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The flight of an owl through the storm; Ukrainian military intelligence in the context of a full-scale invasion

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The war marked the beginning of a new era in the world, for which many states, which had been exhausted by the Covid-19 pandemic, were unprepared. Ukraine, on the other hand, has faced a new logic of counteraction processes of unprecedented intensity. Thus, in the new environment, Ukrainian intelligence services, in particular the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU), have become truly innovative.

New challenges, new interactions

Analysts at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) claim that Russian aggression against Ukraine has created threats to 81% of countries, and its consequences affect the development of the global economy.

The full-scale invasion has significantly expanded the range of professional activities of the Ukrainian military intelligence, especially in information and analytical work, and enhanced the capabilities of strategic intelligence and data processing to better understand the economic, social, and production stability of the aggressor state, and to establish the nature of its interaction with other countries.

For the DIU, the possibility of cooperation with the intelligence services of foreign countries whose national interests have already suffered from Russian state imperialism has become particularly important. This made it possible to organize the prompt supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, as well as to hit the enemy’s top military targets. Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Kirill Budanov said: “Putin’s regime’s war threatens the entire democratic model of the world, just as Hitler’s existence did.”

Not since the Second World War has the European continent seen such a long line of combat operations – the active front line is up to 1,500 kilometers. The whole of Europe is experiencing this today.

The full-scale war has also led to a great demand for special operations in the temporarily occupied territories, in the enemy’s operational rear, on the territory of the aggressor state and in other parts of the world. This has significantly expanded our work in cyberspace and with agents.

For the first time since Ukraine’s independence, the DIU’s activities are under the scrutiny of the world’s media, analytical and scientific centers, as the experience of Ukrainian intelligence officers has become indicative of the work of the world’s special services.

“…The 22nd year was significant for military intelligence in that we strengthened our capabilities and achieved new ones. The military intelligence was prepared for a large-scale offensive to begin in early February or a little later,” said Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine.

Combat special operations of military intelligence

One of the first tasks of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine was the defense of Kyiv. Not quite in line with the profile, because the use of highly professional intelligence special forces as light infantry under any other conditions is an obvious “waste”. But at that time, the stakes were too high. The loss of Kyiv would have led to a large-scale collapse of the front and total demotivation of society and the army.

Thus, the vanguard of the Russian army faced professional, motivated, well-armed and trained units that literally bit into every meter of the territory. At the same time, the Russians were methodically cut off from logistical support. Belated “caravans” with ammunition, new equipment, food and resupply were still burning on the far outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.

It was also the first time that the principles of creating regional resistance movements were worked out. The units formed by local residents and coordinated by representatives of the GUR posed one of the main dangers, as they operated independently and in the deep rear. Later, their activities only increased.

“There is a law of Ukraine on resistance, it says what, where, how to do it, who is in charge, who coordinates these issues. Accordingly, there is success: we really understand how to organize, how to support, how to coordinate all our efforts, and that is why the guerrilla movement is and will only grow stronger,” says Vadym Skibitskyi.

At the same time, the structure of military intelligence itself has undergone serious changes. New units were created to select people who were ready to perform combat missions of the highest complexity – Kraken, Shaman, and Artan. Volunteers from all over the world joined the ranks of the newly created International Legion.

The invasion was stopped on the near outskirts of the capital. During the two months of conditional “parity” in the northern direction, Russian units were physically and morally exhausted. Then they announced the first “gesture of goodwill” in this war – the escape from Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv regions. The GUR’s special units were directly involved in the liberation of our territories, including Dmytrivka and Kapitanivka.

The work of special forces in the most problematic areas of the frontline, operations in the enemy’s deep rear, work with captured Russians, supplying all structures involved in the Security and Defense Forces with intelligence, and work with local resistance movements have become a common everyday routine for intelligence officers.

Among all the significant events of the war, a unique operation in the besieged Mariupol was a separate milestone. The city’s garrison of several thousand was completely isolated from the main Ukrainian forces. Repeated attempts to break through the corridor to the city failed, so Major General Budanov proposed a plan on the verge of being possible. Seven flights were organized during the operation, involving a total of 16 military helicopters. The “caravans” passed the occupiers’ deeply entrenched defense, which was maximally saturated with air defense equipment. Thus, the necessary ammunition, communications equipment, medicines, food and resupply were delivered to the besieged garrison. On the way back, the planes evacuated the seriously wounded and the bodies of the dead soldiers.

This was followed by the liberation of the occupied Zmeinyi Island, where another “gesture of goodwill” took place and the Ukrainian flag was again flown, the territories of Kharkiv region, Kherson, and successful actions in all areas of the front.

Currently, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine is conducting operations behind enemy lines, creating preconditions for the complete de-occupation of our territories. Special military intelligence units are actively operating on the left bank of the Kherson region and in the occupied Crimea, destroying warehouses, logistics, equipment, manpower, paralyzing the Russian fleet and preparing footholds for the main security and defense forces.

“There is a fact – [Russian] ships cannot go anywhere: they have left the northern and western parts of the Black Sea, they are just hiding around the corner of the turn of Crimea in the southeastern part,” the Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine said, discussing the success of military intelligence in Crimea.

A separate page is dedicated to the formation of an unmanned air flotilla. It is about creating our own aviation unit, which includes both state-of-the-art manned aircraft and highly technical UAVs. Using technologies provided by the allies and its own developments, the DIU creates constant pressure on the occupiers through drones.

“As long as their forces and means, in particular air defense and electronic warfare, are dispersed in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories, Putin’s regime has left Moscow unprotected. And they are not even at war with NATO yet. What can we say about larger-scale things,” said Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate.

General Budanov’s concept is simple: a danger can and should be destroyed before it becomes a real threat. Thus, Ukrainian military intelligence drones are destroying expensive Russian air defense, warehouses and military production hundreds of kilometers from our border.

The DIU follows its own path in building the principles of its work. Comparisons of our military intelligence with the American CIA or the British MI5 are equally incorrect, primarily because none of them operated in open, full-scale operations on their own territory. The Israeli Mossad is closer, especially since the “mysterious” deaths of Russian war criminals are becoming commonplace. In this sense, the opinion of the head of the GUR Budanov has no alternative: “Outright scum will eventually be punished in any country in the world. Only their elimination can be a well-deserved punishment for such actions. I do not consider anything else. This is my personal opinion, and I stand by it and will implement it.”

Strategic communications, information and analytical work of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine

Today, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine has also become a powerful strategic communications center and an influential newsmaker.

The military intelligence community is focused on communication with the military-political leadership of Ukraine, the intelligence community of our country, allied and partner states, Ukrainian and world media, Ukrainian and foreign companies and businesses, the volunteer community, the expert community, intellectuals and artists who help raise funds for the needs of the DIU’s combat units, as well as to convey strategic narratives to Ukrainian and foreign audiences to counteract enemy propaganda and disinformation.

In parallel with the planning and implementation of combat special operations, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, together with other competent bodies and centers, conducts information campaigns to counteract enemy propaganda and the Kremlin’s actions: to unblock Ukrainian ports and sea routes, to liberate the ZNPP from Russian occupants, to deepen the split between the occupiers’ forces and their decision-making centers, to address the situation in the occupied territories, to release prisoners of war, etc.

The DIU publishes information on the enemy’s state of affairs: production and modernization of weapons (including missiles and drones), changes in tactics of their use, personnel composition of existing and new enemy military units, deployment of military equipment and new military units, the enemy’s mobilization plan, identification and publication of information on military units and individuals who committed war crimes against civilians and the military in Ukraine, as well as traitors and collaborators. Intercepted conversations between Russian soldiers and their families are also made public, showing the real state of affairs and unprecedented losses in human power and equipment of the Russian army.

Major General Vadym Skibitskyi noted: “We analyze all the information to understand the state of affairs of the Russian defense industry and what are the critical points for Russia. For example, if it is a cruise missile or some kind of high-precision munition, such weapons are not manufactured at one enterprise. That is, dozens of factories and design bureaus can be involved in the process of production, improvement, and various necessary services. And if we find at least one company in the chain that produces some important part without which the missile will not fly, and we can make sure that these supplies do not exist, this will be a real success. Russia’s circumvention of international sanctions is currently one of the enemy’s key problems, as the ban on the supply of military and dual-use goods came into effect in 2022.”

The DIU continues to work to deepen the disorientation of Russia’s ruling elites and incite distrust among its representatives, spreading narratives in Russian society about the disastrousness of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the irreversibility of punishment for war criminals.

Thanks to the planned actions of the GRU, the protest potential in Russian society has increased – we can see this in the arson attacks on military enlistment offices and other state institutions, the deaths of Russian authorities under mysterious circumstances, and the organization and consolidation of protest movements against the Putin regime.

Another priority has been, is and will be the search for and prosecution of war criminals who will try to lie low in different parts of Russia and the world after the war is over. In addition to ending the war, the intelligence service is also analyzing and preparing for the post-war period, for much deeper participation in political and social processes in the world and on the territory of the aggressor country.

Our tomorrow

After the war is over, Ukraine and the world will face new challenges to ensure sustainable peace. We are already witnessing the active rapprochement of the BRICS countries and the “Sino-Russian” drift of a number of African countries. The strengthening of the Baltic-Black Sea geopolitical belt, which is taking place before our eyes, is enhancing the role of Ukraine and, consequently, the role of its defense and security structures.

Ukrainian special services, including military intelligence, will have to significantly “globalize” and update their approaches. The Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, according to international experts, is already one of the most influential intelligence services on the European continent, and this is how a new important chapter in the history of the DIU began. The organization is now much more intense and much more functional than before the full-scale Russian invasion, and this is just the beginning.

The Russian question of the Ukrainian owl

DIU representative Andriy Yusov in an interview with the channel ISLND TV said: “Dictatorship always leads to tragedies and collapse of the state on whose territory it develops. And the Russian empire, no matter what it is called, is historically dying. It is dying for a long time, in agony, but it is dying.”

So, in the near future, all Ukrainian special services will face another natural question: what to do with Russia? The topic of the future of the Russian state should become a key one, and we should already be preparing for it and taking appropriate actions.

“These will be new challenges and new risks. We have to understand that after Ukraine’s victory, a part of the Russian Federation will remain with us in some modified form. Most likely, revanchist sentiments will appear over time. This is a normal cycle in history. Therefore, we will have a lot of work to do with Russia. And besides, there is much more to do in the world. This includes the fight against global terrorism, manifestations of violence, the rescue of our citizens, and Ukraine’s influence in the world,” Kyrylo Budanov said in an interview on the occasion of the Day of Military Intelligence of Ukraine.

The battle is not over. The Ukrainian military intelligence continues to plan complex and risky special operations, moving the theater of operations to the territory of the aggressor state. However, the unique experience gained by Ukrainian intelligence officers over the past eighteen months has already become a model for global experts and analysts and colleagues from Western intelligence services, and the DIU has already become a brand.

Serhiy Kuzan, Head of the Ukrainian Center for Security and Cooperation.

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