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Gerasimov will make ELECTRONIC WAR the decisive component. Cyber and Information Warfare in Ukraine: What Do We Know Seven Months In? Deadly secret: Electronic warfare shapes Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine updates: Interior minister dies in helicopter crash. | How Russia’s New Commander in Ukraine Could Change the War.

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Gerasimov will make ELECTRONIC WAR the decisive component – Google Search google.com/search?q=Geras… newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/h…
 

Cyber and Information Warfare in Ukraine: What Do We Know Seven Months In?
Information and cyber action have been important but ancillary components of the Ukraine war since its outbreak on February 24, 2022. We offer a set of observations: A form of cyber conflict has emerged in which Russia often attempts to aggressively deny service or purloin information, while Ukraine and its allies often blunt the attacks; Communications…
 

Deadly secret: Electronic warfare shapes Russia-Ukraine war
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On Ukraine’s battlefields, the simple act of powering up a cellphone can beckon a rain of deathly skyfall. Artillery radar and remote controls for unmanned aerial vehicles may also invite fiery shrapnel showers.This is electronic warfare, a critical but largely invisible aspect of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Military commanders…
 

Ukraine updates: Interior minister dies in helicopter crash – DW – 01/18/2023
A helicopter crashed into a building near a kindergarten in the city of Brovary outside the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday morning, killing the Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, his deputy, and a state secretary.  According to Ukrainian emergency services writing on the Telegram messaging app later Wednesday, at least 14 people were killed in the…
 

How Russia’s New Commander in Ukraine Could Change the War
Last week, Russia announced that it was replacing General Sergei Surovikin—who had been put in charge of the war in Ukraine only three months earlier—with another general, Valery Gerasimov. The change surprised many observers. Surovikin was thought to have improved the Russian war effort, and Gerasimov was at least partially responsible for planning…
 
Michael Novakhov @mikenov
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умышленные действия: Три основных версии причины крушения вертолета в Броварах по версии СБУ: нарушение правил полета, техническая неисправность и умышленные действия по уничтожению транспортного средства – Google Search google.com/search?q=%D0%A…
 

SPIES&VESPERS @SpiesVespers
Michael Novakhov retweeted: OTD Jan 18, 1941 #FBI surveillance catches Soviet agents #Jacob_Golos and #Gaik_Ovakimyan exchanging documents. Something’s up!
 

Michael Novakhov @mikenov
Встреча с ветеранами Великой Отечественной войны, жителями блокадного Ленинграда и представителями общественных патриотических объединений • Президент России kremlin.ru/events/preside…
 

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Встреча с ветеранами Великой Отечественной войны, жителями блокадного Ленинграда и представителями общественных патриотических объединений • Президент России kremlin.ru/events/preside…
 

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Michael Novakhov retweeted: Преступления Киева против гражданского населения, против Русской православной церкви не пройдут ему даром, отметил Владимир Путин: bit.ly/3wcCeGt
 

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Information and cyber action have been important but ancillary components of the Ukraine war since its outbreak on February 24, 2022. We offer a set of observations:

  • A form of cyber conflict has emerged in which Russia often attempts to aggressively deny service or purloin information, while Ukraine and its allies often blunt the attacks;
  • Communications security for Russian forces from the tactical- to theater-level has frequently failed, often with disastrous consequences, as signals intelligence information has been employed to target military command echelons;
  • Unmanned aircraft have come to occupy a critical intelligence and air support function for Ukraine, although Russia is increasingly able to employ drones as well;
  • Intelligence support from the West to Ukraine appears highly significant and useful, possibly substantially shaping Ukrainian strategy and tactics; and
  • Propaganda operations by Ukraine have had tremendous reach in Europe and the United States and continue to elicit support. Russian propaganda has focused on two distinct vectors—the first inward-facing and designed to shore up support for the war among the Russian public and the second primarily oriented toward the Global South to fuel “West vs. Rest” divisions.
  • Ukraine’s inititial defense relied heavily on older, less networked weapons systems. As Ukraine increasingly fields software-intensive, more deeply networked NATO equipment, Russia may attempt to step up efforts to hack platforms—potentially revealing vulnerabilities and prompting fixes that make U.S. and NATO forces more resilient.

We also consider what cyber tools and effects might be employed as the war continues.

The Ukraine war is in its seventh month.[1] At the outset of hostilities, many figured that Moscow’s bold gamble to storm Ukraine by force and seize the country’s capital would succeed as similar operations did in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), and Afghanistan (1979). Before the invasion commenced, it was hard to predict how effectively Ukraine’s military would fight. That will to fight answers a great information question of warfare. Once the shooting started, we learned that Ukraine’s military was indeed motivated and fought well. With a form of stalemate now in place, we believe it is wise to consider less tangible forms of action that have occurred and how they may shape future fighting. There have been some real surprises in this war, not least in our areas of expertise—cyber and information operations. An accounting of both is provided here, as well as how information and cyber action may influence the outcome of this war, whether it ends in a negotiated settlement, capitulation, or collapse.

Our thinking about the unexpected turns of the Ukraine war has yielded observations that cover communications, logistics, operational art, and a variety of other topics. Many, if not most, of these involve information and computation. From propaganda to air defense, this war is one in which the proliferation of computation and information technologies has produced a battlefield environment far different from earlier conventional engagements of the post-Cold War period. There are many issues we wish to cover, although some more briefly than others, because we are unaware of the classified operations undertaken by the belligerents and their supporters. We receive hints—say of information sharing by the U.S. (Harris and Lamothe 2022) or supportive cyber action by the Chinese (Milmo 2022)—in the public record, but these anecdotes suggest that there will be some interesting reads months or years down the road as more information is revealed.

Among the items that surprised us at the commencement of hostilities was the absence of a crippling cyberattack on the Ukrainian telecommunications infrastructure. In the earliest hours of fighting, the world watched as armored columns streamed by Ukrainian border checkpoint cameras that passed their images over the internet unimpeded. Ukraine stayed online as Russia invaded. Both Russian and American military doctrine now include the use of cyber effects alongside traditional “kinetic” warfare. We know the Russians certainly tried to cause cyber effects, including Russian attacks on ViaSat’s modems (O’Neill 2022), which were mitigated by new connectivity via SpaceX’s StarLink orbital information network. Subsequent Russian attacks on StarLink were unsuccessful (Kan 2022). Russia attempted to close off Ukraine from cyberspace, and failed to do so.

The failure of Russian cyber operations in the early portion of the war clearly played in Ukraine’s favor, with Ukraine maintaining both internal communications and the means to get their message out to the world, whether through traditional news channels or through YouTube, TikTok, and other online forms of media. Also, while we would not know until later, the U.S. had established secure communications from Ukraine to the U.S. military’s European Command (Harris, et al. 2022).

A related surprise was the absence of a massive set of cyberattacks aimed at Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. In 2015 and again in 2016, Russia conducted against Ukraine some of the cleverest hacks of electricity infrastructure seen anywhere thus far (Assante 2016). A year later, Russia launched Petya/NotPetya, a massively destructive set of false ransomware attacks against Ukrainian government and commercial targets. Petya had a far-reaching impact on firms beyond Ukraine as well, not least the well-documented destructive attack against international cargo carrier Maersk (Greenberg 2018). We have not seen the same sort of enormously destructive cyberattack launched against Ukraine this year, although it is possible that such attacks may have been launched and were either unsuccessful or were rapidly repaired.

Before the war, there was an assumption that cyber action would be at the center of any Russian kinetic campaign (Hofmann 2022). This was the case when Russia attacked Georgia in 2008. But now we proffer a new hypothesis: that Russia went for broke with cyber action in its earlier campaigns in Ukraine (2012) and in Syria (2015). Lessons learned (by Ukraine and others) have been applied in Ukraine in 2022, blunting the impact of the cyberattacks now. For example, IBM’s Security X-Force group has documented “at least six” Russian campaigns targeting Ukraine and has published a list of security indicators to help prevent them. And, of course, there have been many other documented cyberattacks, both before and after the invasion began (Harding 2022). This suggests that cyber’s role in Russian military planning is a form of “icing on the cake.” It is nice to have, but it is not a prerequisite for launching a kinetic attack.

In addition, there is ample evidence that the global IT industry in general, and Ukraine’s IT community in particular, were more prepared for destructive Russian cyberattacks now than a few years ago. Nonetheless, Microsoft asserts with a great degree of confidence that during this war Russia has launched “destructive cyberattacks within Ukraine, network penetration and espionage outside Ukraine, and cyber influence operations targeting people around the world” (Smith 2022). Although some experts feel Microsoft’s claims are overblown (Smalley 2022), the pattern of cyberattacks against Ukraine being discovered and mitigated seems clear. The Defense Department’s U.S. Cyber Command made contributions by releasing cyber indicators of compromise valuable to the Ukrainians and available by Pastebin to everyone else (“Ukraine Network IOCs” 2022).

We are less convinced of effective Russian or Ukrainian battlefield cyber action. If it is happening, it is not making the news. We are curious about where the Fancy Bear/APT 28 Russian cyber group, “believed by U.S. intelligence officials to work primarily on behalf of the GRU,” is applying its efforts and if it can do so effectively (Volz 2016).

We expected the Russians to do much to confuse and confound the Ukrainians with cyber action, with strategic and battlefield communications at the top of their target list. We did not anticipate a manifold breakdown in Russian communications among units moving into Ukraine and attempting to coordinate complex operational maneuvers in multiple thrusts across hundreds of kilometers of frontage (Cranny-Evans and Withington 2022). We saw ample evidence of Russia not having secure communications at the tactical and operational level. Russian encrypted communications were an abysmal failure (Myre 2022). This was clear when a staff officer in the field had to report the death of his commander, Maj. Gen. Vitaly Gerasimov, to their headquarters in Tula, Russia. His request for a secure line was rebuffed, as his commander stated that the encrypted telephones did not work. The message was intercepted and then shared with the world (Borger 2022).

Faced with unsecure and nonfunctioning battlefield communications, Russian commanders shifted to what worked—chiefly cellular telephones (Schogol 2022), often operating on the Ukrainian phone network (Horton and Harris 2022). This allowed Ukraine access to these calls, some of which they have published, and of course, to geolocate those phones. In at least one instance, the tactic was used to target and kill a Russian general (Schmitt 2022). Conversely, we might have expected Russia to hack the Ukrainian cellular networks, giving them the same advantages—particularly when we have known for years that among other Russian electronic warfare capabilities (Kadam 2022), Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are capable of acting as fake cellular base stations (Peck 2017). It is possible that U.S. cyber assistance has helped blunt or defeat Russian cyberattacks in this arena (Srivastava, Murgia, and Murphy 2022). It is also possible that Ukrainian troops have been more disciplined in their phone use; for example, Ukrainian troops are instructed to walk 400 to 500 m away from their position before using a phone (Devine 2022).

Other experts have considered that Russia might have an advantage in keeping the Ukrainian cellular network operational, both for its own communications and to hack Ukrainian targets (Sabin and Cerulus 2022). Certainly, maintaining a posture of quiet surveillance over Ukrainian communications could be advantageous to Russia’s military. Cellular communications are still an important piece of tactical intelligence, not least for their importance to reconnaissance and attack by drone.

It is also possible that the shift in Russia’s strategy, from trying to control the entire country to a more limited operation in Ukraine’s East, has made it easier for Russia to deploy its electronic warfare systems (Clark 2022). These will make life harder, as anything from Ukrainian air defense radar to communications may be degraded in their effectiveness.

In his study of military innovation, author Max Boot offered reminders that new weapons could remake the conduct of war. Of import in the Ukraine war, perhaps more than any other, is unmanned aircraft. A lesson from the most recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is that the side that masters the employment of drones (a.k.a. unmanned aerial vehicles) may hold a critical advantage over the side that does not (Dixon 2020). Before fighting broke out, drones were identified as an important equalizer for Ukraine (Bronk and Collins 2021). This has definitely been the case. Two forms of drone, the cheap quadcopter and the heavier medium-endurance UAV, have transformed the information picture that is battlefield situational awareness. Each deserves some attention.

Cheap quadcopters have made an incredible impact in tactical reconnaissance in the region surrounding the forward line of troops. For example, the widely available DJI Phantom 4 Pro (“Phantom 4 Pro V2.0,” n.d.) offers tremendous observation capability with a 20 megapixel camera producing 4K video recorded or 1080p video live streamed, while operating at a distance of 10 kilometers, with an endurance of 30 minutes. Fully equipped, the Phantom 4 Pro costs about $2,000, or one-fortieth the cost of a Javelin fire-and-forget anti-tank missile. Given the prominent role of artillery in the war, these cheap drones have radically improved battlefield situational awareness, targeting, and damage assessment. We have also seen videos from drones, either locally improvised in Ukraine by hobbyists or produced by the Ukrainian military’s Aerorozvidka reconnaissance organization (“Aerorozvidka,” n.d.), being used to drop grenades on tanks and other armored targets (Hambling 2022), something that also carries  propaganda value.

Also involved in strikes against Russian forces and infrastructure targets are Turkish-supplied Bayraktar TB2 UAVs. While the TB2 looks a bit clunky next to U.S. military UAVs, Ukraine has used them to great effect, both for surveillance and as a platform for launching missiles. The shift from manned aircraft to unmanned UAVs in reconnaissance and close air support has already proven effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, but analysts were concerned about whether they would be as effective in areas with more sophisticated air search radars and electronic warfare. The answer appears to be that they are indeed effective, or at least expose another Russian failure: their inability to control the radio spectrum in Ukraine and jam such drones, although that may be changing (Bryen 2022).

Russia’s intelligence operations’ presumably massive penetration of Ukrainian political and economic structures failed at the most basic level to yield accurate intelligence about Kyiv’s willingness to stand and fight. Had the Russians received or accepted better information and been able to premise their assumptions on something closer to reality, they might have structured an entirely different attack plan and been more successful in preparing troops and selecting attack vectors.

In the West, intelligence regarding the war has been abundant, accurate, and publicly disseminated. For example, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense has been publishing daily summaries on its Facebook page. Furthermore, in the days prior to Russia entering Ukraine, American and British public statements accurately predicted Russian actions in advance of their taking place (Sabbagh 2022). Demonstrably, Russia was unable to protect the confidentiality of its planning and deliberation process, with U.S. intelligence operations having thoroughly penetrated Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus, and military (Harris et al. 2022). Russian denials at the time proved false, damaging Russian credibility with respect to other statements that they have made since, while bolstering the legitimacy of NATO information releases.

While the U.S. and its allies have not disclosed their sources or methods, which is to be expected, the scope and breadth of their disclosures were certainly a surprise. “It doesn’t have to be solid intelligence,” one U.S. official said. “It’s more important to get out ahead of [the Russians], Putin specifically, before they do something” (Dilanian, et al. 2022). This rapid dissemination represents a significant change in how intelligence is processed, leading to a variety of benefits—including allegedly causing Russia to delay its own invasion timetable, which allowed NATO allies more time to coordinate their response.

Relatively little has been written about cyber intelligence operations against Russia by Ukraine and its allies, although there have been suggestions that NATO forces have contributed targeting data for high-value targets such as munitions depots and command centers. Employment of HIMARS, an artillery rocket launcher, and its long-range (>70 km) guided rocket GLMRS (“M142 HIMARS,” n.d.), have yielded spectacular results in destroying ammunition depots and command targets (Hunder, Balmforth, and Heritage 2022). Such targeting information could have been learned through cyber means, by hacking and tracking cellular telephones or even by hacking into Russian military command networks; through more traditional signals intelligence operations (e.g., triangulating the locations of radars and radios); via satellite reconnaissance; and/or from observers and drones on the forward line of troops.

It is also entirely possible that cyber operations have degraded Russian military capabilities. In another context, for example, Israel allegedly hacked a Syrian radar system (Gasparre 2008) prior to bombing the Al Kubar nuclear facility in 2007 (Farrell 2018). We note that the Russia S-300 radars used by Syria in 2007 are still fielded by Russia in Ukraine today, so it is conceivable that some Ukrainian military operations have tried something similar. The Russians may also be attempting to glean cyber intelligence. They have done so before. One curious episode, unearthed in 2016, concerned a Ukrainian homegrown cell phone app for artillery targeting, which the Russian military was able to compromise, giving it real-time geolocations of Ukrainian artillery units (Martin 2016). This is exactly the kind of cyber intelligence activity that we would have expected to happen in the current war. If it is happening, it is not making the news.

What we do know about is the relevance of open source intelligence (OSINT). At least at the beginning of the war, any Ukrainian with a camera who filmed an attack on a Russian armored vehicle  seemed to post it on the internet. Those images, in aggregate, plus videos posted by the Ukrainian and Russian militaries, often from UAVs, add up to a surprisingly comprehensive view of the war. They are also increasingly studied by large, distributed amateur and scholarly communities. King’s College Ph.D. student and former U.S. Marine officer Rob Lee (Lee 2022), among others, strung together a collage of online media to create a compelling analytic narrative of the war. Non-governmental groups like Bellingcat have collected data and developed guides and tools for others to use (e.g., for Telegram and TikTok [Bellingcat 2022]). No doubt machine learning techniques and increasingly sophisticated geo-indexed imagery sources can paint vivid pictures of the battlefield at a distance (Tearline 2022). There is even an OSINT component to understanding the cyber war, evinced by raw reporting from security researchers and government/civil society and aggregated in this CSIS report (Harding 2022).

If there was an area in which we previously believed Russia to be incredibly strong, it was influence operations conducted through cyberspace (Cordey 2019). Russia’s combination of computer hacking and targeted propaganda in both the U.K. Brexit referendum and U.S. national elections in 2016 indicated its intelligence services’ tremendous skill and sophistication in undermining NATO democratic institutions. We have come to expect online active measures that confound NATO democracies (Rid 2020). However, Ukraine has dominated the information war for public support.

In information operations, Ukraine has been able to effectively turn everything from leaked, unsecure Russian communications to video of anti-armor ambushes (Sabbagh 2022) into a narrative of triumph over a hapless opponent. Ukraine has waged a media war that effectively portrays the country as a victim (which it is) and that shows Russia has paid a terrible price for the invasion (which it has). With the retreat of Russian forces from the outskirts of Kyiv came additional propaganda points.

Russian propaganda, internally targeted, has perhaps inspired support at home, although Russia has also aggressively cracked down on and jailed its internal activists (Dixon 2022). Whether or not it has been successful, Russia has invested significant effort at hobbling its domestic news media and limiting access to the broader internet (McMahon and Lieberman 2022). For the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russian forces, Russia has rerouted internet traffic through its own ISPs and thus through its own censorship regime (Satariano and Balbierz 2022). It is at best unclear whether this has had a meaningful, pro-Russian impact on public opinion in these regions.

Outside of its own borders, Russia has been ineffective at countering Ukraine’s narrative. For example, early in the war, Russia would regularly accuse Ukraine of being filled with “Nazis” and even ramped up this false narrative in May (Srulevitch 2022, Cloud et al. 2022). They appear to have abandoned this propaganda plank. Worse, Russia’s propaganda has been a vector for targeting Russian forces, a cardinal sin of information operations. Ukraine likely employed Russian news reporting of maritime logistical operations in the port of Berdyansk in preparing its standoff missile attacks against Black Sea Fleet amphibious ships there (BBC 2022). Video from Russian-controlled Berdyansk of the sinking of one ship and the strikes against two others leaked online (Sutton 2022). Footage also emerged online of the severely damaged Black Sea Fleet flagship, Moskva, before she sank. A Russian “own goal” or two due to failed propaganda operations is hardly something we might have expected.

Wisdom is shown again and again in Yogi Berra’s aphorism, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” We will not try to predict the future of kinetic warfare in Ukraine, which depends on a variety of unknowns, including what weapons Ukraine is able to adopt and how effective it will be at blunting Russia’s attacks. Likewise, we cannot predict whether NATO sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs will yield sufficient domestic political pressure for Russia to either convince Putin to withdraw or to convince others to overthrow him. What we can predict is that both sides will increasingly look to cyber tactics, both in support of kinetic warfare, as well as in support of propaganda and information operations.

For kinetic warfare, we are already seeing a variety of NATO armaments being delivered to Ukraine, many of which include precise GPS targeting capabilities. This suggests Russia might counter with GPS jamming/spoofing. It also suggests that broader packages of the latest electronic warfare equipment might be necessary for Ukraine to continue to fight (see, e.g., LaPorta 2018). We might also imagine that Russian cyber operators, or their Ukrainian counterparts, may achieve a breakthrough in their opponent’s command-and-control systems, potentially giving real-time intelligence to their soldiers in the field attempting to find hidden enemies, to escape ambushes, and to degrade the command systems’ effectiveness. 

We can also predict that propaganda operations will grow more sophisticated on both sides. Today’s propaganda is largely the release of news and videos to broad audiences. Even though TikTok’s short videos might be a novel delivery mechanism, the idea of using videos for propaganda purposes is nothing new. What we expect to happen next will be microtargeted propaganda. Much as Russian operatives used Facebook’s advertisement targeting features to identify and manipulate U.S. voters in the lead-up to the 2016 election (Mayer 2018), we can and should expect similar microtargeting to occur elsewhere. This could include Russia attempting to manipulate the 2022 U.S. midterm elections. It is also likely that Russian propaganda or cyber-hacking efforts will target other countries that have emerged as important allies to Ukraine. For example, Albania, which has offered public support to Ukraine and has taken in a modest number of Ukrainian refugees, experienced a cyber attack, forcing it to take down a number of government services (Euronews Albania 2022). As of this writing, the country only attributes the attack to actors “outside Albania.”

Closer to the battlefield, attempts to manipulate the morale of soldiers are as old as warfare itself. We know that Russia has sent messages to Ukrainian phones (soldiers and their families) and volunteers are sending pro-Ukrainian messages to random Russian phone numbers and posting them to Russian restaurant review sites (Cecil 2022, Collins 2018, Zitser 2022, Gronholt 2022). With broader data collection, we could imagine individual soldiers receiving tailored text messages: “Here’s a photo of you at this location today. We’ll kill you there tomorrow if you don’t lay down your arms and leave.” On top of that, Ukraine could combine its war crimes documentation efforts (The New York Times 2022) with its tailored messages: “We know you were ordered to do X. That would make you personally liable as a war criminal, so you really shouldn’t.” Such messages could even be created as group texts with the soldiers’ families, perhaps inferred from text message interception, in an attempt to leverage family ties to break soldiers’ morale. Of course, as word spreads at home, this would dissuade other civilians from enlisting for voluntary military service. It is also completely reasonable to imagine Ukraine sending informative text messages to recently arriving Russian soldiers, e.g., “Welcome to Luhansk. Here’s a link to your instruction on the Geneva Convention and war crimes.”

One curious aspect of cyber effects in warfare is that they do not appear to raise the same risks of escalation, with the notable exception of a cyberattack on nuclear command and control (Acton 2020). NATO’s caution against Russian escalation has clearly limited the flow of weapons to Ukraine. For example, the U.S. has supplied Ukraine with HIMARS artillery rocket systems, but not with the longer-range variants, fearing deterrence issues. This contrasts with cyber operations, which the U.S. can conduct itself without giving any technology directly to Ukraine or putting any American operators in harm’s way, and which apparently does not offer the same risks of military escalation (Libicki 2012). While the exact nature of U.S. cyber operations in Ukraine has not been publicly disclosed, it is reasonable to assume that U.S. and other allied cyber operations have been working closely to support Ukraine, and we have every reason to believe that this will only continue.

Eichensehr (2022) notes the limited role taken by cyber operations in the Ukrainian War and considers the ramifications for this on international law.

Kostyuk and Gartzke (2022) present a statistical analysis of 11 years of recent military campaigns and finds that “cyber operations are rarely used as either complements to or substitutes for conventional military operations.” They also survey how other military theorists have discussed the role of cyber activities in and around traditional warfare.

Rovner (2022) makes many of the same observations we do, including the seeming importance of cyber attacks as part of a military campaign and the corresponding absence of Russian effectiveness. Cyber attacks should be particularly effective as a means of sabotage, damaging or degrading both cyber and physical assets, without the risks normally associated with human saboteurs, who might be captured or killed. From what we see, their primary use in Ukraine is for espionage (e.g., exfiltrating secrets/signals intelligence).

Wilde (2022) examines how NATO and Russian military theorists have viewed the role of cyber attacks as part of larger military campaigns, discussing a number of cyber failures in prior campaigns. His conclusion is worth quoting:

The issue is less that Western observers might have overestimated Russia’s cyber potential in its war on Ukraine, more that they almost certainly underestimate the complexities and frictions which separate intent from execution, intensity from effect. Particularly in the still murky arena of information warfare, the chasm between theory and practice remains wide. Moreover, in an era of apparently robust intelligence insights into the Kremlin’s designs, it may prove far easier to slip into erroneous assumptions based thereon, the foremost being that intention necessarily equals capability.

Clark (2022) summarizes Russia’s portfolio of electronic warfare systems, including jammers, attack tools, counterattack tools, and surveillance equipment, and explains how ineffective they have been for most of the war, becoming relevant only once the battle lines became relatively static in Eastern Ukraine. Clark suggests that this advantage could be fleeting if Ukraine, with NATO assistance, could gain aerial superiority.

Geers (2022) catalogs a number of Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine, both before and during the invasion. Geers also discusses activities of independent “hacker” groups, and how both Russia and Ukraine evolved their attacks and defenses after the invasion began. 

In this essay, we have considered all of the ways that computer systems have played a role in the Ukraine war. We expected the Russians to mount sophisticated cyberattacks, both in terms of espionage and sabotage, against the Ukrainians, and this did not happen—or at least they did not happen in any fashion that would have been decisive to the war. If anything, Ukraine has outperformed Russia, both in its cyber defense and its counterattacks (perhaps with significant aid from its NATO supporters).

We could easily reach a conclusion that Russia’s cyber corps failed, or that cyber-effects are an unimportant part of Russia’s overall military strategy. A perhaps more nuanced view would be to note that every other aspect of Russia’s military has also failed, including its command and control, logistics, air forces, and navy. It is difficult to point to anything going particularly well for Russia in this war, and that suggests Russian deficiencies at the highest echelons of its military and civilian leadership.

Perhaps the question we should be asking, after what we have seen in Ukraine, is not why Russia has done so poorly with its cyber forces there. Instead, we should ask why it appears that Russia has been so successful in other arenas. It appears that a vigilant and prepared defender can stand up to the information and cyber punishment that may be dealt out by the Kremlin.

2022. Bellingcat—The Home of Online Investigations. https://www.bellingcat.com.

Acton, James M. 2020. “Cyber Warfare & Inadvertent Escalation.” Daedalus 149, no. 2 (Spring): 133-149. https://doi.org/10.1162/daed_a_01794.

“Aerorozvidka.” n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerorozvidka.

Assante, Michael. 2016. “SANS Industrial Control Systems Security Blog | Confirmation of a Coordinated Attack on the Ukrainian Power Grid.” SANS Institute. https://www.sans.org/blog/confirmation-of-a-coordinated-attack-on-the-ukrainian-power-grid/.

BBC. 2022. “Russian warship destroyed in occupied port of Berdyansk, says Ukraine.” March 24, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60859337.

Bellingcat. 2022. “How to Archive Telegram Content to Document Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.” https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/how-tos/2022/03/08/how-to-archive-telegram-content-to-document-russias-invasion-of-ukraine/.

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[1] While Russia prefers to use the term “special military operation,” we refer to its 2022 invasion of Ukraine as the “Ukraine war” throughout this essay. Also, we use the terms “NATO” and “NATO allies” to broadly include countries offering assistance to Ukraine, some of which are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This material may be quoted or reproduced without prior permission, provided appropriate credit is given to the author and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The views expressed herein are those of the individual author(s), and do not necessarily represent the views of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On Ukraine’s battlefields, the simple act of powering up a cellphone can beckon a rain of deathly skyfall. Artillery radar and remote controls for unmanned aerial vehicles may also invite fiery shrapnel showers.

This is electronic warfare, a critical but largely invisible aspect of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Military commanders largely shun discussing it, fearing they’ll jeopardize operations by revealing secrets.

Electronic warfare technology targets communications, navigation and guidance systems to locate, blind and deceive the enemy and direct lethal blows. It is used against artillery, fighter jets, cruise missiles, drones and more. Militaries also use it to protect their forces.

It’s an area where Russia was thought to have a clear advantage going into the war. Yet, for reasons not entirely clear, its much-touted electronic warfare prowess was barely seen in the war’s early stages in the chaotic failure to seize the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

It has become far more of a factor in fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, where shorter, easier-to-defend supply lines let Russia move electronic warfare gear closer to the battlefield.

“They are jamming everything their systems can reach,” said an official of Aerorozvidka, a reconnaissance team of Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle tinkerers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. “We can’t say they dominate, but they hinder us greatly.”

A Ukrainian intelligence official called the Russian threat “pretty severe” when it comes to disrupting reconnaissance efforts and commanders’ communications with troops. Russian jamming of GPS receivers on drones that Ukraine uses to locate the enemy and direct artillery fire is particularly intense “on the line of contact,” he said.

Ukraine has scored some successes in countering Russia’s electronic warfare efforts. It has captured important pieces of hardware — a significant intelligence coup — and destroyed at least two multi-vehicle mobile electronic warfare units.

Its own electronic warfare capability is hard to assess. Analysts say it has markedly improved since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and instigated a separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine. But there are setbacks. Last week, Russia claimed it destroyed a Ukrainian electronic intelligence center in the southeastern town of Dniprovske. The claim could not be independently confirmed, and Ukrainian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Ukraine has also made effective use of technology and intelligence from the United States and other NATO members. Such information helped Ukraine sink the battle cruiser Moskva. Allied satellites and surveillance aircraft help from nearby skies, as does billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite communications network.

Electronic war has three basic elements: probe, attack and protect. First, intelligence is gathered by locating enemy electronic signals. On attack, “white noise” jamming disables and degrades enemy systems, including radio and cellphone communications, air defense and artillery radars. Then there is spoofing, which confuses and deceives. When it works, munitions miss their targets.

“Operating on a modern battlefield without data is really hard,” said retired Col. Laurie Buckhout, a former U.S. Army electronic warfare chief. Jamming “can blind and deafen an aircraft very quickly and very dangerously, especially if you lose GPS and radar and you’re a jet flying at 600 miles an hour.”

All of which explains the secrecy around electronic warfare.

“It is an incredibly classified field because it is highly dependent on evolving, bleeding-edge technologies where gains can be copied and erased very quickly,” said James Stidham, a communications security expert who has consulted for the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments.

Ukraine learned hard lessons about electronic warfare in 2014 and 2015, when Russia overwhelmed its forces with it. The Russians knocked drones out of the sky and disabled warheads, penetrated cellphone networks for psychological ops and zeroed in on Ukrainian armor.

One Ukrainian officer told Christian Brose, an aide to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., how Russian info warriors tricked a commander into returning a wireless call from his mother. When he did, they geolocated him in mid-call and killed him with precision rockets, Brose wrote in the book “The Kill Chain.”

The U.S. also experienced Russia’s electronic warfare in action in Syria, where the adversaries have backed opposing sides in the civil war. In 2018, U.S. Special Operations chief Gen. Raymond Thomas described how U.S. pilots’ communications were regularly “knocked down” in Syria in the “most aggressive” electronic warfare environment on the planet. Russia’s advanced systems are designed to blind U.S. Airborne Warning and Control Systems, or AWACS, aircraft — the eyes and ears of battlefield commanders — as well as cruise missiles and spy satellites.

In the current war, electronic warfare has become a furious theater of contention.

Aerorozvidka has modified camera-equipped drones to pinpoint enemy positions and drop mortars and grenades. Hacking is also used to poison or disable enemy electronics and collect intelligence.

Ukrainian officials say their electronic warfare capabilities have improved radically since 2015. They include the use of encrypted U.S and Turkish communications gear for a tactical edge. Ukraine has advanced so much it exports some of its technology.

Russia has engaged in GPS jamming in areas from Finland to the Black Sea, said Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel, an Air Force fellow at the Atlantic Council. One regional Finnish carrier, Transaviabaltica, had to cancel flights on one route for a week as a result. Russian jamming has also disrupted Ukrainian television broadcasting, said Frank Backes, an executive with California-based Kratos Defense, which has satellite ground stations in the region.

Yet in the war’s early days, Russia’s use of electronic warfare was less effective and extensive than anticipated. That may have contributed to its failure to destroy enough radar and anti-aircraft units to gain air superiority.

Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Some analysts believe Russian commanders held back units fearing the units would be captured. At least two were seized. One was a Krasukha-4, which a U.S. Army database says is designed to jam satellite signals as well as surveillance radar and radar-guided weapons from more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. The other: the more advanced Borisoglebsk-2, which can jam drone guidance systems and radio-controlled land mines.

Russia may have also limited the use of electronic warfare early in the conflict because of concerns that ill-trained or poorly motivated technicians might not operate it properly.

“What we’re learning now is that the Russians eventually turned it off because it was interfering with their own communications so much,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former U.S. Army commander for Europe.

The communications problems were evident with many Russian troops talking on insecure open radio channels, easily monitored by outsiders.

It’s unclear how much of an edge Russia’s electronic assets may now offer. Ukraine’s forces are now more concentrated than early in the war, which could make them easier to target.

Much depends on whether Russia’s battalion tactical groups “are configured in reality as they are on paper,” said James Rands, of the Jane’s military intelligence think tank. Each group, comprised of roughly 1,000 troops, is supposed to have an electronic warfare unit. The Pentagon says 110 such groups are in Ukraine.

The Kremlin also claims to have more than 1,000 small, versatile Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles it uses for reconnaissance, targeting, jamming and cellphone interception.

Russia has lost about 50 of its Orlan-10s in the war, but “whatever they lost could be a small portion of what’s flying,” said researcher Samuel Bendett, of the Center for Naval Analyses think tank.

Ukraine’s relative UAV strength is unclear, but Ukrainians have adapted such technologies as software-defined radio and 3D printing to stay nimble.

The U.S. and Britain also supply jamming gear, but how much it helps is unclear. Neither country has offered details. The ability of both sides to disable the other’s drones is crucial with the artillery they scout now so decisive in battles.

Musk’s Starlink is a proven asset. Its more than 2,200 low-orbiting satellites provide broadband internet to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations. Severing those connections is a challenge for Russia. It is far more difficult to jam low-earth orbiting satellites than geostationary ones.

Musk has won plaudits from the Pentagon for at least temporarily defeating Russian jamming of Ukrainian satellite uplinks with a quick software fix. But he has warned Ukrainians to keep those terminals powered down when possible — they are vulnerable to geolocation — and recently worried on Twitter about redoubled Russian interference efforts.

“I’m sure that the Russians are getting smarter about that now,” said Wetzel, the Air Force lieutenant colonel.

___

Bajak reported from Boston. AP correspondent Lolita C. Baldor contributed from Washington.

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A helicopter crashed into a building near a kindergarten in the city of Brovary outside the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday morning, killing the Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, his deputy, and a state secretary. 

According to Ukrainian emergency services writing on the Telegram messaging app later Wednesday, at least 14 people were killed in the crash, including one child. Nine of the victims were on board the helicopter. Officials had earlier reported three children were killed. 

A further 29 people were injured, 15 of them are children, Kyiv regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

“Children and the employees of the kindergarten were there at the moment of the tragedy,” he said, adding that they have since been evacuated.

The helicopter was flying towards frontline regions in eastern Ukraine, according to the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

“The purpose of the helicopter flight was to carry out work in one of the hotspots of our country where hostilities are ongoing. The interior minister was heading there,” Tymoshenko, said.

Officials said it the cause of the crash is currently under investigation. The has been no fighting reported recently in the Kyiv region.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that the head of Ukraine’s national police, Ihor Klymenko, has been appointed deputy interior minister, and will serve as the acting interior minister. 

A burned out part of a building in UkraineThe helicopter heavily damaged a buildingImage: Igor Burdyga/DW

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described a fatal helicopter crash as “a terrible tragedy.”

“Today, a terrible tragedy occurred in Brovary, Kyiv region. A SES (state emergency services) helicopter crashed, and a fire broke out at the crash site. The pain is unspeakable,” he said in a statement on social media. 

Shmyhal said the death of Monastyrskyi and two other senior officials was a “great loss” for the country.

“My sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. I instructed [officials] to immediately create a special group for a detailed investigation of all the circumstances of the tragedy,” Shmyhal said on Telegram.

EU chief Charles Michel also offered his condolences. “We join Ukraine in grief following the tragic helicopter accident,” the president of the European Council said, in a message posted to social media.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the helicopter crash showed the “immense toll” Ukraine is paying in the war against Russia. 

“Our thoughts on this sad day are with the families of the victims and the injured, and with Zelenskyy, who lost his interior minister today,” said Scholz on Twitter.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser had also sent her condolences to the Ukrainian government “and offered Germany’s support in identifying the causes of the helicopter crash.”

Ukraine's Interior Ministerc Denys MonastyrskyyUkrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyy was killed in the helicopter crash in BrovaryImage: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, January 18:

US ammunition stored in Israel delivered to Ukraine

The United States is making use of its large ammunition stocks held in Israel to supply Ukraine with artillery shells, The New York Times reported, quoting US and Israeli officials.

According to the report, the stockpile of US munitions in Israel dates back to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the US airlifted military supplies to Israel. After the war, warehouses were set up in Israel for use in a future crisis.

About half of the 300,000 rounds destined for Ukraine have already been shipped to Europe and will eventually be delivered through Poland, the report said.

Ukraine is believed to be going through around 90,000 artillery shells a month, equivalent to twice the rate of manufacture in the US and its European allies combined. Stockpiles in both Israel and South Korea were being used to fill the gap, the report said.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed to German news agency DPA that equipment stockpiled in Israel had been transferred to US forces a few weeks ago at the request of US officials.

The New York Times said that Israel had “initially expressed concerns” that relations with Moscow would be harmed if it appeared complicit in arming Ukraine.

Separately, a journalist from KANN TV tweeted that a senior official from Israel’s Ministry of Defense will participate in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at the Ramstein military base in Germany.

Israel has thus far refused to supply weapons to Ukraine for its own security reasons. Russia is deeply involved in Syria, its northern neighbor, and Israel is keen to prevent Iran from extending its influence through the Hezbollah militia active in the region. Israel also has sizable populations from both Russia and Ukraine, many of whom arrived following the break up of the former Soviet Union.

Russian soldier killed after deserting from fighting in Ukraine

Russian authorities announced that an armed Russian deserter fighting in Ukraine who left his base was killed.

“Dmitry Perov, wanted for the unauthorized abandonment of his military unit, was found and liquidated,” the government of the Lipetsk region, in western Russia, said on social media.

“The situation is under control,” it said. “There is no threat to residents. Investigations are under way.”

A local branch of the state VGTRK television network said the man was 31-years-old and had fled “the zone of the special military operation” in Ukraine.

It published a search notice that said he fled Ukraine on January 13 armed with a rifle and grenades, and that he could be headed for his native village.

There have been several cases of desertions among Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine in recent months.

Four detained at Moscow memorial for Dnipro victims

Russian police have detained four people at an improvised memorial for at least 45 people who were killed by a Russian strike on a residential building in Ukraine’s Dnipro, the OVD-Info rights group said.

AFP journalists earlier this week saw a handful of people laying flowers and children’s toys at a statue of Ukrainian poetess Lesya Ukrainka in the Russian capital.

The OVD-Info rights group, which monitors arrests in Russia, said two people were detained as they lay flowers at the statue. “Two others who were nearby were also detained,” the group said.

Russia has introduced strict laws that effectively ban criticism of its offensive in Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied striking residential areas in Ukraine. 

Lavrov compares US to Hitler and Napoleon

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tipped his hat to failed invasions and said the recent actions of the US following Russia’s stalled invasion of Ukraine could be compared to earlier invasions of Russia by Adolf Hitler in the twentieth century and Napoleon Bonaparte in the nineteenth century.

At his annual news conference, Lavrov said, “The United States, through Ukraine by proxy, is waging a war against our country with the same task: the final solution of the Russian question.”

Russia previously said that “denazification” was a major goal of its invasion of Ukraine. The “final solution” refers to Nazi Germany’s mass extermination of Jewish people that was decided at the Wannsee Conference in the Berlin suburbs in January of 1942. No such analogous plans have been made for Russia anywhere, whereas Ukrainian and other critics of Russia’s invasion charge Russia has engaged in genocidal actions and war crimes against civilians there.  

In his latest historical analogy, Lavrov attempts to place the status of his country’s failed invasion on the US. Last year, Lavrov previously tried to argue that Hitler was Jewish, to vociferous objections from the Jewish community worldwide and the Israeli government in particular.

Moscow also said it had yet to see any serious proposals for peace in Ukraine and that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s own ideas on the subject were unacceptable. Lavrov said Moscow stood ready to discuss the conflict with Western countries and to respond to any serious proposals, but that any talks needed to address Russia’s wider security concerns.

Scholz and Zelenskyy to address World Economic Forum in Davos

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will deliver today the most high profile speeches at this year’s Davos forum.

Zelenskyy is readying for a second year of war against the invading Russian forces. Ukraine has made major battlefield gains, but heavy battle tanks are considered vital to recapturing Russian-occupied territories.

So far, however, Ukraine has received only Soviet-made tanks that were in the inventory of Eastern European NATO countries. Berlin has so far refused to send the sophisticated German-made Leopard 2 tanks, despite a growing chorus of appeals from Kyiv and NATO allies.

Scholz’s government had cited the fact that other allies have not handed over modern tanks to Ukraine either. But that position is now on shaky ground after Britain and Poland recently announced they would deliver heavy battle tanks and an earlier pledge by France to send “light” tanks.

Ukrainian military says Russia shelled dozens of sites in east 

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Ukrainian and Russian forces exchanged fire on the eastern frontline, where neither side has advanced much in recent months.

Russian forces launched four missile strikes, including two on civilian targets in the city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk region, west of the two focal points of fighting, the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the military’s report said.

Russian forces also launched 13 air raids and 23 shelling attacks from multiple rocket launchers, it said.

dh, rs/ar (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

Chotiner-Rob-Lee.jpg

Last week, Russia announced that it was replacing General Sergei Surovikin—who had been put in charge of the war in Ukraine only three months earlier—with another general, Valery Gerasimov. The change surprised many observers. Surovikin was thought to have improved the Russian war effort, and Gerasimov was at least partially responsible for planning the disastrous initial invasion. But Gerasimov is close to the Kremlin, and will now get another chance. “They have taken someone who is competent and replaced him with someone who is incompetent, but who has been there a long time and who has shown that he is loyal,” Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, told the Times.

To talk about the reshuffling at the top of the Russian command, and the current state of the war, I spoke by phone with Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an expert on the Russian military. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed possible reasons for the latest shakeup, where the Russian war effort has and hasn’t improved, the strange role of the mercenary Wagner Group, and what has surprised Lee most about the past eleven months of fighting.

Surovikin, the general who was just demoted, has been credited with turning things around a little bit during the past three months. What has and hasn’t changed in that period?

The key thing in the last few months is that, at the end of September, Russia began mobilization. That was after losing most of Kharkiv, and after they’d begun their offensive at Kherson, when it became clear to Russia and to everyone else that they didn’t have sufficient manpower to hold the front lines. They had to do something.

Putin had resisted declaring mobilization. People thought he might do that on Victory Day, which is in May, or over the summer. But he kept choosing to hold off. One of the things that has characterized Russia’s strategy is procrastination, where Putin hasn’t made certain tough decisions and has waited until things started to slow down or things started to go the wrong way before making a decision.

Before Surovikin was put in charge, there was reporting from the New York Times that unnamed Russian generals had wanted to pull back from Kherson and that Putin had said no. I interpreted that as Surovikin trying to pull back across the Dnipro River, and basically being told that he wasn’t allowed to. It made perfect sense to do so because Dnipro is a large river, a large barrier, and it was an easy way for Russia to solidify its lines and to hold its front lines elsewhere. And when Surovikin was elevated, Putin probably passively accepted that the situation on the ground had changed and he had to basically relent more.

Since Surovikin has been in charge, the situation has largely improved for Russia. They did pull back from the right, or west, bank of Kherson. That decision probably needed to be made regardless, although he serves as a useful kind of fall man, where the blame can be pinned on him instead of the more senior leadership.

But, over all, the war has gone better for Russia. There are obviously some fundamental problems that he had to deal with, but Russia’s been striking civilian infrastructure. That’s been a problem for Ukraine. And, ultimately, the front mostly stabilized since they pulled back from the right bank of Kherson. They made some gains in Soledar recently. And there’s an open question of who is in a better position to fight this attritional fight—that part isn’t fully clear. Now Russia has mobilized, and the Wagner Group is throwing convicts into the fight.

Obviously, Surovikin came in at a difficult time—there are all sorts of issues—but throughout this war Putin has demanded things of his commanders that weren’t possible. They didn’t have the capabilities to do certain things, and he kept telling people, officers, that they couldn’t retreat from areas when they needed to retreat. There are broader problems that I think Putin forced upon his leaders. In my view, Surovikin has been relatively successful in stabilizing the front. Now that mobilization is occurring, they can train these units, they can equip these units, and then eventually Russia might have a manpower advantage once those units are deployed. The near-term strategy, I think, was basically: “Let’s prevent our lines from collapsing. Let’s be able to hold what we have and wait until mobilization. Then we can have more success or potentially even go back on the offensive.”

Gerasimov was known primarily for putting into effect the initial invasion plan. Is that accurate?

I’m not sure exactly what he did. I mean, obviously he played a key role as the chief of general staff. Before the war, I thought that there would likely be an escalation, but I assumed that, if they were going to do it, Putin would have provided political goals, basically, to the Defense Ministry, and that the general staff would’ve gone through the planning process and planned out a military operation. I think what in fact happened was that the concept of the operation was mostly developed by the F.S.B. [the main successor to the K.G.B.] and Putin, with a couple of very key senior officials in the Kremlin. It seems as though the plan was forced on the Russian military, because they ultimately executed a campaign that deviated from their doctrine—the way they trained, the way they fight, and so on.

Gerasimov undoubtedly played a key role. He’s the most senior officer in the Russian military. But whether we can say that this was Gerasimov’s plan—that I’m not so sure.

Right, so it’s too glib to say that the guy who messed up initially is back in charge.

Yeah. Part of the issue is that, at this point, Russia’s gone through so many senior officers. Of the five officers who seemed to be the senior commanders when the war began—the commanders of the four main military districts and the commander of the Russian Airborne Forces—all five of them have been fired. The two leaders of the Kyiv campaign were relieved back in April.

I think there are two things that might be behind why they’re putting Gerasimov in charge. The official line from the Russian military is that the conflict has become more important and so they decided to elevate the senior commander. And that potentially could be true, if they are deciding to do another invasion from Belarus. The other explanation is that there’s an internal dynamic going on. There is all this different reporting about different factions within the Russian Defense Ministry, and Ukrainian intelligence has been suggesting that Surovikin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, have a good relationship—and that Gerasimov has a different faction.

That’s interesting in terms of another story I was going to ask you about. Last week, the Times reported that Russian spokesmen were contradicting claims made by the Wagner Group about seizing Soledar, a salt-mine town in Donetsk.

Yeah, the relationship between Wagner and the Defense Ministry has been interesting for years. Back in Syria, Wagner was working with the G.R.U. [Russia’s military-intelligence directorate]. I think that the relationship evolved. There’s one Wagner veteran who wrote a book, and who fought in Syria, who basically said the Russian Defense Ministry got upset that Wagner was getting all this credit for a lot of battlefield successes in Syria. And they started providing worse equipment or not supporting them as much.

There is always this issue when you start relying on an organization outside the military. Is there a command problem? But power in Russia basically works based on whatever your connection to Putin is. Obviously, Prigozhin has a connection to Putin. When the Russian military sustained a lot of casualties early on in the war, they started trying to recruit additional soldiers to fight. The problem is that the Russian military doesn’t really have a good reserve system, whereas Wagner has a history, going back to Syria, of recruiting people from different cities. And so, when Russia needed manpower in April to sustain this war in the battle of the Donbas, Wagner started becoming important, because they had an existing infrastructure for recruiting people and bringing people on quickly.

More recently, they’ve been bringing on prisoners and all these other kinds of people, and their size has grown substantially. That’s been very important for Russia—to have this huge manpower contribution. Wagner is clearly playing a very key role in Bakhmut and Soledar, which have been the hottest parts of the front for the last few months. One of the issues is that Prigozhin is deliberately putting himself as the public face of this war. He’s going to the front lines, he’s putting on gear, he’s visiting soldiers or fighters in the trenches. He’s visiting wounded fighters, he’s awarding people.

He has been heavily criticizing a number of Russian generals, including Aleksandr Lapin, who used to be one of the senior officers in charge of the war, as well as suggesting that the senior leadership in the Defense Ministry is out of touch. And so he is basically putting himself in a position where, if you didn’t know better, and you’re a Russian citizen, you might think Prigozhin is the most important figure leading the war.

You mentioned that Russia has had some success going after civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. What are the long-term goals of doing so? Is the hope here that you make quality of life miserable enough for Ukrainians that there’s a change in attitude toward the war? Or do you think that there’s some other direct military objective that the Russians are hoping to accomplish?

I think it’s an attempt to make the war more costly: more costly for Ukrainians, potentially more costly for Western countries that are supporting Ukraine. For Ukraine, obviously, the economy is still very important. And, as much as possible, it’s important for Ukrainian cities to go back to normal. There’s still a war being fought, but, if you want to have businesses go back to doing what they’re supposed to be doing, you need to have some sense of normalcy in those cities. By going after power plants, you make it difficult, and you make it more likely that Ukraine’s economy can’t recover quickly. It might also have an element of coercion—trying to get Ukraine to maybe make other concessions, or to make this war more costly for foreign countries and to signal to them, “You need to stop supporting Ukraine. You just can’t win this war.”

One thing that’s clear is that the Russians often focus on what’s going on that month, without thinking about what the result will be two, three, four months from now. These kinds of bombing campaigns don’t typically force the other side to give in. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Ukrainians are going to give up based on that, but certainly it makes the war more costly.

The West is now going to start sending tanks to Ukraine, although different Western countries are taking different lines on this. How much can tanks make a difference?

It’s all about combined arms and how they work together. Any one component by itself is typically not sufficient to change the war, but it can help things. Ukraine already has a lot of tanks. Many of those they captured from Russia. There’s a debate about what Ukraine needs the most. Tanks are useful. But part of the question is what kind of marginal benefit is offered by Western tanks over the tanks that Ukraine is currently operating. They’re definitely better, but there are other types of weapons that Ukraine wants more, such as attack and drone systems. It would be a bigger qualitative advantage if they received those.

But, ultimately, if you want to do offensive operations and you’re doing that against an entrenched enemy, you need to have a lot of things, a lot of different arms working together. Part of it is having enough artillery ammunition. Part of it is having infantry-fighting vehicles that can escort infantry close to the trenches, so they can dismount and still have some protection before they reach the trench line. In many respects, a lot of this stuff is not that different from the Second World War. There’s new technology, but a lot of the same things are still important.

The other issue is that Ukraine keeps receiving these different systems from multiple NATO countries, in somewhat small batches. All these vehicles have different logistics, spare parts, training. And so it becomes a big logistical problem for Ukraine; in an ideal world, they’d be receiving one system and all the NATO members could provide the same type of tank and so on. And the reason we talk about Germany a lot with tanks is because of the Leopard tank. It’s a German-produced tank, and it’s very common in NATO militaries, which means that a lot of NATO members could contribute a certain number of Leopards.

It’s been almost a year since the initial invasion. What has surprised you the most, from a military perspective, about the way the last year has gone?

I expected the Russian military to fight the way they trained to fight, the way they’ve fought before, the way they write about things. The way they’ve fought this war, at least in the beginning, deviated from all that. I thought the template that Russia would apply would be a little bit like the 2008 war with Georgia, but on a more ambitious, larger scale, assuming they’d have a significant amount of resistance.

Instead, Russia seems to have applied a template from 1968, when they intervened in Czechoslovakia, or 1979, when they intervened in Afghanistan. In both those operations, they didn’t assume that much resistance. In those cases, there were conditions that led the Soviets to believe, O.K., we don’t necessarily have to destroy the military in these countries to have success. Whereas Ukraine was not an ally. The conditions were not nearly as favorable to Russia, and yet they still executed the plan as though the conditions were the same. That part was very surprising.

How would you characterize the elements of the plan in Ukraine, in practice?

In the Ukraine operation, the two priorities were speed and surprise. Large militaries need a lot of warning. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, there were months and months of preparation. That didn’t happen in this war because units just didn’t know they were going to war. I think most soldiers found out less than twenty-four hours prior.

One of the things we saw in the first couple days of the war was tanks breaking down. We kept seeing vehicles break down for maintenance issues because they didn’t have enough gas, and all these other kinds of mistakes. And that’s basically because they weren’t told they were going to war. They didn’t have time to prepare. And because, again, surprise was a priority, that meant not giving the military enough time to prepare.

These militaries don’t work that way. They’re not going to be effective. Russian ground units were told, “Drive to cities and go as fast as possible.” You’d have battalions drive beyond artillery-support range. They’d drive beyond combined-arms-support range. They were driving ahead of tanks and getting into conventional fights that they were not prepared to be in.

Some of this was due to fundamental weaknesses in the Russian military, like what we saw in Syria. But we saw a very small part of the Russian military fight there. In Ukraine, we saw the majority of the Russian military fighting all at once. And obviously there’s quite a lot of variance in the quality of Russian units. But part of it, too, is just—it’s hard to think of how you could set up a military more for failure on the political level than the way that the Kremlin set up the Russian military in this case.

The conclusion is that the operation was a kind of F.S.B.-type operation. The plan was for regime change in Kyiv. The F.S.B. apparently thought that they had enough collaborators and that they could do that quite quickly. The Russian military would basically occupy cities before they could respond. And that’s kind of like what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968. But, of course, in this case, with Ukraine, that’s not what happened. And the Russian military wasn’t ready to deal with that resistance.

And, finally, the Russian military’s not very good at adaptation, because it has more centralized decision-making than NATO militaries. They needed more warning than we would need if they’re going to war.

Has anything surprised you from the Ukrainian side, specifically?

The Ukrainians have performed well. Across the board, it’s been very impressive seeing how they have united throughout this. They’ve done a lot of creative things. It’s been very clear Ukrainians do not want to be controlled. One of the things that’s always impressed me is that there are all these people who, on February 24th, were nonmilitary Ukrainians, who joined afterward, and now they are experienced people who are very committed to retaking all of the Ukrainian territory, regardless of the costs. ♦

Michael Novakhov @mikenov

Killing of Monastyrskiy: Gerasimov proves his mettle by going directly after top Ukraine leadership – Google Search google.com/search?q=Killi… insider.com/us-ukraine-rus…

Michael Novakhov @mikenov

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Michael Novakhov @mikenov

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