Spy vs. Spy? Russia Owns Ukraine
In case you are wondering why weapons depots all over Ukraine are being blown up as soon as it is convenient for Russia, the Ukrainians have a bit of a problem. As a former intelligence professional, I want to describe the lopsidedness of the Russia vs. Ukraine intelligence battle.
As a disclaimer (so I don’t have Virginia farm boys showing up at my door) I have not worked in the area, nor do I have any special knowledge of the area. This is just what any savvy spy would be able to work out on his own knowing the history and the paranoid culture of Russian intelligence.
Basically, Russia owns Ukraine. Anything that happens in Ukraine that Russia is even remotely interested in, they know. Within minutes.
Humint. Human intelligence is the bread and butter of the Russian intelligence services. Russia likely has many in the Ukrainian intelligence service on its payroll. This means there is almost no chance that human assets in other parts of the government will be detected. Yes, the Russians spy on their friends as hard as they spy on their enemies.
As a vassal state of the Soviet Union, Ukraine historically has been riddled with Russian spies, hardworking Ukrainians who make just a little extra in their salaries. I don’t need to dig into official intelligence channels to know this, it is part of the lore of the Soviet Union. Many of these sources carried on and still exist.
But in the past ten years, this has intensified. The Russian intelligence service had ample opportunity to compromise every relevant government agency more thoroughly than every. And it is easy – half the people speak Russian already and are sympathetic and almost all need money.
SIGINT. Signals intelligence means listening to communications of every kind, nowadays prioritizing internet and cellular phones. Government communications will not be a problem since most of the encrypted equipment was likely provided by the old Soviet Union, and therefore readable in real time. Ukraine was never a member of NATO so they never had access to good encryption from the West.
I don’t know the level of sophistication Russia has for intercepting cellular communications, but if you have 10 years to plan, it is easiest enough to wideband all of the signals back to Moscow and use an army of technicians and intelligence analysts to sort them out.
Any relevant government official or military officer who makes a call (whether on the payroll already or not) would be immediately intercepted. When you are planning for war, intelligence is a massive force multiplier. And with ten years of prep, this will be VERY efficient.
Satellite Imagery. Naturally, the Russian would be interested in new military installations. With current technology, the comparison of images over time would mark modifications and new construction of military installations.
Open Source. As a bonus, the Russians have been reading Ukrainian media, studying the groups and the factions, and understanding the possible reactions to every move they intend to make or might be forced to make. This would not be useful for Ukraine to do to Russia. Just no point.
From a baseline of the early 1990s when military cooperation between Ukraine and Russia was tight, Russia has certainly been able to track the buildup and/or decay of the Ukrainian military. With an extra focus over the last 10 years, Russia will know where every bullet is kept, the capacity of the kitchens to produce food for the military and every supply line foreign and domestic.
Bottom line? Russian intelligence has a window into everything that Ukraine does. Ukraine knows nothing about Russia, not their plans, not their intentions, not their real troop strength nor any of their strategies.
It has been obvious from the beginning that Russia’s military forces have been more powerful than Ukraine’s.
Now that you know the rest, do you have any doubt that the war is going exactly how Russia wants it to go?