Ukraine at D+237: Targeting civilians.
N2K logoOct 19, 2022

Russian missile strikes are assessed as deliberate attacks against civilians, The tactic appears to mirror the approach General Surovikin took during the Russian intervention in Syria. Skirmishing continues in cyberspace.

Ukraine at D+237: Targeting civilians.

Russian President Putin has declared martial law in the four Ukrainian regions he claims to control: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, the AP reports.

Russia continues its attacks against civilian targets.

Russian forces continue to expend long-range munitions, at this stage of the war mostly Iranian-supplied drones, against Ukrainian civilian targets. Those targets include residences and infrastructure, with special attention, the BBC notes, to the power grid. The goal of both appears to be what observers are calling General Surovikin's "unconventional warfare." General Surovikin, the recently appointed Russian commander of all forces in Ukraine, acquired a reputation for brutality during his service in Syria, where forces under his command propped up the Assad regime. Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur had foreseen the shift in targeting and the increase in violence when Surovikin was appointed. It's not that his predecessors were careful, restrained, discriminating, and humane, but rather that Surovikin sees civilians as a central target set.

That's not how Russian state television sees the matter. "Air raid warnings are howling over several of Ukraine's regions at the same time," Russian state television host Olga Skabeeva said, as she led a discussion of Russia's drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian civilian targets. Her point, and that of her interlocutors, was to emphasize the defensive and justifiably retaliatory character of those strikes. "A state of heightened danger remains in effect in the Ukrainian capital. We are continuing to inflict pinpoint strikes against infrastructure objects. Let's watch the latest footage." The video she introduced showed an Iranian-produced Shahed-136 (which the captioning called by its recently assigned Russian name "Geran") hitting the roof of a high-rise building in Kyiv while pedestrians on the street below ducked and covered. Ms SKabeeva resumed her commentary. "Today, [Anton] Gerashchenko posted a video of the remnants of our drone, or the Iranian drone, Shahed-136 or Geran-2. Many have noted the inscription--look closer--'For Belgorod.' They've tormented the people who live near the territory bordering Ukraine. Once again, I assert that we're forced to conduct these strikes, that they leave us no choice." (Anton Gerashchenko is an advisor to Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs.)

Thus the drone strikes are now being framed in Russian state media as retaliation for Ukrainian strikes at military targets in Belgorod, a Russian city near the Ukrainian border where numerous Russian logistics sites and staging areas are located. The New York Times dates the Ukrainian strikes to Sunday; Russian attacks against Ukrainian cities had then been in progress for about a week. Dmitry Abzalov, Director of Russia's Center for Strategic Communication, offered a familiar wheels-within-wheels explanation of the exchanges of fire. The US is behind them: "The situation will keep intensifying over the next several weeks due to elections. The economic situation in the US is also difficult. They're fighting for the Senate. As we've been saying for six months, in the lower House [of Representatives] it's already decided. The Senate is where the main fight will take place. There are certain people from certain districts for whom foreign policy successes are crucial. They will keep moving this agenda forward until November 8th. It's very important and we should understand that the horizon of this election is November 8th. These things affect the intensity of what is happening. They'll be throwing in masses of people just to stick their flag into anything." Presumably the UK, as usual in the Russian government's line, is also complicit: throughout the discussion of American wire-pulling, the split screen beside Mr. Abzalov showed a video (no audio) of British Prime Minister Truss making a speech, but perhaps the point is that one Anglophone is as good as another. Ms Skabeeva took the last words. "In other words there is no other conclusion. We will spare no Kalibr [missiles] in the near future. in the following weeks leading up to the US midterms, nor will we spare Geran [drones]." (And again, all credit to the invaluable work of the Russian Media Monitor in curating Russian television for Western audiences.)

The New York Times reports that Iranian trainers have arrived in Crimea to show Russians how to operate the low-end Shahed drones they've purchased. "When Iran deployed the first batch of drones to Russia, errors by Russian operators rendered them ineffective. Mechanical issues also grounded the planes and limited their utility, according to American officials." Iranian trainers will be trying to fix that.

An assessment of Russian leadership failures.

The UK's Ministry of Defence, in this morning's situation report, turned to a consideration of Russian leadership. It gives the officers poor reviews. "Eight months into the invasion, major elements of Russia’s military leadership are increasingly dysfunctional. At the tactical level, there is almost certainly a worsening shortage of capable Russian junior officers to organise and lead newly mobilised reservists. Eyewitness testimony suggests that the shooting of 11 Russian soldiers near Belgorod by a fellow recruit on 15 October 2022 occurred after an officer’s abusive comments towards ethnic minority recruits. Poor lower-level leadership is likely worsening the low morale and poor unit cohesion in many parts of the Russian force. Four of the five generals with direct operational command of elements of the invasion in February 2022 have now been dismissed. Their replacements have so far done little to improve Russia’s battlefield performance. The lack of command continuity will likely be more disruptive than in a Western military because under Russian doctrine the development of plans sits largely with the commander personally, rather than as a collective effort across a broader staff."

Killnet explains its actions against Bulgaria's government.

In its Telegram channel Killnet, the Russian auxiliary threat group, woofed a justification for its recent run of desultory distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Bulgaria. "For betraying Russia and supplying weapons to Ukraine, the Bulgarian government is sentenced to network collapse and shame!" The Record cites Bulgarian authorities who say they've identified the name and address (in Magnitogorsk, confirming earlier reports) of one of those who participated in the attacks.

The National Republican Army claims successful attacks on Russian companies.

The National Republican Army (NRA), a group of uncertain size and influence, has told the Kyiv Post that they've successfully compromised large Russian companies engaged in support of Russia's war as defense contractors. The NRA showed the newspaper screenshots and data that appeared to confirm their claims, but it's too soon to tell if there's substance to them.

The Director of Germany's BSI is out.

Arne Schoenbohm has been relieved of his post as head of Germany's BSI cybersecurity agency, Spiegel reports. Under German labor law the removal is formally a suspension, the Washington Post writes, but few expect Mr. Schoenbohm to return to the BSI. An investigation into his connections with Russia via the Cyber Security Council Germany. His continued contact with the Council (a group he helped found) was controversial, the Post says, "because of the foundation membership of Protelion, reported to be a rebranded German arm of the Russian cybersecurity firm Infotecs, founded by a former KGB agent." Reuters quotes the Interior Ministry as saying the dismissal was in response to news that had "permanently damaged the necessary public confidence in the neutrality and impartiality of his conduct in his office as president of Germany's most important cybersecurity authority."