GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – May 9 is Russian Victory Day – Who will be celebrating?

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Mainstream media continues to obsess over last week’s revelation that secret United States intelligence was leaked on social media platforms.  However, it is likely that there is a lot more going on in Ukraine; and with Victory Day fast approaching in Russia the next few weeks are looking exciting.   

Last week, lots more detail about what the leaks contained was published and the source of the leak identified.  The information made public to-date is not actually particularly exciting.  In fact, there is very little contained within the eye-catching headlines that would surprise people familiar with either the military or intelligence communities. Unfortunately, the same is true about how the security breech happened; the incident demonstrating the banal nature of most mistakes. United States Congressman, Jim Hines, a member of the House Intelligence Committee summing it up nicely speaking to the BBC when he described it as “the lowest of low tech leaks”.  

This leak is a clear reminder that regardless of how much technology is thrown at an intelligence problem; human fallibility will always be the weak link.  And; in this case the failure dramatically demonstrates this point.  Current information points to the leak having started in February with a young IT specialist, Jack Teixeira photographing, then posting pictures of documents on a Discord server shared with gamer friends.  From there people on the Discord group shared the pictures onto other social media groups; and as Jack Teixeira is learning, once something is released on any social media platform it becomes public property. Before long the secret documents were circulating across the world.  It is a sad story and demonstrated the truth of Hanlon’s Razor; that if there is choice between incompetence or malevolence, we should assume incompetence.  It is estimated that about 1.5 million people in the United States have a ‘Secret’ or higher security clearance allowing them to look at secret documents.

This does not mean that they can look at any document, access to documents is still controlled on a ‘need to know’ basis; for example someone with a ‘Top Secret’ security clearance cannot randomly look at any ‘Top Secret’ or ‘Secret’ document.  Even with a clearance they are only allowed access to documents relating to their area of work. This raises an interesting question about whether Jack Teixeira is the only person involved, the documents have a relatively wide spread of information suggesting that he may have had a friend that shared documents with him, perhaps another gamer buddy.  

Another interesting point is that the leak was not identified for about six weeks.  The National Security Agency, supported by its partners around the world probably reviews everything published on all public areas of the internet.  Anything on the internet can be viewed by United States intelligence assets.  And; Facebook, Linked In, Discord, Twitter, 4Chan or any other public forum are likely searched for key words by the super computers that power the American intelligence network. Google, Echelon or XKeyscore and have a read about the published levels of capability of America’s intelligence network. This is unlikely to be a surprise to any readers, but highlights an interesting point; perhaps in the deluge of information being monitored the leak was missed.  However, it could be that there was a larger intelligence operation going on.  Letting the documents circulate and tracking where they go, who reads them and how they react. So don’t be surprised to see more revelations in coming weeks.

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And; as previously mentioned the documents do not contain a great deal of useful information relating to the war.  The leaked documents providing the following unsurprising information:

  • The United States actively spies on key decision-makers and on other countries including the Secretary General of the United Nations, Egypt, Israel and South Korea. Like all intelligence leaks we get to see what officials say candidly, ‘off-record’ about foreign decision-makers for instance; that United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres is “to accommodating to Russia” or that Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein was worried about backlash from China if Jordan acceded to United States lobbying and shut Huawei out of a deal to build a 5G network in the country.   
  • The Pentagon is worried about whether Ukraine’s next offensive will be successful. United States officials appear to be concerned about Ukrainian air defence capabilities and their ability to sustain a large offensive.  
  •  NATO nations have special forces soldiers in Ukraine.  The numbers recorded in March were; United Kingdom 50, United States 14, Latvia 17, Netherlands 1 and France 15.  
  • Russia’s Ministry of Defence and intelligence agencies are fighting over how to manage reporting casualty figures. The FSB arguing that the Ministry of Defence needs to be more honest about the human impact of the war. 
  • Egypt may have considered selling rockets to Russia, in contravention of international sanctions. And; that the Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi tried to keep the plan secret. 

None of this information will be new to people familiar with the military and intelligence communities.  First, all countries run intelligence operations all the time, in both hostile and friendly nations.  The United States simply has more capability and greater reach than other nations.  Countries spy on friendly nations so that their policy makers are kept well-informed about political developments in those countries. It is vitally important that a country knows the direction that political winds are blowing in ‘friendly’ nations so that there are ‘no surprises;’ and so that trust and confidence in an ally is confirmed.  The United States is a close ally of Egypt, it subsidises the nation by about $ 1.8 billion per annum; and has done for a long time; and it is important for the Americans to know if this money is well-spent.  

The next point relates to the deployment of NATO special forces into Ukraine. One of the roles of special forces is to covertly gather information and build relationships.  In any conflict, special forces soldiers from interested nations will be active within the warzone. This ‘ground truths’ intelligence from other sources, demonstrates support and provides trusted people ‘on the ground’ developing relationships with key military figures.  Further, the deployed special forces soldiers are extending their own skills and experience by serving in a combat zone and observing other nations operate and it is standard practice.

Although the leak’s information about the split between Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB; and its Ministry of Defence about reporting casualty figures is of little significance to the campaign. It is of great interest to observers because it demonstrates the insight that American intelligence has into Russia’s institutions.  This is a discussion that will be taking place at a relatively high-level, probably personally between key officials; and may not be the subject of written memos or emails.  It could even be an example of HUMINT; or ‘human intelligence’ actual people passing information to the United States.  So even if it is of limited value militarily, the information demonstrates the reach of America’s intelligence into the heart of Russia’s military and political decision-making. 

Finally, it is worth discussing Pentagon officials concerns about the upcoming Ukrainian offensive’s chances of success. This information is worth further consideration; and there are two thoughts that I have; either:

  • This leak is part of a wider deception plan and this information is specifically included to deceive Russia; or
  • The Pentagon really does assess Ukraine’s potential for success as being low.  

While the first option is certainly possible, it is less likely than the second option.  It is possible that the Americans and Ukrainians are working together to mislead Russia. An interesting possibility that may be supported by the lack of useful campaign information in the leaks. Chair of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Miley is on-record discussing the planning support provided to Ukraine including war-gaming options together.  So, it is highly likely that America knows what the Ukrainians plan to do.  Further evidence could be the time taken to shut down the leak.  A leak like this also provides an opportunity to send ‘warning shots across the bows’ of countries like South Korea and Egypt, letting them know that America knows their secrets.  

However, although it is interesting to consider the possibilities, Ockham’s Razor dictates that the simplest hypothesis is the most likely to be true. Therefore, it is most likely that American senior officers don’t think the Ukrainian offensive is likely to be successful.  My opinion on this assessment is that it is entirely consistent with the American military.  Unfortunately, American officers are trained and deploy within an environment of absolute ‘over match;’ a military term for complete superiority of combat power.  When American forces deploy anywhere; it is with complete air superiority, the best intelligence and lots of firepower.  American officers have difficulty considering success possible without complete dominance in these areas; but history is littered with contrary examples. 

In 1982, United States military advice was that the United Kingdom would lose the Falklands Wars. American analysts assessing the amount of British airpower and manpower available as too small while failing to appreciate the importance of British training and morale.  Even in the Ukraine War, the Pentagon estimated that Ukraine would be overrun quickly and advised Zelenskyy to run and set up a government in exile.  Many of history’s greatest feats of arms would never have been achieved by the modern American military that has become risk adverse and reliant on absolute over-match.  It is important therefore to take this assessment with a ‘grain of salt.’

The real test is on-the-ground and in Ukraine this week we are seeing a couple of interesting trends.  Although the battle for Bakhmut continues, there are unconfirmed reports that some Russian units are drifting south towards Aviidivka and Vuledhar. And; confirmed reports that across the south Russian units are digging defensive positions, especially near the city of Melitopol.  Combined with the general slowdown in offensive action this indicates that Russia is getting ready to receive the Ukrainian offensive.  

Today, Ukrainian sources reported that many Russian radar units have been destroyed in recent days; possibly an indication of preparatory attacks designed to ‘blind’ Russia’s defences.   Next week Patriot anti-aircraft missiles will start to arrive in Ukraine. The system is very accurate and has a 150 km range allowing for ‘area defence’ over large parts of the battlefield; perhaps covering an armoured offensive? If we assume that there will be a couple of weeks before Patriot is operational, we can see that early May is starting to look like when the Ukrainians will move, coinciding nicely with Russian Victory Day celebrations on the 9th.  The only factor that is not lining up for a move in the next few weeks is the state of the ground, Ukraine is still wet and the ground boggy. 

 

And; on the other side there is interesting activity in Russia that indicates Yevgeny Prigozhin and his ultra-nationalist supporters are preparing for defeat. The Institute for the Study of War commenting that “Prigozhin published an essay on April 14 in which he argues that Ukraine’s coming counteroffensive is more likely to succeed than fail” further the Institute assess that the ultra-nationalists are arguing that it is better to accept a short-term defeat; step back and rebuild rather than lose catastrophically.  Essentially, it seems that there is a developing group of ultra-nationalist Russians that understand the ‘writing is on the wall in Ukraine;’ and that it makes sense to accept the situation rather than risk the collapse of the Russian state.  This information probably links to the conflict between the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence about reporting casualties because letting ordinary Russians understand the real cost of the war allows a political step down to be justified.  The silovaki (strong men) who run Russia are smart; and can see that a limited defeat could be absorbed allowing the political elite to remain in power.  While a long war to the death in Ukraine, culminating in a catastrophic defeat would knock over the current political elite.  

In summary, the ground is drying out in Ukraine, where an exhausted Russian army is facing a force of 60-100,000 fresh, well-trained and motivated soldiers ready to strike. Ukraine maybe short of some resources; but its opponent appears to be in worse condition.  And; Russia doesn’t know where that strike will be so their forces must remain spread thin. A consequence of which is if the strike is hard and fast Ukraine will be able to gain ground quickly before Russia finds the cannon fodder required to stop it. Meanwhile, politically Russia’s ultra-nationalists seem to realise that there is little margin in being completely defeated in Ukraine. This week there is cause for some optimism that the war could be shorter than expected. 

 

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger

66 COMMENTS

  1. Ben – you missed the following out

    – The Ukraine President has been caught stealing about $400 million from the Crisis Aid
    – Most of the weapons from the West donated to Ukraine are not working…
    – USA has ordered Ukraine not to deploy USA made tanks to the front line…no reason given
    – Amnesty International has stated that the so-called beheadings are ‘deep fakes’

  2. Interesting opinion but is it reliable? Firstly Ben if you’re using data from the “Institution for the study of war” then could you please note the relationship with the Kagan family who has a conflict of interest of reporting favorably for the US as Robert Kagan is the husband of Victoria Nuland one of the architect of the color revolution that the impetus of the Ukraine war today by overthrowing an elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

    Another interesting point that you didn’t mention in the release documents is that NATO forces are in Ukraine also missing from this article is the 7 to 1 kill ratio in favour of the Russians.

    To fight the Russian to the last Ukrainian by fabricating Ukrainian losses should be seen as a war crime because it gives this illusion that the west should keep arming the Ukraines to push them ova the line and score a win contributing to more Ukrainian and Russian deaths which is the reality on the ground.

    Also China has offered to broker a peace deal but the west keeps rejecting this premise opting to continue the fight for profit and trying to hurt the Russian which isn’t bearing fruit and the Russian economy isn’t really being affected as the west is hoping for.

  3. Bens thoughts
    This leak is part of a wider deception plan and this information is specifically included to deceive Russia; or
    In which case the Americans have set up some 21 year old schlub to take a 20 year jail term.

    The Pentagon really does assess Ukraine’s potential for success as being low.

    Anybody with half a brain has known that for a long time.

  4. The bodies of 160 NATO officers were left in a bunker in Lviv Region in Ukraine after a Russian Kinnzhal missile attack. This was reported by war correspondent Viktor Baranets.

    ◼️ According to the author, the bunker belonged to a reserve command post of the former Precarpathian military district. It was located about 100 meters underground. Representatives of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry, General Staff of the Armed Forces, and NATO officers were at the headquarters.

    The Russian servicemen decided to attack the bunker with a supersonic Kinnzhal missile after receiving information about preparations for a counterattack.

    The KINJAL cannot be shot down by air defense systems. The missile’s explosion killed more than 200 officers, with only 40 bodies recovered so far.

    https://t.me/Slavyangrad/42124

  5. the leaks ‘not important’ because they condradict the TDBs ‘military experts’

    and yes nato troops (call em advisors/special forces if you like) is a big deal it’s an act of war and a violation of natos own charter….our moral high ground loses a few feet once again.

    • Good point Gagarin, the presence of uniformed US personnel would be in breach of the Constitution. To be there legally would require Congress to declare war, so if the rocket incident is true the US won’t say a word.

  6. Russia is in no hurry to end this, the longer it goes on, the closer Ukraine, the US & NATO are bought to ruin & collapse!

    • How could Russia want this to go on forever and not have the same issues that the US and NATO would have.

    • Russia will play the long game, I have spoken to a Romanian friend of mine, who is well educated and worldly, he has said the Russians will be prepared to fight in the Ukraine for the next ten (10) years. So good for the USA War Machine also.

  7. My friend that lives in Kyiv (who I speak to 3 to 4 times a week) says life is getting a lot better there. Six months ago there were definitely issues with internet connectivity, power shortages etc whenever I spoke to them but those days seem in the past. They seem happy and healthy and are feeling safer than they have since this began. I guess for me that’s all that matters. I do wonder how Russia is enjoying the new NATO border with Finland.

    • Antforce62 – Good…now the CIA needs to encourage the rest of the USA to get out of the conflict.

    • Vlad the adventurer – Finland’s new Government has stated the NATO membership could be over…That silly bugger Prime Minister of Finland is gone, now a new team is running Finland.

      • The Finnish Parliament voted something like 184 to 7 in favour. When did they state a possible u turn?

        • Wheel – Once the new Government was swore in…also, the Finns were very mixed about joining NATO…they believed it put Finland in the firing range between NATO and Russia

          • Bruce I couldn’t agree more. The Putinists seem out in full force.
            They should be ashamed that they support a regime that locks up their critics and slowly poisons them. Vladimir Kara-Murza – you are a hero as is Alexei Navalny. If the Putinists on this site support this imprisonment, then shame on them!

        • They didn’t understand what they were voting for obviously. Why would Finland need to join a defense alliance when they have those fraternal, peace loving, agrarian neighbours just across the border.

      • Sanna Marin was a good Prime Minister for Finland. You are evidently a misogynist Nathan.
        The reason she lost was over economics- nothing to do with NATO whatsoever!

      • History is never black and white gargarin. Finland escaped full Russianisation in 1905. Unfortunately standing up to Stalin created some unsavoury bed fellows for Finland

  8. “Exciting” is not a word I would use when an escalation in a war is ominously approaching.
    Putin can stop this carnage now!

    Putin is working undercover for NATO?

    The argument that this is a double or perhaps a triple bluff cannot be discounted. This lot can surely not be this incompetent.

  9. If this is true….. it means the end of satellite targeting.

    MOSCOW, April 15 – RIA Novosti. Russia has developed an electronic warfare system capable of suppressing spacecraft in geostationary orbit, an informed source told RIA Novosti on the occasion of the EW Specialist Day. “This (geostationary orbit. – Approx. ed.) is approximately 36 thousand kilometers above sea level,” the source said. The source did not disclose details about the new system, but said that “the power of its emitters at short range allows not only to suppress, but also to permanently disable enemy electronics

  10. https://imetatronink.substack.com/p/volodymyr-oleksandrovychs-last-dance?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email&sort=new

    Volodymyr Oleksandrovych’s Last Dance
    I don’t know, but I’ve been told, you never slow down, you never grow old.

    WILLIAM SCHRYVER
    20/04/2023

    This is a copy/paste of a Twitter thread posted 2023-04-18 21:11 MDT. Some bold emphasis has been added, the tweet numbering sequence has been omitted, but the text is otherwise unaltered.

    Once it became clear the Russians had no intention to launch a winter offensive, I’ve steadily come to believe they concluded no later than summer 2022 that they must prioritize preparations to face a possible direct NATO intervention in this war.

    I am increasingly persuaded the introduction of the American “wunderwaffen” (M-777 and HIMARS) has overridingly influenced Russian prosecution of this war — not on account of these particular systems’ battlefield efficacy, but by what they symbolized:

    The US having “raised the stakes” in this fashion, the war was instantly transformed into an escalatory duel.

    And that realization has, in my estimation, strongly influenced everything we have seen the Russians do since then.

    First, they prepared to shorten their lines.

    Many remain thoroughly convinced the late summer Ukrainian “counter-offensives” took the Russians by surprise. I continue to strongly dispute that conclusion.

    It is my firm opinion that the Russian strategy in both Kherson and Kharkov was to ultimately pull back to contracted, more defensible lines, and to do so while yet exacting an extremely heavy price on the undergunned Ukrainian attackers.

    In my view, the thing speaks for itself: the Ukrainian “counter-offensives” have resulted in the near dissolution of the armies that launched them, as witnessed by the many dozens of horrifying cemetery videos that have emerged in recent months.

    Meanwhile, the Russians have been preparing upwards of 300k effectives drawn from their vast reserve pool – possibly as many as 500k total.

    They withdrew many of their most accomplished units from the spring and summer campaign in the Donbass / Azov region.

    One must assume many of these newly minted “combat veterans” have been contributing to the training of the mobilized forces.

    And, as that obviously unrushed training has proceeded, the Russians have continued to fight the AFU with a pronounced economy of force.

    Coupled with Russia’s overwhelming firepower advantage, this economy of force – impressively exemplified by their tactics in the battles for Soledar, Bakhmut, and Kreminna – has inflicted ever-escalating losses on the Ukrainian defenders.

    Simultaneously, Russian industrial war production has increased to a degree entirely unforeseen by most analysts.

    The aggregated evidence from the battlefield indisputably confirms that Russian replenishment of munitions has continued apace with no discernible interruptions.

    Indeed, Russian firepower is now more abundant and effective than ever. They are applying more high-explosive ordnance more precisely than ever before.

    They are now employing GLONASS-guided 500kg and 1500kg glide-bombs to devastating effect.

    Tornado MLRS systems (also GLONASS-guided) have entered the fray in increasing numbers. The Tornado is substantially superior to the HIMARS, with comparable accuracy, much greater range, larger salvos, and significantly heavier payload.

    Even more concerning for the NATO/AFU war planners is that, thanks to the recent intel “leaks”, everyone now knows the Russians are jamming US/NATO GPS-guided munitions via ECM, and also shooting down HIMARS rockets and HARMS missiles with ever-increasing regularity.

    Concurrently, the Russians have built up a very significant force in Belarus, even as the full military alliance between Russia and Belarus was solidified.

    This force is almost certainly viewed as “first responders” to a NATO advance from Poland and/or the Baltics.

    Now, as I have repeatedly argued since even before this war’s formal commencement in late February 2022, I think there is virtually zero possibility the US/NATO will directly intervene in this war – UNLESS the #EmpireAtAllCosts cult seizes the reins of military power in America.

    I don’t believe that state of affairs yet prevails.

    But I do believe there are two very powerful factions contesting the point. The recent “Pentagon Leaks” are almost certainly related to this ongoing struggle.

    This is, therefore, the moment of greatest danger yet.

    Direct NATO intervention in this war would, of course, be utter madness.

    The Russians have been preparing for it for at least 9 months, with the overwhelming majority of their potential force retained in reserve, under constant training.

    I don’t believe the Russians are concerned about the most recent iteration of NATO/AFU hybrid army alleged to be poised for a “crushing counter-offensive”.

    They are ready to receive it, and will do so with one hand still held securely behind their back.

    They will continue to hold in reserve the vast majority of the army they have been building for many months, just in case the #EmpireAtAllCosts cult triumphs in Washington.

    And when you give it some serious thought, you’ll see it is the logical and wise decision.

    Of course, there is effectively ZERO chance a US-led “coalition of the willing” is going to defeat the Russians in a conventional war in Ukraine.

    They quite simply do NOT have the wherewithal to prosecute a high-intensity conflict against Russia.

    The only possible evolution of such an undertaking would be to eventually place the west in the position of being tempted to go scorched-earth nuclear in a fit of desperate humiliation.

    This, obviously, is a cause for great concern.

    In conjunction with these developments, I submit the remarkable statements emerging from the visit to Moscow of Chinese defense chief Li Shangfu forcefully confirm the de facto military wedding of Russian and Chinese interests, with Iran already firmly in the same camp.

    To complicate matters even further, the entire west is on a trajectory to its worst economic depression since the 1930s, accompanied by the portentous transition of the global dollar system to a multipolar trade and currency regime.

    In conclusion, I am thoroughly persuaded that the next few months of 2023 are almost certainly going to shape our world for decades to come.

    Prepare accordingly …

  11. TDB military analysts are the best in the business, and third party analyst’s so generally pretty accurate.

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