Ukraine at D+159: Disinformation as counterfire.
N2K logoAug 2, 2022

Russian disinformation efforts concentrate on an attempt to neutralize HIMARS.

Ukraine at D+159: Disinformation as counterfire.

This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) notes the resumption of legitimate grain shipments from Black Sea ports. "The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship RAZONI left the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa on 1 August, headed to the port of Tripoli in Lebanon loaded with 26,000 tonnes of Ukrainian grain.This marks the first grain shipment from a Ukrainian port since the invasion began, enabled by an agreement on a grain export transit corridor between Ukraine, Turkey, the UN, and Russia on 22 July." The shipment is welcome, and one can hope for more (if Russia lives up to its agreement, unfortunately not something informed observers are optimistic about) but, as the New York Times observes, a single grain ship won't put an end to hunger Russia's war is inducing.

The MoD also looks at signs of stress in Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "The reported strike on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol on Navy Day is the latest setback for the Black Sea Fleet in the five-month-old war against Ukraine, which included the loss of its flagship, the cruiser MOSKVA, in April 2022. Following the reports of cancelled parades, it is unlikely that the Black Sea Fleet can manage high profile public events alongside its wartime activities." The Wall Street Journal reports that Russia appears to have begun shifting troops from the Donbas to the Black Sea coast, as the Ukrainian forces continue to prepare their counteroffensive in that region. The Russian occupiers will probably not receive much naval support.

HIMARS, atrocity, provocation, and disinformation.

More HIMARS ammunition is on its way from the US to Ukraine, and, according to Defense News, Congress would like to see the US Administration increase even those supplies. The US-supplied HIMARS rockets continue to disturb Russian operations, and Russian planning and policy. The Telegraph reports that Russia's Defense Ministry has said that HIMARS employment makes the US a direct participant in the war. Misreporting an interview with a senior Ukrainian officer, the Defense Ministry said the US was providing precise, timely targeting information to the Ukrainian batteries. "This is the ultimate proof that Washington, despite the White House and the Pentagon’s claims, is directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine," a Kremlin spokesman said.

The killing of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Olenivka is by now clearly a Russian atrocity--the prisoners were apparently murdered by their captors. (And we note in passing that the International Committee of the Red Cross still has not been given the access to the prison international law requires.) The prisoners did not die in a Ukrainian HIMARS strike, as Russia claimed. Politico summarizes the conclusion of US officials who investigated the incident: there's no evidence of a HIMARS strike. Different weapons leave different signatures and debris behind, and these can often decisively identify what weapon was used.

Too ridiculous to rebut, but still, you can see they like the idea.

"The idea that @bellingcat, of all organizations, would have spies breathing in Putin's neck and at the top of the GRU, feeding him disinfo and passing personal secrets to us, as flattering as it is, is so ridiculous it doesn't even warrant a serious rebuttal." Of course, Bellingcat would say that. The claim that Bellingcat has compromised the GRU comes from SouthFront, an English-language news service and Russian government front organization. The teaser for SouthFront's video report reads in part, "Independent journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva [founder of ArmsWatch and a SouthFront correspondent] appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. She says that the Putin’s elite inner circle is infiltrated by NATO informants. She asked for a meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov [boss of Chechnya, and one of Mr. Putin's more intemperate and brutal political allies] to give him a list of names of identified infiltrated GRU agents." Ms Gaytandzhieva said, in her video, "According to my source, Ramzan Kadyrov is the only person in your circle who can be trusted."

Why SouthFront would take pains to single out the GRU is an interesting question. It may indicate that a purge of the GRU is in the offing. SouthFront is believed to operate from Crimea, and is probably run by the FSB. It's been on the US Treasury Department's list of sanctioned entities since April of 2021. Its singling out of the GRU as a source of leaks, deception, and disinformation seems significant. The FSB may be preparing the ground for a purge of its sister (and rival) service. If this proves to be so, the purge would be another throwback to the 1930s, when Stalin used the GRU and the FSB's predecessors to keep one another in check.