The White House is warning US businesses of the growing possibility Russia could engage in cyberattacks in the near future. This is not a new warning. Concerns about Russia’s intentions in the cyber realm have been present since the days leading up to hostilities. Now, with the war not going in Russia’s favor, Moscow might be persuaded to open a new front in cyberspace against US and other Western companies supporting the economic sanctions now squeezing Russia.
The Russian military’s chain of command for the Ukrainian theater of operations remains a mystery. Despite efforts, the US has been unable to piece together who the senior Russian commanders in Ukraine are. What is clear is that multiple Russian generals have become battlefield casualties in Ukraine since late February, possibly leading senior Russian officials to keep information about Russian commanders secret for now.
Pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) published supposed Russian Defense Ministry casualty figures today. 9,861 Russian troops were listed as combat deaths and 16,153 as battlefield casualties that were not fatal. This afternoon, KP released a statement claiming the figures were wrong and their website was hacked.
There is more evidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s growing frustration with Russia’s intelligence community. Today, Colonel-General Sergei Beseda and his deputy were placed on house arrest. Beseda is the FSB officer who was placed in charge of intelligence operations in Ukraine during the period leading up to the start of the war. It has become clear to Putin that neither this officer or his deputy succeeded in their mission and the result now is a Russian military operation hanging on the edge of complete failure.
Ukraine is in the midst of another round of cyberattacks this afternoon. Earlier today around 4 PM, Kiev Time, a massive denial of service (DDoS) attack targeting government ministries and banks began. As of now, a number of government websites remain offline and there has been no comment identifying exactly which banks have been affected. Naturally, Russian involvement in the attack is suspected.
The cyberattacks came not long after media reports surfaced claiming US intelligence is expecting a full-scale Russian invasion to commence within 48 hours. Newsweek broke the story initially, adding that the Biden administration has relayed this information directly to Ukraine’s president. An unnamed US official also told Newsweek that there have been violations of Ukrainian airspace today for short periods of time, possibly by Russian combat aircraft. This would fit the assessment of a major attack coming within 48 hours, as last minute air reconnaissance sorties would be launched regularly in the final days leading up to the attack.
Russian naval activity in the Black Sea and especially in the Mediterranean is being scrutinized carefully at this hour as well. The Russian Navy has two surface action groups (SAG), each one centered around a Slava class cruiser operating in close proximity to NATO carrier groups in the Mediterranean. A third SAG, is also underway in the Black Sea, positioned either to support a Russian amphibious landing against Odessa, or launch anti-ship missile attacks against any NATO carrier group that enters the Aegean Sea. The Mediterranean is a restrictive, tight waterway, especially east of Sicily. The first few hours of a Russia-NATO conflict would turn the eastern half of the Med into a shooting gallery.
A state of emergency will take effect in Ukraine at midnight, 24 February, 2022. “Across the territory of our country, apart from Donetsk and Luhansk, a state of emergency will be introduced,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev. Ukraine’s parliament is expected to approve the measure within the next day or so. A state of emergency declaration will allow additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.
This afternoon, US President Biden doubled down on his belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin will invade Ukraine and that Russian forces will ‘target Kiev.’ Biden also said he spoke with Congressional leaders and European allies earlier on Friday and the “overwhelming message on both calls was one of determination, unity, and resolve.” Despite Biden’s claim, unity has so far eluded both NATO and the European Union as they struggle to come to terms with contending with the expansive Russian threat and building a post-invasion strategy with regards to the new dangers a Russian-occupied Ukraine may bring. US and European leaders continue to warn of ‘swift, severe consequences’ if Russia invades Ukraine. However, given that Biden and other Western leaders have drawn the line at committing military forces to defend Ukraine, its questionable exactly what form these consequences will take. There will undoubtedly be severe economic sanctions, yet one has to assume Russia has planned for this contingency. We’ve discussed some of the steps the Russian government has taken in recent months to fortify its economy against sanctions. It remains unclear whether these preparations have been factored into the US and European formulas.
Senior US officials have also said they believe Russia was behind the cyberattacks on Ukrainian banks and government websites this past week. There have also been warnings voices about the possibility Russia could launch cyberattacks against US banks and other American targets as retaliation for the levying of economic sanctions. Officials from JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and other large banks had meetings this week with government officials to discuss tactics Russia could use, as well as warnings on Russian cyber activity.
The weekend is ending and the week ahead promises to be active and eventful. Once the West’s official response to Russia’s security proposals and demands is presented, the ball will be entirely in Vladimir Putin’s possession. The Kremlin, as well as the rest of the world, is well aware the West’s response will be a firm ‘NO.’ Odds are, Russia has been banking on a full rejection of its unrealistic redrawing of the post-Cold War boundaries and the numerous security concerns attached to it. A negative reply has been factored into its planned justification of hostility and will be used accordingly.
Late last week and over the weekend, Russia has been busy on a number of fronts. On Friday, increased Russian military activity in the Baltic led to the Swedish government’s decision to send troops to the Swedish island of Gotland. Officially, it was the failure of NATO-Russia talks and the movement of three amphibious assault ships into the Baltic that brought on the Swedish action. There have also been reports of unmarked drones flying over Stockholm, Gotland and around some Swedish nuclear reactors. Between the lines though, Russia’s actions are pure intimidation tactics intended to help keep Stockholm on the sidelines and mute as the crisis with Ukraine intensifies. Sweden has been vocal when it comes to calling out Russia’s aggressive moves and behavior in the Baltic as well as Ukraine. Moscow’s response has not been limited. Operating amphibious assault ships in close proximity to Gotland is sending a message that will be difficult for Sweden to misinterpret.
Microsoft revealed early on Sunday morning that computer systems at Ukrainian government agencies have been subjected to a malware attack. In a blog post earlier, Microsoft said it detected the Malware on Thursday, not long after the final round of talks between NATO, the US and Russia came to an end with no agreements made. The detection of malware also came around the same time a cyberattack took 70 government websites temporarily offline. Cyber attacks are almost certain to play a major role in any Russian plan for offensive operations against Ukraine. They are a large part of the ‘Military-Technical Response’ Vladimir Putin has been threatening and talking about for weeks now.