Ukraine at D+202: The limitations of elites.
N2K logoSep 14, 2022

Ukraine continues to retake ground in its counteroffensive, and Russian units, including the vaunted 1st Guards Tank Army, have been very roughly handled and withdrawn from the front. In fairness to the 1st GTA, it's easy to read too much into an "elite" designation. Not much new in cyber, but Ukraine says it's handling Russian activity the way it handles cyber criminals.

Ukraine at D+202: The limitations of elites.

The progress of Ukraine's counteroffensive.

Ukraine's counteroffensive has now retaken between 3100 (according to the Telegraph) and 3700 square miles (according to Bloomberg), in either case more than the combined area of the US states of Delaware and Rhode Island, or a bit more than the island of Crete.

Resupply and reconstitution, with an excursus on elites.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence describes signs that Russia is increasingly reliant on weapons obtained from abroad, especially uncrewed aerial vehicles. "Russia has highly likely deployed Iranian uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) in Ukraine for the first time. On 13 September 2022, Ukrainian officials reported that their forces had shot down a Shahed-136 UAV near Kupiansk, in the area of Ukraine’s successful ongoing offensive. The Shahed-136 is a one-way attack UAV with a claimed range of 2,500 kilometres. Similar Iranian-manufactured systems have likely been used in attacks in the Middle East, including against the oil tanker MT MERCER STREET in July 2021. Russia is almost certainly increasingly sourcing weaponry from other heavily sanctioned states like Iran and North Korea as its own stocks dwindle. The loss of a Shahed-136 near the front lines suggests there is a realistic possibility that Russia is attempting to use the system to conduct tactical strikes rather than against more strategic targets farther into Ukrainian territory."

Much has been made of the withdrawal of the 1st Guards Tank Army after the mauling it received at the hands of Ukrainian forces. See, for example, the account in the Telegraph, where the organization is characterized as "Vladimir Putin's elite ‘bodyguards of Moscow’," and in which the British Ministry of Defense is quoted as saying, "1st GTA had been one of the most prestigious of Russia’s armies, allocated for the defence of Moscow, and intended to lead counter-attacks in the case of a war with Nato.” None of this is incorrect, and the 1st GTA was indeed mauled, taking heavy losses in personnel and equipment, but it's also easy to make too much of the difficulties an elite organization encounters in combat. Being "elite" may be a matter of specialized or unusually rigorous training, it might be a matte of prestige, it might be a matter of mission, or it might be a matter of high readiness as expressed manning and equipment. Or it might be some mixture of all four. None of these necessarily translate directly to high or even effective combat performance. Training and readiness are likeliest to do so, but even these are sometimes overrated, mistaken, or inappropriately applied. Having a singularly important mission is usually neither here nor there, and prestige may actually work against effectiveness: organizations that come to believe their own P.R. are at risk of thinking every war will be a battle of flowers, every engagement a walkover, and then finding themselves blindsided by battlefield reality. So the 1st GTA may indeed be, or had been, an elite formation, but we shouldn't read too much into its poor performance. The Russian army has performed poorly across the board, from the 1st GTA to militias and mercenaries.

No major developments in the cyber phases of the hybrid war.

Cyber operations proper have remained relatively quiet, or at least inconsequential, during Ukraine's current counteroffensive, although there are reports from the UK and elsewhere of a continued uptick in distributed denial-of-service attacks against financial services.

WIRED this morning published an interview with Yurii Shchyhol, director of Kyiv's equivalent of CISA, the Derzhspetszviazok (Englished as the State Special Communications and Information Protection Service of Ukraine). He offers a moderately encouraging picture of the war, from Ukraine's point of view. Russia has moved into a phase of cyber war in which it's largely targeting softer, civilian targets. "Our attitude remains the same,” Shchyhol says, as it has been all along, since the earliest cyber ops of the war. “We treat them as criminals trying to destroy our country, invading it on the land but also trying to disrupt and destroy our lifestyle in cyberspace. And our job is to help defend our country.” He's also at pains to stress that Russian cyber operations represent a threat to nations other than Ukraine, and that "the civilized world" should look to closer cooperation. “The whole civilized world needs to recognize that the threat goes beyond Ukraine. Cyberspace has no boundaries. If there’s any attack perpetrated against the cyberspace of one country, by default it’s affecting and attacking other countries as well.”