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.