Ukraine at D+533: Contesting the information space.
N2K logoAug 11, 2023

With only local changes to the lines, albeit with continuing casualties, attention turns to shaping the war's narrative.

Ukraine at D+533: Contesting the information space.

Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports local Ukrainian gains and failed Russian spoiling attacks.

Russia continues efforts to coordinate Belarus with its war against Ukraine. The UK's Ministry of Defence this morning reported that "On 7 August 2023 the Belarussian Ministry of Defence announced that the 6th Separate Guards Mechanised Brigade (6 SGMB) would conduct an exercise in the Grodno area of north-western Belarus, near the Polish and Lithuanian borders. The ministry said that the exercise intended to incorporate lessons learnt by the Russian military in Ukraine. There is a realistic possibility that the Belarussian troops will be joined by a small number of Wagner Group advisors acting in a training role."

The exercises are probably just that, and not staging for combat, but their timing and location serve Russian interests. "These specific exercises are highly likely part of the Belarussian military’s routine training cycle. 6 SGMB’s home garrison is in Grodno, and it is unlikely that the formation is currently deployed with the enablers it would need to make it combat-ready. However, Russia is almost certainly keen to promote Belarussian forces as posturing against NATO."

Yandex is restructuring.

Yandex is restructuring. The "Russian Google" has a corporate parent registered in the Netherlands and listed on the Nasdaq, but that's in the process of changing. The Russian side of the business will be spun off from the parent company, Reuters reports. Yandex had been one of the few Russian companies with realistic global ambitions, but the war against Ukraine has changed that, and the reorganization will effectively recognize that.

The company's relationship with the Russian regime is complicated.  Arkady Volozh, Yandex co-founder, and resident in Israel since 2014, holds both Russian and Israeli citizenship. He stepped down from his position as CEO and gave up his seat on the company's board last year, after he was subjected to sanctions by the EU over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Yesterday he sharply criticized the special military operation. "Russia's invasion of Ukraine is barbaric, and I am categorically against it," Volozh said in a statement. "I am horrified about the fate of people in Ukraine – many of them my personal friends and relatives – whose houses are being bombed every day, Reuters quotes him as saying. "Although I moved to Israel in 2014, I have to take my share of responsibility for the country's actions."

Why hasn't Russia simply nationalized Yandex? Because, Reuters says, the Kremlin fears the brain drain it expects would follow such a move. The Institute for the Study of War concludes that a "crypto-nationalization" of the company may be in progress. The objectives are complex: control the domestic information space, reward Putin loyalists by handing assets over to them, and do all this without driving out the tech talent Yandex represents.

How Viasat was hacked.

Russia's disruption of Viasat in Ukraine during the first days of the special military operation was the only Russian cyberattack that came close to living up to pre-war fears of a digital bolt from the blue. Viasat's vice president and CISO, speaking at Black Hat, gave an account of how that attack was accomplished. It was, CyberScoop reports, a more complex operation than has been generally appreciated.

That the attack used wiper malware against modems on the ground is widely understood. There was, however, a second phase designed to prevent restoration of service. "Not only did Russian hackers deploy the wiper malware, they also flooded Viasat servers with requests that quickly overwhelmed their networks. Viasat servers received more than 100,000 requests in a five minute time span. That meant that anytime a modem would get kicked off the network it couldn’t reconnect because the server could not respond." This aspect of the campaign was discovered only later.