Signs of a Ukrainian counteroffensive are reported as Russian military leaders appear to urge their president to go over to the defensive. The alleged Discord Papers leaker may have been busier earlier, and with a wider audience, than previously believed.
Ukraine at D+424: Counter-offensive preparations.
As they have for months, Ukrainian forces continue to hold their positions in the western sections of the dead city of Bakhmut. The Washington Post describes the situation of the Ukrainian defenders.
Elsewhere, the Institute for the Study of War believes that Ukrainian forces have now established positions on the east bank of the Dnipro River. The Institute's source is open-source intelligence (OSINT), and evaluation of geolocated imagery posted by Russian milbloggers. "Geolocated footage published by a Russian milblogger on April 22 shows that Ukrainian forces have established positions on the Dnipro River bank north of Oleshky (7km southwest of Kherson City) and advanced up to the northern outskirts of the settlement on the E97 highway, as well as west of Dachi (10km south of Kherson City). This footage also indicates that Russian forces may not control islands in the Kinka and Chaika rivers less than half a kilometer north of the geolocated Ukrainian positions near the Antonivsky Bridge." The AP reviews what this and other reports may mean for the widely expected Ukrainian spring offensive.
The Institute also reports what it reads as efforts on the part of both the Russian Ministry of Defense and the (sometimes rival, sometimes cooperator) Wagner Group to persuade President Putin that Russian forces should go over to the operational defensive. "The Russian military command may have partially repaired its strained relationship with Prigozhin to persuade Putin to halt offensive operations via the Russian information space."
Mobilizing without actually mobilizing.
On Sunday the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) reviewed the Russian Defense Ministry's efforts to recruit more volunteers, effectively handing the white feather to young men who are driving cabs, stocking store shelves, and doing other less than fully manly work when they could be serving at the front. "The Russian MoD has launched a major new drive for volunteer recruits. A pervasive campaign has seen advertising appear on Russian social media sites, on billboards, and on TV. The new adverts appeal to potential recruits’ masculine pride, appealing for ‘real men’, as well as highlighting the financial benefits of joining up." All armies face recruiting challenges, but more than a year of sanguinary war and increasingly obvious military incompetence render Russia's challenges particularly acute. "Since its access to prisoner recruitment was stopped, the Wagner Group private military company is also competing for the limited pool of Russian fighting-age men. It remains highly unlikely that the campaign will attract the MoD’s reported target of 400,000 volunteers. The authorities are almost certainly seeking to delay any new, overt mandatory mobilisation for as long as possible to minimise domestic dissent."
Forced Russification in the occupied provinces.
This morning the UK's MoD devoted its situation report to administrative measures designed to speed the assimilation of the occupied regions of Ukraine into Russia. "The authorities in occupied areas of Ukraine are almost certainly coercing the population to accept Russian Federation passports. Residents in Kherson have been warned that those who have not accepted a Russian passport by 01 June 2023 will be ‘deported’ and their property seized. Russia is using passports as a tool in the ‘Russification’ of the occupied areas, as it did in Donetsk and Luhansk before the February 2022 invasion. Russia is likely expediting the integration of the occupied areas of Ukraine into the bureaucracy of the Russian Federation to help paint the invasion as a success, especially in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections."
Uncertain narrative control (and revival of a Stalinist lie).
The UK's MoD devoted Saturday morning's situation report to the difficulty Moscow is having maintaining narrative control of "The Russian state is struggling to maintain consistency in a core narrative that it uses to justify the war in Ukraine: that the invasion is analogous to the Soviet experience in the Second World War. On 18 April 2023, Russian state media announced the cancellation of this year’s Immortal Regiment ‘Great Patriotic War’ remembrance marches on ‘safety’ grounds. In reality, the authorities were highly likely concerned that participants would highlight the scope of recent Russian losses."
Some of the loss of narrative control can be attributed to fissures within the wider Russian defense establishment, including its contract fighters and auxiliaries. "This follows Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin publicly questioning whether there are actually any ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine, going against Russia’s justification for the war." Prigozhin shouldn't be mistaken for any sort of pacifist. He's recently called for the conquest not only of all Ukraine, but of Poland as well. But he frequently complains of poor government logistical support for his Wagner Group mercenaries, and has been critical of the leadership in the Russian Defense Ministry. Their offense is to cling to an implausible story of justification and not wage an even harder war.
The most recent justificatory Kremlin myth-making amounts to the simple revival of utterly discredited Soviet-era lies. The MoD adds,"The authorities have continued attempts to unify the Russian public around polarising myths about the 1940s. On 12 April 2023, state news agency RIA Novosti reported ‘unique’ documents from FSB archives, implicating the Nazis in the murder of 22,000 Polish nationals in the Katyn Massacre of 1940. In reality, FSB’s predecessor agency, the NKVD, was responsible." The Russian Duma itself has gone on the record to debunk the lie that Soviet forces weren't responsible for the massacre, but such truth-telling has now been overcome by events. "Russia’s State Duma officially condemned Joseph Stalin for ordering the killings in 2010." Thus a rehabilitation of Stalin and Stalinism seems to be in progress, and Russia is still looking for Nazis to fight.
China's ambassador to France questions the sovereignty of all post-Soviet republics.
In a televised interview this past Friday, Ambassador Lu Shaye, who represents Beijing to Paris, said that the sovereignty of all post-Soviet republics, not just Ukraine, remained an unsettled question. The Guardian quotes the ambassador: “Even these ex-Soviet Union countries do not have effective status, as we say, under international law because there’s no international accord to concretise their status as a sovereign country.” His remarks have been widely condemned, especially by the governments of France, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, who has summoned the Chinese ambassador for an explanation, said that the incident shows why China is not a trusted negotiating partner. “If anyone is still wondering why the Baltic states don’t trust China to ‘broker peace in Ukraine’, here’s a Chinese ambassador arguing that Crimea is Russian and our countries’ borders have no legal basis.”
Report: the alleged Discord Papers leaker shared earlier and more widely than previously known.
The New York Times reports that it's found signs that Airman Jack Teixeira, who faces US Federal charges in the Discord Papers case, began sharing highly classified intelligence about Russia's war against Ukraine earlier than had hitherto been reported, and that he appears to have done so in a second Discord channel that was larger than the Thug Shaker Central group he's been associated with. "In February 2022, soon after the invasion of Ukraine," the Times writes, "a user profile matching that of Airman Jack Teixeira began posting secret intelligence on the Russian war effort on a previously undisclosed chat group on Discord, a social media platform popular among gamers. The chat group contained about 600 members." The Times also reports that the Airman also direct-messaged foreign members of the group offering to tell them more about the information he had available: “DM me and I can tell you what I have.” The evidence connecting Airman Teixeira with the recently discovered Discord group is circumstantial but suggestive. Neither his defense attorney nor the FBI and the US Justice Department were willing to comment to the Times on its story.
Bellingcat has taken a tour through the unedifying social media precincts through which the leaks circulated. There's not much new there, but plenty of dreary confirmation of the emptiness of influencer culture.
On Sunday US Senator Mark Warner (Democrat of Virginia, and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee) argued for restrictions on the number of people who have access to classified material, and for the establishment of a central body to oversee classification.
Cyberattack against Eurocontrol.
The effects of the cyberattack against Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control organization, continued into the weekend. The disruptions, claimed by Russia's KillNet, did not disrupt flight operations, the Wall Street Journal reports.