Did Russian espionage cause Putin’s plans to fail?

“Russian espionage misinterpreted Ukraine and led the Kremlin to wrong conclusions on the eve of the war”, headlines the Washington Postpublishing a detailed background of the dynamics that led to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the failure of the first attempt to take control of Kiev. Extensive investigative work, analysis of Ukrainian intelligence documents and sources to arrive at the conclusion that the Russian Federal Security Service, FSBwas largely responsible for the failure, both for not being able to adequately assess the possible Ukrainian reaction, and for providing contradictory indications and too rosy scenarios to the Kremlin, ultimately inducing Russian strategists to make bad decisions .

The Washington Post reports that in the last days before the invasion, Russian internal intelligence agents sent cryptic instructions to their informants in Kiev, advising them to leave but to leave the keys to their homes, evidently because they would be needed by other Russian colleagues in I arrive. These communications have been intercepted and are part of the material viewed by the newspaper. The Post agrees that the Russian intelligence agency has prepared to some extent for its own failure in previous years, given the inability to create any kind of pro-Russian support or to paralyze the political and institutional action orchestrated by the president. Volodymyr Zelensky or even just for not having been able to predict the reaction of the people and those in power in Kiev to the arrival of Russian troops.

“The Russians were very wrong,” said a senior US official who has access to intelligence data on Russia and its services. “They built a great war effort to seize strategic objectives that were beyond their capabilities. Russia’s mistake was crucial and strategic ».

Files viewed by the Washington Post show that in the last months before the war the FSB units responsible for Ukraine were strengthened and that Russia was counting on the support of a vast network of paid agents and informants within the Ukrainian security apparatus. Some of them obeyed and acted to sabotage Ukrainian security, others simply pocketed the money and pretended to do what the Kremlin was asking.

Another aspect highlighted is that the Russians apparently did not take into account the polls that had been conducted for the FSB and which showed that large segments of the Ukrainian population were ready to react in the event of an attack on their country: over 40% said to be ready to do it. In short, starting from a series of erroneous assumptions, “the FSB promoted a war plan based on the idea that a lightning intervention on Kiev would lead to the overthrow of Zelensky’s government within a few days, which would either be dead or finished. captured or in exile, creating a power vacuum that Russian intelligence agents could fill.

Ukrainian intelligence, writes the Post, was joined in its efforts by the CIA, the British MI5 and other Western intelligence agencies: “A war fought in the shadows in the months before the Russian invasion.”

After the war began, the Ukrainian intelligence services tried to get rid of Russian moles and saboteurs, writes the Washington Post, recalling how Zelensky arrived in July to relieve SBU director Ivan Bakanov, a friend of his from office. childhood. On the contrary in Moscow Vladimir Putin it would not have taken comparable measures, despite the serious misconceptions that have jeopardized the outcome of the plans for Ukraine. At the heart of these plans was the Ninth Directorate of the FSB’s Operational Information Department, a unit that for years had been primarily concerned with ensuring that Ukraine remained in Moscow’s orbit. This Department is headed by Sergey Beseda. According to the Post, at the end of 2013, when protests against the then president Yanukovyc had already erupted in Kiev, Beseda lobbied “for lethal force to be used to quell the uprising” which later became known as Euromaidan. Yanukovic ended up fleeing to Russia and, according to the reconstruction of the US daily, would have been accompanied by a group of advisers who would later work with Beseda to prepare the return of a pro-Russian government to Kiev.

In 2019, the FSB launched a large-scale expansion operation of the unit in charge of Ukrainian affairs, from the initial group of 30 men last summer to 160 people, according to Ukrainian intelligence sources. In parallel, last year as Russia was carrying out its military mobilization near Ukraine, Western security services began flooding Kiev with intelligence reports to warn of the imminence of a Russian military intervention. “However, the Ukrainian services were convinced that there would be no real large-scale invasion,” says a senior Ukrainian official, “our information, while accepting what the Americans were telling us, rather indicated that the Russians were not preparing the war”.

At the end of January, the British government made it known that it had information indicating that the Russian government was preparing to install a pro-Russian leader in Kiev and that it was considering whether to invade and occupy Ukraine or not. British intelligence identified a former pro-Russian Ukrainian MP Yevhen Muravev as a “potential candidate,” which he dismissed as ridiculous. Even European officials still harbored a certain skepticism in late January and early February.

Eventually, many Ukrainian intelligence officials came to the conclusion that the Russian military escalation was more “a psychological staging” than a concrete plan and that Moscow could still use missile launches and raids by airborne units and special elites to oust the government. At the time, it must be considered, approval rates for Zelensky were around 26% and Ukraine was in the midst of an energy and financial crisis. “We did not anticipate a classic World War II-style invasion with tanks, artillery and infantry,” commented a senior Ukrainian official: “The Russians expected someone to open the gate. They didn’t expect any resistance ».

Last month, Ukrainian authorities arrested a senior SBU official, Oleg Kulinich, accused of being part of a sleeper cell of Russian collaborators that was placed under sanctions by the US Treasury Department last January. This official was specifically charged with stealing secret Ukrainian intelligence files “in the operational interest of the special services of the Russian Federation”.

Overall, Ukraine has arrested around 800 people suspected of aiding Russia through espionage or sabotage. Beseda has meanwhile been reported to have been arrested and disgraced, but according to US and other intelligence sources, in reality he would still be in his place. Ukrainian sources cited by the Post also oppose the widespread belief that Putin has distanced himself from the FSB due to the failures in Ukraine and that he has decided to increase the powers of the military intelligence services, the GRU.

(with source Askanews)

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