Russian forces in Kharkiv have accidentally taken out their own secure communications systems by destroying the 3G towers they depend on, it has been reported.
Ukraine‘s military has shared an intercepted call captured as a result, reporting the death of Major General Vitaly Gerasimov to someone identified as a senior Russian intelligence officer by Bellingcat’s Christo Grozev.
The incident is the latest evidence of the technological and equipment challenges facing Russia‘s invasion force, as indicated by photographs of civilian radios and abandoned and captured vehicles.
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Ukrainian military intelligence said that Maj Gen Gerasimov, chief of staff of the 41st Army, was killed outside of Kharkiv.
The country’s second largest city – located in the east, just 30km south from the Russian border – has been under heavy Russian bombardment.
Ukraine shared what the military said was an intercepted conversation between two FSB officers discussing his death and complaining about their secure communications system being down.
Maj Gen Vitaly Gerasimov shares his surname with Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian armed forces, although it has not been confirmed whether the two are related.
The intercepted conversation
Mr Grozev said he had confirmed the Major General’s death with a Russian source and that Bellingcat had also identified the senior FSB officer in the intercepted conversation as one known to be based in the Russian city of Tula.
“His boss… makes a long pause when he hears the news of Gerasimov’s death (before swearing),” added Mr Grozev.
“In the call, you hear the Ukraine-based FSB officer ask his boss if he can talk via the secure Era system. The boss says Era is not working.”
Era is a “super expensive crypto phone system” which the Russian Ministry of Defence introduced last year, Mr Grozev said, alongside a guarantee it would work “in all conditions”.
However, according to Mr Grozev, the cryptophones require 3G/4G data connections to work, and Russian forces in Kharkiv have destroyed so many 3G towers, and replaced others with surveillance equipment, that it is not working.
The UK Ministry of Defence said on Sunday that Russian forces have been making minimal ground advances and that it is “highly unlikely that Russia has successfully achieved its planned objectives to date”.
Photographs purporting to be from the conflict have suggested that Russian forces are abandoning their vehicles to sleep outside for fear of attack and that they are depending on civilian radio equipment and personal mobile devices to communicate.
Military radios have also been recovered from convoys attacked by the Ukrainian armed forces, however the use of civilian radios means that some communications can also be received by civilian equipment.
Videos on social media indicate that Ukrainian farmers have been towing away Russian military vehicles and weapons that have been abandoned by their troops.