Ukraine at D+372: Disinformation about war crimes.
N2K logoMar 3, 2023

The Wagner Group calls upon Ukraine to surrender Bakhmut, and Russia's UN ambassador offers the Kremlin's perspective on war crimes and crimes against peace (short version--Russia's responsible for neither).

Ukraine at D+372: Disinformation about war crimes.

Russia's seven-month battle for Bakhmut continues, with Russian forces making local advances on three sides of the city. The Wagner Group is calling for the city's surrender, the Guardian reports: "Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner group, has called on President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to order a withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut. Bakhmut is “practically surrounded” by Wagner fighters with only one route left for Ukrainian forces, Prigozhin said in a video published today. The video has been geolocated to the village of Paraskoviivka, 4.3 miles north of the centre of Bakhmut." When Bakhmut became a Russian objective seven months ago, the city assumed a symbolic importance that has eclipsed its tactical, operational, or strategic significance.

The three-week battle for Vuhledar, and evidence of a failure to learn.

The New York Times this week ran an account of the battle for the Donetsk town of Vuhledar, It was apparently the largest tank battle of the war, and a disaster for Russian armor. Ukrainian sources claim that the Russians lost approximately a hundred-thirty tanks, or about a regiment-and-a-half's worth. Battle damage assessment is a difficult art, and such reports should be treated with caution, but it does seem to be the case that Russian losses were unusually heavy. More significant than the losses themselves is the way in which they were sustained. Russian armored columns were apparently driven heedlessly and repeatedly down avenues of approach, stopped by ambush and obstacles (including mines), and then destroyed by Ukrainian tank and artillery fire. In short, Russian forces continue to show little disposition to learn from bitter experience. Business Insider details the ways in which Russian formations fighting for Vuhledar repeated mistakes their comrades made earlier in the war during the fighting for Bucha. The Russian army remains roadbound and tactically inept. Their Ukrainian opponents appear to be neither.

Tank warfare has long held a prominent place in Russia's military self-image. The Times writes, "The Russian army has focused on, and even mythologized, tank warfare for decades for its redolence of Russian victories over the Nazis in World War II. Factories in the Ural Mountains have churned out tanks by the thousands. In Vuhledar, by last week Russia had lost so many machines to sustain armored assaults that they had changed tactics and resorted only to infantry attacks, Ukrainian commanders said." People used to be afraid of Russian armor. They're not afraid of it anymore.

International arms markets.

None of this has inhibited Russia's arms industry from seeking marketshare, internationally. The UK's Ministry of Defence writes, in this morning's situation report, "Despite the war in Ukraine, Russian defence companies continue to showcase their products at major international arms fairs. The Arena-E active protection system (APS), designed to improve the survivability of armoured vehicles, was displayed at a recent event. Its promotional literature states that it ‘defeats the threats that are most dangerous for armoured vehicles…if you value your armour and crews you need Arena-E’. There has been no evidence of Arena-E systems being installed on Russia’s own vehicles in Ukraine, where it has lost over 5,000 armoured vehicles. This is likely due to Russian industry’s inability to manufacture high-tech systems at scale; a problem which is exacerbated by the effect of international sanctions."

War crimes and crimes against peace, as seen from Moscow.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Andrey Kelin, asked about atrocities in Bucha, denied that Russian forces had anything to do with the massacres there or elsewhere, Al Jazeera reports. "Bucha has been staged and there is no doubt about that," Mr. Kelin said, adding that the killings were "staged by Ukrainian special forces." The Washington Post describes the discovery this week of another common grave near Bucha, holding the bodies of three men apparently killed by Russian forces. The AP reports that investigation and exhumations in the region have been ongoing since the Russian retreat from the region last April.

Ambassador Kelin also blamed the West, especially the United Kingdom, for Russia's continued push into Ukraine. It stands to reason, in the Kremlin's view, that Russia needs to take enough ground to place its borders out of range of long-range weapons the collective West (especially the UK) is supplying to Ukraine. Thus it would follow that present Russian operations are a defensive response to Western aggression. Mr. Kelin also characterized the fighting in Ukraine as a kind of civil war. "“In a way, yes. In a way it is even, you can call it, a civil war because on both parts it is, we do not drive a line between Russian people and Ukrainian people [in areas] that contains lots of Russians. So in certain ways, it is, yes.”

The US National Cybersecurity Strategy was informed by lessons from Russia's war.

The US National Cybersecurity Strategy, released yesterday, was shaped in part by lessons learned from observing Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine, Defense News reports. The emphases on resilience, close partnership with industry, and forward engagement with the threat were among the features of the strategy influenced by the conduct of that war.