Belarus only in one case: if at least one soldier sets foot in Belarus to kill my people.” No one (and it's safe to say that includes Mr. Lukashenka) thinks Ukraine has aggressive designs on Belarus.

The Belarusian president's talk offered an echo of Russia's utterly implausible account of Ukraine's war guilt: “It’s not an invasion; the Ukrainian authorities provoked this operation. Had they reached an agreement with Russia there would have been no war. There was no invasion. I believe this is the protection of the interests of Russia and those people, Russian people, who live there.” So Belarus can be expected to give public and diplomatic support to Russia, and probably to continue to allow its territory to be used as a staging area for Russian forces, but Mr. Lukashenka is showing a disinclination to back Moscow's losing hand.

German airports sustain a cyber incident.

Reuters reports that German airports have sustained an unspecified cyber incident, believed to be a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. There's little information available and no attribution yet, but Deutsche Welle points out that the attack (as it appears to be) bears a strong resemblance to an earlier DDoS attack the Russian auxiliaries of Killnet mounted against German airports. The facilities affected in the current incident are those at Düsseldorf, Nüremberg, Erfurt-Weimar and Dortmund.

Aspen Institute report concludes that cyber assistance benefits Ukraine.

A study by the Aspen Institute concludes that international assistance rendered Ukraine for its cybersecurity has blunted the effects of Russian cyber offensives. The Institute looked at the record compiled by the Cyber Defense Assistance Collaborative (CDAC) for Ukraine, which has given four kinds of assistance: Intelligence analysis, support, and sharing; Licenses; Tactical services; and Advising.

"CDAC is a volunteer group of cybersecurity and technology organizations that sought to provide intelligence, technology, training, advisory, and other services to Ukrainian institutions. Its original goal in Ukraine was to enhance Ukrainian cyber defenses and protect Ukrainian critical infrastructure under the exigent circumstance of Russia’s February 2022 invasion. CDAC’s goal has since expanded to include improving the stability and ongoing protection of Ukrainian organizations by reducing or mitigating potential effects of cyberattacks. CDAC has also assisted select Ukrainian organizations in building resilient and secure digital systems in anticipation of future Russian campaigns to degrade Ukraine’s physical, digital, and societal integrity."

"Cyber defense assistance in Ukraine is working," the report says. "The Ukrainian government and Ukrainian critical infrastructure organizations have better defended themselves and achieved higher levels of resiliency due to the efforts of CDAC and many others." The report concludes, however, that CDAC's work is not yet done, and that Ukraine will require support through the next phases of Russia's war.