Russia’s Goals In Its War On Ukraine

I’ve written about Vladimir Putin’s desire to put the Russian Empire back together again. It still may be on his wish list, but the Ukrainians aren’t cooperating. A second-best is to grab more of their territory, and the fighting now seems to have that objective. But there’s a third objective underlying the other two.

Russia is proving that it is a great power. Reconstituting the Russian Empire would have proved that, but, as I say, the Ukrainians prefer to mess around with heathen Westerners. Very well then, there are other ways Russia can prove it’s a great power.

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What The Russians Did At Chernobyl

Now that Russia has failed at their three-day takeover of Ukraine, their only purpose seems to be to destroy it. There’s no other reason for the damage of the Chernobyl plant described in this Washington Post article. (no paywall)

Russians stole equipment and damaged buildings. The most dangerous part of the site, the remains of reactor number 4, is well-protected under an engineered dome that was completed a year or two ago. The article says little about the used fuel storage ponds that have received fuel from Ukraine’s other reactors. Those are also dangerous, in that an explosion within them would disperse the radioactive fuel. That didn’t happen, whether it reflected Russian objectives or Russian ignorance. The other three reactors at the site were shut down by 2000.

Ukraine is back in charge of the plant and cleaning up the mess.

Some of the stolen equipment has GPS tracking and is now moving around in Belarus.

The article has some photos of the damage. Take a look.

@Safecast volunteers are measuring radioactivity in the area.

Photo from the Washington Post article: People who work in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone wait at a checkpoint at the entrance to the plant. (Kasia Strek/Panos Pictures for The Washington Post)

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Biden Lays Out War Goals

President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.,  wrote a guest essay (no-paywall link) for the New York Times. In it, he lays out the American role in Russia’s war on Ukraine. It strongly supports Ukraine’s position and clarifies American intentions.

There’s nothing in it he hasn’t said before, but there’s value in its coming from the President of the United States and having it all in one place.

America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.

The US has provided Ukraine with “a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition,” to include “more advanced rocket systems and munitions,” which, the Department of Defense later said, are four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.

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Forest Service Suspends Prescribed Burns – Too Late For The Sangres

The Forest Service started prescribed burns on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in, I don’t know, April. March? Earlier they had burned slash piles further north. I’m sure that some people closer to the locations of the April burns said really? With all this wind? Just as we did in 2000 when the Forest Service decided to do a prescribed burn on Cerro Grande, the spot where they thought a fire that could wipe out Los Alamos could start.

All those burns got out of control. Hundreds of houses were burned in Los Alamos in 2000. Dozens of small villages have been burned in the past couple of months on the east side of the Sangres. Thousands of prople had to evacuate. Watersheds have been damaged.

I wake up to smoke most mornings, thirty miles away. I am sick of it and sick for the damage to people and land. The house is full of smoke today. I have an air purifier given to me by a kind friend for my birthday that runs continuously.

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Russia After The War

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.

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Russia’s Get Rich Quick Nuclear Scheme – Oh Wait

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.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

The Biden Information Offensive

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.

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Russia Tries To Buy The Catalonian Independence Movement

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.

Key findings:

  • 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.

Photo from PBS

Cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns & Money

Where Is The Computer War?

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.

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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.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money