In Other News – Russian Intelligence Posture is Weakening Moscow’s Position, & More – 3/31/2022

March 31, 2022

What happens next on the battlefield will impact ongoing negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, not the other way around. Earlier this week, Moscow’s lead negotiator promised to scale-down military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine, but even he asserted that this shouldn’t be confused with a ceasefire. NATO intelligence further indicates that Russia isn’t withdrawing, but repositioning, and is looking to regroup and strengthen its offense in Donbas. Indeed, any hint of a Russian ceasefire is more aptly viewed as a military tactic, and the Pentagon estimates that Moscow’s reconfiguring about 20% of its forces. Putin is also expected to maintain pressure on Kyiv and other cities, and brutal offensives aren’t likely to stop even while ceasefire negotiations continue. It appears that Putin may be counting on a war of attrition, and peace talks will be driven by his successes or failures on the battlefield.

While Moscow’s offensive has thus far been hampered by highly competent and resilient Ukrainian defenses, and western weaponry decimating Russian tanks in remarkable numbers, it has also been hindered by its own inability to adapt. It seems that in Putin’s circle, loyalty is valued over critical thinking and sound advice, and there are rumors that Putin isn’t receiving the full story from his advisors about what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine. It now remains to be seen if and how Putin will shift tactics to achieve a more effective attack strategy, or if his decisions will continue to be misguided by delusions of success.

The Russian intelligence posture in Europe is suffering and will further weaken Moscow’s position. The invasion of Ukraine has prompted many European countries to turn their attention to potential Russian penetrations and opportunistically proceed with expulsions to disrupt intelligence operators, assets, and networks. Since February, there’s been a spate of expulsions of suspected Russian operatives in Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, The Netherlands and Poland. The recent purge acknowledges that Russian intelligence agents were a driving force behind the Ukraine invasion, and punishes them for it, while mitigating counterintelligence threats in the process. Notably, the expulsions come amidst a doxing operation by the Ukrainian intelligence agency that released a list of 620 alleged FSB officers, all with addresses in and around Lubyanka, again demonstrating Ukrainian aptitude to crowdsource both intelligence and response.

Elections in Hungary this weekend will be the first litmus test of how the war in Ukraine will affect domestic politics in Europe. Opposition to the invasions of Ukraine and the growing aversion Viktor Orban’s application of Putin’s political playbook in Hungary will make for the first truly contested election in Hungary for quite some time. While the united opposition is likely to do well, it’s uncertain whether they will be able to upend Orban’s political stronghold supported by a gerrymandered electoral system, a strong state propaganda apparatus, and a sophisticated and multifaceted nationalist political strategy deftly executed by his political party Fidesz. Whatever the outcome, there is increasing awareness and pressure on would-be autocrats and the far-right movements that seek to emulate Putin, restrict freedoms, and unite a nativist and racist conservative movement across Europe.

In Other News – Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Consequences, Open-Source Intelligence, & More – 3/24/2022

March 24, 2022

Knock-on effects of Russia’s Ukraine invasion will have wide-reach and could shift the global order moving forward. As an immediate consequence of Putin’s offensive in Ukraine, there’s an emergent global food crisis, soaring energy and commodity prices, a refugee crisis in Europe, and financial distress in places as far afield as Egypt and Pakistan. The shifting dynamics of global energy, the resurgence of the Western liberal democratic alliance, the likely permanent divestment from Russia, and the important, yet still undetermined role played by China, will have a profound impact on supply chains and national policies on energy, trade and diplomacy. We’re likely to see these factors play out in upcoming elections in places like France, Hungary and India, and during international diplomacy efforts like the Iran Nuclear Deal and G7/G20 alliances. Political alliances are also subject to realignment, and the United States is making unexpected overtures for aid and trade deals with traditional allies of Russia and China like Venezuela and Indonesia. Nations are likely to see the geopolitical disruption as an opportunity to form, and respond to, new partnerships, and it’s increasingly apparent that self-interest is the primary motivator for these choices. While we’re confronted with overtly global threats like new pandemics and climate change, the future of globalization is clearly on the table.

With a possible stalemate looming in Ukraine, the impact of Putin’s aggression hits home on multiple fronts. While brutal civilian attacks on Ukraine continue, Kyiv is doing its part to hold Russia at bay and Putin is apparently looking for someone to blame. Cracks are visible in his intelligence apparatus, with demonstrated tensions between the President and some of his closest FSB and defense allies. The military offensive has proven more difficult than Putin ever imagined, and this week NATO released estimates that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have died, with up to 40,000 wounded, taken prisoner, or missing. These soldiers have mothers and families back home, and Putin’s going to have to justify their deaths to an increasingly wary population.

Compounding these personal losses are material ones, and in much of Russia there are long lines for basic items such as gas, sugar and flour. Western products are exorbitantly expensive, if they’re available at all, and basic life-sustaining medicines such as insulin have begun disappearing from pharmacy shelves, with no clear guarantee of returning. Russia’s being further challenged by brain drain which could have long-term ramifications. Since the start of the war, it is estimated that more than 200,000 educated middle-class Russians have left the country. IT professionals, who often use their tech-savvy to access information sources restricted by Putin’s regime are among those fleeing in droves- likely further driven by the inability to collect revenue from international clients.

At this point, even if Putin decides to escalate and attempt further military gains, the societal, governmental, and economic ruptures in Russia are substantial and won’t be easily overcome.

Open-source intelligence is impacting military strategy, and Russia is behind the curve. Putin has struggled to achieve the type of quick military victory he anticipated in Ukraine, and clearly underestimated the will and force of Ukrainian resistance, but Moscow has also been failing to adapt to a new aspect of modern warfare: the information shared and analyzed by global citizens. Open-source analysts and hobbyists are taking advantage of online satellite imagery, Twitter images, and videos to track the movement and positioning of Russian troops, and Ukraine is incorporating these assessments into its military strategy. Ukrainians are wise to the power of capturing, disseminating, and utilizing real-time but informal information based on their experience sharing war content back in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea. But so far there is little indication that Russia has figured out how to manage this volume of consistent counter-narrative and defend against it. While Russia is desperate to narrate its own story by blocking Facebook, Twitter, and most recently Google News, the proliferation of online images being captured, verified, and analyzed by a borderless community of investigators has a high level of objectivity and is ultimately impossible to contain. Further, the detailed chronicle of open-source imagery is slowly seeping into Russia despite Putin’s best efforts and will make the nature of his invasion hard to dispute for time immemorial.

In Other News – Put Has Cemented Ukrainian Sentiment Further Against Him & More – 17/3/22

March 17, 2022

Putin is aware that complete occupation of Ukraine is becoming highly unlikely, but he’ll try to cut the best deal possible under unfavorable circumstances. Putin continues to launch his brutal attack on Ukrainian civilians, but he’s also attacking the same infrastructure that Moscow would need to effectively command Ukrainian territory in the case of a complete takeover. The UN estimates that infrastructure damage in Ukraine already amounts to over $100 billion, indicating that Putin aims to leave Ukraine in the weakest position possible. Instead of absorbing Ukrainian cities as functional entities, Putin might think that a city left in ruins will be more receptive to one of his puppet leaders. But Putin should be careful that his next steps don’t further the growing internal and external resolve against him.

If ground losses provoke Putin to escalate the violence much further, he risks losing China’s fragile support and perhaps more importantly, the support of his own people. There are already indications that Putin’s not only confronting demonstrations on the street but facing resistance from the inside. He’s rumored to have recently taken actions to neutralize army generals and members of the intelligence services, indicating a high degree of distress and awareness of the discontent. There’s likely a great deal of unease and unhappiness within other governmental institutions about how this invasion was rolled out. Longer term these factors will present a threat to his position. In the short run, the prospects of a satisfying agreement for either Putin or Zelenskyy looks increasingly unlikely. Both leaders will be forced into making concessions, and while thousands of lives have been lost, no party will emerge victorious.

In negotiations this week, Zelenskyy acknowledged that Ukraine “must admit” it won’t join NATO to move peace talks forward, appeasing one of Putin’s primary demands. But key NATO members were already opposed to admitting Ukraine before the invasion and Putin knew that. What Putin wanted was complete ownership of Ukraine, not just a defensive separation between Moscow and NATO members. But as the war progresses, it’s become apparent that to succeed in his quest at expansion, Putin didn’t need NATO guarantees he needed the acquiescence of the Ukrainian people. The irony is that every action Putin has undertaken in Ukraine, whether it be the support of Yanukovich, to the egregious invasion of Crimea, to the current invasions have done nothing but cement Ukrainian sentiment further against him.

Where is the Hybrid Warfare? Russia’s cyber capability to augment its physical assault on Ukraine, and to respond asymmetrically to Western sanctions, remains an ongoing threat. And yet, thus far the expected deluge of cyber warfare has not come. While the Ukrainian cyber agency SSCIP has reported more than 3000 cyberattacks against Ukraine since February, Ukraine has deftly been able to fend off much of the assault and further launch its own rather effective cyber campaign against Russian military infrastructure. Russia’s reported cyberattacks have mostly been paired with local kinetic attacks to limit Ukrainian communications and maintain access to information, but they have largely failed. There could be a larger cyber wave looming, or Moscow might have been taken aback by the degree of Ukrainian defense. It also remains to be seen if Russia’s planning a wider attack targeting the West or if it’s holding that option in abeyance pending the war’s outcome. Regardless of Russia’s cyber strategy, there will be knock-on effects of the increase in malware circulating on a global level and proactive cyber security efforts are warranted.

In Other News – Russia’s Invasion in the Ukraine – 3/10/22

March 10, 2022

The war will go on, for now. As Russia’s offensive in Ukraine increases in brutality and scope, it appears that the Ukrainian resolve to fight back has augmented with equivalent fervor. A third attempt at negotiations failed, arguably with less areas of possible agreement than the first two.

The reverberations of Putin’s Ukraine invasion could have long term impact on the global order.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reverberating in geopolitical dynamics concerning energy, trade, diplomacy, and security, with no end in sight. To win European support for a ban on Russian energy exports, the U.S. is making overtures to Russian allies as varied as Azerbaijan to Venezuela to broker deals that pair aid, trade deals, and sanctions relief in exchange for fuel. Negotiations on a renewed Iran Nuclear Deal are also advancing apace with Western hopes to secure Iranian oil sooner rather than later. Israel’s Prime Minister Bennett has proffered himself as a possible arbiter of the Ukrainian conflict in his own bid to ensure Israeli security imperatives that will potentially have to address a less constrained Iran and a beleaguered Syria on its borders. The conflict has further underscored diplomatic and strategic ambiguities of traditional U.S. allies – with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and India equivocating unexpectedly. How these complicated dynamics play out in the next few weeks could set the precedent for a new global order in years to come.

Fake News
Russia’s long-running information and propaganda war against the West is on display in full force over the invasion of Ukraine. All foreign media, including social media, has been banned or closed shop as reporting that veers from official narratives has been outlawed in Russia. Furthering the incongruous narrative that Russia has entered Ukraine to protect all Ukrainians from “drug-addled Nazi fascists,” Russia has promulgated fake stories about the discovery of chemical and biological weapons on the Eastern border of Ukraine. Interestingly, it seems that China’s strategic ambivalence continues in this area as well, as Chinese State Media shares many of these false narratives while simultaneously openly portraying the humanitarian plight of the Ukrainians at the hands of the Russian invasion.

Nuclear Conundrums
The IAEA reported that remote data transmissions for monitoring systems at Chernobyl have been lost since Tuesday, and the 210 staff, on-site since the war began, cannot rotate out of regular shifts. The critical nuclear site lost power on Wednesday, but the IAEA says there was no critical impact on safety. This follows reports that Russian forces shelled a neutron generator at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology. Western confusion as to why exactly Russia is targeting these sites adds to the alarm that Putin has ordered his nuclear forces into “special combat readiness.” Some believe Putin’s interest in these sites is mainly anchored in his desire to advance the narrative that he is protecting Russia from Ukrainian ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. Many argue that his dabbling in this nuclear space is focused mainly on messaging the West that he is willing to consider using nuclear weapons. One purported FSB Whistleblower assesses that Putin is unlikely to go for the nuclear route, and that the decision is not his alone. He notes further, there is not high confidence that the nuclear protocols would function properly having suffered from a lack of transparency in recent years, and it is unclear whether the plutonium fuel has been replenished in the past decade as would be required. At this stage, we assess that Putin is not seriously considering targeting a Ukrainian or European city or electrical grid with a nuclear weapon.

The Jedburgh Podcast – Jumping In with CIA Operations Director Jack Devine – 3/6/2022

Watch Jack Devine while he discusses the Ukraine, Russia, Putin & war in Europe in ‘22 on the Jedburgh Podcast.

Bloomberg Radio – What is Putin’s Endgame? – 3/5/2022

Listen to Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio where he discusses Putin and the Ukraine.

Jack Devine’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: Putin Has Ensured His Own Downfall – 3/3/2022

Read Jack Devine’s newest Wall Street Journal Op-Ed on Putin and his downfall.

In Other News – NATO is More Relevant Than Ever, & More – 3/3/2022

March 3, 2022

NATO is more relevant than ever, but its actions remain subject to Putin’s interpretation. The war in Ukraine has galvanized NATO, unifying members with an increased sense of purpose to actively defend European security, prompting an increase in domestic military spending, and reframing the benefit of NATO membership for would-be members including Finland and Sweden. NATO is directing significant humanitarian and military aid into Ukraine as well as deploying military equipment and troops into member states bordering Russia and Belarus. While NATO and its members have been clear to state that they will not fight in Ukraine, hoping to make a clear delineation that the group’s not in direct conflict with Russia, there are active concerns about how Russia, and most importantly Putin, will interpret NATO actions and whether such a clear demarcation of what constitutes an act of war by NATO exists from the Russian perspective. This assessment is even more critical given that Russia integrates the use of tactical nuclear weapons as part and parcel of its standard operating war procedures, as played out every year in its Zapad War Games. Further, if Putin feels increasingly isolated and under pressure for a sustained period of time, it’s possible that he could escalate the conflict regardless of NATO’s take.

Russian citizens’ reaction to Ukraine invasion being shaped by social media. Putin tried to assure the world that he had broad public support for his violent actions in Ukraine, but once the fighting began it was clear he had miscalculated. Thousands of Russians defied police threats and took to the streets in protest- risking their lives in the process. More than 7,000 Russians have been detained in hundreds of opposition protests across the country, and public celebrities, sports figures, and media personalities, in an unprecedented showing, have all spoken out in opposition to the invasion. Even Russia’s political elite have spoken out, if not in opposition to the war, in support of peace. Further fueling Russian opposition, social media continues publicize images of young Russian soldiers dying or being taken prisoner, and last weekend, Ukrainian authorities launched a website designed to help Russian families keep track of their family members fighting in Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers have now proposed a 15-year prison sentence for people who post “fakes” about the war. It is believed “fakes” will be defined as anything that runs counter to Putin’s narrative. Parliament, controlled by the Kremlin, will take up the measure on Friday. In addition, many anticipate the imposition of martial law to block open internet, ban all protests, and in a move that may already be too late, restrict Russians from leaving the country. Despite the Kremlin’s best efforts to control the narrative, the proliferation of social media and the willingness of both ordinary people and public figures to speak out may prove too much for Putin to control for long.

Continuum of international support for Russia underscores varied domestic security and economic concerns. The international community’s response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ranges from imposing unprecedented sanctions on Moscow to attempting to stay neutral in international efforts. Only a handful of nations: Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea, are 100% on Putin’s side. Most nations that are rallying behind Ukraine, however, are acting not only to support Kyiv but to demonstrate the full scale of repercussions for invading a sovereign state and upending the accepted modern conventions of international security. Several important East Asian countries including Japan, South Korea, and notably Singapore – not typically inclined to impose financial sanctions – have stepped up against Russia in part to deter China from any type of similar future move that would threaten their territorial integrity.

But a look at nations who abstained from the UN vote on Wednesday to support a resolution to condemn Russia’s actions and demand Moscow withdraw military forces from Ukraine demonstrates the extent of Russia’s reach into Africa. It also reflects the precarious positioning of states like Kazakhstan and Mongolia that sit between Russia and China, as well as highlights Russia’s inroads into a large swath of land that notably includes both India and Pakistan. While India’s longstanding military and security ties to Russia date back to the end of the Cold War, Islamabad is working to enhance energy and economic cooperation with Moscow.

Even nations like Israel and the United Arab Emirates, who voted to condemn Russia during Wednesday’s vote, will be hesitant to take stronger actions like sanctions. The UAE has been balancing its US-Russia relations for several years and recently cemented 1.3 billion worth of energy and technology deals with Moscow. Israel needs to maintain friendly relations with Russia to ensure its security vis a vis Syria and, by extension, Iran, but it’s also attempting to maintain open ties to Ukraine. Likewise, nations like Azerbaijan – who recently agreed to “allied cooperation” with Moscow right before the invasion – has also sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and several other nations are grappling with their desire to support Ukrainians without overtly angering Putin. Even China seems to be towing a fine line: securing a strategic alliance while also limiting financing for Russian commodities by its state banks. How and if these “neutral” nations shift to support the battle for principles of sovereignty over domestic concerns, however, will likely depend on their assessment of Putin’s gains and losses.

Read Jack Devine’s latest Op-Ed, Putin Has Ensured His Own Downfall, in the Wall Street Journal.