Russia’s refocus – what does it mean?
“Our forces and resources will focus on the primary objective: full liberation of the Donbas,” said Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Department a matter of hours ago. So, what does this mean for the state of Russia’s invasion and their dispositions on the ground? Will we see a withdrawal of troops who have been trying to encircle Kyiv? Philip Ingram MBE a former British Military Intelligence Colonel and NATO planner gives his thoughts.
On the surface this is a significant statement by the Russia General Staff for a number of reasons. It is a possible indicator that Russia has realised it can no longer try to take Ukraine or even the capital Kyiv, and that Russia’s initial operations have effectively been defeated. President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine has inflicted “powerful blows” and “significant losses” on the Russians.
There is no doubt that the Ukrainian defenders, enhanced by Western weapons and poor Russian logistics, command and control and morale, have stopped and in military terms, fixed the Russian invaders. (To fix an adversary is to deny them of their goals, distract them and thus deprive them of their freedom of action. UK Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations).
However, does “Our forces and resources will focus on the primary objective: full liberation of the Donbas,” mean that we will see Russian troops withdrawing from around Kyiv or stopping their relentless destruction of Mariupol and then move on the Donbas region? The simple one-word answer is no. Russia will keep its forces where it can provide maximum pressure from a defensive and attritional perspective thus continuing to pressure the civilian populations of Ukrainian Cities, keeping Ukrainian defenders occupied and there by not letting them regroup to support any effort to stop the new Russian focus.
What it does mean is that Russian logistic support, the deployment of additional combat formations, air support and airmobile support will be primarily focused on their operations to take the wider provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, making up a greater Donbas region.
Rudskoy said the “first stage” of the “special military operation” is complete, which is an indicator that the Russians are rearranging the phases of their overall plan and switching their main effort, but this does not stop them potentially switching it again at some point in the future in another ‘phase.’ I described what Russia’s Main, secondary and tertiary efforts were in my previous blog looking at one month in, here: https://greyharemedia.com/ukraine-a-month-in/
However, the underlying message, especially if actions on the ground suggest this new main effort is progressing, is that the original objectives behind the invasion have failed and Russia is trying to set the conditions to get what it can before going for a negotiated settlement. An attempt at face saving. However, watching what is happening on the ground it is clear the Russian invasion is in trouble. It is just difficult to assess how much capability remains with the Ukrainian defenders, but I suspect a lot.
The claim could also be a bluff. маскировка (maskirovka) or masking, is at the heart of all that Russia does and, in this case, it could be to buy time and distract whilst Russia reinforces and regroups or in an attempt to get the Ukrainian defenders to move some of their defensive effort away from Kyiv. Putin and his leaders are past masters at keeping everyone second guessing what his real intentions are.
This new phase could go on for weeks, months or even years with Russia keeping up its attrition of Ukrainian built up areas trying to break the will of the people and thereby politicians. However, there are increasing number so f reports of successful Ukrainian counterattacks slowly pushing the Russians back. It is difficult to access if Ukraine can generate sufficient manoeuvre combat power to launch a major counterattack but I suspect they will have something up their sleeves when the time and conditions are right.
If Putin achieves his new objective he will likely push for a diplomatic settlement, however given the destruction rained down on Ukraine and the slaughter of Ukrainian civilians I don’t think President Zelensky could settle for Russia retaining 1 Sq M of Ukrainian territory, nor could the international community.
Should the Russians fail in their new objective and get fixed or forced to retreat then Putin will be in a more difficult position and would have to consider more drastic actions to wrestle the initiative back. I don’t believe this would involve chemical weapons as, if he possesses any in sufficient quantity, they are likely very old, unstable and their use would destroy any tacit support from China, India and Pakistan that remained. They would also be difficult to have an operational or strategic effect in the Russians favour. Additionally, his already demoralised troops are unlikely to have the necessary protection to operate in a chemically contaminated battlefield.
A nuclear accident or use of a small tactical nuclear device however, could have a better effect, but again that would lose Putin’s support from China, India and Pakistan. I discuss the nuclear options more here: https://greyharemedia.com/russia-and-ukraine-the-chemical-and-biological-threat-with-a-touch-of-nuclear/
The coming days and weeks will give a clear indication as to Putin’s intent. We can only hope that Putin’s closest team are plotting his heart attack, window cleaning incident from the 9th floor or Novichok on his door handle or in his underpants, as a palace coup in Moscow is the only way this war is likely to end quickly and stop the murder of more civilians and destruction of the Russian state internationally.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former British Military Intelligence Colonel and NATO Planner and is now a journalist providing insight on TV, Radio and in the papers across the globe. He is available for comment.
Intelligence the key to understanding Russia’s intentions.
By Philip Ingram MBE
Last week U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. is not certain that Putin has made a final decision to invade Ukraine. But “it may well happen soon.” Ben Wallace the UK Secretary of State for Defence told The Sunday Times that “Russia invading Ukraine is “highly likely” and warned that the military presence on the border has now reached such a size that they could “launch an offensive at any time”.” Wallace has cancelled a planned long weekend holiday!
The question on everyone’s lips is how, how could we know what Russia is going to do? The only way to answer that question is through intelligence and the overriding caveat is that intelligence is not an exact science. However, there are certain indicators that would point more to an invasion than a bluff and it is these I will explore in more detail.
So how do we know what is going on at the moment? I examine the intelligence gathering effort in more detail in my blog here: https://greyharemedia.com/russia-and-ukraine-an-intelligence-goldmine/ However, there are a few things I want to pull out to set that background to this analysis. The first is how do we know there are over 100,000 troops with the right equipment to invade Ukraine?
The first thing is Open-Source Intelligence or OSINT. Russia has declared it is carrying out manoeuvres in Belarus, in training areas around the Ukrainian border, in the Black Sea so we have definitively from the Russian Government that they are doing something. Next, we have what is being posted on special media; videos of convoys, trains full of equipment, soldiers leaving their home bases and more.
What must be considered with anything from open source is it could be being posted deliberately to mislead. Sun Tzu the infamous Chinese 6th century general and philosopher said in his book the Art of War, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” The Russians have a doctrine called маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about ‘masking’ or deception and is central to all they do; they follow the philosophy laid down by Sun Tzu.
Analysis of the vehicle and aircraft types, badges on soldiers’ uniforms, vehicle registrations and symbols can identify units and therefore where they are coming form, geo-referencing the imagery and from that, by comparing with historical data, if this is usual activity. Alongside that, private social media posts by Russian military personnel will be looked at for indicators. Again, маскировка (maskirovka) must be considered.
This OSINT will be fused with imagery intelligence from satellites and Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) gathered from Satellites, Drones and Fixed Wing Aircraft flying along the borders, staring into Russia and Belarus with specialist radars. These radars can see anything in the open including equipment hidden in forests and or under camouflage nets and their numbers can be counted regularly to see and changes. It can also be used to identify what types of equipment there are and that in turn will indicate the unit or formation. The same radars can track convoys and trains moving in real time, distinguishing military equipment from civilian traffic. Other sensors can see if equipment has moved recently and how long ago often being able to identify where it has moved to.
What is key here is identifying what formations are where and what they are doing? So, if the deployment is being billed as just training on home territory, are all the formations and units participating in that training, what are the ones with the best levels of training and the best equipment’s doing as not every unit or formation is equal? What is happening to the unit and formations logistic tails as they move and train and do those logistic tails match what is a norm for practice manoeuvres or are they larger? (You would not use as much ammunition on manoeuvres as you would need for operations, or as many medical facilities, or as many spare parts for armoured vehicles, so are these natures pre dumped and if so, where?).
Next will be looking at supporting units and formations, communications networks, air defence, air support and artillery as well as Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The questions are what has been deployed to where and with what? For purely manoeuvres you do not need large numbers of live anti-aircraft missiles, or the artillery ammunition stocks you would need for offensive operations, or the same balance of ISR assets or the communications networks needed to control multi levels of ground offensive capabilities, and integrate it with air support, ISR feeds and logistic networks over the same geographical footprints.
Satellites, RC135, JSTARS and Global Hawk and other surveillance platforms will be hoovering up all of the information needed to work all of this out. Networks need to be tested, comms checked, radars positioned and tested, aircraft systems checked. No matter how good your comms plans are at suppressing emissions, you can never supress them all. Each emission is an indicator!
Air capability will play an important role, for manoeuvres you need a lot less than you would need for offensive operations and different types and certainly different weapons. Numbers and types will be critical. The first thing any Russian offensive operation would want to do is SEAD, suppression of enemy air defence (AD), i.e. destroy Ukraine’s ability to track and shoot down Russia’s aircraft so Ukrainian air assets could be targeted and then ground offensives begin.
SEAD would be carried out through a combination of Special Forces, Attack Helicopter, indirect fire usually from long range missiles and specialist SEAD aircraft as well as ground based and air based Electronic Warfare (jamming) capabilities. Where are the assets needed to do this and how ready are they and what are they equipped with?
These capabilities would need to ensure safe corridors to all Ukrainian air assets and ground formations were safely opened, so even if there were a geographically limited invasion of Ukraine, AD and air assets across the whole country would have to be targeted. It would be highly unusual for these assets to be grouped and deployed in sufficient numbers just for manoeuvres.
Alongside all of these physical indicators, communications will be being listened to, whether that is over military communications means or civilian means, the technology to intercept and often decode exists. This will give a clear understanding of the quality of military communications, readiness of units and formations and some will give indications of intent. However, communications can also be used for маскировка (maskirovka).
Adding another layer on top of this are the Human intelligence (HUMINT) assets, at the strategic level running agents into the decision-making organisations in Moscow, military command headquarters and elsewhere and at the more tactical level, people reporting what is going on on the ground. Good HUMINT assets can get a real understanding of thinking and intent but getting good HUMINT agents with the right access is a massive challenge.
What must be considered at all times is that lovely word маскировка (maskirovka) – it could all be a huge expensive bluff, we have to remember that during the Second World War in preparation for D Day the allies had Operation Fortitude where amongst other things they created a fake army with a real commander, fake tanks, fake aircraft, fake radio transmissions, and fake spies with fake plans delivered to the Germans in a novel way through Operation Mincemeat. We knew what the Germans were looking for and provided it to them. The Russians know what we are looking for. That is partially why the intelligence game is very complex.
However, the subtle military indicators, with the sophisticated collection capabilities we have today compared to what existed during WW2 will give a much clearer picture of readiness and intent. This is what our politicians are being briefed and for them to order citizen’s out of the country and for the Defence Secretary to cancel his personal holiday, the indications supplest an invasion is more likely than not.
I have examined the why and what the possible objectives could be in another blog here: https://greyharemedia.com/what-is-driving-putins-thinking-on-ukraine/. My conclusions today remain as they were when I wrote that. There are so many other possible indicators such as status and loading of Russian Naval vessels, the defensive posture of the Kaliningrad Oblast and around Russian Naval bases in Syria, the Northern, Baltic, and Pacific fleet bases, but to examine them all would be a book. We are seeing one of the most dangerous, complex political and military events in Europe since the Cold War or even before that.
Philip INGRAM MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and was a senior military planner, he is available for comment.
Salisbury and Novichok the truth and myth
Updated 07/0718 1645 by request for additional information
As someone who commanded an intelligence unit with a capability for the covert surveillance of Russian intelligence operations, has studied organic chemistry related to defence against chemical and biological weapons at both degree and master’s degree level, I think I am qualified to do some analysis of detail that is coming out from the reporting of the Sergei and Yulia Skripal and subsequent incidents in Salisbury.
Also, having commented widely in the national and international press I thought I would put all my thoughts in one place.
What is Novichok?
Novichok (новичок meaning “newcomer” or “newbie”) are a series of organophosphate-based nerve agents. They were designed by the Russians in the 1970’s and 80’s as they sought to produce a binary chemical warfare agent whose constituent parts would fall out with the chemicals that were to be banned in the International Probation of Chemical Weapons Convention, that was in its diplomatic infancy at the time.
A binary device consists of two ‘safe’ compounds that when mixed together form the nerve agent but on their own are little or no danger. An organophosphate nerve agent is one that works on attacking the chemical switch inside every nerve cell in your body that turns the nerve cell off after being stimulated. That chemical switch is an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase and nerve agents destroy the body’s ability to synthesise that enzyme.
Nerve agents fall into 3 persistence categories, non-persistent, eg Sarin (used by Assad in Syria), which has the consistency of petrol and evaporates relatively quickly; persistent agents eg Vx (used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam (Kim Jong Un’s half-brother) in Kuala Lumpur airport last year and has the consistency of engine oil; and very persistent such as Novichok that can be in a solid, powder or treacle level of consistency.
Aside from Sarin, the primary method of absorption for nerve agents into the body is through the skin, so it is unlikely that you would know that you have been contaminated with this the colourless, odourless substance until you start to exhibit symptoms. The symptoms can build slowly for low exposure or come on rapidly for high dose exposure and include: Runny nose and eyes, small pupils or blurry vision, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, fatigue, headache, or sweating, muscle twitching or a seizure, leading to collapse, respiratory failure and death. Nerve agents are designed to cause casualties first and foremost to overwhelm evacuation and medical facilities on the battlefield and to deny ground through a sort of chemical minefield.
Why were the Skripals attacked?
Contrary to popular belief assassinating Sergei Skripal was not the main aim of his attack. Sergei Skripal was chosen because he lived in Salisbury and in President Putin’s eyes, was a legitimate target, more of which in a minute. The main reason for this attack, 14 days before the Russian Presidential election was to send a message to any Putin dissenters across the globe that he could get them anywhere, any time and in a horrible way. The second reason was to build a nationalistic strength call, into his campaign domestically.
Sergei Skripal was chosen because Salisbury in next to DSTL Porton Down, the UK’s chemical defence labs and this allowed an element of plausible deniability where President Putin could claim that this was set up to undermine him in the eyes of the international community, and that is exactly the messaging that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The Russians have a doctrine called маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about this and is central to all they do.
The Russians also have an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories and that the west is out to get them no matter what!
Was this a new attack or related to the Skripal attack?
This latest incident is almost 100% related to contaminated detritus left from the Skripal attack. Novichok has only ever been used once, and that was 4 months ago in Salisbury.
Looking at the timeline from probable contamination to hospitalisation my assumption for what happened would be: Dawn Sturgess in Queen Elizabeth Park touched some residual contamination on a bench, or spotted a syringe (or other object) in the hedge. Knowing children were in the park, she picked it up to put in a bin or dispose of later. She wouldn’t have noticed the colourless, odourless contaminant that had been transferred to her skin. The nerve agent will have started its path of adsorption through her skin and into her bloodstream. Initial symptoms would be minor, building over time and dependent on 2 factors, the amount she was exposed to and the absorption rate through her skin. Only when sufficient was absorbed would she collapse with classic nerve agent poisoning symptoms.
At some stage later, she touched her partner Charlie Rowley, possibly just held his hand. Some of the contaminant would have been transferred but a smaller dose than Dawn had been exposed to but his path to showing symptoms would have been the same. It is possible (I say possible, as there are other scenarios and this is pure hypothesis) that the dose Dawn was exposed to was extremely small and that is why it took time to build up to show symptoms of nerve agent poisoning and that smaller dose, combined with slower absorption is why it took several hours more for Charlie to exhibit symptoms.
If the reports suggesting they were known drug users are accurate, their drug habit could affect the absorption rate, symptoms and treatment they are receiving but I am not a medic and this borders on a speculative comment. Eventually, the nerve agent would build up to an LD50 level where 50% of people with that quantity in their body would die, the amounts we are talking about are extremely small, probably less than a grain of salt.
So, what was missed?
My Blog (https://greyharemedia.com/clear-and-present-danger/), ‘Is there a continuing clear and present danger?’ published on 15th March 2018 and quoted the following weekend in some of the national newspapers, outlined a continuing threat. That threat related to the would-be assassins.
The would-be assassins will have transported the Novichok in a container, they will have worn some form of protective clothing when they applied it and, unless this was left at the crime scene, they will have taken it away with them. That meant that there was Novichok contaminated item or items somewhere away from the immediate crime scene and possibly anywhere in the country.
I fully expected the police, if they had recovered these items, to make a statement like they do on murder-suicide cases along the lines of “we are not looking for anyone else in respect of this crime.” That type of statement didn’t come and I was concerned that this container and the protective clothing could have been discarded over a school fence, in a train station, in the local fast food restaurant, anywhere! I called the MET Police who refused to discuss it.
It seems that after the path the Skripals took that fateful evening had been checked and decontaminated, the threat from potential residual contamination was wished away and the police followed what I call the ostrich effect and hoped. Unfortunately for Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, that hope didn’t protect them.
In defence of the police and other security and emergency services.
Novichok is very, very, difficult to detect as it is designed to evade what is normal nerve agent detectors and whilst very persistent it will degrade, albeit very slowly, over time. It also requires you to come into direct contact with it to get contaminated. So, the chance of getting contaminated, even if the assassins gear was never found, was very low indeed. Maybe Charlie and Dawn should have bought a lottery ticket!
That difficulty in detecting means that swabs, samples, items found have to be sent to Porton Down for testing. Porton Down won’t have a high capacity testing capability, so it takes time to get through the hundreds or thousands of samples collected, a lot of time.
Is Public Health England right in their advice?
In a word, yes, the statistical chance of coming in contact with a contaminated object or area is very small but there is a chance! So they should have caveated their advice. The advice to wash clothes and wipe objects down with baby wipes is sound, it is a matter of chemistry for minute amounts of this substance.
What should be done?
The local council should set up a hotline and app to report discarded items as a specialist collection team sent to recover them quickly. This would be expensive but would leave Salisbury the cleanest city in the country and restore public and tourist confidence. It would be a lot less costly than another city close down!
The police have to find the container used and any protective clothing discarded by the would-be assassins – this is a very small needle in a very large haystack and doing it blindfolded with your arms tied behind your back. It is that easy!
Government scientists should be developing a method for testing for Novichok easily in the field. Of note, only today I was talking to one British Biotech company who have the solution to this problem, the issue is they are a research company and not manufacturers. They just need someone to rapidly develop what they know works, for the current threat. A challenge to the wider biotech world and government research laboratories, drop me a line if you want to know more, but I can’t put more out publicly, unfortunately.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE