Ukraine at D+355: A war of attrition, with cyber ops on the side.
N2K logoFeb 14, 2023

A war of attrition continues around Bakhmut.

Ukraine at D+355: A war of attrition, with cyber ops on the side.

Russian forces in the Donbas continue to sustain heavy casualties, most recently from a Ukrainian HIMARS strike against a headquarters. Ukraine is fighting a delaying action, intending to bleed Russian forces until the arrival of Western weapons enables it to undertake a major offensive, according to the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times reports what appears to be a deliberate Russian strike against aid workers.

Insufficient combat power to support a Russian offensive.

The UK's Ministry of Defence this morning reports on continuing Russian attempts to advance in the Donbas. "In the last three days, Wagner Group forces have almost certainly made further small gains around the northern outskirts of the contested Donbas town of Bakhmut, including into the village of Krasna Hora. However, organised Ukrainian defence continues in the area. The tactical Russian advance to the south of the town has likely made little progress. In the north, in Kremina-Svatove sector of Luhansk Oblast, Russian forces are making continuous offensive efforts, though each local attack remains on too small a scale to achieve a significant breakthrough. Russia likely aims to reverse some of the gains Ukrainian forces made over September-November 2022: there is a realistic possibility that their immediate goal is to advance west to the Zherberets River. Overall, the current operational picture suggests that Russian forces are being given orders to advance in most sectors, but that they have not massed sufficient offensive combat power on any one axis to achieve a decisive effect."

Russia planned a coup d'état in Moldova.

The Washington Post reports that Moldova's President Maia Sandu said yesterday that Russia had planned a coup in her country with a view to using it as a staging area for further action against Ukraine. Calling for continued vigilance, she said that intercepted communications indicated Russia's intent "to overthrow the constitutional order, to change the legitimate power from Chisinau with an illegitimate one.”

Leaving Russia.

The US Embassy in Moscow yesterday advised U.S. citizens to leave Russia immediately. "Do not travel to Russia due to the unpredictable consequences of the unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment and the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, and the possibility of terrorism. U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart immediately," the advisory says, emphasizing the heightened risk of arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens by Russian authorities. "Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions."

It's not just the few Americans who find themselves traveling in Russia who are leaving. Russians themselves are leaving, the Washington Post reports, in numbers not seen since the two great disruptions of Russian society in the Twentieth Century: the Bolshevik Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has set off a historic exodus of his own people. Initial data shows that at least 500,000, and perhaps nearly 1 million, have left in the year since the invasion began — a tidal wave on scale with emigration following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991."

Quartz reports a significant class of emigrées, with a particular destination: about 5000 pregnant Russian women have gone to Argentina in recent weeks. They're seeking to give birth to anchor babies that will automatically have Argentine citizenship, thereby enabling them to remain abroad. Argentina doesn't at present require Russian travelers to have visas, which makes the country an attractive destination. Authorities in Argentina are considering closing the loophole.

Cyber phases of Russia's hybrid war.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will, Ukrainian News reports, allocate $60 million to Ukraine in support of efforts to protect the country's infrastructure from cyberattacks.

Attempted Russian cyberattacks against infrastructure have not been confined to Ukraine. POLITICO cites Dragos CEO Robert M. Lee to the effect that the Russian "Chernovite" threat group undertook preparations against roughly a dozen U.S. electrical and natural gas facilities early in Russia's war against Ukraine. “This is the closest we’ve ever been to having U.S. or European infrastructure, I’d say U.S. infrastructure, go offline,” Lee said. “It wasn’t employed on one of its targets, they weren’t ready to pull the trigger, they were getting very close.” He suggested that successful public-private cooperation played a role in protecting U.S. infrastructure.

KillNet, a prominent hacktivist group serving as an auxiliary of Russian intelligence and security forces, continues to attempt distributed denial-of-service attacks against NATO sites. Most of these have been of short duration and little effect, but there was some inconvenience caused to the Atlantic Alliance's earthquake relief efforts.

The hacktivism has been far from one-sided. Dark Reading reviews the history of hacktivist actions rallied loosely around the hashtag #OpRussia. They've consisted largely of distributed denial-of-service attacks, defacements, media hijacking, and data breaches.