Sunday 27th February, Russia’s invasion and assessment. *** Updated as at 1400 hrs to add comment ref Nuclear threat***
By Philip Ingram MBE
Another day has passed where Russia has failed to achieve its main effort, the decapitation of the leadership in Ukraine. Open-source reporting indicates that Russia has still not achieved air superiority and given their on-paper air force strength it is important to ask why?
Better progress has been made along Russia’s secondary axis along the coast of the Sea of Azov from Crimea towards Mariupol trying to create a Russian controlled land bridge between the disputed Donbas region and Crimea, and therefore a land route into Russia itself.
There has been much talk of the Russian capture of Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv in the East of the country. I have even seen commentary from a senior former military commentator that Putin could have switched his main effort to the East. However further reports of the Ukrainians having recaptured it and Russian forces surrendering, add to the ‘fog of war.’
One thing you don’t do lightly in a military operation like this is switch your main effort – doing that has many of your supporting elements geographically misplaced and could give an opportunity for your opposition to seize the advantage as you redeploy them. A switch of main effort would also symbolise that your original mission has failed and would indicate that the whole mission is in jeopardy.
I don’t think Russia has taken that decision at the moment but certainly has the secondary objective of securing the whole of Eastern Ukraine and would use that as the bargaining position for peace talks should their objective of toppling the Ukrainian Government and capturing Kyiv, fail.
Pictures of Russian vehicles running out of fuel, casualties being abandoned where they fall suggest an undisciplined force with command-and-control issues and likely logistic issues. In this type of conflict, it is your logistics that could lose you the war! I must question how many Russian commanders will actually have been properly tested in the complex logistic operations needed to fight over such a wide area with such numbers of forces? I doubt it has happened.
The reports of Chechen units being brought into the battle, with one allegedly destroyed and unconfirmed reports of elements of the Belarus military being readied would suggest at this early stage that the Russians are coming unstuck. You don’t bring in reserve elements unless your main force has been fixed and you don’t bring in strategic reserve elements, which the Belarusian military would be, unless you are in real danger of losing any momentum and your tactical and operational reserves have already been fixed.
What I assess is more likely in the coming days is that Russia will use increasingly violent tactics in an attempt to surround and secure Kyiv. Possibly bombarding the city trying to break the will of the people and attempt to force the leadership to surrender in order to stop civilian casualties. This of course is contrary to the Geneva conventions and protocols and would indicate a desperate Putin.
All of this points to thinks not going well for Russia at the tactical and operational levels. Therefore I assess we are entering one of the most dangerous few days of the conflict. Putin’s forces need to try and wrestle the initiative back. They will have to throw all their resources at doing that. The pressure from Moscow for good news will be immense. The potential for extremes of violence aimed at the civilian population of Kyiv in the coming days is increasing, however, if Ukraine can blunt Russia’s moves for another few days it is distinctly possible that Putin could switch his main effort to just capturing an increasing part of East Ukraine before suing for peace.
Time and more information will tell.
*** Additional Comment as at 27 1400 Z Feb 22***
President Putin has ordered his nuclear forces to a “special” level of alert. We shouldn’t be immediately concerned at this as he hinted at the beginning of the invasion that there would be consequences for “whoever tries to hinder us,” and given the increasing pressure the international community is putting on Russia economically, increasing isolation at sea and in the air and the increased supply of weapons to Ukraine from 27 countries he likely feel his only option is to flash his big stick, ie his nuclear forces.
He is trying to gain advantage in the information sphere. His statement is also an indication that operations on the ground are not going as well as he would like and that the support the West is giving Ukraine and the amazing resolve shown by Ukrainian forces and defenders is having a very real impact on the Russian invaders.
Russia’s nuclear capability has been a very high priority for western intelligence for many years so any real changes in their status will likely be closely watched. This is an attempt at deterrence by Putin, not a statement he has any immediate intention to use nuclear weapons. However, you have to remember that if you threaten something, it is only credible if you are prepared to use them.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former British Army Intelligence Colonel and NATO planner., he is available for comment.
The Russian attack, an assessment as at 26th February 2022
By Philip Ingram MBE
With Ukraine firmly under attack by Russia in the Air, from the Sea and by Land forces it is an opportune moment to take a proverbial step back and analyse what seems to be happening with the Russian campaign, attacking Ukraine.
What is clear is the Russian Main Effort, the capture or destruction of Ukraine’s political and military leadership, decapitating Ukraine, in order to install a leadership more sympathetic to Russia’s (Putin’s) goals. Putin and Lavrov have effectively said this. Militarily this would be achieved by attacking and capturing Kyiv.
So, in military terms what is a main effort? The main effort is defined in the Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations as: “the concentration of forces or means in a particular area and at a particular time to enable a commander to bring about a decision.”
That in simple terms means it is what the military commander should concentrate his best resources and primary focus with all other activity designed to support that main effort. In Ukraine, the attack on Kyiv is clearly the Russian military commander’s main effort and the other activity is supporting effort aimed at dividing Ukraine’s defence forces by giving them multiple areas to focus on.
To have achieved their main effort the Russians should have rapidly secured air superiority by destroying Ukraine’s radars, air force and air defence assets. This would have given Russia the ability to manoeuvre freely on the ground and using airmobile and airborne assets whilst restricting Ukraine’s ability to manoeuvre defence forces to counter Russia’s attacks. It is clear Russia tried to do this, but it is equally clear it hasn’t been successful.
Once air superiority had been achieved, I would have expected rapid Air Mobile and Airborne operations to capture and hold key terrain, those areas that would give the attacking Russians an advantage, so bridges, airfields, power plants and for another blog, the information sphere. It is clear with the Russian Special Forces air mobile attack on Antonov Airport, 20 miles north of Kyiv, they tried to do this. If they had been successful, they would have been reinforced rapidly with other airborne and airmobile troops so they could break out, fix Ukrainian defenders and join up with advancing armoured forces. They have failed to do this.
Simultaneously Russian Armoured formations would be expected to deploy rapidly towards Kyiv with the main axis of advance likely following the M-01 highway from the Russian Border to the Northeast of Kyiv, bypassing but surrounding the city of Chernihiv to fix defenders in place whilst continuing to move the main body of the ground offensive to Kyiv as rapidly as possible.
A secondary axis to Kyiv would likely be from the Northwest of Kyiv following the M-07 highway. Artillery, rockets, ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters would provide cover for the armoured forces to advance as rapidly as possible by neutralising any defences before that got there. This clearly hasn’t happened.
The one question that hangs over all of what seems to be happening, from open-source reporting only, is; where is the expected overwhelming force by air and land that was expected looking at Russia’s on paper capability and superiority over the Ukrainian defenders?
The longer the Ukrainian’s can slow, stop, defeat, disrupt the advancing Russian forces the more frustrated their commanders will become. This is called creating friction, that friction makes what should be simple, more difficult and the difficult impossible and increase the potential for the ‘fog of war’ to further cloud Russian command and control decision making. I can just imagine the language Putin will be using to his military commanders.
However, what must be remembered and is clear in the Land Operations publication, is human dynamics lie at the heart of all conflict.” The human dynamics of a frustrated attacking force made up of personnel hundreds and thousands of kilometres from home who have been deployed for months already and don’t know the real reason why they are there, will be very different from the human dynamics of the defenders fighting for national survival and the safety and security of their families.
The loss of 2 IL-76 aircraft, likely carrying some of Russia’s elite airborne forces will not just have led to another mission to capture key terrain to failure but will impact heavily on that human factor.
It is because of this that Russia has only days to achieve its main effort because the first troops are the best equipped, best trained and most motivated, you never lead with your second best. Only a small percentage of the on-paper strength of the Russian military will be those troops, the more poorly trained and equipped will be there to hold ground after the fight has been won, not to become embroiled in a protracted campaign.
A very early assessment would be the Ukrainian defenders have the Russian attacking forces on the back foot the coming days are vital as if Russia is defeated in its main effort (which must happen) then Putin’s days are numbered. It is clear that secondary effort is a land bridge along the sea of Azov coastline connecting the Donbas region to Crimea but securing only that may not be enough to keep Putin in power.
We can expect Russia to become more aggressive around Kyiv with further attempts at Airborne and Airmobile troop insertions and increasing indirect fire and missile attacks to try and attack the morale of the defenders of Kyiv and the population. This next 48 hours is critical to both sides.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO planner. He is available for comment.
What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?
by Philip Ingram, MBE
Watching the debacle that was the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the huge amounts of equipment abandoned, destroyed, or falling into Taliban hands as the Afghan security forces melted away, with the political ramifications that spread across the US and UK in particular with the mad scramble, and failure to get all of the locals who had helped the coalition out of the country, it is likely President Putin smiled. Russia had its own debacle in Afghanistan, but it left in a more orderly fashion. Vladimir knew the West was a shadow of its previous self.
At the time of the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan the then Vladimir Putin of the KGB was finishing his career as an intelligence officer, destroying files in Dresden in the former East Germany. As the wall came down, he moved to be an advisor on international affairs to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly Sobchak, where, by his own admission, he resigned from the KGB in 1991 not wanting anything to do with the post-Soviet regime’s intelligence machinery, his destination was politics.
However, his foundation, the belief at the core of his soul, was the USSR, and a USSR as a world leading global power. He has never lost that belief and has resented everything that has diluted the reality around it. When it comes to Ukraine, for over 10 years before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin ran a long media campaign aimed at suggesting that Russians and Ukrainian’s were one people but painting them in the eyes of ethnic Russians as “little Russians” and mobilised strong anti-Ukrainian sentiment in the run up to the Annexation. He hasn’t stopped since.
However, what this says is that Putin has a long-term plan, measured in decades not months and his actions into Crimea, support for separatists in the Donbas region, cyber-attacks, possibly assassinations and military deployments to the Ukrainian borders over the years culminating in the current deployment, clearly display his long game approach to achieving his objective; Ukraine being absorbed back to mother Russia.
What is different about this deployment is its scale, not just combat troops but combat support (artillery, engineers) and logistics. It is on a scale not seen before. In addition, it is no accident that Putin is having joint military exercise with Belarus, deploying Naval capability into the Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean, having joint exercises with China and Iran in the Indian Ocean, all at the same time. The Russian military has not been tested like this since the old USSR days, something Putin will be proud to have achieved but also concerned about the message at home.
So why doesn’t Putin just invade and take Ukraine immediately?
There are several issues around this simple question, the first is size. Ukraine is the second largest country by land mass in Europe at some 603,628 Sq Km and has a population of approximately 55 million people. That is a huge area to invade and a huge number of people to subjugate; it is not a simple military operation even for a country with the size of military forces Russia has on paper. Even if he had enough land based military capability to take and hold Ukraine, he would very quickly become fixed and be able to concentrate on nothing else.
The second reason is the potential international reaction. Putin does care about the international consequences, especially if it will hit him and his supporters in the pocket too hard. Economic sanctions he can handle, even though the Russian economy is in turmoil, note how he is courting and getting increased Chinese support! Are we seeing or is there already a coalition of the leaders for life?
However, if it came to the point where his personal assets overseas or those of the oligarchs supporting him (keeping him in power) were badly affected then he would be concerned. Politically he needs to keep the oligarchs onside and able to keep their lucrative businesses, otherwise support to keep Putin in power would disappear rapidly from those with the power to remove him.
Remember the attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury with Novichok? That was to send a message to some errant oligarchs more than it was to assassinate Skripal. Exactly 14 days before the last Presidential election, Putin wanted a greater percentage of the vote and at least one oligarch could have disrupted that. After a smear of Novichok in Salisbury, there was no dissent.
Of note Russia has just changed its position on Crypto Currencies from banning them to regulating them, could this be a move to allow Putin and Oligarchs to protect some of their assets in decentralised currencies, less easy to subject to asset freezing? Regulation would continue to allow him and his political friends to maintain oversight of their use!
What is clear is that Putin is playing a game of 3D or 4D chess, every time he moves, he sits and watches what the global reaction is. He knows that he controls the timings to an extent. Troops deployed without purpose can become disillusioned, equipment deployed where it can’t be maintained properly becomes unreliable, funding large military deployments is expensive and the court of Russian public opinion, no matter how much it is controlled, will only stay silent for a finite period.
His military exercises with China and Iran in the South China Sea, 240 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland, sending landing ships through the Mediterranean, mobilising elements of all of his Naval Fleets are doing two things – the first is sending a message to the West, “you don’t know what I am up to,” and the second is splitting intelligence and diplomatic efforts. Intelligence assets monitoring a large number of events simultaneously means there is less of a concentration of them to monitor what actually happens when it does at Putin’s time and place of his choosing.
When it comes to land-based deployments and his exercises in Belarus, it gives him the ability to outload and forward deploy the military capability he needs to take action into Ukraine but also place troops on boarders with NATO countries as a deterrent. The rationale is twofold – deterring NATO from physically getting involved and secondly splitting Ukrainian defences by suggesting potential multiple axis of invasion. However, no matter what numbers of troops and pieces of equipment are on paper, when analysing Russian capability, only a finite amount will be the newest, the best trained, the capabilities at proper combat readiness. The rest is there for show.
Diplomatically Putin’s manoeuvres are providing him invaluable insights to western thinking, possible reactions, weak points and options. He will continue to play the political and diplomatic game as long as he has options to manoeuvre in this area and gain and keep from his thinking’s perspective, the high ground. He has offered an olive branch to deescalate knowing the thorns on the branch make it unacceptable to the West who rejected it. However, from Putin’s messaging perspective aimed at his troops and his domestic audience, the West have been the aggressor. This is reinforced by pictures of the US and UK and others sending weapons to Ukraine and talking of military deployments to shore up NATO countries. All of this will be played by Putin as aggression. We just seem paralysed when it comes to confronting Putin in the information sphere, the Grey Zone!
Putin has found two major cracks in the EU, one he knew about, the inability of Ireland to influence the waters off its coast and how this provides a potential weak point on NATOs flank. However, the bigger weakness is Germany and her political stance not to send military support to Ukraine. From a longer-term perspective, Putin will see this as a huge victory proving the EU can and will never be one security entity and it easily manipulated and fractured economically.
What is missing currently are the final triggers and indicators of an invasion. They will likely start up to 2 weeks before troops move further into Ukrainian territory and will possibly involve false flag incidents in one or all of Russia, Belarus and the Donbas region and/or Crimea, followed by at least one in Ukraine itself, targeting the Russian speaking population. The possibility of a Russian target being subject to a false flag attack anywhere in the world, is very real. Around these there will be increasing cyber activity targeting NATO countries and political entities such as the EU. As these start and as they ramp up, we know an invasion is coming in days.
However, putting all the troop numbers and posturing to one side it is likely if Putin gives the green light to further invade Ukraine that it will be limited, probably just capturing Eastern Ukraine and up to parts of the Dinipro River, consolidating the Donbas region and another land bridge to Crimea. He will likely judge the International community would breathe a sigh of relief if he doesn’t attack all of Ukraine, but that is a dangerous assessment for him to make. However, he does have to do something and relatively quickly. Whatever that is his driving factor will be to maintain credibility domestically and internationally.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former colonel in British Military Intelligence and is available for comment
Traffic Analysis for MI5 – If I were Putin, I would, wouldn’t you?
By Philip Ingram MBE
I am going to start this blog with a caveat, not good practice, but important as what I am saying in it is purely speculative, it is not based on anything more than the supposition of a rambling mind, but I do like to question things I observe. In addition, I wish to make it clear that I have no evidence, nor am I stating that RT is engaged in espionage in any way, I am merely using its geographical presence for illustrative purposes.
“Covert activity – using false identities – was blended with overt information through Russian media outlets like RT. Too often those in the West focused on one element of this activity – hacking or social media – but failed to see the full spread,” said the BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera in his new book Russians Amongst Us when he was talking about interference in elections in 2016.
In 2014 Russia Today launched a dedicated TV channel in the UK rebranded as RT. Again, according to Gordon Corera’s book he said, “Putin had said the aim of the network had been “to try to break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams.” I will come back to RT later.
One of the key activities during the Second World War that enabled the Top-Secret team at Bletchley Park to break the Enigma code was what is referred to as Traffic Analysis. That Traffic Analysis allowed a picture of what communications networks operated where and when and technical analysis of that traffic, i.e. operator fingerprinting, frequencies used, network discipline and more.
According to the US Manual TM 32-250-AFll 100-80, Fundamentals of Traffic Analysis (Radio Telegraph) published on 9 Jun 1948, it defined Traffic analysis as, that branch of signal intelligence (SIGINT) analysis which deals with the study of the external characteristics of signal communications and related materials for the purpose of obtaining information concerning the organisation and operation of a communication system.”
The modern equivalent of Traffic Analysis would be the identification of work and personal mobile phones associated with an organisation. However, would need a collection capability to be able to collect the information from phones as they first switch on and connect to a network and that rarely happens in one place, or does it?
Speaking to Matthias Wilson is a former SIGINT analyst with the German military and Germany’s foreign intelligence service he said, “What happens when a mobile phone first connects to the network? In order to understand this, we have to look at the unique identifiers each phone has. The first would be the serial number of the phone itself called IMEI, the International Mobile Equipment Identity. This 15-digit number contains information on the brand and model of the phone and number unique number allocated to one specific device.
Secondly, each mobile phone will have one (or more) SIM cards containing information provisioned by the provider. The SIM has the IMSI, or International Mobile Subscriber Identity, saved on it. In most cases the IMSI will also consist of 15 digits and is linked to one’s phone number. It is used to identify a user within the mobile network. From the IMSI, you can derive the country and provider the card has been issued through.
When a mobile phone is switched on, it immediately searches for a network to connect to. If a preferred network is found, the phone will send a request to the network and basically ask for a connection to this network. This request will contain the IMSI and in some cases the IMEI as well. If the IMSI is registered in the networks databases, an authentication process takes place between the phone and the network.” The critical data is contained in the initial network login.
He concluded, “data intercepted from mobile phones logging into a network will provide a rough location, the IMSI that can be linked to a phone number and thus an intelligence target, and in some cases even information on the type of device that is used through the IMEI. Collecting this initial logon is also crucial to following a target of the course of time, as apart from this first connection, a phone will be identified by the temporary IMSI in all further connections.”
OK, so the theory is there, what is next? This comes down to Location, Location, Location.
The RT Studios in London opened in 2014 occupy a couple of floors of the 118-meter-high Millbank Tower, the highest tower block in the area. Its roof is the natural place for mobile phone antenna from many networks, providing good coverage for this area of London. RT have a direct feed over a high capacity communications link to their main studios in Moscow via satellite with the uplink dishes also on the roof.
They have a legitimate reason to be on the roof of the building with specialise engineers and their own equipment, configured in any way they need.
When anyone goes into the MI5 or MI6 building, they are not allowed through reception without mobile phones being taken off them and locked away, in most cases people will switch them off before locking them away or putting them in special faraday bags, cutting their signal off from the networks.
When people leave the building again, they naturally switch their phones on, and they register with the nearest and strongest network. I have noticed this on the many occasions I have walked past both MI5 and MI6 HQs and observed people leaving. That network, in proximity to the buildings is likely to be via the antenna on the roof of the Millbank Tower, where RT have sophisticated data uploading capabilities, transmitting their TV data from Russian state-controlled assets, back to Moscow.
Over time simple pattern of life analysis combined with the Traffic Analysis would enable a picture to be built up of the movement of every phone that registered if that could be identified. Whose phones do the most registering through these masts on a regular basis, who is switching on and off more than normal?
Matthias Wilson continued, “Given the close proximity to the target, I could do this with my own passive collection device and a small stub antenna.” “There are so many more opportunities,” he added, “as Bluetooth tracking and collection would be easy as well.” Another SIGINT specialist who asked not to be named said, you’d probably forget about the cellular side of things and tap into the backlink,” referring to the signal from the antenna going back to the network.
As I said at the start of this blog, this is pure speculation based on observation from the ground, a vivid but partially informed imagination and I am sure the security teams in MI5 and MI6 will have examined this particular threat scenario carefully. However, If I were Putin, I would, wouldn’t you?
This blog was written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former senior military intelligence officer with the overt help from Matthias Wilson and covert advice from a number of others for which he is very grateful. Philip is available for comment if necessary.
Skripal and Salisbury an infamous combination
It is now a year since Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, traveling under the false identities of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, both members of the Russian Military Intelligence Service, the GRU, entered Britain through Gatwick airport. They had a deadly intent, kill the double agent who was living in the sleepy city of Salisbury, Sergei Skripal, using the deadly nerve agent Novichok.
Their mission was a simple one but had been carefully planned. Sergei Skripal’s daughter Yulia was landing at Heathrow airport to visit her father and be with him on what would have been her late brother Alexander’s birthday. Her emails and probably her phone, were being monitored by Russian intelligence and they would have known her arrangements in detail.
After checking into a cheap East End of London hotel Mishkin and Chepiga waited until the next morning to take the train to Salisbury from Waterloo, to carry out a final ‘close target recce’ of Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Millar Road.
Their detailed movements in Salisbury that day have not been revealed completely but it is probably that, in their possession they had a detailed ‘pattern of life’ study on Sergei Skripal, possibly delivered to their hotel, so they knew his normal routine. They knew he left his house through the front door, not the side or back door, they knew he pulled it shut by the handle, not the door frame, they knew everything about him because others will have spent time watching him closely, studying his movements, reading his emails, listening into his phone conversations.
Mishkin and Chepiga’s trip to Salisbury on Saturday 3rdMarch 2018 would be to confirm the route to take to Sergei Skripal’s house from Salisbury Station, look for signs of him being watched by British Intelligence, confirm their escape plan and possibly meet with at least one member of the team that carried out the ‘pattern of life study,’ before returning to London.
Early on Sunday 4thMarch, Mishkin and Chepiga return to Salisbury with a fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle filled with deadly Novichok in Russia having replaced the cap with a special applicator that morning. On arrival in Salisbury they quickly retrace the route they checked out the day before and approached Sergei Skripals house to smear the deadly agent onto his front door.
Whilst it is possible it was dispensed directly from the modified perfume bottle the danger of ‘splash back’ would have meant putting it onto a wipe and smearing that onto the door handle would be safer; we don’t know if this is what they did. Both Mishkin and Chepiga will have been wearing protective gloves and it is probable that Mishkin carried self-injecting epi pens filled with a nerve agent antidote, atropine, just in case anything went wrong.
This is where their movements become a bit of a blur. At some point they will have taken their contaminated gloves off and disposed of them, that is probably the point they dropped the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle and exactly where all of this happened is not known publicly yet, neither are the details of their movements around Salisbury before catching the train back to London and then to Heathrow. How and where they disposed of their contaminated gloves has never been mentioned and the fate of the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume is too well known when Charlie Rowley gave it to his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess on 30thJune 2018 and she sprayed its contents onto her skin, exposing herself to a lethal dose of Novichok.
Just after the attack on 15thMarch 2018, I asked the MET police who had taken over the investigation, what had happened to the items the ‘would be’ assassins had used and was met with silence, I published my concerns here: https://greyharemedia.com/clear-and-present-danger/and in the Sunday papers. Statements from Public Health England said the risk to the public was very low, Dawn Sturgess paid with her life months later.
The detail of where Charlie Rowley found the contaminated perfume bottle and when he found it are unclear. It is distinctly possible he found it in early March and put it in his bag, forgetting it was there until he unpacked after moving into new accommodation from a homeless shelter in June.
I now repeat my question, what happed to the gloves they will have worn? I suspect they were put in a local bin and the next day taken by the council to landfill so are now safely disposed of, but no one has said.
Why Sergei Skripal?
The most important point to start with is the reason for the attack on Sergei Skripal. It was not done first and foremost to kill him, it was assumed, given the deadly nature of Novichok, that he would die. However, if that were the sole motivation then he would have been shot, stabbed or had a car accident. Sergei Skripal was a vehicle used to send a message to any Putin dissenters across the globe that he could get them anywhere, any time and in a horrible way. Prime Minister May hinted to this in an answer to a question after her statement in the House of Commons on 5thSep 2018.
The second reason was to stir a nationalistic fervour into his Presidential campaign domestically by having a reason to say the west was attacking poor Russia. Remember the attack happened exactly 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and opposition parties and oligarchs were becoming more threatening to Mr Putin’s position and his desire for an increased majority.
Sergei Skripal was chosen because Salisbury in next to DSTL Porton Down, the UK’s chemical defence laboratory 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.
Of note, this 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 ‘masking’ or deception and is central to all they do. The Russian people have an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories and that the west is out to get them no matter what and this played into President Putin’s domestic messaging.
Putin and the GRU will have been surprised at the tenacity of the UK’s counter-terror police and Security Services investigation and the level of detail they have managed to ascertain. The public exposure of Mishkin and Chepiga by the investigative website Bellingcat will have severely embarrassed the GRU.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal will now be under the protection of MI5 and being held safely out of the public eye. They will be receiving further medical support for their physical and mental symptoms. Their futures will be being discussed with them and they are an integral part of any and all decisions about what happens next. For Yulia, a complete innocent who had a bright career and future, it must be particularly hard.
What are we missing?
We are missing detail what the police believe happened to other contaminated items, we are missing detail around the movements of Mishkin and Chepiga around Salisbury, very little footage from the city’s new £450,000 public space CCTV has been released, we are missing details of the team that will have carried out the pattern of life study, we are missing details of what Mishkin and Chepiga did in London.
However, we have to remember there is a politically sensitive, highly complex live murder investigation ongoing, so it is unlikely much of this detail will be released because we don’t need to know. A comment on the contaminated detritus to build further public confidence would be good however.
We have to recognise the huge effort the police, security service, ambulance, fire and rescue, NHS, military personnel, DSTL scientists, civilian security staff and council workers have put in to deal with every aspect of this ongoing spy story. If it were not for their professionalism and coordinated effort there would almost certainly be more deaths and much longer lasting consequences for Salisbury and its surrounds.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer and Colonel, who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE