New report details the role of Russian intelligence in Ukraine

Briefly: A report by the Royal United Services Institute, the world’s oldest defence and security think tank, reveals new details around the role of Russian intelligence in the Russo-Ukraine war.

Think tank reports can be drier than a KFC biscuit. But this one, based on interviews with intelligence agencies, contains some pretty intriguing details:

  • In mid 2021, Russia’s moles in Ukraine started taking ‘holidays’ to Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt to receive orders from their Moscow handlers
  • Russia was so confident in the success of its planned invasion, it even rented apartments for its special forces in Kyiv
  • And as the invasion began, all Ukrainian general officers received a text or call from Russia urging them not to resist, to minimise bloodshed

But as the ol’ saying goes, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. As Russia started taking punches, its intel plans quickly unravelled.

Intrigue’s take: There are a few key takeaways here. First, this report shows how, absent a culture of transparency or accountability, autocracies like Russia will often just tell the boss what they want to hear.

Second, armed with bad data, autocrats like Putin are more likely to make bad decisions (such as invading a neighbour). And other countries are less able to deter those bad decisions, given they’re based on such unrealistic expectations.

But third, the report says a Russian spy chief did ask Putin to delay the invasion. And in the kind of understatement that only a think tank could muster, it says Putin’s decision to proceed anyway “may be understood as a strategic error of judgement”.

Also worth noting:

  • The report says Russian intel provided $3-4M per month in funding to a Ukrainian politician (Andriy Derkach) to establish a pro-Russia network in Ukraine.
  • The report’s conclusion claims Russian intelligence is now attempting to destabilise Ukraine’s neighbour, Moldova.
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