Interpreting Russia’s Intelligence Shortcomings Ahead Of The Kharkov Counteroffensive
There’s no question that Russia and its Allies were caught completely by surprise, especially after former national security adviser turned press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine’s special forces Taras Berezovets bragged about how his side psyched its opponents out ahead of this operation.
The dust has started to settle after Kiev’s NATO-backed lightning-fast counteroffensive in the Kharkov Region that resulted in its forces reconquering around 2,000 square kilometers in Northeast Ukraine. There’s no question that Russia and its Allies were caught completely by surprise, especially after former national security adviser turned press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine’s special forces Taras Berezovets bragged about how his side psyched its opponents out ahead of this operation. According to him in comments that were reported by The Guardian:
“[The much-touted Kherson counteroffensive] was a big special disinformation operation. [Russia] thought [the planned counteroffensive] would be in the south and moved their equipment. Then, instead of the south, the offensive happened where they least expected (in Kharkov), and this caused them to panic and flee. Meanwhile [our] guys in Kharkiv were given the best of western weapons, mostly American.”
That British outlet also quoted an unnamed military source who claimed that their side’s counterintelligence services successfully rooted out all of Moscow’s informants and deep-cover agents in Kharkov, after which “The Russians had no idea what was going on”. While both claims would ordinarily be treated with skepticism considering Kiev’s history of lying and exaggerating, this time they each come off as credible in light of everything that just happened. The present piece will therefore attempt to interpret Russia’s intelligence shortcomings ahead of the Kharkov counteroffensive.
Before proceeding, the reader is requested to review the author’s prior analyses on this topic:
* “Kharkov: What’s Driving The Latest Military Dynamics & What Might Come Next?”
* “Constructive Critiques Connected To Russia’s Tactical Pullback From Kharkov”
After doing so, they’ll likely agree that Kiev did indeed psych out Russia, which succeeded because:
* Russia Has Serious Human, Imagery, & Signals Intelligence Shortcomings
This observation might sound harsh to those readers who sympathize with Russia, but there’s no other way to explain how its forces didn’t detect the massive NATO-backed buildup of Kiev’s forces around Kharkov, which obviously arrived there from all across Ukraine and even abroad too.
* Its Military Forces Were Curiously Confident Despite Being Blind Around Kharkov
The abovementioned point makes it all the more curious that Russian forces were so confident about the military situation around Kharkov that they reportedly didn’t even think to construct adequate defenses nor deploy additional forces there despite regular exchanges of fire with Kiev in recent weeks.
* Kiev Exploited Russia’s Inaccurate Perceptions Of Its Opponent’s Military Capabilities
It compellingly appears in hindsight that Russia falsely thought despite serious intelligence shortcomings that Kiev was incapable of preparing a major counteroffensive, wouldn’t succeed even if it tried, and that this scenario would only realistically take place in Kherson if at all, which its opponents exploited.
From these points, the following can be surmised about Russian perceptions prior to the latest events:
* Russia’s Intelligence Shortcomings Were Hidden By Lower-Level Officials From Their Higher-Ups
For as difficult as it may be to believe, the benefit of hindsight imbues objective observers with the confidence to conclude that lower-level officials hid Russia’s serious intelligence shortcomings in Ukraine from their higher-ups, which set into motion everything that recently transpired.
* Kherson Was Clearly Considered Much More Militarily Significant Than Kharkov
Russia’s reported redeployment of forces from Kharkov to Kherson suggests that it only considered the first front militarily relevant for tying down Kiev’s assets so that they couldn’t support the planned counteroffensive against the second, which Moscow planned to crush ahead of advancing on Odessa.
* The Strategic Obsession With Odessa Ultimately Doomed Russia’s Defense Of Kharkov
Practically all observers believe that one of Russia’s maximalist objectives is to incorporate Odessa into Novorossiya, which apparently became such an obsession that its officials overlooked their serious intelligence shortcomings across Ukraine and were thus easily manipulated by Kiev around Kharkov.
If the Russian leadership comes to acknowledge any of the above, then the following is to be expected:
* A Fast-Moving & Comprehensive Investigation Could Lead To Organizational Shake-Ups
The root cause of Russia’s intelligence shortcomings is due to lower-level officials hiding “inconvenient facts” from their superiors, which will likely prompt an investigation into who did what and why (including the reason its counterintelligence didn’t detect this) prior to (major?) organizational changes.
* Defense Will Probably Be Prioritized Over Offense
Upon realizing that it’s basically blind in Ukraine and has been for some time already, Russia will probably prioritize its defenses across the entire front instead of planning prospective offensives since it can’t be certain that other counteroffensives aren’t presently being prepared.
* Moscow Might Temper Its Maximalist Objectives Or Plot Pathways For Restoring Their Viability
Two military-strategic scenarios are most likely considering the preceding points: 1) Russia will focus on securing its existing gains and consider them the most that it’ll realistically attain in the conflict; or 2) it’ll plan its own counteroffensives in order to restore the viability of its maximalist objectives (e.g. Odessa).
A little harsh, IMO.
Odessa isn't an obcession. It really is a lot more imortant than Kharkov.
The Black Sea has been central to Russia since the Crimean War 1853-6 and for good reason.
If Russia land locks Ukraine, Kharkov becomes irrelavent.
Ukraine can cut off Russian pipelines to Southeast Europe and American Oil will like that but there are still feeds to Germany and Turkey as well as other petro markets.
The Russians may have been caught napping but the NATO-Ukrainian "spectacular gains" are really more dog and pony show than anything concrete, Ukraine being so desperate for a face saving victory as to attack where least expected simply because Kharkov was a stupid place to attack to begin with.
Wars are inherently unpredictable, especially peer to peer wars. It could be that this conflict could end in disaster for Russia. Who knows, although given Russia's superior military size that is unlikely (unless, of course, Russian incompetence and mismanagement squanders this advantage). But I'm beginning to see that Russia operates very differently from the US & West who are fixated with big decisive gains. I could be wrong, but Russia's approach appears to be very different. Their priority seems focussed on the big picture, towards which they are prepared to work slowly and methodically, accepting losses and humiliations along the way.