As Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) is keeping a close eye on Russia’s movements across the military, cyber, and information domains. With more than seven years of experience monitoring the situation in Ukraine—as well as Russia’s use of propaganda and disinformation to undermine the United States, NATO, and the European Union—the DFRLab’s global team presents the latest installment of the Russian War Report.
War crimes and human rights abuses
Ukrainian recaptures territory as Russia uses Iranian drone near Kyiv
The Ukrainian offensive continues to pressure Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine. On October 5, Ukrainian forces captured Hrekivka and Makiivka in Luhansk Oblast, approximately twenty kilometers southwest of Svatove. Fighting also continues in Kharkiv Oblast, where the Ukrainian military recently recaptured Hlushkivka. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command confirmed on October 4 that it had liberated Lyubimivka, Khreshchenivka, Zolta Balka, Bilyaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka Oleksandrivka, Mala Oleksandrivka, and Davydiv Brid. It appears that withdrawing Russian forces are destroying their own weapons reserves, likely to prevent Ukrainian forces from capturing equipment as they advance.
On October 5, the Russian army conducted another strike with an Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast; this is the first strike in the Kyiv area since June. The strike resulted in the destruction of civilian buildings. This indicates that Russian forces are using advanced weaponry to target areas far from the active combat zones. The tactic of striking civilian infrastructure away from the frontlines has previously been used by Russia, presumably to add pressure on the civilian population and the Ukrainian administration. Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov said that Russian forces have used a total of eighty-six Iranian Shahed-136 drones, of which, Ukraine has destroyed 60 percent; this has not been independently confirmed. In addition, for the first time since August, Russian Tu-22 M3 bombers reportedly launched Kh-22 missiles from Belarusian airspace against the Khmelnytskyi region.
This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree transferring control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) to the Russian state-controlled company Rosenergoatom. The Ukrainian army reported that Russian officials are coercing plant workers into obtaining Russian passports and signing employment contracts with Rosenergoatom.
In addition, Putin deferred mobilization for all students in Russia, including part-time and masters’ students. Putin’s motivations are not clear, but this could be the result of increasing domestic resistance to the mobilization. Putin criticized the defense ministry for difficulties with the mobilization’s roll-out.
Meanwhile, police in Russia’s major cities appear to be using surveillance software to search for men who have failed to report for military service. According to Astra Press, run by independent Russian journalists, on October 3 and 4, at least ten men suspected of “evading mobilization” were captured by surveillance cameras in Moscow. Four of them were detained by the police and sent to a military enlistment office.
Further, according to the United Nations, the humanitarian situation in Izium and Kupiansk “is extremely concerning following months of intense hostilities that have left behind a path of destruction.” In Izium, essential services have been decimated, leaving as many as 9,000 people in the town completely dependent on humanitarian aid. In Kupiansk, shelling and hostilities have forced more than 4,000 people to spend most of their time in bunkers and basements, with extremely limited access to vital items.
—Ruslan Trad, Resident Fellow for Security Research, Sofia, Bulgaria
Russian-occupied Georgian region of Abkhazia announces call for military service
Following Putin’s recent announcement of a partial mobilization in Russia, citizens of the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia questioned whether they would be included in the mobilization order. On October 3, Aslan Bzhania, the de facto president of Abkhazia, signed a conscription decree approving urgent military service for citizens aged eighteen to twenty-seven.
On September 21, the day of Putin’s mobilization announcement, a statement quoting Russian Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov circulated in Abkhazian Telegram channels. It claimed that Abkhazia wouldn’t be able to avoid the mobilization. The Abkhazia Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the statement was “fake” and a “provocation” to harm Abkhazia-Russia relations. On September 24, independent media outlet Meduza cited a “source close to the Russian president’s administration” to report that the Kremlin was considering the mobilization of citizens from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In South Ossetia, the de facto defense ministry denied reports circulating on Telegram that claimed servicemen of the 4th Russian military base, stationed in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, were handing out draft mobilization notices.
On September 29, the South Ossetian defense ministry recommended that its staff, both military servicemen and civilian personnel, cross the Russian border using their South Ossetian passports. “Most citizens of the Republic of South Ossetia are also citizens of the Russian Federation. Thus, those registered on the territory of the Russian Federation, are subject to the partial mobilization and draft notices will be handed to them,” the statement said.
—Sopo Gelava, Research Associate, Tbilisi, Georgia
Russian court fines TikTok for ‘LGBT propaganda,’ Twitch for ‘fakes
A Russian court on Tuesday fined TikTok for not removing “LGBT propaganda” that violated Russian laws.
Kremlin-owned media outlet RIA reported that a court in Moscow fined TikTok three million rubles (USD $50,000) “for refusing to remove LGBT propaganda.” Russia’s internet censor Roskomnadzor also accused TikTok of “promoting non-traditional values, LGBT, feminism, and a distorted representation of traditional sexual values.”
Meanwhile, the livestreaming platform Twitch faces fines for publishing content about the war in Ukraine that Russia deems “fake.”
On October 18, the same court will examine two cases against Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. According to RIA, Twitch is accused of refusing to remove “fakes about the Russian army during a special operation in Ukraine.” The cases were initiated after Twitch hosted an interview with Oleksiy Arestovych, a military reporter and adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The latest legal actions are a continuation of Russia’s assault on Western technology companies. In July, a Russian court fined Google 22 billion rubles (USD $360 million) for failing to remove unfavorable content about Russia’s war in Ukraine.
—Eto Buziashvili, Research Associate, Washington, DC
Mass grave uncovered in Lyman as rocket attack hits Zaporizhzhia
A new mass grave was uncovered in the city of Lyman after it was recently liberated by Ukrainian forces. According to Ukrainian reports, the bodies have not all been identified, as they may have been left on the streets for a long period of time before burial.
In Zaporizhzhia, several people were killed in a rocket attack launched by the Russian army on October 6. Rescue operations continued throughout the day as people were believed to be buried under the wreckage.
—Ruslan Trad, Resident Fellow for Security Research, Sofia, Bulgaria
Russian Telegram channels praise “pro-Russian” coup in Burkina Faso
For the second time in eight months, Burkina Faso was the scene of a military coup d’état. On September 30, Captain Ibrahim Traoré overthrew Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who himself ousted the country’s democratically elected president in January after urging the then-president to hire Wagner Group to fight Islamist insurgents.
Celebrations of the coup saw Burkinabe citizens holding Russian flags and chanting “to hell with France.” Sergei Markov, a pro-government analyst in Moscow, said “our people” had assisted the coup. Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin also warmly congratulated Captain Traore. Prigozhin expressed similar sentiments following the January coup.
Social media sites in Burkina Faso saw an uptick in pro-Russian messaging before both the most recent coup and the January coup.
On Telegram, Kremlin propaganda channels with hundreds of thousands of followers praised the “joining of Ibrahim Traore and the country of honest people to the anti-colonial alliance with Russia.” These Telegram channels also claimed that Russia had effectively taken control of three West African countries – Mali, the Central African Republic and now Burkina Faso – from the “French neocolonial empire.” Following the coup, protesters, some waving Russian flags, attacked the French embassy in Burkina Faso and vandalized a French cultural center.
Notably, many Telegram channels stated that “Niger and its uranium mines are next in line.” On September 19, a protest in the capital of Niger saw Nigerien citizens calling for France’s removal while carrying Russian flags.
—Tessa Knight, Research Associate