Latest Updates March 17
- On 17 March British military intelligence assessed that the Russian offensive has largely stalled on almost all fronts, but heavy fighting continues across the frontline, including in and around the Donbas where information is extremely limited due to continual Russian electronic warfare disruption. Fighting also remains increasing fierce in Chernihiv, where 53 civilians were reportedly killed in the last 24 hours alone. Elsewhere overnight, Russians struck an ammunition depot in the north-western town of Sarny, Rivne oblast. The governor of Sumy oblast in the east, Dmytro Zhyvytsky, has furthermore alleged that Russian forces are evicting civilians from their homes in the region and stealing food. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that almost 6,500 people safety evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on 16 March. However, Russian forces once again did not permit humanitarian aid to enter the city on the day they shelled a theatre sheltering civilians, though casualties are not known at time of writing.
- On 17 March the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that it had made a USD 117m payment on two dollar bonds to London’s Citibank, though the bank has yet to confirm whether the payment has been credited at time of writing. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has stated that without access to Russia’s foreign currency reserves, largely blocked by international sanctions, Moscow might be forced to make outstanding foreign payments in rubles. However, given the outstanding loans must be paid in foreign currency, both Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Rankings have stated that payment in rubles would be considered a technical default. At time of writing Citibank has yet to confirm whether the payment has been credited and whether it was provided in dollars, but if it has it means that Russia has utilised funds from its shrinking reserve to avoid a sovereign debt default – though the risk will remain for further payments.
- Nevertheless, the domestic economic situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, with official statistics published on 16 March showing that inflation has risen faster over the last two weeks than the Central Bank had planned for the entire year – up 4% in 14 days. With the squeeze on living standards, President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday, 16 March, new economic measures to overcome the “economic blitzkrieg” waged by the West, which he compared to the anti-Semitic pogroms of the Nazis. Putin called on the Russian population to “mobilise” to overcome the current difficulties, promising an increase in social security payments while condemning “traitors and scum” inside Russia. Deputy Secretary General of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev furthermore warned the US on 17 March that Russia retained the capabilities to “put it in its place”, accusing it of orchestrating a Russophobic plot designed to rip the country apart. Coming after US President Joe Biden labelled Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”, the Kremlin is clearly doubling down on its anti-Western rhetoric as economic sanctions begin to bite, which will increase the risk of this translating into hostility to foreign investment inside Russia.
- The Ukrainian Interior Ministry issued new warnings on 17 March over the growing threat posed by Russian “saboteurs” and sabotage and reconnaissance groups (DRGs) across Ukraine. The Interior Minister Denis Monastyrskyi stated that such groups are operating throughout the country, including in the West, where he specifically singled out Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Rivne oblasts. The head of the Kyiv military administration has stated that over 100 suspected saboteurs have been detained in the capital in recent days. The Centre for Counteracting Disinformation has furthermore raised concerns that Russian operatives are gaining entry into the country in the guise of journalists, particularly from the Ruptly video agency, a subsidiary of RT. Such infiltrations underline the growing threat of pro-Russian groups not only sabotaging Ukrainian operations, but potentially drumming up support for declarations of “People’s Republics” across the country. According to the Deputy Chairman of the Kherson Regional Council, Russian forces have set up a “Committee for the Salvation of the Kherson region” in the occupied southern oblast, likely established as a rival authority to the Ukrainian local government. For further analysis of possible scenarios for a Russian occupation of Ukraine, including the so-called “People’s Republics” model, see our Situation Update Brief.
- At the request of the Prosecutor General, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor announced that it has blocked access to a number of additional domestic and international media outlets, including the award-winning investigative site Bellingcat. The decision was reportedly based on the authorities’ perception that the blocked sources “carry false information of social importance”, raising the total number of blocked websites since the start of the invasion to 32. Meanwhile, the pro-military “Z” symbol has reportedly been appearing more and more across the country, with the authorities and state media working to appropriate it as a symbol of support for the army and its so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine. Lastly, on 17 March, Russian investigators opened the first cases under Russia’s new military information law, which introduced up to 15 years jail terms for those deemed to be publishing “knowingly false information” about the Russian military. Cumulatively, these incidents underline the enduring trend of an ever-tightening government control over the information landscape.
- On 16 March US President Joe Biden announced a USD 1 billion security aid package to send additional weaponry to Ukrainian forces. In addition to weapons already pledged, Biden stated that Ukraine will receive an additional 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-tank weapons, 7,000 light weapons, and 20 million rounds of ammunition, alongside Switchblade drones. While such quantities of weapons would have a marked impact on the battlefield if they are shipped and brought into service quickly, Biden once again reiterated that the US would not support a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine. This comes after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on 16 March that the decision not to set up a no-fly zone was the united position of all member states.
- Russia still appears largely to be consolidating, especially around Kyiv. The low-level actions of recent days have continued to be the trend, although yesterday saw several small artillery-led counter-attacks that pushed Russian forces back from locations northwest and northeast of the capital. These are notable mainly for showing that Ukrainian offensive spirit remains, and that Kyiv’s forces still have capable artillery despite publicised issues with supply of ammunition and support.
- More widely, Ukrainian morale will be further enhanced by the announcement yesterday of significant additional aid packages led by the US. This will include artillery ammunition, small arms, anti-tank weapons, Switchblade suicide drones, the sophisticated British Starstreak low-level anti-aircraft missile, further former Soviet and US hand-held surface to air missiles, and resupplies for more complex medium and high altitude air defence units. If this materiel can be brought quickly to the fight, and put into effective service, it has the capability to make a significant tactical difference on the battlefield. Some systems will take more preparation of the users than others, with “train the trainer” activity likely stepping up in Poland; this includes further preparation for a shift towards insurgent tactics, building on limited pre-war programs.
- Russia continues to make best progress in the south and east, with an immediate aim being the encirclement and destruction of Ukrainain regular military forces in a pocket around Severodonetsk. Fighting around Donbas remains under-reported but Russian forces are making slow progress south from Izyum, south-east of Kharkiv, seeking a link up with forces advancing north of Mariupol to create a larger encirclement. However, Ukrainain forces have been able to evade such encirclement in the past even when heavy equipment has been lost, and so this objective will deliver only partial success to Russia even if achieved. Still, the destruction of the Ukrainain Army is one of the most important war aims for Russia, which continues to be under-appreciated in wider reporting.
- In Mariupol itself, Russian forces are making further slow progress. The bombing of a theatre sheltering civilians aroused international condemnation, although reports today indicate casualties were thankfully much lower than initially anticipated. Russia has argued the attack was in fact a “neo-Nazi provocation”, with this positioning reflecting the widening information war. Similarly, the SS-21 missile explosion in Donetsk has been blamed on Russian forces as a false-flag attack. This trend will continue, with both sides having adherents in the information domain; Russia has particularly notable support in the Middle East and Africa, which remains the main target for Moscow’s messaging.
- We anticipate that Ukraine will prioritise protecting the capital and Odesa, with the aim being to hold up Russia for as long as possible and keep artillery away from Kyiv and routes open. Overall, they will seek to cause such attrition that Russia gives away more at peace talks and a more favourable settlement is achieved. In turn, we do not believe Moscow is currently serious about peace without gaining a stronger bargaining position, and so Russian forces will steadily increase pressure on civilians and destruction. Further reinforcements are moving from South Ossetia and the Pacific and combined with elements already moved to Belarus this is likely sufficient to bring Russian forces back to 100% of their original BTG strength, sustaining operations, albeit against hardening resistance.
- It is now therefore a race between how quickly Russia can regain momentum, most likely by clearing Mariupol and freeing up troops, versus how quickly Urkaine can make use of increasing supplies. Frustration makes Russia more likely to consider the use of CBRN; although further warnings have been made by NATO and the US, there is still no clear “so what” if such weapons are used, which may not stop their deployment. The branding of Putin and leadership as war criminals may further harden their stance and means the chance of a diplomatic off-ramp is further receding.
- Over the last 24 hours there has been an uptick in the intensity of fighting and strikes targeting civilian areas, including in the besieged city of Mariupol. In the early hours of this morning, 16 March, at least two Russian cruise missiles reportedly struck residential areas in western Kyiv, while further strikes were reported in Zaporizhzhia in the south. Chernihiv and the surrounding area are now reportedly without electricity as bombardments and fighting in the outskirts continue, with unconfirmed reports indicating that Russian forces opened fire on civilians queuing to buy bread in the city, leaving at least 10 dead. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have stated that they are launching numerous counteroffensives “in several operational areas”, indicating a likely uptick in fighting in key contested areas, including northwest of Kyiv. Kyiv currently remains under a 35-hour curfew, which will end at 0700 (0500 GMT) on Thursday 17 March.
- Overnight a Russian naval task force comprising numerous landing vessels and surface warships conducted operations off the coast of Odesa, but did not proceed with an amphibious landing. Naval vessels reportedly bombarded targets to the south of the city near Bilhorod-Dnistrovs’kyi at the mouth of the Dniester Estuary, but a coded message broadcast to the fleet around 0300 indicated a possible decision to call off further operations. However, the operation may well have been a feint designed to keep the Ukrainians off balance and potentially force them to divert more forces around Odesa as the attack on Mykolaiv to the east continues to grind down. Nevertheless, the fact that the task force appears to have been led by minesweepers indicates at the least Russian capabilities and preparations for amphibious operations against the increasingly well defended coast, with the Dniester Estuary a possible target for a future landing. A major Russian landing in this region would threaten to cut off Odesa from access to the Romanian border along the M15 motorway.
- Strikes targeting television stations have notably increased in the last few days, with the TV tower at Vinnitysia the latest to be attacked on the morning of 16 March. This likely indicates Russian efforts to disrupt information flows within Ukraine as it introduces its own television and broadcasting services in occupied regions in the south in particular. Today Russian “hackers” reportedly compromised the Ukrainian television channel Ukraine 24 to broadcast a fake video message stating President Zelensky had surrendered and offered to lay down weapons – such misinformation is only likely to intensify in the days ahead. Inside Russia censorship also continues to restrict information flows, with RBC news reporting on 15 March that the Kremlin has ordered regional officials to organise public displays of support for the ongoing “special military operation”. Flash mobs and other displays of support for the war, likely bearing the “Z” marker which has become a symbol of pro-war sentiment, will likely take place this week during the symbolic anniversary of the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation on 17 March.
- Belarusian Energy Ministry announced that Belarus is supplying electricity to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, and that the supply of electricity has been “completely restored.” The development follows the earlier power outage, which threatened to result in radiation leaks and raised concerns about the nuclear security of the wider Europe. Whilst this risk appears to be mitigated in the short term, given the enduring fighting and continued Russian advances, the likelihood of further power outages and risk of accidental shelling of such facilities will remain elevated.
- Today, 16 March, Russia is due to make a US 117m interest payment of dollar denominated bonds. The Russian Finance Ministry has indicated its ability and willingness to make the payment in rubles, but the scope of international financial sanctions has raised the possibility of a Russian default on its foreign debt – which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week stated was no longer “improbable”. If Moscow fails to make the payment today, a 30-day grace period will kick in, but if no payment is made thereafter, Russia will have in effect defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time since 1917.
- The Courts of Arbitration in several Russian regions, including Moscow, Sakhalin, Yakutia, and Tomsk, have disclosed that their websites were compromised in a defacement attack. This attack reportedly inserted a link that sent users to an online post that demanded the impeachment of Russian President Vladimir Putin. While no cyber threat actor has claimed responsibility, this incident is consistent with the growing number of cyber attacks launched by pro-Ukraine hackers, such as Ukraine’s IT Army and Anonymous, in recent weeks. For example, Anonymous claimed on 3 March that it has hacked over 2,500 websites linked to the Russian and Belarusian government in support of Kyiv (See Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 15 March). Despite this trend, these attacks against the Courts of Arbitration is in line with pro-Ukrainian hackers’ previously detected “quick and easy” attacks that have had minimal to no impact on the target organisations’ operations, highlighting their limited technical capabilities. While further such pro-Ukraine cyber attacks are highly likely to emerge in the coming weeks as Moscow’s military offensives against major Ukrainian cities continue, they are unlikely to have any significant impact on Russia’s military capabilities and operations.
- Shelling and air strikes have continued across the frontline over the last 24 hours, even as a slight lull in fighting allows some humanitarian corridors to successfully evacuate civilians, but also allows for a regrouping of Russian forces. While the heaviest fighting by far continues to impact cities across the eastern border, numerous strikes targeting residential areas in northern Kyiv over the past 24 hours has led the mayor of the city to announce a 35-hour curfew for the city, which will enter into force from 2000 (local time, 1800 GMT) and last until 0700 (0500 GMT) on Thursday 17 March. President Zelensky also tabled a bill in the Rada today to extend martial law by another month from 26 March, which the parliament approved, thus extending the martial law until 25 April.
- Latest OSINT satellite imagery tracking naval movements in the Black Sea indicate that a sizeable Russian surface action group has once again took to sea and is steaming north-west from Crimea towards Odesa as of around 0947 GMT. While unconfirmed at this stage, the action group appears to comprise of numerous amphibious landing ships as well as surface combatants, and as such could indicate preparations for some sort of amphibious landing directed against either Odesa or Mykolaiv. The beaches around Odesa are now heavily mined, which would likely make an opposed landing in these areas extremely costly for the Russians. However, amphibious forces could also be used to support Russian forces trying to take Mykoliav. Nevertheless, previous movements of these amphibious landing vessels towards Odesa have not resulted in amphibious operations being launched in previous weeks, and so this does not necessarily indicate a landing is imminent, though Russia retains the capability to do so in the coming days.
- A dissenting female employee interrupted a show on Russian state broadcaster Channel One, one of Russia’s most-watched evening news channels, holding up a poster saying “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. Here they are lying to you”. The incident is unusual given the tight security measures on the premises of the establishment, with the protesting employee reportedly working as an editor at Channel One. In addition to holding up the anti-war poster, she chanted “stop the war” before the channel quickly switched to different footage. It was later reported that she was detained and could be charged under the new legislation that bans reference to Russia’s military operation as a “war” and bans public acts perceived to “discredit the use of Russia’s armed forces”. The incident will only reinforce the Kremlin’s clampdown on perceived opposition and the information landscape, with many wide-reaching social media platforms already blocked or limited across the country.
- On 14 March, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that the mask mandate in all public spaces will be lifted today, 15 March. However, the ban on public gatherings and demonstrations, initially introduced to prevent the spread of the pandemic, will remain in place. The decision to lift most Covid-19 related restrictions was made to support the Russian economy amid “ongoing sanctions’ pressure”, but the decision for the ban on gatherings to remain in place is clearly indicative of the regime’s attempts to prevent and discourage anti-war demonstrations from breaking out. Although such acts of dissent continue to remain relatively limited, with the security forces capable of breaking up these gatherings, the potential for an escalation nevertheless remains, particularly as the impact of international sanctions is increasingly felt amongst ordinary citizens.
- On 14 March US sources indicated that Beijing is open to providing military and financial assistance to Moscow following an alleged request for such aid, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry has refuted such claims as “disinformation”. Following a meeting between White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi, the US warned European allies that Russia asked China for armed drones in late February. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that Moscow has also requested meals ready-to-eat (MREs) – a reflection of enduring logistical and supply problems within the Russian Armed Forces if true. While Beijing’s position on providing support for Russia remains ambiguous, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated on 15 March that Beijing wants to avoid being impacted by US sanctions over the war – an indication that some sort of support could be forthcoming which would likely trigger discussion of whether to place third-party Western sanctions on Beijing.
- On 15 March, the European Union adopted its fourth package of sanctions against Russia. The package includes the revocation of Moscow’s “most-favoured nation” trade status, an import ban on Russian steel and iron and a ban on energy sector investments, among other measures. Furthermore, the package comes amid efforts to block Russia’s access to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank financing, which would hinder Moscow’s recourse to international funding and prompt a further reduction in export revenues. In particular, the EU expects the steel ban to translate to a USD 3.6bn loss for Moscow, further isolating Russia from global trade and accelerating its sharp economic decline. However, the coming weeks will likely see supply chain disruptions and delays to goods shipments as EU businesses scramble to find replacements for Russian raw material imports, particularly in heavy industry, construction and manufacturing sectors.
- The impact of sanctions on Russia is reverberating further still beyond Russia’s borders. The detrimental economic impact is increasingly felt across Central Asia, underlining the risk of destabilisation in the wider Eurasia region in the medium term. A number of factors will likely compound the risk of socio-economic related unrest across the region in the month ahead. For example, on 14 March, Kazakhstan moved to restrict currency and gold flows out of the country, following a sharp drop in the tenge, which has lost over 20% of its value since the imposition of sanctions on Russia. Moreover, with both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan heavily reliant on Russia for grain and sugar imports, Moscow’s decision to extend the ban on these items until the end of August will only reinforce already heightened food insecurity and rising food prices in the region. Ultimately, given Central Asia’s heavy dependence on Russia for remittances, the region’s susceptibility to socio-economic unrest will only increase, especially should droughts once again threaten crop production this year.
- Additionally, in line with our predictions, the war in Ukraine is already having an impact on agriculture-food supply chains, with German supermarkets reporting an increased demand for sunflower oil, which led a few of the nation’s largest supermarket chains to warn that they may temporarily restrict sales of sunflower oil per customer. Notably, Germany is one of Ukraine’s largest importers of sunflower oil, and Ukraine accounts for more than 50% of the world market in sunflower oil, underlining the growing risk of supply chain shortages of staple items, including grain.
On 16 March, the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ordered Russia to cease military operations in Ukraine, following a 13-2 vote in favour of the decision. However, on 17 March Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the order, as expected, stating that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over the matter and that both sides had to agree to end the hostilities for the ruling to be implemented. Negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations are set to continue in the coming days, but Peskov today, 17 March, denied that substantial progress had been made at talks so far. He stated that a Financial Times article claiming such progress was “wrong”, while also condemning Joe Biden’s description of President Putin as a “war criminal” as “unforgivable”. Given Biden’s comments and the Kremlin’s doubling down on anti-Western rhetoric, diplomatic efforts appear to be going in the wrong direction, with heated rhetoric and further Western arms shipments to Ukraine increasing the risk of Moscow hardening its negotiating position in Ukraine. As such, if this rhetorical trajectory continues the options for a diplomatic de-escalation and off ramp will become increasingly limited. Ultimately, however, progress in negotiations will largely be dictated by the situation on the ground in Ukraine in the days and weeks ahead, with Russian forces seeking to regain momentum after little progress over the last week.
Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of Kyiv and into western Ukraine, as of 17 March, the southbound H01 remains a comparatively safer route for access to/exit from Kyiv, then connecting with westbound roads such as the P32 through Bila Tserkva. Considering that Russia has launched several missiles into Kyiv this week, the threat of air attacks remains significant, underlining the fact that no routes are considered safe anymore in and around Kyiv.
Russian armour and infantry units continue to be dispersed around the forests north and south of the E40, and as such, this route remains unsafe. However, the advance around Kyiv remains largely stalled at the time of writing. Whilst we do not anticipate a large surge by Russian mechanised forces around the west/south-west of Kyiv, we assess that the south-west of the city remains highly unsafe and that further fighting is expected in the areas of Fastiv, Obukhiv and Byshev Airport on the westbound P04. No fighting in the airport’s premises has been observed as of this Alert’s publication, but we consider this to be a likely target for Russian forces. In comparative terms, therefore, the H01/P01 remains the safest route out of the city, although any travel is undertaken at one’s own risk as all approaches to Kyiv are vulnerable to shelling or missile strikes.
A flurry of diplomatic statements over the last 24 hours has indicated that while talks between Russia and Ukraine are intensifying with some notable progress, key differences and the realities on the ground will continue to undermine the likelihood of a peace settlement being agreed in the short term. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated today, 16 March, that talks were nevertheless becoming “more realistic”, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stating that “there was some hope for compromise” on Ukrainian neutrality. The Kremlin has indicated that it is considering a Ukrainian neutrality model similar to that of Austria and Sweden. However, despite the cautious optimism from the Ukrainian side over the last 24 hours, Kyiv reportedly rejected this proposal immediately, with Ukraine’s principal negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak saying talks must rather focus on “security guarantees”. As such, meaningful progress towards a peace agreement remains uncertain, though both sides have clearly indicated renewed willingness to engage on these issues, with President Putin stating today, 16 March, that the occupation of Ukraine is not a goal of Russian forces. There remain reasons to be cautious of the current talks, however. It should be recalled that Moscow maintained similar diplomatic overtures for months leading up to the current war, with statements claiming that Russia desired a diplomatic settlement ultimately masking preparations for the invasion. As such, negotiations could last for as long as Russia needs to achieve its primarily military objectives, while paying lip service to the desire for a rapid peace settlement. Nevertheless, the mounting military, political and economic costs of the war for the Kremlin will ensure that it remains in Moscow’s interests to end the war sooner rather than later, but only if Kyiv agrees to its core demands.
Russian armour and infantry units continue to be dispersed around the forests north and south of the E40, and as such, this route remains unsafe. It is likely that Russian mechanised forces will continue pushing south towards Fastiv to establish full control over the P04 route as well. As such, Byshev Airport on the westbound P04 remains a likely target for the Russian push to encircle Kyiv. No fighting in the airport’s premises has been observed as of this Alert’s publication, but we consider this to be a likely target for Russian forces. In comparative terms, therefore, the H01/P01 remains the safest route out of the city, although any travel is undertaken at one’s own risk as all approaches to Kyiv are vulnerable to shelling or missile strikes.
SOCMINT indicates ad-hoc checkpoints and stop-and-search checks by Ukrainian rear echelon units continue to take place on the P02, P69, M07 circular and H01/P01 in Kyiv. These are likely conducted in order to identify potential Russian fifth columnists/saboteurs, and Ukrainian units conducting these checks are believed to be operating on capture/kill orders. As such those seeking to leave/enter Kyiv should treat such checks with due caution.
Russia’s utilisation of cyber space remains limited as of 15 March, despite Moscow’s flurry of disruptive attacks during the initial phase of the Ukraine conflict. While the hacktivist groups supporting Ukraine have continued to utilise their cyber capabilities to limit Russian military operations in Ukraine, the Anonymous attack against Rosneft’s German subsidiary does mark the first time a non-Russia-based entity was targeted by pro-Ukrainian groups as a result of the conflict. This campaign does not inherently indicate that hacktivists are shifting their tactics to target other Europe-based organisations. Nevertheless, organisations in critical services such as energy, telecommunications, or technology believed to be supporting Moscow, including subsidiaries of Russian businesses not based in Russia, will remain at a heightened risk of being targeted by pro-Ukrainian hackers in the coming weeks. Any such attacks are expected to be low-level “quick and easy” attacks that have little to no impact on the targeted organisations’ infrastructure and operations.
More broadly, the recent decisions made by internet and technology firms such as DuckDuckGo or Meta are consistent with the growing number of Western businesses that have pledged to help Ukraine by providing support such as internet hardware or cyber security tools to help combat any Russian cyber attacks, disinformation, and military operations. A similar pledge was made by Canadian satellite builder and operator MDA in early March after it promised to provide the Ukrainian military with real-time satellite images of Russian troop movements during the day, night, or through cloud cover. While such acts of support have raised concerns that Russian state-linked hackers may launch retaliatory cyber attacks to express Moscow’s political grievances with such actions, this threat is currently assessed to be low. Pro-Russia groups will likely remain hesitant to launch any overtly disruptive or destructive cyber attacks against Western-based companies supporting Ukraine in an effort to avoid bringing Western nation-states, such as the US or UK, into the Ukraine conflict more directly. While it is plausible that such entities could be targeted by pro-Russian ransomware groups under the guise of a “financially motivated cyber attack”, the growing internal disputes amongst high profile Russian cyber criminal groups such as Conti, discussed during previous Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Updates, indicate that some ransomware operators may have limited capacity and willingness to assist Moscow in such endeavours. Cyber campaigns launched in this scenario would likely take the form of ransomware, DDoS, defacements, or data leaks.
On 14 March Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich stated that the war in Ukraine is likely to be over by early May, though he said this would depend on how many resources Moscow is prepared to commit to the campaign. Arestovich has claimed that we’re currently at a fork in the road, where a peace deal could be struck very quickly in the coming week or two, or a renewed Russian effort to commit more forces to the war will prolong it until at least May. The assessment comes as Ukrainian negotiators indicated a moderately more positive outlook towards the latest round of negotiations with Russia, though there are no details as to where specifically any progress could be made. Despite this, it remains our assessment that a peace agreement is unlikely in the short term given Kyiv’s reluctance to agree to all Russian demands, though there are indications that both sides are more willing to discuss terms than previously. Nevertheless, while Ukrainian sources highlight the significant losses sustained by the Russian Armed Forces, the current slight lull in fighting is likely a reflection of a reorganisation of Russian forces to prepare for further offensive operations, rather than a reflection of insurmountable logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance. Russia still retains a distinct military advantage over Ukraine, and as such is likely to continue operations to extract more favourable terms in the weeks ahead.
In the last week, fighting and Russian bombardments intensified in several cities along the frontline, particularly in Mariupol. Russian forces also continue to concentrate a significant amount of combat power around Kyiv, though the Kremlin likely seeks to avoid protracted urban warfare and is instead targeting critical food, water and energy supplies to undermine Ukrainian efforts and morale. Western governments have expanded their economic measures against Russia, leading to Russian threats of counter-sanction measures to multinational companies. Finally, on 13 March, Russian forces fired around 30 missiles at Yavoriv (25 km from the Polish border) likely as a warning to the West to cease its supplies of weaponry to Ukraine.
Russia-US: FBI warning of Russian cyber espionage campaign does not indicate a shift in Moscow’s cyber policies regarding the Ukraine Conflict. On 15 March, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation warned that Russian state-backed hackers exploited misconfigured default multifactor authentication (MFA) settings to gain access to an undisclosed NGO’s network. The hackers used credentials compromised in a brute-force attack to access one of the NGO’s inactive user accounts. This threat actor then exploited MFA firm Duo’s default configuration settings to access their victim’s network and exfiltrate data from its cloud storage and email accounts. The lack of details regarding the victim’s identity and the type of data targeted during this campaign makes it difficult to analyse the strategic intent of the attack. However, this discovery has emerged amid growing concerns that Moscow may start targeting organisations in Western states, such as the US, over their support for Kyiv during the Ukraine conflict. Despite such concerns, pro-Russian hackers will likely remain hesitant to launch any overtly disruptive or destructive cyber attacks against Western-based organisations to avoid bringing such countries into the Ukraine conflict more directly. Nevertheless, further Russia-linked cyber espionage campaigns are highly likely to be launched in the coming weeks against US government agencies and their private sector partners to help Moscow gauge Western states’ policy plans towards Ukraine. (Source: Sibylline)
UKRAINE: SCENARIOS FOR RUSSIA’S OCCUPATION OF UKRAINE
This report sets out a number of scenarios related to a Russian occupation of Ukraine in the event of the capitulation of Kyiv to Russian forces. While diplomatic negotiations to secure a ceasefire and longer term resolution of the conflict are ongoing and could influence the outcome of the conflict, we have determined a number of scenarios conditioned on a Russian victory.
Under all the scenarios outlined below, Russian forces will highly likely impose constitutional amendments enshrining Ukraine’s neutrality and demilitarisation, Kyiv’s recognition of Russia’s control over Crimea and the independence of the People’s Republics of the Donbas as a baseline. While diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict continue, Russia’s stance in negotiations will likely depend on Ukraine meeting these demands.
Additionally, Moscow will likely take a number of socio-political measures in all the scenarios outlined below. A primary goal of the first stages of occupation will be to establish pro-Russian local and national governments that will adopt measures to stem Ukrainian resistance such as introducing curfews and martial law and curtailing media and freedom of speech. As such, Russian forces and newly imposed pro-Russian authorities will potentially assume control over Ukrainian media, including the dissemination of Russian television and the lifting of restrictions on Russian online news sites. Ukrainian media will be heavily restricted in this phase, with channels owned by Ukrainian oligarchs likely nationalised and controls imposed over content. Similarly, restrictions on internet access will be imposed, with efforts to stem the flow of pro-Ukrainian media across social media, including possible internet blackouts.
Moscow will also seek to take control over the levers of the Ukrainian economy, nationalising assets owned by Ukraine’s business elite and inviting in Russian state-owned entities and its own elite to administer and run such companies. In addition, Western businesses will likely face similar pressures, with property and operations nationalised or partially seized.
- On 14 March, the German branch of the hacktivist group Anonymous claimed to have successfully compromised Russian state energy company Rosneft’s German subsidiary. The group claimed that its campaign was able to tap large amounts of data and gain access to the backups of employees’ and executives’ devices. While cyber security researchers have warned that this incident could result in the company’s control functions “crashing”, no business or supply disruptions have been disclosed by Rosneft and Germany’s cyber security watchdog BSI. This incident is consistent with Anonymous’ 3 March claim that they compromised more than 2,500 websites linked to the Russian and Belarusian government in support of Kyiv (See Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 8 March). The hacktivist group claimed that it has no intention of leaking Rosneft’s data but plan to use it to target politicians and lobby groups linked to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
- On 14 March, cyber security firm ESET disclosed the discovery of a new data wiper malware targeting Ukrainian organisations. This malware – named CaddyWiper – “erases user data and partition information from attached drives” and has been used on a few dozen undisclosed systems across Ukraine. CaddyWiper utilises several tactics to maximise its destructive capabilities, including not targeting domain controllers to maintain long term access to compromised organisations’ networks and wipe other critical devices. This is the fourth such operation since alleged Russian hackers launched three other data wipers against Ukrainian organisations on several different occasions throughout Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine (see Sibylline Cyber Daily Analytical Update – 2 March 2022).
- On 13 March, US technology firm Clearview’s CEO disclosed that it has offered its facial recognition services to the Ukrainian government in order to “vet [Russian] people of interest at checkpoints, combat misinformation, and identify the dead”. Clearview went on to say that it has not offered its technology to the Russian government. Despite the potential benefits of this technology, surveillance technology experts have claimed that facial recognition is not 100 percent accurate and could result in false identification-related civilian deaths, unjust arrests by security forces, and be utilised in a false flag operation as further justification for Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine.
- On 11 March, Russian internet watchdog Roskomnadzor announced that it has banned the social media platform Instagram from Russia. This decision follows Instagram’s parent company Meta’s – formerly known as Facebook – decision to alter its hate speech policies and allow Ukrainian users to post content that calls for violence against Russian military personnel and political leaders, such as President Vladimir Putin. This is the Russian government’s latest crackdown on free speech and social media entities since similar restrictions were levied against Facebook and Twitter in early March.
- On 11 March, web search engine DuckDuckGo announced that it will be down-ranking websites that promote or propagate Russian disinformation. In addition, the organisation has also started providing information boxes that help users find “accurate information for rapidly unfolding topics” such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This is the firm’s latest action against Moscow’s disinformation activities since DuckDuckGo’s senior Public Policy Manager Katie McInnis disclosed that the firm “paused” its partnership with Russian search engine Yandex due to the Ukraine conflict. Despite this announcement, the firm claimed that it is not censoring the aforementioned websites but instead put them lower on its users’ “search ranking relevancy” list. (Source: Sibylline)
16 Mar 22. Russian Troops Bogged Down in Face of Stiff Ukraine Resistance, Says DOD Official. Russian advances continue to be stalled near Kyiv, the Ukraine capital, and those forces have not made any significant advances toward the city, said a senior defense department official who briefed the media today.
Russian forces to the east of Kyiv are about 30 kilometers away from the city center, the official said, which is not an appreciable advance over the last several days.
Residential areas of Kyiv are being struck with increasing frequency, the official said.
The Ukrainians are still in control of Brovary, a town to the east of Kyiv, the official said.
Mariupol, in southeast Ukraine, remains isolated as Russians pound the city with deadly long-range fires, the official said, adding that the city is still being effectively defended.
No forays by the Russians have yet been made on the major Black Sea port of Odesa in the south, the official said. However, there has been some shelling in nearby towns.
“Chernihiv remains isolated, but we still assess that Ukrainians are working to keep a line of communication open. Mariupol is likewise isolated and still suffering heavy bombardment. Russian forces are still on the outskirts of Kharkiv, where, as before, they face stiff Ukrainian resistance,” the official said.
Also, there is no apparent movement toward Mykolaiv, the official said.
The Russians have now fired more than 900 missiles. There are no new strikes into western Ukraine to report, the official said.
Also, the Russian convoy in the north which was headed toward Kyiv many days ago is still stuck and not moving, the official said.
The U.S. has been feverishly supplying arms to Ukraine, the official said, noting that 14 allied nations are also supplying defensive weapons of the type that Ukraine forces need the most. (Source: US DoD)
16 Mar 22. NATO Defense Ministers Urge Changes to Alliance Collective Defense. Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has changed the security environment, and the North Atlantic Alliance will change, too, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the conclusion of a meeting of alliance defense ministers in Brussels.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III attended the meeting for the United States.
While Vladimir Putin’s “war of choice” will force new strategies for the 30 NATO countries, they will reinforce the alliance’s bedrock assumption of collective defense: An attack on one, is an attack on all.
The defense ministers agreed that immediate aid to Ukraine was necessary, and also looked at the steps the alliance is taken to defend NATO countries at risk.
“Moscow should be in no doubt: NATO will not tolerate any attack on allied sovereignty or territorial integrity,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference.
“We have already activated our defense plans to shield the alliance, increase our readiness and deploy troops from both sides of the Atlantic. There are now hundreds of thousands of forces at heightened alert across the alliance, 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe and around 40,000 troops under direct NATO command, mostly in the eastern part of the alliances backed by major air and naval power, as well as air defenses.”
These steps put Russia’s Putin on notice, but more needs to be done, Stoltenberg said. “We must reset our collective defense and deterrence for the longer term,” he said. “Today, we tasked our military commanders to develop options across all domains land, air, sea, cyber and space.”
On land, the new posture should include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the alliance at higher readiness, he said. That should include more prepositioned equipment and supplies for troops to fall in on, should this become necessary. In the air, Stoltenberg called for more allied air power and strengthened integrated air and missile defense. In the maritime environment, he called for carrier strike groups, submarines and significant numbers of combat ships on persistent basis.
“We will also consider the future of cyber defenses and how best to draw on allied space assets,” he said. “We should also train and exercise more often and in greater numbers.”
These changes will require major investments. He called on all allies to invest a minimum of 2% of gross domestic product on defense. “I welcome that allies such as Germany and Denmark have already made important announcements on more investments and faster timetables,” he said.
The alliance needs to spend more together. “NATO common funding is the essential enabler that allows us to work together,” he said. “It is a force multiplier for national defense efforts, and it shows solidarity as allies. At this critical moment for our security, unity between North America and Europe in NATO is more important than ever.” (Source: US DoD)
16 Mar 22. Biden Signs Order Transferring Arms to Ukrainian Defenders. President Joe Biden signed an order to transfer $800m worth of equipment to help the people of Ukraine defend their freedom.
“The world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price,” Biden said at the White House this afternoon.
The United States is working with allies and partners around the globe to provide security assistance and humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine. “We’re going to continue to do more in the days and weeks ahead,” the president said.
The United States, working with allies and partners, has already levied crippling sanctions on Russia. The U.S. military has also deployed personnel and resources to the frontline states of the NATO alliance to ensure every inch of NATO territory is defended.
The nations of the world are taking these steps to defend freedom and the rights of nations to determine their own futures, the president said. “It’s about making sure Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin, no matter what advances he makes on the battlefield,” he said.
Biden noted that the United States actually started helping Ukraine long before Russia invaded the country. As Putin began to amass troops on the border with Ukraine, “we took the threat of Putin invading very seriously, and we acted on it,” he said.
The United States sent $650 million in security assistance beginning in March 2021. This included anti-air and anti-armor weapons that the Ukrainian military has used to great effect, he said. “So, when the invasion began, they already had in their hands the kinds of weapons needed to counter Russian advances,” he said.
Once Putin started the war, the United States sent an additional $350 million.
Last weekend, Biden authorized another $200 million to keep a steady flow of weapons and ammunition moving to Ukraine.
The order Biden signed today brings the total of new U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to $1 billion just this week. The latest package is made up of direct transfers of equipment from DOD to the Ukrainian military.
This new package includes 800 anti-aircraft systems and 9,000 anti-armor systems. In addition, the United States is working with allies to identify and transfer longer range anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine, the president said.
The package will also include drones, “which demonstrates our commitment to sending our most cutting-edge systems to Ukraine for its defense,” Biden said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said DOD will move quickly to transfer these capabilities. “Through the additional authority provided in the fiscal 2022 Ukraine supplemental signed into law by the president yesterday, the U.S. Department of Defense is moving expeditiously on the fifth Presidential drawdown of security assistance,” he said in a written statement from Brussels where he is attending an extraordinary NATO Defense Ministerial. “Today’s drawdown, valued at up to $800 million, brings to more than $2 billion U.S. security assistance commitment since the beginning of the administration.
“The men and women of the U.S. Defense Department are proud to work in partnership with our colleagues across the U.S. government, as well as so many other nations, to ensure that the people of Ukraine have the equipment they need to effectively defend their country today, and in the future,” Austin said.
The White House released a list of the assistance. The package includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems.
The package includes 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems.
DOD will also transfer 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns and 400 shotguns to Ukrainian forces along with more than 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds.
The package also includes 25,000 sets of body armor and 25,000 helmets.
“Together with our allies and partners, we’re going to stay the course,” Biden said. “And we’ll do everything we can to push for an end this tragic, unnecessary war. This is a struggle that pitches the appetites of an autocrat against humankind’s desire to be free. And let there be no doubt, no uncertainty, no question. America stands with the forces of freedom. We always have, we always will.” (Source: US DoD)
15 Mar 22. Ukraine conflict: Danish company relieves French troops in Estonia. A mechanised company from the Royal Danish Army’s Jutland Dragoon Regiment relieved troops from the French Army’s 5e Régiment de Dragons (5th Dragoon Regiment) as part of the UK-led Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) battlegroup in Tapa, Estonia, on 14 March, the Forsvaret, the Danish Armed Forces, announced on its website the same day. The Estonian Ministry of Defence reported on its website on 7 March that a cargo ship carrying the Danish company’s Piranha 5 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and other equipment had arrived in the Estonian port of Paldaski. This was followed on 11 March by over 100 Jutland Dragoon Regiment soldiers flown by a chartered aircraft from Karup airbase in Denmark to Estonia. During its six-month deployment, the Danish unit, dubbed the Viking Company, will be part of the British Army’s Welsh Guards Battlegroup, which is integrated into the Estonian 1st Infantry Brigade. The 150-strong company consists of three mechanised infantry groups with Piranha 5s, a logistics unit, and a sniper group. Another 70 Danish logisticians and military police have also been deployed to Estonia. Addressing the change of command ceremony on 14 March, the Danish ambassador to Estonia, Kristina Miskiwiak Becvardt, said the defence of Denmark begins in Estonia. (Source: Janes)
16 Mar 22. Poland wants to urgently buy U.S. Reaper drones, as Russia fears mount. Poland wants to buy MQ-9 Reaper drones from the United Statesin the near future and is eyeing further procurements at a later date amid rising security concerns three weeks into a Russian invasion of its neighbour Ukraine.
“We are planning to urgently procure the first MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial systems,” Lieutenant Colonel Krzysztof Platek, a spokesperson for the Defence Ministry’s Armament Agency, said on Wednesday.
While the first drones would be ordered under an accelerated procedure, Poland was also pursuing the Zefir programme under which the purchase of MALE-class unmanned aerial vehicles is being negotiated, Platek told Reuters.
He declined to specify which drones might be ordered.
“We are talking about delivery of several sets in total,” he later added.
Poland hopes to receive the first drones before the end of the year. The value of the planned acquisition was not disclosed by the ministry.
“This order is an answer to … security situation, particularly in central and eastern Europe,” Platek said, referring to the war in Ukraine, Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War Two. read more
Last May, Poland bought 24 Bayraktar drones from Turkey, becoming the first NATO member to buy drones from Ankara. The same drones were used by Ukraine against invading Russian forces. (Source: Reuters)
15 Mar 22. Joint Expeditionary Force leaders’ statement: 15 March 2022. Leaders’ statement from the Joint Expeditionary Force meeting. We, the Leaders of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, united through our membership of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), met today to reaffirm our commitment to the restoration of peace and security in Europe in light of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression. We condemn in the strongest possible terms Putin’s brutal attack against Ukraine, its territorial integrity and people. This is a clear violation of the sovereignty, freedom and independence of a democratic European country and a flagrant breach of Russia’s obligations under international law. We call upon Russia to implement and uphold an immediate ceasefire to halt the developing humanitarian crisis and allow rapid and unimpeded access for Ukraine’s civilian population to food, water and medical aid. Russia must respect international humanitarian law. We support the investigations of the International Criminal Court into alleged war crimes. The world will hold Russia to account for its actions. Putin must fail. We are working in lockstep with Allies and international partners to impose unprecedented sanctions on Putin’s regime in response to its illegal invasion, and to ensure that Belarus is also held to account for its involvement. We call on Putin to de-escalate, withdraw his forces and return Ukraine to its internationally recognised boundaries.
We are steadfast in our commitment to support Ukraine in the face of this unconscionable attack and pay tribute to the courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people, led by President Zelenskyy. JEF nations remain committed to supporting Ukraine at pace with military aid to ensure Ukraine is best able to defend itself. Directly, and through multilateral organisations, we are providing significant economic and humanitarian support in response to the deteriorating situation in Ukraine and the region, to ensure that Ukrainians have access to basic necessities and medical supplies. Special attention must be paid to the security of women and girls who represent a majority of those fleeing the war. We welcome the international unity shown at the UN General Assembly and invite the international community to sustain and coordinate the political, humanitarian, and economic support that is so vital for a free and independent Ukraine.
Putin’s actions are fundamentally challenging the security architecture of the Euro-Atlantic area. We need to ensure that such actions remain unacceptable and that no other nations can fall victim to attempts of violent expansionism. All sovereign nations have the right to choose their own security arrangements without the threat of external aggression. To that end, as a like-minded group of nations willing to demonstrate resolve, we will ensure that JEF continues to play a credible role in contributing to defence and deterrence in the region, keeping our countries and our continent safe. We commit to an enhanced programme of integrated JEF exercises and activities at sea, on land and in the air in the High North, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea region. These activities, already being developed, demonstrate our solidarity, capability and resolve. We will work in complementarity to NATO and the EU to ensure that Russia cannot continue to threaten European security, including through recalibrating our approach to Russia, reducing our reliance on Russian hydrocarbons, taking part in forward defence in conjunction with our Allies, reinforcing our cooperation within and beyond the JEF, and playing an active part in restoring a safer and more peaceful world. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
17 Mar 22. War in Ukraine: USAF Deploys Aircraft to Sniff for Chemicals. United States President Joe Biden has continually asserted that NATO would not establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. However, wary of possible damage to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and with a growing threat that Russian may resort to using chemical warfare, the US Air Force has deployed a Boeing WC-135W Constant Phoenix to Europe. On 7 February, WC-135W 61-2667 using callsign ‘JAKE 21’ was observed on various publicly accessible flight trackers conducting a 14-hour round trip from RAF Mildenhall in England to the Eastern Mediterranean south of Cyprus. The same aircraft was again tracked over the Baltic Sea on the 22 February. The WC-135W Constant Phoenix atmospheric collection aircraft supports national level consumers by collecting particulate and gaseous effluents and debris from accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The aircraft are Boeing C-135B Stratolifter platforms modified in the 1960s and equipped with an on-board atmospheric collection suite, that allows the mission crew to detect radioactive ‘clouds’ in real time. The aircraft have external flow-through devices to collect particulates on filter paper and a compressor system for whole air samples collected in holding spheres.
The WC-135W played a major role in tracking radioactive debris from the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986, now taken by Russian forces earlier in the invasion, with technicians held as virtual hostages in order to keep the site monitored.
The flight crews are assigned to the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and special equipment operators are assigned to Det. 1, Air Force Technical Applications Center at Offutt AFB. The WC-135s are currently the only aircraft in the USAF inventory conducting air-sampling operations. (Source: Armada)
17 Mar 22. Ukraine’s Unmanned Air War. On 13 March, Major General Igor Yevgenyevich Konashenkov, chief spokesman for the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, claimed that 128 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had been destroyed by Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine (although he spuriously maintained the line of “special military operation’). If correct, this would mean that Ukraine’s entire known fleet of some 50 plus armed Bayraktar TB2 UAVs had been destroyed, although Turkey is reported to have delivered more during the invasion. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on 9 March that his government would provide $50 million in new aid to Ukraine. Some of this will be used to purchase WesCam surveillance cameras for Ukraine’s TB2 UAVs. Last April, Canada had stopped exports of L3Harris Wescam to Turkey because TB2s were used by Azeri forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The destruction of several Russian Forpost UAVs have been confirmed including at least one that was originally built as an Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Searcher II which was shot down on 11 March. A Ukraine Soviet-era jet Tu-143 tactical UAV was destroyed on 8 March and the same type was involved in a bizarre incident two days later. On 11 March, Croatia’s National Security Council said “a pilotless military aircraft”, later identified as a Tu-143 and currently only used by Ukraine forces, entered Croatian airspace overnight from neighbouring Hungary at a speed of 377 knots (700 km/hr) and an altitude of 4,300 feet (1,300 metres) and crashed near Zagreb. No one was injured and no buildings were damaged. On 14 March a Russian Orlan-10 flew 80km into Romania, a NATO country. Several Russian ENICS E95 ramjet-powered aerial targets have been found in Ukraine, which have been used to draw out Ukraine air defences and there is speculation that a large number of Russian An-2 biplanes moved to Seshcha airbase near the eastern Ukrainian border and may be modified into UAVs for the same role. (Source: Armada)
15 Mar 22. Decoy darts: How Russia’s secret weapons fooled Ukraine. Moscow’s mysterious munitions, behind deadly attacks in Kyiv and Kharkiv, have never been seen in combat until now Russian missiles targeting civilian areas are using previously unseen technology to ensure they reach their targets. Moscow is deploying specially designed decoy systems not used in previous conflicts, according to US intelligence officials. Ukrainian air defence systems have struggled to deal with Russia’s short-range ballistic missiles, thought to be responsible for many of the civilian casualties in Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Intelligence officials in the US said that Moscow’s Iskander-M missiles, thought to be fired from mobile launchers in Belarus and Russia, are deploying the decoy systems to fool Ukraine’s air defence systems.
Images of dart-shaped munitions, found in many areas of Ukraine, started circulating on social media a few days into Vladimir Putin’s war.
The munitions were initially thought to be cluster bombs, based on their size and shape. Metal fins on the side, which aid stability in flight, further added to the idea they were miniature weapons.
Russia keeping darts off the West’s hands
Images of dart-shaped munitions, found in many areas of Ukraine, started circulating on social media a few days into the start of the invasion
However, weapons experts now believe that the objects are decoys that Russia has refused to sell to foreign nations as part of the Iskander system, so they would not be discovered and reverse-engineered by Western nations.
The darts are designed to protect the ballistic rockets from air defence missiles that home in on their target with heat-seeking or radar technology. The decoys are fired with the main missile and released mid-flight to confuse air-defence systems.
Each of the small decoys contain electronics to send out radio signals to make Ukrainian radar-seeking missiles think the decoy is actually the main weapon.
This will draw any missiles fired from defenders on the ground away from the Iskanders.
If that fails, the radio pulses could be enough to jam the signal from any ground-based radars scanning for the Russian missiles to such a degree that any rockets sent up to intercept the weapons are not given accurate information and fail to hit the Iskanders.
Intense heat sources in the base of the decoy rounds also emit powerful thermal signatures – thought to be by burning magnesium – which will attract heat-seeking missiles.
Richard Stevens, a former British Army bomb disposal expert, said he had never seen anything like the decoys. He told The New York Times: “No one has had the opportunity to see this.”
The devices were each about a foot long and coloured white with an orange tail, an American intelligence official said.
Iskander missiles, in service since 2006 with Russia, Algeria and Armenia, are powered by solid-fuel rocket motors.
Those in service with the Russian military can hit targets up to 500km (311 miles) away, but Moscow has limited the range of the export version to about half that.
Each mobile launcher can fire two missiles before it must be reloaded. As well as containing high-explosive or cluster munitions, each warhead can be fitted with earth-penetrators to enable the missile to target underground command bunkers without detonating as soon as it hits the ground.
Iskander missiles can also fire thermobaric rounds, used to destroy buildings or bunker complexes by sucking in and heating oxygen to increase the explosive blast.
At least two TOS-1 “Buratino” thermobaric weapons have been seen in Ukraine, although these were on tracked vehicles, rather than missiles.
Echoes of Cold War decoys
The US intelligence official said that the darts found in Ukraine were similar to Cold War decoys called “penetration aids”.
Fitted to nuclear warheads since the Seventies, these decoys were designed to allow the weapons to evade anti-missile systems so the individual warheads could reach their targets.
Prof Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, said: “The minute people came up with missiles, people started trying to shoot them down, and the minute people started trying to shoot them down, people started thinking about penetration aids.
“We never see them because they’re highly secret. If you know how they work, you can counteract them.”
It is thought Russia has restricted the sale of the decoys so as to ensure they cannot fall into the hands of Western nations.
Prof Lewis said that employing the decoys suggests “carelessness or urgency” by the Russian military leadership, given that Moscow knows they will inevitably be collected and studied by Western intelligence services.
Nato would want to examine the devices in order to design countermeasures to defeat the decoys, should the alliance ever be targeted by Iskander missiles. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
15 Mar 22. NATO Chief: There Will Be ‘High Price to Pay’ for Russian Use of Chemical Weapons. Russia is lying again — this time about biological and chemical weapons.
“They are making absurd claims about biological labs and chemical weapons in Ukraine,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who spoke today during a press conference in advance of tomorrow’s meeting of NATO countries’ defense ministers. “This is just another lie. And we are concerned that Moscow could stage a false flag operation, possibly including chemical weapons.”
Stoltenberg said Russia has already staged “false flag” operations within Ukraine to justify its actions there. A false flag operation is a hostile action made to appear as if it were perpetrated by another party, then used to justify other aggressive actions.
“We have seen that they, throughout this crisis, have tried to create different kinds of false flag operations to try to provide excuses for use of force,” Stoltenberg said. “We saw that in the lead-up to the intervention. And now we are seeing them accusing Ukraine and also NATO allies of producing and developing chemical weapons, and that’s an absolute lie.”
The secretary general said Russia’s false claims that Ukraine and NATO operate chemical and biological weapons labs raise the specter that Russia itself may be planning to use such weapons.
“The president of the United States and other allies also made very clear that if they use chemical weapons, there will be a high price to pay,” he said.
Russia is one of the nations that signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, but it has not held true to the commitments it made there, Stoltenberg said.
“Russia has used chemical agents before to attack and actually kill political opponents,” he said. “We have also seen that Russia has supported the Assad regime in Syria and helped to facilitate the use of chemical weapons several times in Syria.”
Any use of chemical weapons is absolutely unacceptable, Stoltenberg said.
“It is also extremely important that Russia understands that it is unacceptable if they consider any use of chemical weapons, and we are also very vigilant about the possibility of them trying to stage some kind of pretext, false flag operation to provide the excuse for any type of use of chemical weapons,” he said.
While Russian aggression continues in Ukraine, Stoltenberg said NATO will do what it’s designed to do: defend the alliance.
“NATO’s core task is to protect and defend all allies,” he said. “We have responded to this crisis quickly, activating our defense plans, raising our readiness, and deploying the NATO Response Force for the first time for collective defense.”
Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of NATO forces on heightened alert. Already, Stoltenberg said, there are 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe and around 40,000 troops under direct NATO command, as well. Many of those are deployed in the eastern part of the alliance and are backed by major air and naval power, as well as air defenses.
“The U.S. is currently deploying Patriot batteries to Poland and Germany, and the Netherlands are also deploying Patriots to Slovakia,” he said. “All of this sends an unmistakable message: An attack on one ally will be met with a decisive response from the whole alliance.”
Tomorrow’s meeting of defense ministers, Stoltenberg said, will focus in part on a reset of NATO’s military posture in the face of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“Ministers will start an important discussion on concrete measures to reinforce our security for the longer term in all domains,” he said. “On land, this could include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the alliance, at higher readiness and with more pre-positioned equipment.”
Also to be considered are increases to air and naval deployments, the strengthening of integrated air and missile defense, the reinforcement of cyber defenses, and more military exercises for NATO partners.
Stoltenberg also commended NATO nations that are increasing their own commitment to defense — something he said is now truly necessary in the face of Russian aggression.
“Major reinforcements of defense will require major increases in investment,” he said. “I welcome that Germany and other allies have already announced they’re stepping up, and I encourage all allies to spend the minimum 2% of GDP on defense. We must do more, so we must also invest more to protect peace and freedom and uphold our values at this critical time.”
Continued strengthening of the alliance, he said, will involve continued strengthening of air and missile defense — which is ongoing, as well as investments in more advanced conventional capabilities, including fifth-generation aircraft, Stoltenberg said.
“I welcome the German decision to invest in fifth-generation aircraft,” he said. “We need also to increase readiness and our ability to monitor and detect. And, of course, we also need to make sure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe and secure and effective.”
When it comes to Ukraine, Stoltenberg said that for many years now NATO allies have been training Ukrainian soldiers — many who are now fighting on the front lines in Ukraine.
And now allies of Ukraine are providing to that country critical equipment — including anti-tank and air defense weapons, drones, ammunition and fuel — to help them in their fight.
“This training and equipment is helping Ukraine to defend itself,” he said. “Ukraine has a fundamental right to self-defense enshrined in the U.N. charter, and NATO allies and partners will continue to help Ukraine uphold that right by providing military equipment and financial and humanitarian assistance.” (Source: US DoD)
Nearly all of Russia’s military offensives in Ukraine remain stalled, according to a senior US defence official. Even so, Russia continues to bombard cities, with reports of at least two large explosions in the west of the capital, Kyiv, early on Tuesday. Mariupol’s authorities say a convoy of about 160 cars managed to leave the besieged southern city on Monday, while an official in the north-eastern Sumy region says evacuation corridors away from four cities will be in place today. Russia claims a Ukrainian missile has killed 20 people in the eastern city of Donetsk – a stronghold of Russian-backed separatists. Ukraine blames Moscow for the attack. (Source: BBC)
15 Mar 22. Chechen ‘wild card’ Ramzan Kadyrov joins Russian war effort. Forces loyal to the Caucasian warlord-leader have been an integral part of the Kremlin’s military plan from the start. Russia’s faltering war effort in Ukraine has a new face. Garbed in combat fatigues, arm stretched out over a military map in a darkened room, Chechnya’s warlord-leader Ramzan Kadyrov announced via his Telegram channel on Sunday that he had personally joined the Russian campaign. A loyalist of Russian president Vladimir Putin and deft user of social media, Kadyrov posted videos on Sunday that appeared to show him commanding a Chechen special forces division, with his right-hand man Adam Delimkhanov leading another unit and other fighters forcing Ukrainian prisoners of war to shout Chechen slogans. (Source: FT.com)
15 Mar 22. Serbia under pressure to choose EU as Ukraine war raises stakes for Vucic Belgrade has refused to side with west over sanctions against Moscow Aleksandar Vucic: “We are in an exceptionally difficult situation, there is less understanding than ever for the position of our nation.” As Russia intensified its attack on Ukraine this month, a sombre Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic warned his country that it faced a diplomatic storm — caught between Moscow and the west. “We are in an exceptionally difficult situation, there is less understanding than ever for the position of our nation,” Vucic said in a television address after his government declined to align itself with EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. “We are facing huge pressure.” (Source: FT.com)
14 Mar 22. Erdogan says it is unclear whether Turkey will buy more Russian arms. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday it was too early to comment on Turkey’s possible purchase of more Russian weapons given Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking in Ankara alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Erdogan said Turkey had provided support for Ukraine in a manner NATO allies had not been able to despite its ties with Russia. Ankara was continuing to send humanitarian aid to Kyiv, he said.
“Under the current circumstances, it would be premature to talk about what the future shows, right now. We have to see what the conditions bring. We have to maintain our friendship with Mr. Zelenskiy and Mr. Putin,” Erdogan said.
NATO member Turkey was handed U.S. sanctions in December 2020 over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems and had been criticised by Western allies over the move. Ankara has said it was forced to opt for the Russian weapons because allies did not provide weapons on satisfactory terms.
Turkey has been in talks to procure a second batch of the S-400s from Russia, but Ankara has said discussions were still ongoing. Washington has warned its NATO ally against purchasing new weapons from Russia.
Scholz said he welcomed talks between Ukraine and Russia and other diplomatic activity but said the meetings must soon produce results that allow a ceasefire.
“We have to make sure that results are achieved soon that will make a ceasefire possible,” Scholz told reporters.
Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good ties with both. It has said the invasion is unacceptable and voiced support for Ukraine, but has also opposed sanctions on Moscow while offering to mediate.
Ukraine said on Sunday it was working with Turkey and Israel as mediators to set a place and framework for talks with Russia, after Turkey hosted the foreign ministers of the warring nations for the first high-level talks last week. read more
“We have done for Ukraine what NATO member states didn’t despite Russia, and we have continued this support. Similarly with our humanitarian aid, we have sent more than 50 trucks to Ukraine and continue to send them,” Erdogan said.
Monday’s visit marked Scholz’s first trip to Turkey since taking office in December 2021, amid efforts by Germany to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end Moscow’s invasion. Germany and France have taken leading roles within the European Union to end the war.
Russia calls its operation a “special military operation” aimed at capturing what it regards as dangerous nationalists in Ukraine.
14 Mar 22. Russians Pounding Ukraine Cities With Long-Range Fires, Says Official. Russian forces are increasing long-range fires on Mariupol, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and other population centers in Ukraine, a senior Defense Department official said at the Pentagon today.
Since the start of the war, the Russians have launched more than 900 missiles of various types and sizes, the official said.
“What we’re seeing on the ground is a continued military effort to subdue these population centers and to do it now with ever more violence using more and more long-range fires, which are increasingly indiscriminate in terms of what they’re hitting,” the official said.
Despite the bombings, major Ukrainian cities continue to be bravely defended, the official said, mentioning Mykolaiv and the town of Brovary, which is a short distance to the east of Kyiv.
Over the last several days, there has not been a lot of progress by Russian forces, the official said. “Almost all of Russia’s advances remain stalled.”
The Ukrainians have effectively struck at Russian armored vehicles, aircraft, logistics and sustainment assets, the official said.
Also, despite having more aircraft and flying more sorties, the Russians have not gained overall air superiority, the official said, mentioning the Ukrainian effective use of surface-to-air missiles and man-portable air defense systems.
Ukrainian forces have also been skillfully using unmanned aerial vehicles to defend themselves. “We believe that they still have a significant majority of their inventory available to them,” the official said.
The U.S. and allies have been in contact with senior Ukrainian military officials to assess their additional security needs, the official said.
There were security assistance shipments that went in over the weekend as part of the previous $350 million security drawdown package that President Joe Biden approved. Also, over the weekend, Biden approved another $200 million in security assistance. “We are fast at work on filling out that ,” the official said.
Yesterday’s Russian attack on Yavoriv Military Training Base, Ukraine, close to the Polish border, resulted in damage to at least seven structures. The attack was launched from inside Russian airspace using more than a couple dozen air-launched cruise missiles. The Pentagon cannot independently verify the number of casualties, but no American military personnel were at that site, the official said. (Source: US DoD)
14 Mar 22. Russian Targets More Than ‘Messaging,’ Pentagon Spokesperson Says. On Sunday, long-range Russian airstrikes hit the city of Yavoriv in western Ukraine, less than 15 miles from the Polish border — which is NATO territory. The location is where National Guard troops from Florida just weeks ago trained alongside Ukrainian troops — though Americans are no longer at the location.
It’s just one set of several strikes by the Russians that recently hit western Ukraine, said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby during a briefing today, and illustrates an effort by the Russians to expand their target set in the country.
But the press secretary also said while the United States doesn’t have insight into why the Russians are choosing the targets they’ve chosen, it’s more likely the targets are meant to achieve a military objective than it is they are meant to be symbolic or send a message to NATO nations.
“They are clearly expanding some of their target sets here,” Kirby said. “I can’t get into their heads and to tell you exactly what was behind that target on that day with that many cruise missiles. I don’t want to just reduce this to some sort of signaling.”
If the Russian president hoped the specific targets or the war itself is meant to send a message to NATO about the size of or strength of the alliance, then the war is a failure, Kirby said.
“He’s getting exactly what he says he doesn’t want: a strong, united NATO on his western flank,” Kirby said. “Just over the last few days, we moved some Patriot batteries from Germany to Poland. And we’re going to continue to look at potential repositioning if we need to, to defend NATO’s eastern flank.”
The Patriot batteries, Kirby said, are defensive in nature for over NATO airspace and NATO territory.
“For our purposes, the military capabilities that we are adding to NATO’s eastern flank are designed to protect and defend and deter against attacks on NATO territory — that includes NATO airspace,” he said.
So far, Kirby said, Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has killed thousands, displaced many, many more and destroyed homes and other property.
“He clearly has more than a message in mind here,” Kirby said. “He clearly has the occupation of Ukraine in mind … I want to be careful here that we’re not reducing the kind of damage and death he’s causing to some sort of message signaling. I think that’s being way too generous to what the Kremlin’s trying to do inside Ukraine.”
Over the weekend, an additional “drawdown” package of security assistance, worth $200 million, was authorized for Ukraine.
A “drawdown,” according to documentation available from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, allows the president to withdraw weapons, ammunitions and material from existing U.S. military stocks and provide that to other nations.
“I can tell you that experts here at the Pentagon have pen and paper in hand and they’re working out how we would realize that drawdown as quickly as we can,” Kirby said.
The last drawdown package of security assistance material for Ukraine was worth $350m, and Kirby said the delivery of the supplies from that package are now nearly complete.
U.S. security assistance continues to flow into Ukraine, Kirby said, and will continue to flow as it’s needed, based on ongoing discussions with the Ukrainians.
“We’re going to continue to flow security assistance to the Ukrainians as fast as we can and as nimbly as we can,” Kirby said. “As we stand here today, those shipments are getting into the hands of the Ukrainians and we’re going to keep looking for ways to make sure that that continues.”
The U.S. isn’t the only nation sending security assistance to Ukraine, Kirby said. Right now, there are 14 other nations contributing needed materiel to the Ukrainians. (Source: US DoD)
15 Mar 22. War could be over by May, says Ukrainian presidential adviser. The war in Ukraine is likely to be over by early May when Russia runs out of resources to attack its neighbour, Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said late on Monday.
Talks between Kyiv and Moscow – in which Arestovich is not personally involved – have so far produced very few results other than several humanitarian corridors out of besieged Ukrainian cities.
In a video published by several Ukrainian media, Arestovich said the exact timing would depend on how much resources the Kremlin was willing to commit to the campaign.
“I think that no later than in May, early May, we should have a peace agreement, maybe much earlier, we will see, I am talking about the latest possible dates,” Arestovich said.
“We are at a fork in the road now: there will either be a peace deal struck very quickly, within a week or two, with troop withdrawal and everything, or there will be an attempt to scrape together some, say, Syrians for a round two and, when we grind them too, an agreement by mid-April or late April.”
A “completely crazy” scenario could also involve Russia sending fresh conscripts after a month of training, he said.
Still, even once peace is agreed, small tactical clashes could remain possible for a year, according to Arestovich, although Ukraine insists on the complete removal of Russian troops from its territory. The war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special military operation,” the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two. (Source: Reuters)
15 Mar 22. U.S. warns China against helping Russia as sanctions mount.
- Russia wants Chinese military and economic aid- U.S.
- Moscow and Beijing refute reports on request
- Anti-war protester interrupts Russian state TV news
- Ukraine-Russia negotiations to resume after ‘hard’ talks
The United States warned China against providing military or financial help to Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine, as sanctions on Russian political and business leaders mounted and civilians sought to flee intense fighting on the ground.
Further talks between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators to ease the crisis were expected on Tuesday after discussions on Monday via video ended with no new progress announced.
Two powerful explosions rocked the capital Kyiv before dawn, and air raid sirens were heard in different regions including Odessa, Chernihiv, Cherkasy and Smila.
Emergency services said two people died when an apartment building in Kyiv was attacked.
Thousands have been killed in intense fighting and bombardments since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia calls its actions a “special military operation” to “denazify” the country and prevent genocide, a claim the United States and its allies reject as a pretext for an unjustified and illegal attack.
According to U.S. officials, Russia has asked for military and economic support from Beijing, which signalled a willingness to provide aid.
Moscow denies that, saying it has sufficient resources to fulfil all of its aims. China’s foreign ministry has labelled the reports on assistance as “disinformation”.
“We have communicated very clearly to Beijing that we won’t stand by,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters after U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome. “We will not allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses.”
The seven-hour meeting was “intense” and reflected “the gravity of the moment,” according to a U.S. official.
In Russia, a rare anti-war protest occurred in a studio during the main news programme on state TV’s Channel One, which is the primary source of news for millions of Russians and closely follows the Kremlin line.
A woman held up a sign in English and Russian that said: “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.”
Britain’s defence ministry said Russia could be planning to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine in response to a staged fake attack on Russian troops, without citing evidence. U.S. officials have made similar statements.
Russia has accused Ukraine of planning to use biological weapons. The United Nations on Friday said it had no evidence Kyiv had such a programme.
Moscow on Monday allowed the first convoy to escape besieged Mariupol, home to the worst humanitarian crisis of the conflict.
“In the first two hours, 160 cars left,” Andrei Rempel, a representative of the Mariupol city council told Reuters.
Local authorities say anywhere between 2,300 and 20,000 civilians have died so far in Russian shelling in the city, a toll that cannot be independently confirmed.
At the disabled Chernobyl nuclear reactor, power had been restored after damage forced the plant to rely on electricity from diesel generators, Ukraine 24 reported on Tuesday.
The United Nations says more than 2.8 million people have now left Ukraine since the start of the war.
“I am fleeing with my child because I want my child to stay alive,” said a Ukrainian woman named Tanya who said she travelled from the town of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine across the Danube river to Romania. “Because the people that are there now are Russians, Russian soldiers, and they kill children.”
Russia says it does not target civilians.
EU member states agreed on Monday to a fourth package of sanctions against Russia, according to France. read more
Details were not officially disclosed, but diplomatic sources said they would include an import ban on Russian steel and iron, an export ban on luxury goods and a ban on investment in the energy sector.
Chelsea soccer team owner Roman Abramovich and 14 others would be added to the EU blacklist, the sources said.
A jet linked to Abramovich landed in Moscow early on Tuesday, after taking off from Istanbul following a brief stop there, plane tracking data showed. read more
Japan on Tuesday announced an asset freeze for 17 Russian individuals, including 11 members of the Russian Duma, or parliament, five family members of banker Yuri Kovalchuk, as well as billionaire Viktor Vekselberg after similar U.S. moves. read more
Western-led sanctions have cut Russia off from key parts of global financial markets and have frozen nearly half of the country’s $640 billion gold and foreign exchange reserves, triggering the worst economic crisis since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s finance ministry said it is preparing to service some of its foreign currency debt on Wednesday, but such payments will be made in roubles if sanctions prevent banks from honouring debts in the currency of issue. (Source: Reuters)