I’m struggling to envision how Russia’s war on Ukraine ends. There are many possibilities, but none are obviously probable. The uncertainty is heightened by Russia’s poor performance early in the invasion. They seem to be slowly taking ground now that they have concentrated their forces in eastern Ukraine. Another reason for uncertainty is Putin’s statements of large goals early on, now shrunk to a slight widening of the 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelinskyy has said that his goal is to end Russia’s presence in Ukraine.
Whether Putin’s goals have changed is unknown. Zelinskyy’s might change if Russia inflicts enough destruction.
A few days ago, A Russian statement claimed that electricity would be sold to Ukrainians from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhe nuclear power plant. If Ukrainians didn’t take up that offer, the electricity would go to Russia. Either way, Russia wins.
Not so fast. Russia does not share an electrical grid with Ukraine, so the electricity from Zaporizhzhe can’t be sent there.
The reasons for occupation of the plant are a bit of a mystery. It was taken early in Russia’s campaign against Ukraine, so perhaps it was part of the plan to take control of Ukraine with the help of internal collaborators in the first three days.
The overall occupation didn’t work, but the Russians still hold Zaporizhzhe, so they are trying to make the best of it.
Joe Biden is running a brilliant information operation, and most of the press isn’t covering it. Probably they don’t see it. They are drawn to the drama of weapons fired, tanks blown up or towed away by Ukrainian tractors, ships sunk. An information operation provides no photos, and its most important outcomes may be things that do not happen.
Since last November, the Biden administration has been using intelligence in innovative ways, molding the narrative and perhaps the course of the war. In past administrations, we’ve become accustomed to intelligence as something to be kept secret, in few hands.
But intelligence is to be used. Think Bellingcat: they use intelligence methods on open-source information in order to expose Russian spies and war crimes. They may keep their materials and investigation secret until it’s done, but then they share it publicly. What Biden is doing is more like that than it is like what the US government has done for some time.
There have been three phases of the information operation so far. Their purpose has been to disrupt Russia’s plans for their war on Ukraine and prevent some of Russia’s worst actions. What we see of them in the news is likely the top of the iceberg. Although this innovative strategy relies on making intelligence public, there still are things we’re not going to hear.
A thorough investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), El Periódico, Bellingcat, IRPI, Il Fatto Quotidiano, and iStories provides details on Russia’s offer of troops and money to Catalonian leaders to help them secede from Spain. In return, Catalonia would become a haven for cryptocurrencies.
The offer was reported in Spanish media in 2020. This investigation is much more detailed. Read it all.
On a trip to Barcelona in 2017, Nikolai Sadovnikov offered to give the Catalonians $500 billion to aid their attempts to make the region an independent state.
In return, he asked them to turn Catalonia into a haven for cryptocurrencies.
A Western intelligence agency described him as “an actor of Russian parallel diplomacy” who accompanied Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on trips around the Middle East.
After Sadovnikov left Barcelona, text messages show the Catalonians stayed in touch through an intermediary.
The intermediary kept promising money, sending the Catalonians photographs of a suitcase full of cash and a certificate of deposit worth $500 billion. But reporters could only confirm he ever sent them a single bitcoin.
Sadovnikov held shares in four companies registered in a government-owned building in Red Square.
During the Cold War, Soviet attempts at influence were obvious and occasionally deteriorated into war. But they were political, urging leftist parties to join the great international movement to socialism/ communism.
With Silovik Vladimir Putin in charge, the Russian government uses silovik methods: corrupt people by buying them, and break countries by encouraging internal division. In the United States we have the NRA and Maria Butina, even John McCain according to Steve Schmidt’s Twitter feed over the past 24 hours, and Paul Manafort through it all.
One of the big mysteries of Russia’s war against Ukraine is why we haven’t seen more hacking by national parties. Early on, the Biden administration warned everyone to make their computer security current. There have been no compuer attacks in the US that can be attributed to Russia that I can think of. Early on, Ukraine suffered some attacks.
Conversely, Russia doesn’t seem to have suffered any attacks that can be attributed to other countries.
There can be a number of reasons for this. It’s possible that attacks are occurring, but they are blunted by good computer defense or counterattacks. Or they may be occurring only in governmental spaces, where they can be kept quiet.
It does, however, look like independent hackers are stealing data from Russian organizations. Some of them are making it public. The Ukrainian government has endorsed some of the efforts and is probably benefitting from them. The article I’ve linked gives a great many examples. It’s paywall-free.
Keep your computer protection current. We don’t know how long this lack of attacks will last.
Last night I wrote a Twitter thread outlining my theory of Biden’s information offensive. I want to write a much longer post on it, but that won’t be until next week at the earliest. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the first tweet. That tweet was an introduction. Here’s the second tweet, which links to the rest of the thread.
There’s a reason Samuel Alito had to go back to the thirteenth century to draw his history. There’s much more recent history that isn’t so supportive of his claim to and tradition.
The abortion issue is a cynical concoction by the Republican Party of the 1970s, along with the Southern Strategy.
In the late 1960s, there was a general societal move toward acknowledging abortion and including it in women’s healthcare. It included much of the Republican Party and the mainline Protestant Churches, as well as many Catholics. It was part of the larger movement at the time to give women full civil rights.
Away from the active battlefronts within Ukraine, though, there’s a less bloody, less prominent front in the two-month-old war, a shadow campaign that has included attacks on military and industrial targets in Russia itself.
It’s not clear how many incidents have occurred, or whether they resulted from air strikes, or missiles, or sabotage. An unofficial tally by RFE/RL, based on open-source reporting, counts at least a dozen since the war’s beginning.
They’re not all internal sabotage, though.
Early in the morning on April 27, a drone crashed in a muddy field southwest of the Russian city of Kursk, around 100 kilometers northeast of the border with Ukraine. Locals tracked down the destroyed device not long after, and posted photographs to Telegram and other social media.
The device appeared to be a Bayraktar TB2, a versatile Turkish-designed unmanned aerial vehicle capable of long-distance surveillance as well as dropping guided bombs or firing anti-tank missiles.
It wasn’t the Russians who were flying the drone.
But some may be.
Perm is probably outside drone range from Ukraine.
Who’s doing it? Russians? Ukrainian spies? Are they coordinating with each other? The Russian authorities would like to know.
Top photo: A screen grab of a purported attack by Ukrainian helicopters on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod on April 1.