‘The war is bad for Russia but good for the regime’ Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov on defending Bakhmut, ‘technological penetration,’ and why recruiting spies still matters
This article is a very brief summary of what Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov told Forbes Ukraine, in an extended interview that surveyed the first year of Russia’s invasion, what it revealed about Russia to Ukrainian intelligence, and what predictions can be made on that basis. The full interview is available in Ukrainian and Russian. Here are Budanov’s main insights, in our own words.
Russia’s offensive on the eastern segment of the front has already begun. Not everyone has noticed this, since it’s a particular kind of slow-moving offensive. The Russian army’s strategic goal is to reach the Donetsk and Luhansk regional borders by March 31. This is what they’re going for, but they won’t be able to achieve it.
Russia has launched a new covert round of mobilization. In the previous round, over 90 percent of the draftees went to war without any training. The new round makes clear that the army isn’t doing well.
Our partners tell us not to waste our strength in Bakhmut, but I’d like to know what the president of France would say if he were invited to surrender Marseille, or if the U.S. were advised to temporarily surrender New York City. I am a patriot and a member of the military. To me, giving up a millimeter of Ukrainian soil is a catastrophe.
In practical military terms, we’re depleting the Russian forces in Bakhmut, where they’re taking catastrophic losses. For the past two months, the Russian grouping had to be maximally frugal with its artillery ammunition. This is why the Russian side has now changed its tactics in the area: now, it’s mostly the infantry charging wave after wave, and the artillery is only used to back them up.
Russia’s military production cannot keep up with its rate of ammunition spending. This is why massive strikes are becoming less frequent, and less intensive. Russia is not the USSR, it doesn’t have the same industrial capacities, and it’s now forced to take apart vacuum cleaners and washing machines for missile microchips. How embarrassing is that.
The war is bad for Russia’s economy and destructive for its national interests, but it’s good for the regime. This is why it’s turned into an end in itself. Russia doesn’t care all that much about capturing particular cities or meeting specific deadlines. They won’t be shocked by losing ground, either, because, in their own paradigm, they’re at war with all of the Western world. Their main goal is to perpetuate this war as long as possible, moving all of Russian society onto military rails.
Ukraine’s defense intelligence uses the same standard methods that are used around the world. These are technological means of penetration, infiltrating the cyberspace, and things like phones and computers. But the most important element of this work is recruiting agents and maintaining a network of informants. Only this can yield answers to complex questions.
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We have sources among the Russian oligarchs and within Putin’s inner circle. We can speak about this openly, because this is a large class of people, and you can only narrow it down so far. And if you try to investigate every single person within that narrowed-down set, each and every one of them will be compromised. This is exactly what happened when we conducted a controlled leak two-and-a-half years ago, when 30 people had to be investigated through polygraph tests and background checks, and all of them turned out to have ties in Ukraine. Our countries are that closely connected.
The constant fires and explosions inside Russia are not accidental. Something is constantly going wrong over there, and this isn’t just Ukrainians helping Ukraine from within Russia. Money can work wonders.
Next spring will bring the decisive battles. This will be the turning point of the war. So far, speaking in soccer terms, the score is even. Ukraine’s three main defeats were Sievierodonetsk, Volnovakha, and permitting the occupation of the Donbas and the Crimea in 2014. It also had three major victories: pushing the adversary away from Kyiv, liberating Kherson, and the successful counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region.
Once we liberate the occupied areas, we should create a demilitarized zone around our borders, to guarantee Ukraine response time in case of future threats.
We have one condition for ending the war, and that is restoring Ukraine to its 1991 borders. Everything else can be sorted out later.