Ukraine at D+152: Big picture guys can't target.
N2K logoJul 26, 2022

As Foreign Minister Lavrov says Moscow now aims at regime change in Ukraine, Russia's targeting shows signs of being too slow to be effective. (But its gunners can still hit schools.) Cyber operations retain their high but relatively ineffectual tempo.

Ukraine at D+152: Big picture guys can't target.

Russia's war aims stated and explained.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, addressing a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, said that Russia's objective was the replacement of Ukraine's "absolutely unacceptable" regime. Mr. Lavrov's remarks represented a clear statement of what has for some time been evident, whatever shifting justifications Russia has given for its special military operation. The AP quotes the Foreign Minister casting the Russian invasion as a humanitarian intervention. We will certainly help the Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical.” Among the tools being used for regime change are controlled referenda in occupied territories, which are, in Ukrainska Pravda's account, being carefully gamed by the occupiers.

Fleeting targets are hard to service (even with a dwell time measured in hours or even days).

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) this morning debunked Russian claims that its Sunday missile strikes against Odessa hit significant Ukrainian naval targets. "On 24 July 2022, Russian cruise missiles hit the dock-side in Ukraine’s Odesa Port. The Russian MoD claimed to have hit a Ukrainian warship and a stockpile of anti-ship missiles. There is no indication that such targets were at the location the missiles hit." Claiming to have hit naval targets only serves, inter alia, to bolster Russian claims that strikes against ports are sufficiently precise to pose no problems for the shipment of grain. Anti-shipping missiles would be high-payoff targets for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and so taking them out would understandably figure high in Russian targeting priorities. "Russia almost certainly perceives anti-ship missiles as a key threat which is limiting the effectiveness of their Black Sea Fleet. This has significantly undermined the overall invasion plan, as Russia cannot realistically attempt an amphibious assault to seize Odesa. Russia will continue to prioritise efforts to degrade and destroy Ukraine’s anti-ship capability."

The MoD sees a systemic failure in Russian targeting that seems to be an instance of two larger trends: poor training and sclerotic command. "However, Russia’s targeting processes are highly likely routinely undermined by dated intelligence, poor planning, and a top-down approach to operations." Russian targeting cells appear to be working from old maps, and find it difficult to successfully service movable, still less mobile, targets. Towns it can manage. Things that can move are another matter entirely.

The humanitarian cost of tactical incompetence can run high. Kharkiv is, the Wall Street Journal reports, suffering under Russian fires that have in recent fighting hit a school and other civilian buildings.

A look at the cyber phase of the hybrid war.

Many have noted that Russian cyber offensives haven't had the devastating effects that were expected during the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine, but it's important to remember that this isn't necessarily for want of trying. The CEO of the large Ukrainian utility DTEK, Maxim Timchenko, told Smart Energy that his organization had come under attack recently, and that this isn't the first such incident. "It’s not the first one: we have experienced cyber attacks of this level since November last year. But recently they intensified.” Timchenko said that DTEK defenses held (and that Microsoft's support had been "great"): “Our corporate IT systems were attacked, however, our specialists showed their professionalism. We did not suffer any serious damage nor any confidential information was taken and leaked. So it was a good test for our systems.”

CyberCube's Global Threat Briefing sees substantial cyber activity--some hacktivism, some state-run, some privateering--on both sides. "Since the start of the war in Ukraine, both sides have been amassing cyber armies and hacktivists have pooled their efforts to attack Russia. Anonymous has broken into CCTV cameras at the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Russian hacktivists are striking targets in Eastern Europe. There are currently more than 70 different cyber threat actors related to the war in Ukraine - double the number identified at the beginning of March." Strategic Risk notes CyberCube's observations about how Russian cyberespionage and ransomware activity (this now sometimes wiper-carrying pseudoransomware) have increased and spread at higher than customary rates to target nations sympathetic to Ukraine. Target selection by ransomware privateers has shown evidence of a great deal of attention being paid to sectors that may be more vulnerable and overlooked. CyberCube told Strategic Risk that “Ransomware gangs are currently targeting lower-profile critical infrastructure operations and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in healthcare, agriculture, and food supply chains. Businesses in these industries are among those who can least afford the downtime associated with ransomware and extortion attacks, and often lack resources for effective cyber security in the face of well-resourced and determined attackers.”