"Plodding and incremental," but still advancing slowly, Russian forces defend Kherson and push to take the rubble that was Sievierodonetsk. New US artillery is being sent to Ukraine, and NATO cooperates more closely with Kyiv in cyberspace.
Ukraine at D+97: A slow advance in Luhansk.
This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence describes current Russian operations as concentrated on the seizure of Luhansk. "Russian ground operations remain tightly focused, with the weight of fire power concentrated within a small sector of Luhansk Oblast. Over 30-31 May, fighting intensified in the streets of Sieverodonetsk, with Russian forces pushing closer to the town centre. Over half of the town is likely now occupied by Russian forces, including Chechen fighters." Operations elsewhere are characterized by long-range missile strikes. "Beyond the Donbas, Russia continues to conduct long-range missile strikes against infrastructure across Ukraine. The strategically important bridge links Ukraine with Romania and with Ukraine’s ports on the Danube, which have become critical to Ukrainian exports after the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports by Russia."
US Defense officials assess the Russian operation as "plodding and incremental," and see little sign, according to the Telegraph, of the Russian army's having corrected the mistakes it made in the opening phases of its invasion. In brief, the Russian forces, having abandoned the rapid, combined arms maneuver of which the first phase of their war proved them incapable, have reverted to a slow advance into rubbled cities reduced by the heavy area fires of relatively immobile artillery. Thus they have achieved local success in the Donbas, most recently in Luhansk, but due to the inherent advantages of short supply lines to essentially fixed positions. and at a high cost. CNN has an account of the recent fighting in the Donbas, and the Guardian reports on the Russian advance through the now mostly destroyed Sievierodonetsk. The slow reduction of cities has also been accompanied by very great suffering and loss to the civilian population they've come to liberate from the Nazis no one but the Russian government (and its state-run television) seem capable of seeing.
Ukraine's offensive aimed at retaking Kherson, in the south, continues. Russian forces retreat into the city and demolish bridges as part of their defensive operations, the Telegraph reports. Russian forces have cut communications with the city, including telephone and Internet service.
US President Biden explained the scope and limits of US support for Ukraine in an op-ed he published in the New York Times yesterday. The US will support Ukraine, but it will not send its own forces into combat unless the US or a NATO ally should come under Russian attack. And he added, trimming an off-the-cuff remark he made early in the war, that the US did not seek to depose Russian President Putin. But in general US support for Ukraine remains strong and clear, and, in the US view, the blame for the war rests squarely on Russia's rulers. The latest round of US aid to Ukraine is significant. It will include M142 HIMARS rocket artillery systems, Reuters reports. These have a range of some 70 kilometers, are reckoned very accurate (by rocketry standards), and are carried by highly mobile launchers operated by small crews.
Themes in Russian influence operations.
Russian television is naming the Kremlin's enemies, the Daily Beast reports, and prominent among those enemies are the US, the UK, and, especially, Poland, all of whom have an interest in weakening Russia and dismembering Ukraine. Thus Russia is presenting herself as a kind of guarantor of Ukrainian territorial integrity, presumably minus the Donbas and Crimea. It frames the detachment of those regions as matters of local self-determination, a right it holds sacred, according to the television, anyway. There's also been considerable woofing on Russian TV about the ease with which Russian nuclear forces could destroy the US. All it would take, one pundit explained, was two nuclear missiles on each coast, and the US would be destroyed, or at least rendered prostrate. "The mushroom cloud would be seen even from Mexico," an expert told viewers, according to Newsweek, which seems an odd standard, since you can see truck exhaust in San Diego from Mexico, but let us not quibble. The sentiments expressed are both confident and nihilistic. A question for the pundits: how confident are you that the Strategic Rocket Forces would be able to perform better than the Army? Not to make light of the threat of nuclear war, since the consequences would be a catastrophe beyond history, but one would think that Russian combat performance so far might induce some reservations about Russian forces' ability to perform as advertised.
Cyber phases of the hybrid war.
Ukraine, not a NATO member, of course, has nonetheless joined the Atlantic Alliance's NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), and is formalizing its accession to the group during meetings in Tallinn, Estonia. The Hill quotes Ukraine's national security agency on what Kyiv hopes to gain from the cooperation. “Ukraine’s accession to the CCDCOE is a significant achievement for our country in terms of strengthening international cooperation in the field of cybersecurity and cyber defense, as well as an important step towards Ukraine’s NATO membership,”
US Director NSA and Commander, Cyber Command, General Paul Nakasone, was also in Tallinn this week, and while there told Sky News that, "We've conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations" in support of Ukraine. He understandably declined to say what those measures were, but stressed that they were all properly authorized, legal, and conducted with appropriate civilian oversight. "My job is to provide a series of options to the secretary of defence and the president, and so that's what I do," he said.
German authorities have issued a fresh warning of the likelihood of Russian cyberattacks against infrastructure. Reuters reports that Berlin sees the financial sector as being particularly at risk.
Charity fraud exploits sympathy for Ukraine.
The US FBI warns that scammers are trading on widespread sympathy for Ukraine as they frame their come-ons to prospective victims. "Criminal actors are taking advantage of the crisis in Ukraine by posing as Ukrainian entities needing humanitarian aid or developing fundraising efforts, including monetary and cryptocurrency donations." Unfortunately, this isn't new, as the Bureau points out. "Scammers similarly have used past crises as opportunities to target members of the public with fraudulent donation schemes."
Erich Kron, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, points out that this form of social engineering depend upon the victims' better nature:
“These sorts of attacks that prey on good people that are willing to help those less fortunate, are nothing new. Unfortunately, we see these types of attacks after nearly every natural or human-caused tragedy. If the request for help comes from an unsolicited email or a social media post, care should be taken to ensure the organization is legitimate. A quick web search will often turn up information about the charity and help guide you past the scams, but even then, it still pays to be careful by going directly to the charity’s website, rather than clicking on a link in a post or email. If the charity is legitimately raising money to help, there should be information on their website, along with instructions on how to donate securely.
"Emotions are a very powerful tool in the cybercriminal’s toolbox, causing people to miss clues about scams, when they would otherwise be obvious. For this reason, people should always be cautious when dealing with any email, text message, or even a phone call that elicits a strong emotional response.”
Chris Clements, vice president of solutions architecture at Cerberus Sentinel also offered advice, and notes that this particular kind of scam has two sets of victims: the people who are defrauded, and then the legitimate charities who find that people grow more reluctant to donate to them. "This is a double-edged sword of an attack. It’s important to consider that in addition to the financial gains attackers may gain from victims of similar Ukraine aide based campaigns is that it poisons the well for legitimate organizations to solicit donations as well. People otherwise sympathetic enough to donate money may refrain out of fear of falling victim to a scammer. People concerned about falling victim to similar scams should always seek independent verification of a program’s legitimacy from trusted third parties such as the IRS.”
To return to the FBI's warning, the Bureau would like anyone who's encountered one of these scams to let them know. "Please file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. If possible, include the following:
- "Identifying information about the individuals or charity, including name, phone number, address, and email address.
- "Financial transaction information such as the date, type of payment, amount, account numbers involved, the name and address of the receiving financial institution, and receiving cryptocurrency addresses.
- "Describe your interaction with the individual, including how contact was initiated, such as the type of communication, purpose of the request for money, how you were told or instructed to make payment, what information you provided to the criminal actor, and any other details pertinent to your complaint."