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Defense & Security
Map of the Red Sea

Red Sea politics: why Turkey is helping Somalia defend its waters

by Federico Donelli

Somalia and Turkey recently announced that they would expand the terms of a defence agreement first signed on 8 February 2024 to include the maritime sector. This came as tensions rose between Somalia and landlocked Ethiopia. Ethiopia is seeking access to the Red Sea through Somaliland, a breakaway state of Somalia. Federico Donelli, an international relations professor whose research covers Red Sea security and politics, puts this defence agreement into context. What’s the scope of the relationship between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey’s entry into Somalia in 2011 started out as a humanitarian partnership but soon turned into a strategic one. Its support since has been economic and infrastructural and has increasingly included the military. The Turkish government saw Somalia’s failed statehood and the lack of other major international stakeholders as an opportunity to increase its popularity across Africa. Turkey aimed to: - gain international visibility - test its ability to intervene in conflict and post-conflict scenarios - increase market diversification into east Africa - cultivate its image as a benevolent Muslim middle power by promoting Islamic solidarity. Several Turkish faith-based associations and NGOs already active in Africa became directly involved in development and relief projects. Major national brands, such as Turkish Airlines, promoted campaigns to raise funds for Somalia. Within a few years, Turkey’s involvement in Somalia was portrayed by the government and perceived by the Turkish public as a domestic issue. Turkey’s early efforts to bring Somalia back to the table of the international community were successful. With the reopening of Mogadishu’s port and airport in 2014, both managed by Turkish companies, the economic situation in Somalia improved compared to the previous decade. Turkish political elites began to present their involvement in Somalia as a success story. This is despite some remaining critical problems, including failing to root out the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab. Turkey took responsibility for training the Somali National Army in partnership with other stakeholders, including the European Union and the United States. It opened a military base in Mogadishu in 2017. The base trains one of the army’s elite units, the Gorgor Brigades, and serves as a Turkish military outpost in the region. Al-Shabaab’s persistence has convinced Turkey that it needs to provide more active military support for Somalia’s development. Ankara also wants to protect its economic and political investments in Somalia. Finally, behind the Turkish deal with Somalia is the politics around the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). Over the past 12 months, Turkey has moved closer to the United States. It’s positioned itself as an effective ally in Africa to counteract the negative effects of France’s withdrawal – such as the increasing influence of Russia. Turkey’s commitment to Somalia follows its efforts in Libya. In both cases, Turkey has proven willing to take on the security burden that other Nato members, particularly Italy, have refused to meet. Turkey’s engagement in Somalia is, therefore, part of a broader foreign policy strategy to gain more autonomy in global politics. Increased relevance within Nato would help achieve this. What’s the context of the maritime defence pact between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey and Somalia began working on an agreement between November 2023 and January 2024. Turkey agreed to train and equip Somalia’s naval force and help patrol the country’s 3,333km coastline. Turkey’s defence sector has had increasing influence in Ankara’s foreign policy decisions. Turkey sees itself as an exporter of defence industry products, and as a partner in training special forces and police. African countries are among the main targets for the Turkish defence sector. Somalia, therefore, provides an opportunity to spread more Turkish production and items. In 2022, Turkey became, along with the United States, the main backer of a new offensive against Al-Shabaab. It provided logistical support to the Gorgor forces and air cover to the national army. This cooperation has led to the 10-year defence agreement, including maritime security, signed in February 2024. Turkey and Somalia have been working on the accord for some time, but recent regional events have undoubtedly affected the announcement’s timing. An Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding in January 2024 is one such event. Turkey has good relations with Somaliland, but considers the territorial integrity of Somalia to be essential for its stability. At the same time, the Horn of Africa’s political dynamics are shifting. Mounting tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia have led to new coalitions involving regional and extra-regional players. It’s important not to oversimplify, but two factions are emerging. On one side are Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the other are Somalia, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. At first, Turkey sought to mediate between the factions to defuse tensions. But its agreement with Somalia reduces Turkey’s room for manoeuvre. Although the relationship with Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be unaffected, there could be negative repercussions, especially for the many Turkish economic interests in Ethiopia. What is the UAE factor? When it comes to the Horn of Africa, the UAE plays a pivotal role. Turkey and Somalia each have a relationship with the Emirates. From 2014 to 2020, Turkey engaged in bitter rivalry with the Emirates in the wider Red Sea area. This was driven by the two countries’ different visions for the region’s future. Relations improved from 2020. During the 2020-2022 war in Tigray, both Turkey and the UAE supported the Ethiopian government. But recent developments in the Horn of Africa, such as the UAE-backed Ethiopia-Somaliland deal, threaten to create new friction between Turkey and the Emirates. Turkey doesn’t have the political will or material capacity to sustain this. In the past three years, the UAE has supported the Turkish economy with direct investment, changing the balance of the relationship. The situation is similar for Somalia. From a commercial and security perspective, the Emirates is important in Somalia. The UAE manages two key Somali ports – Berbera and Bosaso. It’s also moving to take over Kismayo. And the Emirates has been one of Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s principal backers. It would be risky for the Somali president to break ties with Abu Dhabi. What happens next? There is still much uncertainty about how the Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding and the Turkey-Somalia defence cooperation agreements will be put into practice. What’s clear is that both the UAE and Turkey are becoming more active and influential in the region. And that African dynamics within and between states are closely intertwined with regional and global trends.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier at a tank wreckage

As war in Ukraine enters third year, 3 issues could decide its outcome: Supplies, information and politics

by Tara D. Sonenshine

In retrospect, there was perhaps nothing surprising about Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Vladimir Putin’s intentions were, after all, hiding in plain sight and signaled in the months running up to the incursion. What could not be foreseen, however, is where the conflict finds itself now. Heading into its third year, the war has become bogged down: Neither is it a stalemate, nor does it look like either side could make dramatic advances any time soon. Russia appears to be on the ascendancy, having secured the latest major battlefield victory, but Ukrainian fighters have exceeded military expectations with their doggedness in the past, and may do so again. But as a foreign policy expert and former journalist who spent many years covering Russia, I share the view of those who argue that the conflict is potentially at a pivotal point: If Washington does not continue to fully support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military, then Ukraine’s very survival could be at risk. I believe it would also jeopardize America’s leadership in the world and global security. How the conflict develops during the rest of 2024 will depend on many factors, but three may be key: supplies, information and political will. The supplies race Russia and Ukraine are locked in a race to resupply its war resources – not just in terms of soldiers, but also ammunition and missiles. Both sides are desperately trying to shore up the number of soldiers it can deploy. In December 2023, Putin ordered his generals to increase troop numbers by nearly 170,000, taking the total number of soldiers to 1.32 million. Meanwhile, Ukraine is said to be looking at plans to increase its military by 500,000 troops. Of course, here, Russia has the advantage of being able to draw on a population more than three times that of Ukraine. Also, whereas Putin can simply order up more troops, Zelenskyy must get measures approved through parliament. Aside from personnel, there is also the need for a steady supply of weapons and ammunition – and there have been reports that both sides are struggling to maintain sufficient levels. Russia appears particularly eager to boost its number of ballistic missiles, as they are better equipped for countering Ukraine air defense systems despite being slower than cruise missiles. Increasingly, Moscow appears to be looking to North Korea and Iran as suppliers. After Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, visited Russia in 2023, the U.S. accused Pyongyang of supplying Russia with ballistic missiles. Iran, meanwhile, has delivered to Russia a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones. Ukraine, meanwhile, is dependent on foreign military equipment. Supplies were stronger at the beginning of the war, but since then, Ukraine’s military has suffered from the slow, bureaucratic nature of NATO and U.S. deliveries. It wasn’t, for example, until the summer of 2023 that the U.S. approved Europe’s request to provide F-16s to Ukraine. Ukraine needs more of everything, including air defense munitions, artillery shells, tanks and missile systems. It is also running short of medical supplies and has seen hospital shortages of drugs at a time when rampant infections are proving resistant to antibiotics. Perhaps the biggest factor that remains in Russia’s favor when it comes to supplies is the onerous restrictions placed on Ukraine from the West, limiting its ability to attack Russian territory with U.S. or NATO equipment to avoid a wider war. For example, the Ukrainian military had a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with a 50-mile range that could hit targets inside Russia, but it modified the range to keep the U.S. military satisfied that it would not cross a Russian red line. If this policy could be relaxed, that might be a game changer for Ukraine, although it would raise the stakes for the U.S. The information war The Ukraine conflict is also a war of messaging. To this end, Putin uses propaganda to bolster support for the campaign at home, while undermining support for Ukraine elsewhere – for example, by planting stories in Europe that cause disenchantment with the war. One outrageous claim in the early weeks of the war was that Zelenskyy had taken his own life. The rumor came from pro-Russia online operatives as part of an aggressive effort to harm Ukrainian morale, according to cybersecurity firm Mandiant. More recently, in France, stories appeared that questioned the value of assistance to Ukraine and reminded the public of the negative impact of Russian sanctions on the French. Stirring dissent in this way is a classic Putin play to raise doubts. And investigative reporting points toward a disinformation network being run out of the Kremlin, which includes social media bots deployed on Ukrainian sites spreading stories of Zelenskyy’s team being corrupt and warning that the war would go badly. Given that Putin controls the Russian media and is quick to crack down on dissent, it is hard to really know what Russians think. But one reputable polling agency recently reported strong support in Russia for both Putin and the war in Ukraine. Ukrainians, too, still support the fight against Russia, polling shows. But some war fatigue has no doubt lowered morale. There are other signs of domestic strain in Ukraine. At the end of 2023, tensions grew between Zelenskyy and his top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny who had complained about weaponry. Zelenskyy ended up firing the military chief, risking political backlash and underscoring that not all is well in the top chain of command. Should disunity and war fatigue continue into the war’s third year, it could serious impair Ukraine’s ability to fight back against a resurgent Russian offensive. The politics of conflict But it isn’t just domestic politics in Ukraine and Russia that will decide the outcome of the war. U.S. politics and European unity could be a factor in 2024 in determining the future of this conflict. In the U.S., Ukraine aid has become politicized – with aid to Ukraine becoming an increasingly partisan issue. In early February, the Senate finally passed an emergency aid bill for Ukraine and Israel that would see US$60.1 billion go to Kyiv. But the bill’s fate in the House is unknown. And the looming 2024 presidential elections could complicate matters further. Former president Donald Trump has made no secret of his aversion to aid packages over loans, calling them “stupid,” and has long argued that Americans shouldn’t be footing the bill for the conflict. Recently, he has made bombastic statements about NATO and threatened not to adhere to the alliance’s commitment to protect members if they were attacked by Russia. And uncertainty about American assistance could leave Europe carrying more of the financial load. European Union members have had to absorb the majority of the 6.3 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the beginning of the conflict. And that puts a strain on resources. European oil needs also suffer from the sanctions against Russian companies. Whether these potential war determinants – supplies, information and politics – mean that the Ukraine war will not be entering a fourth year in 12 months time, however, is far from certain. In fact, one thing that does appear clear is that the war that some predicted would be over in weeks looks set to continue for some time still.

Defense & Security
Vladimir Putin at United Russia congress

Russia's fateful triangle

by FAES Analysis Group

The news of the death of Alexei Navalny, a symbol of the political opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime, in a prison 60 kilometers from the Arctic Circle, has shocked Western public opinion, but comes as no surprise. Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has resorted to the physical elimination of his political opponents as a tool to stay in power and terrorize the opposition. First he used it against the oligarchs who enriched themselves during Boris Yeltsin's two presidential terms. Then journalists, such as Anna Politovskaya, who criticized him and reported on the Chechen war, were murdered. Then Boris Nemtsov on the Kremlin bridge in 2015, while numerous other opposition politicians were imprisoned. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, several people who opposed the invasion have "committed suicide". Navalny, who had already in 2020 been poisoned with novichok, a chemical nerve agent to whose use only high-ranking government or military officials can have access, had defined Putin's United Russia party as that "of criminals and thieves". He was also the driving force behind the massive anti-regime demonstrations during the winter of 2011-2012 (the largest so far), over alleged electoral fraud in regional elections. The most defiant figure to Putin's regime, Navalny has paid with his life for the one message he insisted on sending to Russians: that they should fight for freedom. Navalny's death is yet another symptom of what is really happening in Putin's Russia. The next presidential elections will be held March 15-17. Putin is certain to win them. The disappearance of the political opposition to the Russian regime has not translated into a mass protest of the population nor - more importantly - into a vote against the government. Boris Nadezdin, baptized by Western journalists as "the candidate for peace" will not be able to run in the elections because the Russian Supreme Court has upheld the decision, taken by the Central Electoral Commission, to invalidate 100,000 signatures endorsing his candidacy, under the generic pretext of "irregularities". Nadezdin advocates an immediate truce and a transition to peace negotiations in trilateral format involving Russia, Ukraine and the West. According to him, the decision on the fate of the territories annexed by Russia should be based on the will of the people who lived there before the conflict. The war in Ukraine, now entering its third year, is the cause of the breakdown of relations between Russia and the West and Russia's growing dependence on the "axis of the sanctioned" (North Korea, Iran and China). Ukraine is losing on the battlefield due to lack of ammunition and war fatigue affecting both its own population and its allies. The prospect of Donald Trump's victory in November this year further darkens its future, as NATO countries will not be able to overcome an eventual suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, as the alliance's secretary general has warned. The war is turning into a competition between the Western and Russian military industries. If Europe does not wake up, Ukraine and its allies will lose everything that Kiev has so far gained, thus fulfilling Russia's goal of turning its neighboring country into a failed state. The Western allies had managed to provide Ukraine with significant political, military and economic support during the two years of war. However, it is not so clear that they are prepared for a long war nor for the containment and deterrence of Russia, although it is well known that investing in deterrence is always cheaper than investing in open warfare. Navalny's death, Putin's electoral victory and the long duration of the war in Ukraine are the fateful triangle that the Kremlin now opposes to the West, a triangle strengthened by the shameful silence of the majority of the Russian population, a silence that is a consequence of the tyranny and information manipulation carried out by the regime, but also of its political apathy.

Defense & Security
Russian and Iranian flags on matching puzzle pieces

Increased Iran-Russia Military Cooperation After the Ukraine Invasion: Impact of US/Western Sanctions

by Ian Dudgeon

Iran and Russia have entered a closer political, economic, and military relationship during the past two years, the trigger widely seen as the upsurge in defence cooperation following Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This new relationship, described variously as a strategic alignment or strategic partnership, was seen by both Tehran and Moscow as necessary to meet mutual and separate critical national needs due to the restrictive effects on both of US and Western sanctions. Iran’s international affairs, since its 1979 Islamic revolution, have been largely shaped by two factors. The first is Iran’s strong adherence to national autonomy, maximum self-sufficiency, and non-alignment. The latter has included, as far as practical, a balance between East and West, or today, Global South and Global West. However, Iranians are cautious about trusting others. While, therefore, a strategic alignment with Russia, or potentially others, could be acceptable, a formal alliance that compromise’s autonomy, would not. The second factor is Iran’s relationship with the US, and in turn with Europe, other Western countries and the UN, and their use of sanctions to deter or change international adversarial differences. Iran-US relations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution have been tense and conflicted, and especially with Iranian-supported regional state and non-state militia. Major US concerns include Iran’s support for “state and non-state terrorism,” human rights abuses, missile development, and their potential, some say intent, to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Decades of broadly-based US sanctions, along with EU and UN sanctions, the latter mostly nuclear related, have strongly impacted the nation. The one short period of Iran-US rapprochement commenced in 2016 when President Barack Obama successfully brought Iran onboard as a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) or nuclear agreement. Obama’s aim was to firstly resolve the nuclear issue and use this as the stepping-stone to negotiations on other regional security issues. But this two-step process was undone by President Donald Trump‘s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose US primary and secondary sanctions. Trump’s action, and President Joe Biden’s subsequent “failure” to rejoin the JCPOA and repeal related US sanctions, bitterly disappointed a large cast of international stakeholders, including Iran’s moderates and other JCPOA signatories. For Iran, the US could not be trusted to seriously seek rapprochement and repeal US sanctions either before, or foreseeably after, this year’s US presidential elections. This distrust extended also to the Europeans and others who would continue to remain subject to US secondary sanctions. Iran saw its future fundamentally with countries that were willing to openly trade with them, notwithstanding US sanctions, and other countries or organisations that were prepared to overlook or actively circumvent or evade sanctions. Multilateral outreach included Iran joining two major non-aligned groups in 2023, the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and BRICS+6 (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa + 6). These comprise some 40 percent and 46 percent respectively of the world’s population, and some 20 percent and 30 percent of global GDP. BRICS also includes some 40 percent of global oil production. Key members of both include Russia, China, and India. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are part of the “+6 members” of BRICS, and are also Dialogue Partners of the SCO. Both organisations offer significant additional political and economic networking opportunities and economic options. Bilaterally, the relationship between Tehran and Moscow, from its imperialist Shah/Tsar and post-revolutionary Iran and USSR/Russia iterations to the late 1980s, has had its share of tensions and conflict, including territorial disputes. The past 30-year period from the early 1990s to 2021, however, has been relatively stable. Geographic proximity, including a maritime border across the Caspian Sea, facilitated a significant increase in trade, reportedly from some US$1 billion in 2005 to US$3.3 billion in 2021. Mutual security interests also saw an increase in regional military cooperation, including joint operations against ISIS in Syria, and increased Russian sales of military equipment to Iran. The relationship changed significantly in early 2022 due to Russia’s increased military equipment needs, and to help offset the broad impact of sanctions imposed by the US, the EU, and others on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Militarily, increased Iranian defence sales to Russia have included a range of munitions, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) systems, and potentially Iranian short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The UAV deal includes the construction of a factory for manufacturing thousands of Iranian drones in Russia’s Tartarstan province. In return Russia has sold, or agreed to sell, to Iran a range of advanced weapons systems, including the S-400 air-defence missile, helicopters, and SU 34 fighters. Enhanced cyber and satellite cooperation was also agreed. Russia has also passed to Iran many of the high technology Western weapons systems captured in Ukraine, enabling Iran to evaluate, copy, and develop counter-measures. Significantly, this new level of Iranian-Russian cooperation has lifted the military capability of both, with implications for the Middle East and Ukraine respectively. But how effective have the sanctions been? Iran has been subject to harsh sanctions since 1979, and developed a “resistance economy” involving official and extensive unofficial trade and financing arrangements. Because many related statistics are unreliable or unavailable, official GDP estimates may be highly inaccurate. Importantly, however, and despite fluctuations, the World Bank shows a consistent decline in Iran’s GDP since 1979. For Russia, due to shifting markets and higher prices for oil since early 2022, their GDP contracted some 2 percent only that year compared to a prediction of more than 11 percent, and has mostly recovered since. Economically, despite the challenges of sanctions, bilateral cooperation is strong, both economies still function, and their governments remain stable. Militarily, sanctions have facilitated closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, contrary to US, NATO, and allied interests. Are there areas for the US to negotiate the lifting of sanctions with Iran and Russia? US priorities for Iran could include rejoining the JCPOA, facilitating a reduction or cessation of state and non-state militia attacks against regional Israeli, US, and related maritime targets, and restricting specified military cooperation with Russia. US priorities for Russia could include various ceasefire compromises involving the war in the Ukraine, and restricting specified military cooperation with Iran. And the likelihood of progress? For the reasons above, progress on any issue between the US and Iran is very unlikely before this year’s US presidential elections. If or when afterwards would depend in large part on who was elected. For Russia, a ceasefire compromise in Ukraine could be possible if it gave them “temporary” retention of vast tracts of land captured post-2022. Timing will be dictated by battlefield outcomes, but the US Senate approval on 13 February of an additional US$60 billion of military assistance to the Ukraine, and its likely approval by Congress, makes a ceasefire in the foreseeable future unlikely.

Defense & Security
Saint Basil's Cathedral as viewed from Red Square.

There Was Once a Counteroffensive

by Pascal Boniface

The war in Ukraine is developing not quite as expected. Kiev's army is on the defense, Moscow's troops are advancing. All the while, the distance between the West and the rest of the world is increasing The year 2023 was a catastrophic year for geopolitical affairs. The war between Russia and Ukraine that began a year earlier continues, followed by the war between Israel and Hamas that broke out on October 7. The expected collapse of the Russian army did not happen. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of PMC Wagner, who openly questioned Vladimir Putin’s authority, died officially by accident. Vladimir Putin’s power is now even more firmly established in Russia. Westerners, who decided to leave Russia to impose sanctions on it, allowed it to recover $100 billion worth of abandoned assets for next to nothing, which the Russian government was able to redistribute among its cronies. The Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in the summer of 2023 has failed. The most likely scenario in this context is, of course, that the military situation will freeze, allowing Russia to retain some Ukrainian territory. This represents a heavy defeat for the West, as they themselves have stated that they will lose their credibility if Ukraine loses the game, and that Putin will win the war by default. The Ukrainian issue is also the subject of intense debate in the USA, with Republicans and Democrats arguing over whether to continue supporting Ukraine on a massive scale. The White House continues to massively support Kiev, but if Donald Trump returns to power next year, American aid to Ukraine will indeed be suspended. Vladimir Putin will be able to prevail, at least from a communications standpoint. The great mistake of the West is that it confused the desirable (Russia’s defeat) with the possible. However, demographics are in Russia’s favor: there are four times as many Russians as Ukrainians. The Russian defense industry is operating at full capacity and is supported by Iran and North Korea. Russia is weakened by the departure of many Russians who fled repression and mobilization. It is cut off from the Western world united against it, but on the other hand, it retains the cards to play in the so-called Global South. You could say that the war in Gaza has benefited its cause. Indeed, on October 7, 2023, Hamas launched deadly attacks against Israel. Israel has launched a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas. By carrying out massive bombing raids that have already killed more than 24,000 people and created a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Gaza is a children’s graveyard. If nothing justifies the October 7 terrorist attacks, nothing justifies the massive and indiscriminate bombing of civilians who would otherwise be subjected to a blockade. This situation in the Middle East is a real argument for Vladimir Putin against the West. The latter actually continues to ask the countries of the Global South, non-Western countries, to adopt sanctions against Russia that has seized territories by force and bombed civilians, which is forbidden by international law. But the same Western countries recognize Israel’s unconditional right to self-defense, while Israel also occupies territories and bombs civilians. For the affected Israelis, there will be a before and an after October 7. They thought they lived in a safe haven, protected from harm, but found that they did not. These attacks came as an undeniable shock to Israel. But there will also be wars before and after the Gaza war, because the images of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip under Israeli bombardment that we see now may be less visible in the Western world, but are widespread around the world and will also remain in the collective consciousness. In both cases, to varying degrees, there is a difference in understanding between Western and non-Western countries. Western countries condemn Russia and support Israel. Non-Western countries think it is completely abnormal to condemn Russia and not condemn Israel for bombing civilians. This difference in perception is growing and isolating the western world from the rest of the world.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier launching a drone for reconnaissance

How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict

by Kristen D. Thompson

Drone technology has been used extensively in twenty-first-century armed conflict, but the Russia-Ukraine war is driving innovations in autonomous warfare not seen on other battlefields. From drones that fit in the palm of the hand to drones weighing more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), Ukraine has built and acquired a diverse fleet of remotely piloted aircraft to complicate and frustrate Russia’s advances. The constantly evolving scope of this technology and its ever-growing use signal not only the potential for drones to level the playing field in the Russia-Ukraine war, but also their ability to influence how future conflicts are waged. Why is the war in Ukraine a hotbed for drones? As the war enters its third calendar year, neither side is close to achieving air superiority. Most military analysts expected that Russia, with its superior air power, would quickly seize control of contested airspace early in the conflict. But surprisingly, Ukraine’s defenses, later bolstered by Western systems, were able to repel and deter Russian aircraft from making near-border and cross-border strikes. The inability of either side to break through the other’s integrated air defenses has forced them to increase the agility of their fielded forces and rely more heavily on standoff weapons, including long-range artillery, missiles, and drones. These conditions have led to the development of new drone technologies that could help Ukraine level the playing field in the air battle and possibly turn the tide of the war in its favor. What technologies are in use? Ukraine’s drone deployment has evolved with the changing battlefield. During earlier stages of the war—when Russia’s air defense and electronic-warfare capabilities were less pronounced—Ukraine relied on larger drones such as the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar to great effect. The TB2’s ability to carry multiple air-to-ground munitions and loiter for long periods allowed Ukrainian forces to penetrate Russian air defenses and strike heavy targets. However, as time progressed and Russia took greater control of the skies, it was able to detect and shoot down these larger models more easily. The TB2 may maintain some relevance—its sensor suite and considerable range still enable Ukrainian operators to collect intelligence—but Ukraine has nonetheless shifted to using smaller drone technology to adapt to Russian advances. The more abundant, smaller drones are proving to be serious game changers in that they have given Ukraine better battlespace awareness and more capability to hit targets. The Ukrainians have tapped into commercial technology—the same recreational products available to civilians—to get cheap, off-the-shelf drones onto the battlefield quickly. Many of these “hobbyist” drones have been acquired through grassroots crowdfunding efforts, or “dronations.” At just one thousand dollars per unit, the small drones can be rapidly amassed and repurposed by operators for a specific effect. For example, the popular first-person view (FPV) drones commonly used for racing or filmmaking are retrofitted with makeshift explosives and flown to strike fixed targets at relatively low cost. These drones can carry out single-use strikes with high precision while remaining less susceptible to Russian air defense systems. Additionally, the Ukrainians have repurposed significant aspects of their domestic economy to support the new drone supply chain, increasing their drone-making capabilities through public-private partnerships. One year ago, Ukraine had seven domestic drone manufacturers and it now has at least eighty. As for Russian drone technology, Moscow deploys indigenous models, such as the Orion, Eleron-3, Orlan-10, and Lancet, but Western sanctions on crucial Russian supply chains have prevented Moscow from excelling in drone production. Instead, Russia has turned to Iran for a steady supply. The Russians now boast an extensive fleet of Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that can carry 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) of explosives over a range of 1,200 miles (1931 kilometers). How are drones shaping the war? This conflict has demonstrated the battlefield advantages of drones, which have become smaller, more lethal, easier to operate, and available to almost anyone. They compress the so-called kill chain, shortening the time from when a target is detected to when it is destroyed, and they can bolster a military’s ability to reconnoiter the forward edge of the battlefield. Drones with longer endurance profiles can effectively conduct hours of reconnaissance, enabling other, more advanced drones to carry out precision strikes deep inside enemy territory. Other models enable individual soldiers to monitor adversary movement without risking lives or giving up the soldier’s position. Drones can also play an important international humanitarian role, for instance, by conducting battle and collateral damage assessments or exposing war crimes. U.S. drone manufacturer Skydio recently donated nine drones that—with their high-resolution cameras—will be used to help Ukraine document potential Russian war crimes. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), images captured will be used to aid the Office of the Prosecutor General in documenting many instances of human rights abuses. What are the defenses against drones? Drones are susceptible to air defenses. Larger drones with a distinct radar cross-section are easy, slow-moving targets for air defense interceptors and anti-drone guns; both Ukraine and Russia have downed thousands of drones with their interceptors and artillery. However, the continual use of these systems by both Ukraine and Russia can be prohibitively costly, as a single drone could cost thousands or even millions of dollars to intercept. An emerging challenge of counter-drone defense is the need to develop and employ a system that is cheaper than its target. Crucially, smaller drones that can swarm toward a target are more difficult to shoot down. as they can overwhelm air defense systems. A key countermeasure has been to utilize electronic warfare in the form of jammers, spoofers, and high-energy lasers that prevent drones from reaching their target. Jammers—used by both Russia and Ukraine—send out powerful electromagnetic signals that can cause a target drone to fall to the ground, veer off course, or turn around and attack its operator. As the war progresses, both sides are continually investing in and adapting electronic warfare tactics to counter the innovations of their adversary. How will the drone war evolve? The Russia-Ukraine conflict has demonstrated that innovations in drone technology can change the balance of power in the air defense domain especially. While Russia seeks to build pockets of air superiority and bolster its drone production and anti-drone defenses, Ukraine continues to develop both more and less sophisticated solutions. In a recently uncovered partnership project with Iran, Russia finished constructing a drone factory in Tatarstan, 500 miles (805 kilometers) east of Moscow, where it could produce an estimated six thousand Shahed-136 prototypes (renamed the Geran-2 by Moscow) by mid-2025. This expanded drone production could be enough to counter Russia’s shortage of drones on the front lines and turn the tide of the conflict in its favor. However, Ukraine’s ability to acquire and crowdsource commercial drone technology, tactically modify drones in the field based on real-time feedback, and alter tactics to defeat anti-drone systems have proved to be crucial to its war effort. Even while overmatched force-wise, Ukraine has shown how savvy technological adaptation can change twenty-first century warfare and could tip the balance of power in favor of the force that is more innovative. Editor’s Note: Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author.

Defense & Security
A plane of the Russian airline Aeroflot takes off.

War in Ukraine Disrupts Russian Civilian and Commercial Aviation

by Hlib Parfonov

Originally published by Hlib Parfonov at The Jamestown Foundation on 13. December 2023 Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 190 Over the past month, as many as ten forced landings of civilian aircraft have taken place in Russia. The most serious of these happened over the past week. On December 7, a fire on board an Aeroflot Airlines Boeing 777 forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing. The plane was flying from Kamchatka to Moscow when a passenger noticed smoke coming from under his seat. The preliminary investigation attributed the fire to a short circuit of wiring in the main cabin (T.me/aviatorshina, December 7). That same day, a Tu-204S cargo plane of Aviastar-Tu Airlines with registration number RA-64024 was returning from Zhengzhou airport in China. After takeoff, the pilot reported to air traffic controllers that the left engine had stalled and requested an emergency landing at Ulan-Ude airport (Ruavia.su, December 7). And on December 8, a Siberian Airlines Boeing 737 traveling from Novosibirsk to Moscow made an emergency landing in Tolmachevo. Immediately after takeoff, both of the aircraft’s engines caught fire (T.me/aviatorshina, December 8). These incidents highlight growing problems for Russia’s civilian and commercial aviation. Many of the technical difficulties are tied to Western sanctions prohibiting the import of critical components for the proper maintenance of aircraft. The recent forced landings represent another example of the war in Ukraine increasingly being brought home to Russia. Western sanctions and a critical shortage of technical personnel have hampered Russian civilian aviation since the beginning of the war (see EDM, July 3, September 8). Due to a lack of specialists and necessary spare parts, negligence of management, and Moscow’s fundamental departure from the rules for servicing foreign-made aircraft, much of the Russian civilian fleet could be grounded over the next year, with few prospects for reversing that trend. This is evidenced by the fact that, compared to 2022, the number of flight delays for the Urals MTU of the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) increased by 44 percent this year (880 in 2023 compared to 490 in 2022). At the same time, there have been 739 cases of flights being unable to depart on time due to technical malfunctions (Insightnews.media, December 7). The lack of access to software updates and proper technical advice, as well as skipping regular maintenance intervals, have led many of Russia’s civilian aircraft to gradually break down. Most often, engines, landing gear, and brakes are the first to fail. Problems with flaps, air conditioning and de-icing systems, or internal wiring are less common but have been seen increasingly in recent weeks. Thanks to the Kremlin’s orders not to record any defects in pilots’ logbooks, all civilian aircraft appear to be perfectly serviceable on paper (Insightnews.media, December 7). Moscow’s problems with domestic aviation extend beyond civilian flights to the commercial sector. Russia’s air freight industry is stagnating fast, as it is dominated by the outdated Soviet Ilyushin Il-76 and Ukrainian Antonov AN-24 and AN-26 cargo aircraft. On November 8, the Federation Council held a roundtable discussion on the state of the country’s air transit capabilities (Gazeta.ru, November 9). Some participants expressed fear that up to 25 percent of the commercial fleet will be inoperable in less than five years. The average age of Russian commercial cargo aircraft is 50 years old. These aircraft have not been properly upgraded and maintained due to the mass transfer of foreign aircraft to Russia before the war; the lack of economic feasibility in completing such an overhaul, with costs estimated at billions of rubles; and the inability to gain access to necessary parts to upgrade the Ukrainian cargo planes. The repercussions of Moscow’s war against Ukraine have forced Russian operators to pay minimal attention to the maintenance of civilian and commercial aircraft. While companies can still source some spare parts for the 50-year-old aircraft, they have run into problems tracking down components for more modern equipment, such as parts for Motor Sich engines. In another example, the aircraft of Abakan Air, which operates international flights for Russian entities and provides transportation services for clients from other countries, are constantly out of order. According to internal documents, engines, air conditioning systems, and even radios often fail, and the company has been unable to bring in the necessary parts and technical expertise to solve these issues (24tv.ua, December 5) Similar problems also extend to helicopter aviation. The main bottleneck involves flagging production of modern engines. For example, in April, Russian Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov announced that a shortage of VK-2500 engines was slowing down the production of Mi-8 transport helicopters. For VK-2500 engines, only a single production center was created in St. Petersburg, with a maximum volume of 200 engines annually. Manturov pointed out that Russian officials had tried increasing the volume to 300, though production has struggled to keep up. Today, demand sits at over 500 for these engines (Interfax, April 11). In addition, extending the service life of transport helicopters has further hurt the industry. As early as 2022, Russian airline Utair asked Rosaviatsia to extend the maximum allowable service life of engines for the Mi-8 and Mi-172 helicopters. The airline asked to increase the period from 7,500 to 9,000 hours, arguing that “the resource condition of TV3-117 engines” is already close to the maximum permissible level. According to aviation experts, such a request is madness and will likely lead to more serious technical issues in the near future (RBC, August 16, 2022) All this points to Moscow’s war against Ukraine increasingly coming home to the Russian public, disrupting their everyday lives. The current trend in Russian civilian and commercial aviation points to the possibility that these two sectors cannot adequately support the country’s transit demands. This will result in a redistribution to the already overloaded Russian railways. That reality will have severe economic consequences and further limit the effectiveness of military logistics in resupplying the frontlines with manpower and munitions in a timely fashion.

Defense & Security
Emblems of Russian and Hezbollah's army depicted on the chess pieces

Russia-Hamas Relations and the Israel-Hamas War

by Arkady Mil-Man , Bat Chen Druyan Feldman

Researchers in the INSS Russia program argue: Now is the time for Israel to change it approach toward Moscow Since October 7, Russia has sided with Hamas, refuses to condemn the murderous terror attack that the organization perpetrated in the western Negev, and has questioned Israel’s right to defend itself. Russia’s behavior should underscore to Israel the need to change its policy toward the Kremlin and to stand firmly with Western nations, under the leadership of the United States. Moscow’s firm support for Hamas in the aftermath of the October 7, 2023 massacre represents a turning point in relations between Israel and Russia. While many world leaders have condemned the murderous attack on October 7, Russia has adopted an anti-Israel line and refrained from condemning Hamas. Only a week later after the attack, in a speech to leaders of former Soviet states in Kyrgyzstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Hamas massacre was unprecedented, but in the same breath he accused Israel of a cruel response. He went on to compare the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip to the Nazi siege of Leningrad, which led to a high number of civilian causalities, estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Although Putin said that Israel has the right to self-defense, he added that the attack on innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip was unacceptable. It was only on October 16 that Putin, in a phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed condolences to the families of the murdered Israelis, but without condemning Hamas. Russia’s strategy of maintaining good relations with both sides in any given conflict is reflected in its policy of nurturing ties with Hamas. For Hamas too, ties with Russia are highly important, since it positions it as an organization that is welcome in one of the most important countries in the world. In principle, Moscow has clung to its position that Hamas – defined as a terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other members of the European Union – is a legitimate political organization. The relationship between Russia and Hamas has not always been as close as it is today. Throughout the 1990s and until Hamas’s victory in the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Russia condemned the organization’s terrorist activities and referred to its members as Islamic militants, fanatics, and extremists. The relationship changed dramatically after the election, when Putin declared that the organization was elected through a democratic and legitimate process. Russian Foreign Ministry officials began meeting regularly with Hamas representatives in 2006. In 2011, there was a temporary decline in relations after Hamas backed the opposition forces in the Syrian civil war. Hamas figures who were in Syria when the war broke out played an active role fighting alongside the opposition, while Russia supported President Bashar Assad. Nonetheless, ties were not severed, and over the years began to warm. Delegations of Hamas leaders visited Moscow, where they met with the Russian Foreign Minister and other senior officials, and meetings took place between Hamas officials and Russian diplomats in other countries. Russia did not adopt a consistent position during previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas and was influenced by its particular interests at the time. In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, there was a change in Russian policy as it sought to maintain an image of objectivity and deliberately scaled back its criticism of Israel – in contrast to previous conflicts, such as Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. This was probably in response to Israel refraining from criticizing Russia over its invasion of Crimea. Russia’s current interests are not to Israel’s benefit. Moscow’s main goal at this time is to divert the attention of the West, under the leadership of the United States, away from Ukraine. An increase in US involvement in events in the Middle East serves this goal. At the same time, Russia blames the United States for the outbreak of the current conflict. Second, Russia aspires to restore its standing as an influential actor on the international stage, and thus is attempting to promote a ceasefire in Gaza. In addition, Russia’s relations with Iran have become a strategic alliance as a result of the war in Ukraine, and in order to safeguard it, Moscow has adopted a policy that is sympathetic to Iran’s allies, including Hamas. Moreover, it is very convenient for Moscow that the US is the focus of attention in the Middle East. Russia’s support for Hamas can be seen in the measures it has taken in the international arena. On October 16, Russia submitted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council on a ceasefire, but it failed to include any condemnation of Hamas and its attack on Israel. Rather, it condemned violence and terrorist acts against civilians, which could be interpreted as a condemnation of Hamas’s actions or of Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the Russian resolution suggested that Israel was responsible for the explosion at the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, despite clear evidence that the rocket that hit the hospital was fired from within Gaza. On October 25, Russia used its veto power in the Security Council to block a US resolution calling for the condemnation of Hamas and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. Later, Russian anti-Israel rhetoric became even harsher, returning to the terminology used by the Soviets, when on November 2, the Russian ambassador to the UN rejected Israel’s right to self-defense since it is an “occupying power.” Comments from senior Hamas officials also shed much light on how close the organization is to Russia. For example, in an October 8 interview with Russia Today, a state-run media outlet, senior Hamas official Ali Baraka said that Hamas had updated Moscow about the attack shortly after it began. During the war itself, when a delegation of senior Hamas officials visited Moscow, Mousa Abu Marzook said that “we look at Russia as our closest friend.” After the visit, Hamas thanked Putin and the Russian Foreign Ministry for their efforts to halt “the Israeli violence against the Palestinian people.” Hamas leader Khaled Mashal also said in an interview with an Egyptian television station that the Russians were impressed with the Hamas attack and that they would teach it in their military academies. Russia’s support for Hamas is not limited to the international diplomatic sphere. There is evidence that Russian weapons have been found in Hamas’s possession, including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles that apparently were transported via Iran – while Russia turned a blind eye. In addition, in the same interview with Russia Today, Baraka claimed that Russia had given Hamas a license to manufacture its own modified version of the AK-47 (Kalashnikov) assault rifle and ammunition. Hamas’s armed wing uses Russian servers. On the economic front too, it is evident that Hamas relies heavily on the Russian crypto market, sending tens of millions of dollars into digital wallets controlled by Hamas (and Islamic Jihad), while bypassing US sanctions. According to Ukrainian reports, the Wagner Group helped to train Hamas terrorists. State-run Russian media has also adopted a clearly pro-Palestinian line. Russian propaganda seeks to justify the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine by highlighting the IDF’s killing of civilians and exaggerating the number of Palestinian causalities. After the blast at the al-Ahli hospital, the Russian media claimed that thousands of people had been killed – a figure higher even than the death toll reported by Gazans. Israeli soldiers are depicted as “immoral” because of the massive causalities they inflict on a civilian population, unlike the Russian soldiers who, according to state-run media, “would never be able to attack civilians, women, and children.” Russian social media channels, such as Telegram, are also awash with anti-Israel rhetoric and blatantly antisemitic comments. In the aftermath of the attempted pogrom against Israeli and Jewish passengers in Dagestan on October 29, Putin convened a meeting with the government and heads of the security establishment and drew a direct line between the war in Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas, accusing the United States and the West of undermining stability in Russia, the Middle East, and the entire world. He declared that “the fate of Russia and, indeed, of the whole world, including the future of the Palestinian people, is being decided” on the Ukrainian front. By connecting the two conflicts, Putin is clearly putting Russia on the side of Hamas and Israel on the opposing side, alongside the United States and the West. In effect, Putin has validated US President Joe Biden’s statement that Russia and Hamas are waging a war against democracy. Putin’s comments and Russia’s behavior in the aftermath of October 7 highlight the misconception that Russia would not oppose Israel at critical moments. The change that Israel must make in its policy vis-à-vis Russia is to stand unequivocally beside the United States – which includes supporting Ukraine. The quicker Israel adapts its policy to meet the challenge, the better its strategic balance in the Middle East and beyond will be.

Defense & Security
Prime Minister of Finland Petteri Orpo

European Union to continue to support Ukraine over the long term

by Petteri Orpo

The European Union will continue to provide strong military, financial, economic, and diplomatic support and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The EU leaders decided on the matter on the closing day of the European Council held in Brussels on 26–27 October. Prime Minister Petteri Orpo represented Finland at the meeting. Prime Minister Orpo highlighted the importance of the EU’s pledge to provide security commitments to Ukraine in the future. “It is important that we reach an agreement quickly on the EU’s security commitments to Ukraine. We should be ready to make political decisions on the matter at the December European Council,” Orpo said. The EU leaders had already exchanged views on Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine in a video discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the first day of the Council. The EU will speed up the delivery of military support, such as missiles, ammunition, and air defence systems, to Ukraine. “We must strengthen the EU’s defence sector and reinforce the capacity of the European defence industry as quickly as possible. A strong EU also strengthens NATO and transatlantic cooperation,” said Prime Minister Orpo. Prime Minister Orpo also called for progress on the use of frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine. The Euro Summit held in connection with the European Council focused on the overall economic and financial situation and economic policy coordination. In Prime Minister Orpo’s view, the EU must be more competitive both internally and globally given the current geopolitical situation. “A well-functioning and competitive single market, for example in the service sector, plays a key role. Fair competition is an important factor in ensuring growth capacity. We must return to the normal State aid rules as soon as possible,” said Prime Minister Orpo. In its conclusions, the European Council emphasises the need to speed up work on developing digital services, clean technology, and clean energy production, transitioning towards a more circular economy and reducing the regulatory burden. “The EU must continue to be a global leader in the energy transition and clean technology solutions. I highlighted the potential of the bioeconomy and circular economy in renewing European industry. At the same time, we must reduce the regulatory burden on businesses,” Orpo emphasised. On the last day of the meeting, the EU leaders also held a strategic discussion on migration. Prime Minister Orpo stressed that migration is a common European challenge and called for long-term solutions. “We need to build well-functioning partnerships with countries of origin and transit. We must also be able to return people who do not have a legal right to reside in the European Union,” said Prime Minister Orpo. In their discussion on other items, the EU leaders condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, which killed and injured Swedish and French nationals. The discussion on external relations focused on the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and on the situation in the Sahel. The European Council also received an update on the preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.

Defense & Security
Russian Duma

From Shadows to Spotlight - The Kremlin’s Not-So-Covert Gambit for Ukraine

by Annabel Peterson

Introduction: The Culmination Points The war in Ukraine has been raging for 19 months and is yet to exhibit a conclusive imbalance of forces and means. This is good news for Ukraine, who was expected to surrender within days, and an unprecedented embarrassment for Russia, who planned for a Crimea 2.0. What we are witnessing today is undoubtedly the result of a cluster of Russian intelligence failures, both in terms of reconnaissance and operational support. A lot has been written about the general errors in autocratic intelligence management, as well as Russia’s resistance to modern tactical realities such as crowdsourcing open-source intelligence (OSINT), but few have considered the overall weakness of the underlying strategic intelligence assets. For Russia, a loyal collaborator network, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and certain advanced cyberwarfare were central to preparing the ground for a quick surrender. All of these, however, reached their culmination points after the initial intervention in Ukraine 8 years prior. The culmination point of attack is a well-known Clausewitzian military concept describing the inevitable equilibrium reached as a result of the defender’s counterbalancing activities and the attacker’s consequent loss of initial superiority. At this point, the attacker is still able to hold the defence, yet continuing the offensive in the same manner would mean defeat. In Russian doctrine, the same laws apply to a clandestine battlefield, where the culmination point is reached with the exposure of one’s true goals, means, and methods. Intelligence operations that fail to adapt to the operating environment and enemy responses naturally become counterproductive to the attacker’s strategic goals. The annexation of Crimea was an example of a successful deployment of clandestine means at the height of their strategic influence. The operation has been described as a clever adaptation of tactics after being cornered by the failure of Russia’s original active measure campaign in 2013. However, the aftermath of that operation brought the remaining Russian influence assets to their culmination point, thus calling for a clear change of strategy. The Kremlin’s political-strategic goal – ever since Ukraine’s declaration of independence – has been to subordinate it to Moscow’s will. In pursuit of that, Moscow has attempted to instal various puppet entities into Ukraine’s political system, starting with the illegitimate “Donbas people’s republics” in 2014. Eight years and two Minsk Agreements later, the Kremlin had not achieved the desired results and decided to extend the puppet network into Kyiv’s central government. Similarly to Crimea, a successful power transfer merited a quick (and preferably bloodless) surrender of the government. Setting the stage for a Crime-type power transfer was, therefore, the venerable goal of the Russian intelligence services in the leadup to the invasion. The Federal Security Service’s (FSB, Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) 5th Directorate – tasked with combatting dissent in Russia’s “near abroad” – carried the heaviest weight in preparing Ukraine for invasion. Some western security officials would even hold the FSB accountable for the trickle-down failures of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (GRU, Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie) and Russian military intelligence, who were forced to work with flawed base information regarding the potential for Ukrainian resistance. Adding to this the obsoleteness of Russia’s agent network, Orthodox authorities, and cyberwarfare upon which its success largely relied, the invasion was doomed to fail from the start. 1. A Network Without Collaboration The primary covert asset – required for a swift occupation of Ukraine – was a reliable Russian agent network on the ground to provide strategic intelligence and prepare the information conditions enabling a smooth power transfer. Such a cultivation of the soil for a Russian takeover started already in the 1990s, eventually unleashing a competition for the most impactful ground presence among the Russian intelligence services. According to Bellingcat’s lead investigator, Christo Grozev, Russia’s internal security service and military intelligence, in particular, have been competing to set up the most far-reaching fifth column in Ukraine. In pursuit of that, both the FSB and the GRU have targeted not only Ukrainian politicians, activists, and security officials but also the judiciary, journalists, and former Yanukovych associates. By 2014, Russia’s agents of influence had provided enough leverage to convert existing political divisions, weak institutions, and high- levelcorruptionintoaquicksurrenderof Crimea and Donbas. Researchers from the Estonian Academy of Military Sciences identified the saboteur network’s systematic spreading of panic and propaganda as a key factor enabling Russian success in Donbas. It entailed fake news that alleged heavy Ukrainian casualties and the untrustworthiness of the government in Kyiv. Separatist collaborators, together with professional Russian intelligence officers, stood at the centre of these information operations. Such officers would, for instance, arrive at conflict hotspots, alongside the “journalists” specialised in propaganda, and fabricate the developments to appear unfavourable to Ukrainian resistance. It meant that by the start of the physical confrontation in Donbas, the region had been thoroughly primed for Russian intervention and that incoming troops had no trouble convincing Ukrainians to surrender entire settlements without resistance. Weeks prior, a similar scenario had unfolded in Crimea, with the collaborator network enabling deep deception and fast evolution of events on the ground. At the height of that unprecedented operation, the appearance of Russian troops without insignia made it difficult for Ukrainian counterintelligence to diagnose and respond to the situation, not to mention the paralysing confusion in local civilian masses. The covert operation ran smoothly, owing its success to widespread collaboration from the local police, security service, political, and criminal elites, whom the Russians had managed to infiltrate and corrupt. The efficient informational cover and timely intelligence provided by the collaborator network allowed Russian forces to swiftly seize key strategic positions on the peninsula and thus deny grassroots resistance by deception. However, what the Kremlin may not have realised in 2022 was that underlying the success in Crimea were extremely favourable political conditions and the complete novelty of the chosen approach, which could not be replicated in other operations. Moscow’s human intelligence (HUMINT)-enabled and deceptive diversion operation in Ukraine, therefore, reached its culmination point in 2014. At that moment, Russia still retained enough plausible deniability to avoid direct proportional consequences, but the opposing security communities became hyper- focused on the “hybrid” elements in Russian offensive operations, thereby suggesting exposure of the Kremlin’s covert methods. The operation’s political technologist, Vladislav Surkov, was sanctioned by the US immediately after the annexation, despite the frantic efforts of his aides to deny his involvement to the Western public. Experts interpreted Surkov’s careless reaction as a mere bluff. Notwithstanding the evident exposure of the covert operation, Russia’s game plan for a successful military intervention in 2022 remained unchanged. As the most comprehensive post-mortem of the intelligence failure details, the Russian asset network was meant to paralyse the Ukrainian state and condition Ukrainian officials to accept a pro-Russian course; the next step would be provoking mass protests against the government’s sudden inability to serve Ukrainian national interests. The systematic spreading of false narratives regarding the protests would help fracture Ukrainian resistance and provide a moral justification for an invasion. Analogous to the 2014 operations, Moscow’s agents on the ground were supposed to maintain pro-Russian sentiments in the contested territories until Russian forces secured critical strategic positions. The main goal of the GRU’s ground network was to ensure the physical passage of Russian troops and members of the FSB’s planned puppet government. A principal role in this was to be played by one of the GRU’s most crucial assets and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Derkach, recruited in 2016. By the time of the invasion, Derkach and his assistant Igor Kolesnikov had been put at the centre of the entire network. However, at the final preparatory and initial active stages of the invasion, multiple malfunctions occurred, signalling a premature burnout. • The first setback was the sanctioning of Andriy Derkach in 2020 for his interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In addition to provoking mass protests and misleading Ukrainian counterintelligence, Derkach was to lead the dissemination of disinformation about the dangers associated with Ukrainian nuclear energy production – all of which failed to materialise after his landing on the blacklist. Complete exposure of Russia’s intended psychological operations became clear weeks prior to the invasion when the UK and US had strategically declassified comprehensive intelligence about Moscow’s plans to politically subvert Ukraine. Remarkably, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy) had apparently been aware of the Derkach network – and allegedly neutralised it at the beginning of the invasion by detaining Kolesnikov, identified as the key manager of funding. • The second setback partly followed from the first. Such public and attributed disclosure of Russian psychological operations gained superiority for the Ukrainian narrative and mobilised a resolute international alliance (even though Ukrainian officials had been initially denying the possibility of a Russian attack). Moreover, in the face of Russian aggression, domestic public opinion was uniformly in favour of EU and NATO integration. This should have been interpreted as a clear sign that the lack of societal cohesion and international support no longer formed a weakness to exploit. Unlike in 2014-15, there were indicators that the West would intervene. However, the FSB chose to conduct its own polls, overseen by a former Yanukovych aide in charge of sleeper agents, and then interpreted the numbers to support the armed intervention. As RUSI researchers have explained, the invasion was likely based on the premise that those institutions in which the population showed the most trust – i.e., the military and the civil society organisations – could also be easily neutralised by the Russian network on the ground in Ukraine. Battlefield success during the initial stages of the invasion, therefore, relied on similar influence and diversion tactics as in 2014. In grave contrast to the former, the invading troops instead found the local population in the contested territories assisting the Ukrainian intelligence services to sabotage Russian positions. Hence, sticking to the methods of 2014 was counterproductive for the agent network of 2022. • This led to the third setback: the questionable loyalty of Russian junior agents and informers in Ukraine. The FSB’s strengths in the Ukrainian theatre came with a considerable expansion of its operations and the establishment of a “curator system,” whereby over 120 FSB curators would manage around 5-10 asset relationships. It involved a shift from targeting exclusively the highest- ranking officials in 2014 to virtually everyone associated with influential people, down to their service personnel in 2022. A key characteristic of this approach was that assets were recruited on a flexible, temporary, and project basis, which sometimes did not align with their professions and, therefore, took a toll on the assets’ quality and loyalty. In the words of the SBU’s reserve Major General Viktor Yahun, the expanded spy network in Ukraine was corrupted by its own structure. As assets got tangled in a “circle of responsibility” to cover comrades and improve their own results, the intelligence reaching the decision- makers at the top was being tailored to support the illusion of an easy Russian victory. The status of Putin’s favoured service, earned by the successes of 2014, also deepened patrimonialism within the curators themselves, whose tool to advance one’s career was to validate the Kremlin’s pre-decided policies. The GRU was facing the same problem: most of the influence agents they had recruited would not cooperate directly with their curators after “D-Day,” suggesting that they may have never been supportive of an operation of this kind. In this regard, Christo Grozev brings a noteworthy example of an asset inside the SBU that the GRU had to execute to preserve its credibility among other collaborators. The structure and modus operandi of the Kremlin’s agent network in Ukraine, therefore, suggests that it was expected to behave similarly as did in 2014 – i.e., to condition both the authorities and the local communities to surrender without resistance. However, as one puts all the setbacks together a clear picture emerges: once a functioning asset network had been reduced to ashes by the start of the invasion. 2. A Church Without Faith The collaborator network was interconnected with the ROC – a de-facto state institution that, in the words of Russian religious scholar Sergey Chapnin, “less and less resembles a church in the traditional understanding of this word.” It is rather a multifaceted influence asset of the Russian state that has prematurely culminated first on the strategic and then on the operational level. The ROC attains its strategic significance from its special status as a formally depoliticised extension of the state’s hand – its main function ever since Peter the Great’s imperialistic reforms. Stalin’s revival of the church during WWII and the recruitment of its priests as the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD, Narodnyi komissariat vnutrennikh del) agents set up a patrimonial security structure that outlasted the collapse of the USSR. Up to date, Patriarch Kirill, the current leader of the ROC, continues to emphasise the close relationship between the church and the state. A deep dive into its history shows that in 1992, the church’s public discourse began to glorify Russian combat soldiers as saints. Indeed, in the context of war, there is no asset as useful as one that can justify and encourage dying en masse for the Motherland. However, events took a downturn for the ROC on the eve of the Crimean annexation. Leaked emails from the operation’s leading architect, Vladislav Surkov, revealed that the ROC had failed its grand strategic mission already in the leadup to the Ukrainian Euromaidan, making the annexation the last resort rather than a demonstration of power. This happened as the Kremlin sought to use the church as a tool to steer Ukrainian public sentiments towards “Eurasia” but, after various propaganda campaigns, found all the Orthodox churches in Ukraine still formally favouring integration with the EU. Having failed to influence the general direction of Ukraine, the ROC, nevertheless, maintained substantial social authority in the target country. The FSB’s polls found that ahead of the invasion, the church was still highly regarded by over half of the Ukrainian population. The deep intelligence infiltration of the Moscow Patriarchate’s domains allowed the church to remain the main cover organisation for Russian operations since the 1990s. The ROC’s impact was the most visible in Ukrainian domestic politics, where its presence secured Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory by cultivating a “religious nationalist” political faction, promoting the narrative of inherent religious unity between the two nations. Drawing on this uncontested institutional authority, the real value of the ROC was in enabling the Kremlin to uphold an elected pro-Russian representation in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine throughout multiple election cycles. What was left of the ROC’s strategic influence on Ukraine’s political and religious divisions peaked just before the start of the conflict in 2014. The culmination point was reached with the annexation of Crimea when the church first came under fire. Yet, it was still able to escape blame and distance itself by portraying the Russian intervention as a religious dispute within the context of a “Ukrainian civil war.” Since no creative adaptations to the strategy followed, the increasing public questioning of the ROC’s loyalties after the annexation took a toll on its influence, eventually leading to a formal secession of the Ukrainian church from the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019. It delivered a fatal blow to the ROC as its main reason for existence had become the “one Orthodox nation” myth used to maintain control over Ukraine. Whereas the ROC’s central strategic narrative had simply failed to make an impact before the occupation of Crimea, after the annexation, it was outright swept out of existence. Beyond political strategies, the ROC also had an operational role in capturing Ukraine. In the 2014 battles, for instance, priests were found fighting among separatist ranks in Donbas and operating torture chambers on the premises of religious facilities. Paramilitaries with a distinct Orthodox identity made a significant contribution to the separatist war effort, especially wing to the participation of local “Kazak” units familiar with the landscape. In the ongoing war, Estonian Foreign Intelligence recognised the ROC’s provision of multifunctional safehouses to be a critical constituent of the Russian ground network. Even more importantly, it was the ROC’s associates who provided the most valuable HUMINT if compared to the otherwise underperforming network. Naturally, the church’s special status as a religious institution, with a mandate to oppose the Kremlin, grants it the most auspicious position to conduct social network analysis and gather overall situational awareness. Christo Grozev also admits that church associates constitute a pool of trustworthy pro-Russian “spies and gunners” who assist with the actual conduct of hostilities. In continuation of the 2014 efforts, ROC priests were again among the most important local agents promoting the invaders and reporting the non-conformists to the Russian occupant forces. The ROC’s operational community manage- ment duties maxed out during the initial phases of the occupation in 2022, with the loss of plausible deniability regarding its involvement. Following the secession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church during Poroshenko’s presidency, the ROC’s positions began to deteriorate, while the reach of malicious Russian networks and influence tools embedded in it was reduced. It had, nevertheless, enjoyed relative immunity up until the invasion due to the Ukrainian government’s political fear of limiting religious freedom and offending the remaining Ukrainian patriots among the ROC’s followers. However, uncovering the extent of Russian war crimes during the Ukrainian counteroffensive left the ROC no more room for denial and resulted in a systematic targeting of the church and its associates. It was at this point that the maintenance of the ROC as an operational asset became counterproductive. Ukrainian counterintelligence soon confiscated its physical property and made sure to expose all suspicious findings to the media. Statistics show that most believers consequently began to see Russian Orthodox priests primarily as intelligence agents; a tectonic shift in formal allegiance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has occurred, thereby dealing a final blow to the ROC’s legitimacy in Ukraine. 3. Attack Without Leverage The final asset – crucial to shaping sentiments on the ground and complementing Russian military strikes – was state-sponsored cyberattacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. One particular GRU cyber unit named “Sandworm” was the prime actor associated with this task since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. After hacking various news and government websites to spread disinformation and encourage the population to surrender to occupation authorities, the GRU’s cyber strategy culminated with a large-scale attack on Ukrainian critical infrastructure in December 2015, leaving thousands of civilians without power for a prolonged period. This was another classic attempt to undermine societal trust in Ukraine’s capabilities to withstand aggression and provide for its citizens. For external observers, Sandworm’s attack constituted both an escalation from previous disruptive incidents and the first successful sabotage of a state’s energy infrastructure by a covert cyber campaign. The West – while acknowledging the campaign’s highly sophisticated and systematic nature – was left dumbfounded by Russia’s technical capability and fearful of Moscow’s potential to politically subvert Ukraine. That ominous precedent exemplified to multiple stakeholders and observer states the necessity of securing their power grids from hostile foreign state actors. The 2015 attack became Sandworm’s culmination point: Ukraine was severely affected but recovered fast amidst the international attention. The GRU managed to hit the target’s weakness in a highly unexpected manner while initially retaining an umbrella of deniability, plausible enough to avoid legal repercussions. In theoretical terms, a retreat – or change of strategy – at that point was warranted to avoid burnout. However, the GRU approached the attack rather as reconnaissance by combat – i.e., a subtype of reflexive control aimed at gaining intelligence on the target’s capabilities and potential responses by way of attack. Having witnessed Ukraine’s inability to resist or respond to such incidents, Sandworm carried out occasional attacks in the following years. Continuing the cyber campaign without any modifications became counterproductive when private companies and other external entities entered the game on Ukraine’s side. By 2022, highly capable private actors such as Microsoft had already pre-emptively intervened and offered real-time assistance to Ukraine in countering Russian cyberattacks throughout the invasion. Likewise, the Starlink communications technology not only derailed Russian attempts to disturb Ukrainian command and control but became a lifeline for civil resistance. In a direct affront to Russia’s cyber campaign’s goals, the donated Western technology enabled sophisticated intelligence collection and fire support operations capability for the Ukrainian forces. The turn of tables became apparent with two main events. • First, in the beginning, stage of the invasion, Sandworm launched large- scale wiper attacks on Ukraine’s critical digital infrastructure, with Viasat, a military communications provider, among its targets. As in the old playbook, the goal was to undermine Ukraine’s political will and collect intelligence on all levels. While significant tactical complications for the target followed, the attack failed to affect Ukraine’s societal and military morale as planned. On the contrary, the Ukrainian Armed Forces managed to leverage the public for intelligence value, further strengthening societal resilience. • Second, reassured by the 2015 experience, Sandworm attempted another ambitious cyberattack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant a few months into the invasion, aiming to leave millions without energy. However, this time, the aid provided by Ukraine’s private supporters enabled a complete denial of the fatal attack or any force-multiplying effects to entail. Furthermore, the resemblance of the offensive software to the 2015 attack facilitated a faster neutralisation of the cyberweapon. Russia’s efforts again failed to account for the greatly enhanced resilience that Ukraine’s digital infrastructure would display after learning from the initial shock attack. The Ukrainian side, on the contrary, demonstrated an understanding of the GRU’s modus operandi and gained silent battleground superiority by capitalising on the initial exposure of Sandworm. Conclusion: The Common Denominator There was one common denominator between Andriy Derkach, the ROC leadership, and Sandworm: they were all products on the Kremlin’s covert action shelf whose expiry date had passed almost a decade ago (although they may still often come up to describe Russia’s hidden strategy to condition Ukraine into a quick surrender). What started as a markedly successful leveraging of covert assets in support of territorial gains and political concessions in 2014 culminated with a complete strategic blunder that was the 2022 invasion. A premature culmination of those three strategic assets is one way to explain the outcomes. After the successful annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Donbas, the FSB expanded its Ukraine operations but failed to realise that the loyalty and public sentiments that triumphed in 2014 would not be the default in 2022. The GRU’s efforts against Ukraine were exposed both on the ground and in cyberspace, which helped Ukraine gain external support and build up resilience against the two types of subversion. In the meantime, the FSB and the GRU were heavily relying on the ROC, which had been gradually losing all leverage in Ukraine after the 2019 schism and the 2022 exposure of its direct involvement in the conflict. On the one hand, the turn of events suggests that Russia’s tools and theories of hybrid warfare may be neither as sophisticated nor effective as feared after the annexation of Crimea. The flip side of this implies that the current war will rely more on Russian biomass and hard power, especially now when assets of influence and non-military subversion have been exhausted. On the other hand, our understanding of Russia’s performance in this regard may be somewhat biased since we are, by definition, only able to analyse intelligence failures – not achievements. Another aspect to consider is the continuing revelations of Russia’s successful meddling in democratic political processes abroad, which suggests that some Russian covert assets outside of Ukraine may yet reach their culmination points. The central questions are if and what the Kremlin learns from the strategic failures in Ukraine, as well as whether it becomes more open to the structural improvements needed.