Ukraine at D+587: A preference for attack, no matter the consequences.
N2K logoOct 4, 2023

Russia's Black Sea Fleet finds Crimea increasingly unsuitable for its bases. Penal battalions represent a throwback to Stalin's Red Army. Two ICRC officials offer guidance for hacktivists under international humanitarian law.

Ukraine at D+587: A preference for attack, no matter the consequences.

According to the Telegraph, Russia's Black Seas Fleet is finding Crimea, including the major base at Sevastopol, less useful to its operations. The Fleet may be in the process of redepoloying from the peninsula. The UK's Defense Ministry says Russia has sustained a "functional defeat" in the Black Sea.

Punishment battalions and a preference for attack, no matter what.

Russia has begun deploying punishment battalions, Reuters reports, a practice that was one of the defining features of the Red Army under Stalin during the Second World War. Informally called "Storm-Z" units, the organizations are formed from a mix of convicts released for the purpose and regular soldiers being punished for military offenses like indiscipline or insubordination. Other reports have suggested that Storm-Z units are kept in the line by blocking forces to their rear, with orders to use lethal force if necessary to prevent the penal units' withdrawal. The punishment organizations are considered expendable and are used for high-risk operations. Reuters writes, quoting a Russian regular, "'Storm fighters, they're just meat, said one regular soldier from army unit no. 40318 who was deployed near the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine in May and June."

Attack without regard for casualties, and where determination to attack is more important than the results achieved, seems to represent an emerging Russian operational style. "Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu celebrated an odd group of Russian armed formations operating in the western Zaporizhia Oblast direction during a conference call with Russian military leadership. Shoigu’s choice of units could indicate he seeks to highlight Russian commanders who continue to follow Russian military leadership’s orders for relentless counterattacks," the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports.

According to the Telegraph, Crimea is beginning to lose its utility as a base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet. That declining value affects, especially, the big base at Sevastopol.

Russian air defenses and last week's friendly fire incident.

In this morning's situation report, the UK's Ministry of Defence reviews the current state of Russian combat aviation and air defense. "On 28 September 2023, Russian air defence forces highly likely shot down one of their own Su-35S FLANKER M multi-role combat jets over Tokmak, approximately 20km behind the current front line. Although Russia has lost around 90 fixed wing aircraft since the start of the invasion, this is probably only the fifth loss of a Su-35S, Russia’s most advanced combat jet in widespread service. The location is relevant because Tokmak is a heavily fortified town which often hosts Russian headquarters commanding one of the most intensely contested sectors of the front line. These headquarters would typically be protected with dedicated short and medium range air defence systems. These are almost certainly held at very high readiness, as Ukraine continues to conduct effective deep strikes against such locations."

International Committee of the Red Cross issues guidelines for hacktivists.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has issued guidelines for hacktivists, published as an essay in the European Journal of International Law. They constitute an extension of existing international norms of armed conflict to cyberspace, with a view to preserving norms that would protect noncombatants, not only against attacks against infrastructure, but also from online incitement to atrocity. Certain specific classes of targets are explicitly prohibited, notably medical and humanitarian facilities. The essay was prompted by politically motivated hacktivism in several conflicts, but especially by such activities in Russia's war against Ukraine.

The BBC says that the IT Army of Ukraine is unsure of whether it can or will abide by the rules. In particular the IT Army seems to view the rules as constituting an absolute prohibition of collateral damage, which it's not always possible to avoid. The group already avoids attacks against hospitals and similar facilities, but it has conducted nuisance-level DDoS attacks against civilian infrastructure like banks and travel booking services. The hacktivist auxiliaries on the other side of the war dismissed the ICRC as irrelevant. Russia's KillNet asked, "Why should I listen to the Red Cross?" Anonymous Sudan, which, despite its name, is a Russian hacktivist auxiliary, rejected the ICRC rules outright, saying the restrictions were "not viable and that breaking them for the group's cause is unavoidable." For more on hacktivism and international humanitarian law, see CyberWire Pro.

European Peace Foundation opens training center for Ukrainian cyber operators.

The European Peace Foundation has established a fifteen-workstation classroom to train Ukrainian military personnel in cyber operations, EU Neighbors East reports. "This classroom was set up by the Estonian Academy of Electronic Governance. Within the last 18 months, the e-Governance Academy (EGA) has procured, set up, installed and configured cybersecurity equipment and security hardware and software for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and conducted related training."