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Ukraine’s Growing Intelligence Apparatus and its Effect on the War

After the surprise cross-border raid against Russia and unexplained drone attacks in Moscow, Julian McBride looks at how Ukraine is turning Putin’s playbook against him

The Russian Volunteer Corp (RDK) conducts a border raid into Russia for the “liberation of Belgogrod” in May 2023. Photo: Twitter

Ukraine’s Growing Intelligence Apparatus and its Effect on the War

After the surprise cross-border raid against Russia and unexplained drone attacks in Moscow, Julian McBride looks at how Ukraine is turning Putin’s playbook against him

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Against the backdrop of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s intelligence agencies, such as the Foreign Intelligence Service (SZRU) and the Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR MO), have stepped up efforts in liquidating challenging targets on the battlefield and inside Russia. 

The attacks have grown more sophisticated each time, showing the growing capabilities of Ukraine’s intelligence bureau. Not only engaging in targeting and assassinations, but these intelligence branches have also now used Russia’s playbook against it — with psychological and strategic success. 

Growing a Sophisticated Intelligence Network

The SZRU, SBU, and HUR MO are Ukraine’s top intelligence bureaus, with the latter playing the most prominent role in the Ukraine War thus far. The HUR is led by Kyrylo Budanov, a highly capable and respected Major General in the Armed Forces. 

Budanov has been long sought by Russian intelligence. He fought throughout the initial 2014 invasion and was wounded several times. Russian intelligence had attempted to assassinate him several times over the past nine years.

Using his resources at his disposal, Budanov has a vast network of informants and dissidents within Russia, which gives Kyiv to opportunity to hit critical targets, even when Russian military bloggers, officials, and high-ranking personnel feel they are safe.

Growing Assassinations 

Throughout the war, Ukrainian partisans, in collaboration with their intelligence bureau, assassinated dozens of collaborators who helped Russian Forces consolidate occupational control in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and the Donbas region.

Expanding their scope, the HUR moved to strategic targets, such as the Kerch Bridge and the strategic bomber base at Engels Airfield, deep inside Russia. The Kerch Bridge attack, which occurred on Vladimir Putin’s birthday, shocked Russian society enough that Major General Budanov was put on a warrant by the Moscow Court. 

The HUR would then move on to military bloggers and propagandists who called for the genocide of Ukrainians and helped fuel the war. Targeted assassinations included Daria Dugina and Vladen Tarkovsky, with US intelligence linking Ukraine to the former.

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Though initially denying involvement in those assassinations, Budanov would hint that they were behind them, according to The Times. “Outright scum will eventually be punished in any country in the world,” said Budanov, hinting the HUR will conduct global operations to bring war criminals to justice, akin to Mossad’s operations in the aftermath of WWII and the Munich Massacre. 

According to the Pentagon Leaks, Ukrainian intelligence also had plans to attack the Russian Garrison in Syria before it was overturned by President Zelensky. These plans show the ever-growing capabilities of the HUR and affiliates, which mirror the CIA and MI6’s clandestine actions. 

Using the FSB Playbook Against Russia

On 22 May, the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps, affiliated and trained by the HUR, attacked the Belgorod oblast of Russia. The legions were able to take several cities inside of the nation, showing the critical security situation inside of Russia even with mobilization. 

Ironically trolling Russia’s Federal Security Services, Ukraine has used the same tactics, such as assassinations, instigating conflict inside the nation, and shaping the battlefield for future offensive operations. 

How it is Affecting Russian Battlefield Decisions

Ukraine’s growing intelligence activities have had a psychological and strategic effect on the war effort. Hitting “untouchable” targets in Crimea, like the Kerch Bridge, or inside Russia, such as Engels, and the drone attack on the Kremlin shows Putin is not capable of protecting the nation anymore. Ukrainian intelligence also showed the world that Russian ‘red lines’ are as worthless as their prior guarantees of Kyiv’s territorial sovereignty. 

The recent attack on Belgorod displays that even when Russia partially mobilized hundreds of thousands, they still could not adequately cover a vast geographical occupation and protect their homeland. 

The operations inside Russia by Ukrainian intelligence now put the Kremlin in a dilemma. Already exhausting a vast number of human resources in offensives throughout the Donbas Region, along with moving even more to the frontlines of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts, the Russian Federation is now stretched thin. 

Moscow must now prioritize its border defence to stop further raids, stretching out its forces even more for whenever the Ukrainian counteroffensive starts. 

Ukraine’s intelligence is not only playing a pivotal role in helping to liberate their country but also in weakening the Russian Federation to where they no longer pose a threat to their nation in the near future. Already gaining the ability to conduct raids deep inside enemy territory, along with high-value assassinations, Kyiv’s intelligence apparatus, like America’s, Israel’s, and Britain’s, will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

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