Russia's enduring goals in Ukraine find a shifting expression on the ground. In cyberspace, Ukraine and its Western sympathizers prepare to sustain, and parry, further Russian cyberattacks.
Ukraine at D+57: Endames and the definition of victory.
Russia has declared its conquest of Mariupol complete, defining victory to exclude continued Ukrainian resistance in the city's sprawling Azovstahl steelworks. Russian tactics now call for Azovstal to be "sealed off," presumably for further reduction and to free Russia troops for redeployment to the Donbas. The Washington Post summarizes the city's importance to Russian plans. Mariupol is (or has been) the major port on the Sea of Azov, a principal Ukrainian steel manufacturing center, and a region that stands between Russia and the occupied Crimea. The city itself has been substantially destroyed, with upwards of 20,000 civilians killed by Russian fire. The AP reports that satellite imagery shows what appear to be mass graves around the devastated city, formerly the principal port on the Sea of Azov. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has warned, the Guardian says, that Russia is likely to conduct a rigged plebiscite in the occupied region aimed at legitimizing the separation of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The UK's Ministry of Defence situation report this morning discusses the implications of Russia's advance into Mariupol. "Putin's decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely indicates a desire to contain Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be deployed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. A full ground assault by Russia on the plant would likely incur significant Russian casualties, further decreasing their overall combat effectiveness. In the eastern Donbas, heavy shelling and fighting continues as Russia seeks to advance further towards settlements including Krasnyy Lyman, Buhayikva, Barvinkove, Lyman and Popasna as part of their plans for the region. Despite Russia's renewed focus they are still suffering from losses sustained earlier in the conflict. In order to try and reconstitute their depleted forces, they have resorted to transiting inoperable equipment back to Russia for repair." An MoD video describes Russia's dependence on conscripts for manpower: "From the outset, Russia sent many young conscripts into Ukraine. It is likely many did not know they were being sent to war until the day of the invasion."
Russia's endgame in its war against Ukraine.
It seems that Russian victory will not be achieved in time for Easter (this Sunday, by the Julian calendar). It's widely expected that May 9th, Victory Day (a commemoration of the defeat of Germany in World War Two, and a vastly more important holiday in Russia than is the American V-E Day, which has for the most part faded from US calendars), is now the date by which President Putin wishes to declare success.
TASS has published an account of Russia's war aims, as explained by Alexey Polishchuk: "The special military operation will end once its tasks are fulfilled. Among them are the protection of the peaceful population of Donbass, demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as the elimination of threats to Russia coming from the Ukrainian territory due to its colonization by NATO members." These are essentially the goals Russia announced at the outset of its special military operation. Mr. Polishchuk does not hold high hopes for negotiations with Ukraine, complaining of Ukrainian waffling and bad faith, both inspired and abetted by Western powers. "At the ongoing negotiations the Ukrainian delegation’s stance is wiggling from side to side. Just as before, the negotiating process is accompanied by aggressive rhetoric in Kiev and in the West, Western arms supplies and the sending of instructors and mercenaries," he told TASS.
An essay in Defense One provides a different perspective on Russia's war. Its authors outline three outcomes:
- "Least Bad: Sue for Peace." The basis of the peace would be restoration of the status quo ante bellum. This outcome is unlikely. It would be perceived, in Russia and abroad, as defeat, and a regime like the one in Moscow finds it difficult to survive without success.
- "Worse: Defend the Donbas and Hope for Better Days." The authors think this the likeliest course of action, but its prospects of success have faded since Russian setbacks in the north and stiffening Ukrainian resistance.
- "Worst: One Last Gamble." A push across the entire Black Sea coast, with the aim of cutting Ukraine off from its sea lines of communication. The authors think Russia incapable of carrying this off. Its losses have been too severe, and such an offensive would drive growing disaffection in the ranks.
The authors argue that in all three cases the Western response should be the same: continue to deliver more of the assistance it's already delivered. "In his recent démarche to the U.S. demanding an end to military support for Ukraine, Putin has helpfully provided a list of those capabilities Russia most fears. The U.S. should treat this message not as a Russian ultimatum but rather as a Ukrainian shopping list."
Updates on US aid to Ukraine.
As Ukrainian troops begin to train on the M198 towed, 155mm howitzers the US has provided, US President Biden yesterday pledged $1.3 billion in further aid for Kyiv in both security and economic assistance. He's also appointed an official to coordinate delivery of the aid. Defense News reports that retired US Army Lieutenant General Terry Wolff will “help coordinate the security assistance the U.S. and our partners are providing to Ukraine, which they are using every day to defend their country.”
The US State Department yesterday published a list of "security assistance committed to Ukraine." Handheld weapons and equipment figure prominently in the list, but it now includes some heavier systems, including ninety 155mm howitzers, two-hundred M113 armored personnel carriers, and large numbers ("hundreds") of HMMWVs, and large numbers of unmanned aerial systems. Not all the equipment is of US manufacture: the eleven Mi-17 Hip helicopters, in fact, are of Russian manufacture. The full list includes:
- "Over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems;
- "Over 5,500 Javelin anti-armor systems;
- "Over 14,000 other anti-armor systems;
- "Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- "90 155mm Howitzers and 184,000 155mm artillery rounds;
- "72 Tactical Vehicles to tow 155mm Howitzers;
- "11 Mi-17 helicopters;
- "Hundreds of Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles;
- "200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers;
- "Over 7,000 small arms;
- "Over 50,000,000 rounds of ammunition;
- "75,000 sets of body armor and helmets;
- "Laser-guided rocket systems;
- "Puma Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- "Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels;
- "14 counter-artillery radars;
- "Four counter-mortar radars;
- "Two air surveillance radars;
- "M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions;
- "C-4 explosives and demolition equipment for obstacle clearing;
- "Tactical secure communications systems;
- "Night vision devices, thermal imagery systems, optics, and laser rangefinders;
- "Commercial satellite imagery services;
- "Explosive ordnance disposal protective gear;
- "Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear protective equipment;
- "Medical supplies to include first aid kits."
Russian malware used against Ukrainian targets.
The Record has an overview of the Russian malware that's been used against Ukrainian targets. Wiper malware has been particularly prominent so far in Russia's hybrid war. Citing conversations with Ukrainian security officials, they describe WhisperGate, WhisperKill, HermeticWiper, IsaacWiper, AcidRain, CaddyWiper, DoubleZero, and Industroyer2.
Actual and potential targets harden themselves against Russia cyberattacks.
Ukraine has, the Straits Times reports, worked to upgrade its defenses (for the most part through implementation of widely understood best practices).
This week's joint Cybersecurity Advisory by the Five Eyes is prompting similar moves in other countries, Bloomberg reports. The energy sector is receiving particular attention, an essay in the Wall Street Journal explains.
China, looking on as an observer generally sympathetic to Russia, sees US preparation in cyberspace as dangerous provocation. The Global Times (a Beijing mouthpiece) argues that US defend-forward policy is destabilizing and contravenes international norms of conduct.
The US Department of the Treasury has taken punitive steps against Russian organizations found to be enabling other groups' evasion of sanctions imposed in response to Russia's war against Ukraine. Of particular note is the addition of Bitriver AG, a prominent cryptomining venture, to the list of sanctioned entities.
For its part, TechCrunch reports, Russia has responded to a tightening sanctions regime by designating various prominent US citizens (Meta's Mark Zukcerberg, LinkedIn's Ryan Roslansky, and Vice President Kamala Harris among them) as henceforth barred from travel to Russia. There's no particular evidence any of them were planning to, let alone longing to, travel to Russia, but leave that aside. It's a move against leading Russophobes. "In response to the ever-expanding anti-Russian sanctions, under which the Biden Administration brings an increasing number of Russian citizens - both officials and their families, as well as representatives of business circles, scientists and cultural figures - 29 Americans are included in the "stop list" from among the top leaders, businessmen, experts and journalists who form the Russophobic agenda, as well as the spouse of a number of high-ranking officials. These persons are denied entry into the Russian Federation on an indefinite basis," Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained. The welcome mat will be yanked from others, the Ministry said, as it develops and expands its list of Russophobes. "In the near future, a new announcement will follow about the next replenishment of the Russian "stop list" in the order of countermeasures against the hostile actions of the US authorities."
Sanctions and the criminal underworld.
Sanctions designed to inhibit the flow of money to the entities they affect have a collateral impact on the parasitic criminal economy that accompanies legitimate markets. Flashpoint describes the ways in which sanctions against Russia have made it more difficult for cyber gangs to cash out. The takedown of the Hydra Market, for example, represented a direct interdiction of a traditional cash-out avenue. And not only do the sanctions themselves directly impede the gangs, but the countermeasures Russia is taking to increase central control of its economy are also having an effect. Flashpoint writes that gangland chatter suggests the criminals are looking into peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchanges, conventional bank transfers that sanctions don't (yet) reach, and Chinese-run UnionPay cards. The gangs are also considering "hunkering down" and holding their gains in cold wallets until the heat blows over.