In Other News – Russia’s Painstaking Process in Ukraine – 4-7-2023

April 7, 2023

Russia might be inching forward on the battlefield, but it’s a painstaking process met with heavy headwinds on multiple fronts. The battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut may be nearing a close as the Wagner Group alleges that it has gained control in the east of the city. Still, if we’ve learned anything in the past 13 months, it’s to never underestimate the Ukrainians! This high cost “victory” in Russia’s eyes would prompt Moscow to try and lay claim to the whole of the Donesk region, a pyrrhic victory when looked at in light of many public intelligence assessments stating that Russia is currently ill-equipped in strategy, men, arms and ammunition to take much more territory this year. And this bleak assessment factors in the extra civil mobilization, disappointing springtime surge, and drone procurements from Iran.

The intractability of the diminishing prospects of the situation seems to be tacitly acknowledged by Putin’s arrest of the WSJ journalist who reported on the growing effects of sanctions on the Russian economy. In addition, Putin’s agreement with OPEC to decrease oil production to keep prices higher, his recent announcement of an additional surge, and his nuclear sabre rattling announcing nuclear storage facility construction in Belarus also indicate that his situation is increasingly untenable.

Indeed, the longterm economic and political effects of the invasion are also coming home to roost with a remarkable diminishment of Russian intelligence capability on Western soil. Over the past year, there have been several reported occasions where Russian intelligence efforts have been notably disrupted by US and European security services, and this week the director of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service remarked that the Russian intelligence station in Finland is now half of its former size. Like many European nations, ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, Finland has been expelling suspected spies and refusing visas to any potential agents.

Further, Russian deep-cover spies, like Sergey Cherkasov, who was recently indicted by US authorities for being an “illegal” operative of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency after allegedly feigning Brazilian citizenship, have also been unmasked. The Russians are now left with fewer valuable human assets and are likely to dive even deeper into cyberespionage. Russian has focused much of its recent intelligence operations within Ukraine with mixed success, but the intensely local effort detracts from Moscow’s international aspirations, and what Putin may be coming to realize is that his pertinence as a global player may be soon obsolete.

Meanwhile, potential parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan were again evoked this week as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a stopover on US soil. Despite the uproar, the timbre and location of this visit is a sign of the U.S. trying to temper Chinese anger given that McCarthy switched up his plans to travel to Taiwan and revert to a meeting method that has occurred six times previously within the framework of the U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity. Taiwan, a critical US supplier of semiconductors, is feeling a growing diplomatic isolation because of a concerted and longstanding Chinese campaign to deprive Taipei of international recognition as several African and Central American countries have cuddled up to Beijing. Interestingly, the former President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou traveled to China this week, the first trip ever made by an acting or former President of the island, suggesting that there are domestic political calculations ongoing within Taiwan of those fearful of a Chinese invasion.