A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 8, 2023

As Ukraine Destroys More Russian Artillery, Leaks Are Deemed Disinformation

The big, largely unreported story is growing Ukrainian success at taking out increased numbers of Russian artillery through more accurate drone direction and counterbattery fire. 

This is hampering Russia's favored and most powerful weapon while helping prepare for the coming counteroffensive. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

On the list of obstacles to Ukraine launching a counteroffensive, what’s happening on 4Chan is probably at the bottom. While the number of men, tanks, and APVs being lost on a daily basis may have declined, Ukraine continues at an accelerated pace when it comes to taking out Russian artillery. Whether through drones or counterbattery fire, these numbers show Ukraine continuing to whittle away at the equipment most vital to Russia’s strategy. The 4Chan posts seem to be trolling pro-Russian posters, holding up evidence that even in areas where Russia enjoys a numerical advantage, it hasn’t been able to translate into military success. 

The actual fighting in Ukraine isn’t taking a break. Already on Friday, Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian Su-25 that was supporting an attempted Russian advance at Marinka, a town that has been on the front lines of the Russian invasion since before the tanks rolled in 2022. That Russian assault, like hundreds before, has been turned back.

In Bakhmut fighting continues to be fierce, with the mercenary forces of the Wagner Group connecting their southern and northern pushes along the river at the east side of the city. Russia has also reportedly brought a TOS-1 system into eastern Bakhmut and is systematically smashing blocks using thermobaric shells to extinguish any remaining pockets of Ukrainian resistance. Any civilians who remained in this area and survived previous fighting, no matter what the reason for their remaining, have almost certainly been killed under this barrage.

But this morning, the biggest story about Ukraine isn’t happening in Ukraine. It’s actually hard to say where it is happening, because the biggest story about the war this morning concerns a potentially massive break of operational security, one in which details of Ukrainian troop locations and planning for the coming counteroffensive may have been leaked to social media. If true, it’s a leak that may have already cost Ukrainian lives and put plans to push back Russian forces at risk.

And right now it looks like this was done just to win an internet argument.

This shows someone in an argument over Ukrainian and Russian positions within the last two weeks. The argument isn’t too unusual, except that the someone seems to have very precise values for the number of Ukrainian troops in each location—and some pretty official-looking images that seem to have come directly from military sources.

Those images look official because it appears that they are. Widespread reporting, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times indicates that these images are taken from a classified presentation involving NATO officials. The images from 4Chan (which are much larger and more detailed in the originals) are part of a set of six that circulated on pro-Russian channels on Telegram. However, it looks like these 4Chan posts were the first appearance.

The images don’t just include information about the current status of operations in Ukraine, they also include details of a supposed Ukrainian counteroffensive. It’s unclear if this information reflects U.S. or NATO evaluation of Ukrainian plans, of if these are plans that originated in the West as a suggestion to Ukraine. As The Wall Street Journal notes:

The photographs that appear to be of printed presentation slides and maps posted online don’t show the planned routes and timelines for the Ukrainian offensive, but they do contain information that, if true, could be of value on the composition and readiness of the new military units that Kyiv and its allies are preparing and equipping for the spring campaign.

There’s also a chance—a really good chance, actually—that the “plans” are actually disinformation. In fact, all of the information contained in the images may be part of a disinformation campaign. Which could be from the U.S. or Ukraine or Russia or … who knows?

In some of the images as they appeared on Telegram, information has been altered to appear more favorable to Russia. For example, the number of Russian casualties has been dropped from “35.5k — 43.5k KIA” to “16k — 17.5k KIA.” At the same time, Ukrainian losses have been massively inflated to make it appear that Ukraine has lost far more than Russia.

The 4Chan posts seem to be deliberately attempting to troll pro-Russian posters, holding up evidence that even in areas where Russia enjoys a tremendous numerical advantage, it hasn’t been able to translate boots on the ground into military success. The versions on Telegram tell a nearly opposite story even though some of the numbers remain the same. On Telegram, the images are used to prop up a narrative that the Ukrainian military is exhausted, that Russia has plenty of reserves, and that Russian victory is inevitable. 

Interestingly, one of the images found on 4Chan didn’t become part of the set that is circulated on Telegram. That would be the image attached to this post, which shows a detailed situation around Bakhmut.


I’m not going to report on what’s shown on this map because whether it’s disinformation or actually NATO top secret status details of the situation on the ground, going over it in detail would seem to fall in the category of A Bad Thing. However, it’s clear that what’s shown in this map doesn’t please pro-Russian sites, or at least was not easily modified into something favorable enough to be a part of the pro-Russian version that was packaged up for Telegram consumption.

Does this look like disinformation? Honestly, it does not. But then … isn’t that what good disinformation should look like?

Is it something that will represent a serious threat to Ukrainian plans for the counteroffensive? That seems very, very unlikely.

They don’t know if it’s real, or if it’s a fake, or if it’s disinformation they were intended to find. And sure, they could shift troops to locations where the “plans” indicate Ukraine is going next, but would that be exactly what Ukraine wants them to do? Obviously, I cannot drink the wine in front of me.

The more important factor here is that assuming this is real, and assuming it wasn’t deliberately posted with the intention of falling under Moscow’s gaze, it represents a serious breach of operational security that could place a serious damper on trust between Ukraine and military intelligence at NATO and in the U.S. 

The U.S. and others have been providing Ukraine with detailed intelligence since before the invasion began, but there have been frequent reports that this exchange has rarely been mutual. Ukraine has had some deadly serious OPSEC on its actions. That’s helped things like the Kharkiv counteroffensive to launch without anyone getting so much as a peep that it was coming.

Intelligence officers in Kyiv have reportedly long been concerned that sharing their plans with Washington was just inviting Vladimir Putin to lean over their shoulder and read. In recent months, a greater trust had been growing and Ukraine has been more open with NATO and the Pentagon about their plans, in part because it helped them make the case for what equipment, training, and ammunition they would need. 

This leak, assuming it is a leak, could be a big setback to that improving relationship.


If there’s something in that Bakhmut map that makes Russian sources unhappy, it’s probably how much of the city remains in Ukrainian control and how little progress Russian forces have made around the city in the last three weeks.

In part, this is due to the overall decrease in the number of assaults that Russia has been launching lately. The report from Friday morning showed just 40 attempted advances over the previous 24 hours. Almost half of these—16—took place in the city of Bakhmut and just north of the city near the village of Berkhivka, meaning that everywhere else along the nearly 1,000-kilometer front line, Russia attempted just 24 advances at any scale.

One other thing worth picking up from this report: While the number of men, tanks, and APVs being lost on a daily basis may have declined, Ukraine continues at an accelerated pace when it comes to taking out Russian artillery. Whether that’s happening through drones (as has been seen in several recent videos) or more accurate counterbattery fire, these numbers show Ukraine continuing to effectively whittle away at the one piece of equipment most vital to Russia’s strategy.

  • Many analysts came into this fight saying that the time of the tank was over. They were wrong. Tanks aren’t being used the way they were in World War II, but they are still a vital part of capturing positions when used in combination with other vehicles and infantry. That’s still going to be true at the end of this war.
  • Throughout the war, Russia has had just one successful tactic, one in which heavy artillery bombardment reduces Ukrainian defensive positions over an extended period while infantry, with light armor support, continues to probe for weaknesses. When Russia has sufficiently reduced the area through continued use of artillery to level potential defensive positions, the whole show slides forward and the process begins again. 
  • Here comes the prediction—this tactic is on its way out. It’s not the tanks’ role that is going to be seriously diminished by the end of this invasion, it’s the one piece of hardware that has done the most damage and been the most essential to Russia in this conflict and others—that “king of battle,” the artillery gun. By the time this fight is over, both precision-guided ammunition and the proliferation of drones are going to greatly diminish the importance (and the life span) of artillery, making the kind of tactic Russia has so far employed almost impossible to sustain. The king of battle is going to run into a palace coup.

Okay, putting the beanie back into my official Cecil the Seasick Serpent Fan Club box. Back to work. Get back to me in a few months and I will accept a flounder across the face if this prediction turns out to be a dud. And yes, I did mix together some Bullwinkle and Cecil. I will face the appropriate charges at the Hague.


On the list of obstacles to Ukraine launching a major counteroffensive, what’s happening on 4Chan is probably way, way down at the bottom. They still have to get enough forces trained on all the new Western equipment coming into the country. They have to work out a logistical chain that is now almost infinitely more complex than it was when every Ukrainian unit was moving around a mix of Soviet and homegrown equipment. They have to form all this new gear into something that looks like coherent units. They had to determine how equipment that was originally designed to fight light infantry in Northern Africa or take out militants in the mountains of Afghanistan is best used in the fields, hills, forests, and cities of Ukraine. 

If Ukraine conducts a successful counteroffensive over the next few months, there are going to be a lot of very tired heroes who never came near the battlefront but spent thousands of hours in spreadsheets and on maps working out how to make what must now be the most equipment, training, and experience-diverse army on the planet work in actual combat.

The weather today in Bakhmut? Rain. Tomorrow? Rain. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday next week? Rain. The good news is that on Monday, it’s only cloudy.

It’s one thing to try to plan around General Mud, but right now many areas of Ukraine are under the control of Admiral Flood. To say that things are unlikely to dry out real soon now is an understatement.


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