Ministerial-level talks between Russia and Ukraine this week have made little progress. Russia's talking to Ukraine, something it had said it wouldn't do until Ukraine laid down its arms, but it hasn't backed off from what amounts to a demand for surrender. Euronews quotes Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in a way that suggests how far the Russian view of the situation diverges from what most of the rest of the world regards as reality: "We do not plan to attack other countries; we did not attack Ukraine either. However, we just explained to Ukraine repeatedly that a situation posed direct security threats to the Russian Federation."
The situation on the ground.
The UK's Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues daily updates of the operations map it's using to cover "Russia's illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine." There's not been a great deal of movement of Russian forces as they concentrate on attempting to isolate and destroy Ukrainian cities. "Due to strong Ukrainian resistance," the MoD tweeted, "Russian forces are committing an increased number of their deployed forces to encircle key cities. This will reduce the number of forces available to continue their advance and will further slow Russian progress."
The MoD adds that some signs of domestic Russian discontent with the war continue to appear: "Protests against Russian occupation have been reported throughout the week in the Russian-held cities of Kherson, Melitopol and Berdyansk. 400 protestors were reportedly detained by Russian forces in the Kherson Oblast yesterday." (It would be unwise to overestimate the depth and commitment of Russian anti-war sentiment, however, and to underestimate Moscow's willingness to use extraordinary means and degrees of repression against it. Still, arrests of protesters are reckoned in aggregate at totaling more than ten thousand.)
Allegations of war crimes and Russian disinformation.
The incident that's attracted considerable attention is the destruction of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, apparently by Russian airstrikes. An op-ed in CNN asks, "If bombing a children's hospital isn't crossing a red line--what is?" and the sentiment it expresses well represents international revulsion the attack has provoked. Russia's response to the general outrage has been instructive. The Kremlin has claimed (1) that the attack never happened, (2) that the hospital wasn't actually a hospital, but rather a Nazi headquarters, and (3) that the attack was committed by Ukrainian forces in an attempt to embarrass Russia, which is running a clean military operation. (It's not a war, and it's not, as Foreign Minister Lavrov insisted during talks in Turkey, an invasion, either. and complaints of atrocities are just "pathetic shrieks" from Russia's enemies.)
Russian disinformation now seems to be playing to a largely domestic audience; it remains to be seen whether it will continue to enjoy success even there. Panelists on a recent Russian talk show had to be brought to heel by the host, the Telegraph reports, for calling the situation in Ukraine "worse than Afghanistan," that is, worse for the Russian soldiers. WIRED's take on the failure of Russian influence operations abroad is that the invasion of Ukraine was simply too obvious to be obfuscated, and the positive lies told to justify it were too implausible to find any takers beyond a hard core of the already convinced.
Facebook has invoked an "ongoing-conflict" exception to its ban on violent speech, the Verge reports. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone told the Verge, “As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’ We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.” Russia has denounced Facebook's corporate parent, Meta, for "extremism."
Chemical, biological, and radiological weapons disinformation.
Russian sources continue to push the story that Ukraine had prepared stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, or at least that it was working on acquiring them. The US has called such claims "preposterous," as indeed they are, and has taken China to task for amplifying them. Foreign Policy reviews this particular disinformation campaign, which many observers view as setting the stage for Russian use of prohibited weapons. Russian use of chemical weapons is regarded as more likely than either nuclear or biological strikes.
In a grisly story that should be received with caution, the Telegraph reports that Russian forces are stockpiling the dead bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed in action to use in staging some sort of provocation at Chernobyl.
Preparing for cyberattacks.
Security Scorecard has an account of the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks various Ukrainian assets have sustained. They identify three distinct DDoS attacks, but say that the attacks "appeared to have had a minimal, temporary impact on their targets. Government websites and banking services were quickly restored and customers' balances were not affected."
KrebsOnSecurity reports a significant increase in attacks against Ukrainian citizens, mostly phishing attempts, but these are still falling short of the widely anticipated destructive or disruptive attacks Russia had shown itself capable of.
Russian cyberattacks have not, so far, affected the world outside Ukraine at more than their customary, criminal-and-privateering level, but observers continue to think that may change. Task & Purpose mulls some of the reasons this may be so. The Russians might have been unprepared for cyberwar, which seems unlikely, or they may have believed that their invasion would be a walk-over, making cyber operations superfluous. Accenture's blog is following the state of play in cyberspace. Pondurance has a review of steps organizations can take to prepare for that widely expected eventuality.
Cyber operations against Russia.
Anonymous claims to have successfully gained access to internal files of Roskomnadzor, and has leaked 820 gigabytes of data taken from Russia's information governance agency. The files pertain for the most part to disinformation and censorship operations. The International Business Times says that the leaks deal primarily with Roskomnadzor's efforts to keep people from calling Russia's invasion of Ukraine an "invasion."
Russian defense firm Rostech has, BleepingComputer reports, shut down its website after sustaining a distributed denial-of-service attack.
The CyberWire's continuing coverage of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine may be found here.