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.