Despite constant peace talks, the threat of Russia resuming large-scale hostilities against Ukraine has not disappeared. And it has even become more relevant given the intensifying militant rhetoric of Kremlin propaganda. The Russian military machine is embarking on the largest combat training event of the year - the Kavkaz 2020 strategic command and staff exercise. A set of special exercises are planned for July-August, with an active phase scheduled for the end of September. As experience shows, it is the period of enemy training that is the most dangerous, because troops can easily move from training tasks to combat use, as was the case with Kavkaz 2008, which escalated into Russian aggression against Georgia and the occupation of part of its territory.
Ukrinform decided to talk to a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Vadym Skibitsky, about the current level of threat from Russia, as well as about expectations from the NATO Enhanced Opportunities Program and the new law on intelligence of Ukraine.
We decided to start with a recent meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation, where Skibitsky reported on the use of private military companies (PMCs) in conflict zones, primarily by Russia.
"INTEGRATED GROUP OF TROOPS"
Question: what role do private military companies play in the modern concept of Russia's "non-traditional military operations"?
Answer: Russian private military companies were first engaged in 2014 in Crimea. Then there was only an increase in their use. PMCs were most active in eastern Ukraine until approximately mid-2015: Wagner and other PMCs performed a variety of functions, ranging from hostilities to escorting VIPs and providing security in occupation administrations. With the deployment of the 1st and 2nd army corps in the fall of 2015, most of these private companies were relocated to Syria, where the active use of the Russian armed forces in the military conflict on the territory of this state began in October 2015.
We stated at the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation about the concept of an "integrated group of troops (forces)" - a new approach of the Russian Federation. This concept involves a combination of a number of elements. The first is individual units of the Russian armed forces, such as military transport aircraft or large landing ships. The second is private military companies that perform specific tasks, such as reconnaissance, artillery and aircraft guidance, as well as reconnaissance and sabotage operations. And the third element that has appeared in the occupied territories of Ukraine is local mercenaries.
Russia is now actively using these three elements to wage hybrid wars and operations, claiming: "We are not there."
We predict that Russia will continue to actively use the "integrated group of troops" approach, which is managed under a single plan and under a single command for operations in different parts of the world. Now the Russians have worked it out in Syria and Libya, and can use this tool to use their military influence in other regions.
Question: Is the so-called "Wagner's PMC," which was used Donbas and then in Syria and now in Libya, a kind of hybrid special unit of the Russian army? How to correctly characterize this formation?
Answer: Yes, this is a hybrid unit. Its members have considerable combat experience - from retired army officers to mercenaries who performed tasks in "hot spots" of the world, especially in the countries of the former Soviet Union. If we talk about equipment, it is also hybrid: as a rule, all these private military companies mostly use weapons that are used by the armed forces of the Russian Federation. The same applies to the funding from closed budget articles, sometimes from non-governmental organizations.
Unlike civilized countries where military companies provide services on professional counseling, training of law enforcement agencies, support and security, Russia has begun to use PMCs as a tool for military influence abroad that does not pose significant political risks to the Russian regime. After all, Moscow has the opportunity to publicly distance itself from such actions.
BRINGING "TROOPS" INTO COMBAT READINESS IN "LPR/DPR" - WHAT WAS IT?
Question: In May, the leaders of the so-called "DPR" and "LPR" announced the bringing of "troops" into combat readiness, there were threats to "cross" the contact line. What was it?
Answer: These statements should be considered comprehensively.
On the one hand, it was a kind of political pressure on Ukraine and our partners. On the other hand, it was an attempt to convince the local population of the occupied territories of their "strength." A separate element is the demonstration of devotion to Russia and readiness for more active hostilities.
Russian occupation administrations checked the system of mobilization and rapid transfer of units to training grounds with their combat coordination. The whole set of measures, which are classic in checking combat readiness and transferring units to higher levels of readiness, was worked out.
Ukraine's military intelligence and other intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the enemy's actions. Any changes in the state of combat readiness, especially the withdrawal of troops to training grounds, strengthening the position on the contact line are a matter of priority in our activities. Continuous work is underway to identify reconnaissance signs that indicate the creation by the enemy of groups of troops that can be especially dangerous in offensive operations.
MORE RUSSIAN SNIPERS IN DONBAS
Question: It is known that Russia also uses the war in Donbas to test new weapons and equipment systems. Military intelligence has repeatedly reported the discovery of modern Russian weapons in Donbas. Was there anything new and special noticed this year?
Answer: We are constantly monitoring the supply of weapons and military equipment from Russia to the occupied territories through uncontrolled areas of the border, as well as their combat use.
This year, in particular, we managed to shoot down Russian drone Zastava, which is in service only with the Russian army.
We also note an increase in the number of sniper weapons and sniper groups. And this is not only about the sniper unit of the FSB, information about which is available in open sources, but also about other special units - they undergo training in our territory.
We continue to record the use of Russian electronic warfare and electronic intelligence systems, adopted by the Russian Federation since 2012.
We see the Russians entering our territory, testing and using their new weapons and equipment systems in combat. After that, they return to the Russian Federation for modernization.
FOUR VERTICALS OF CONTROL OF OCCUPIED DONBAS
Question: What is the structure of the political, military and economic leadership of the Russian Federation in the occupied Donbas?
Answer: The system of control of the temporarily occupied territories of eastern Ukraine is clear - the control itself takes place in several areas or verticals.
The first - strategic control - goes through the Russian presidential administration. Vladislav Surkov was in charge of this earlier, now the responsibility was shifted onto Dmitry Kozak.
The economic management of the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas is performed by the deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation and the deputy ministers of the financial and economic bloc of the Russian government. Vneshtorgservis, a closed joint-stock company, was also created especially for this purpose and it practically manages the entire economic component.
The third vertical of management is special services, first of all, the Federal Security Service. All counterintelligence and security measures are carried out under the control of FSB units deployed in the occupied areas and subordinated to Moscow.
A separate vertical is the military one. It is clear to us: the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation - Southern Military District - 8th General Army and two so-called "army corps" - 1st (Donetsk) and 2nd (Luhansk), which are part of the group of Russian troops in the Ukrainian direction and were included in a single system of management and control of the Russian Armed Forces.
Thus, exercises in the Southern Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are conducted with the obligatory involvement of both of these army corps deployed in the territories of the so-called "DPR" and "LPR." Systems and means of control are interconnected. There is single airspace, including radar stations Kasta, deployed in Donetsk and Luhansk and included in Russia's air defense and air warning system. The leadership of the 1st and 2nd army corps and everything related to the recruitment and rotation of personnel is clearly planned and is carried out under the strict control of the Russian military leadership.
JULY-SEPTEMBER: INCREASED THREAT
Question: Ukraine is under constant threat of continued military expansion by Russia. At the same time, according to some expert estimates, the most dangerous period may be from the end of June to the end of September, when the strategic exercises Kavkaz 2020 will begin. What are the threats and challenges associated with this period?
Answer: We have developed several scenarios for the possible use of Ukraine's defense forces. One of the scenarios is the large-scale aggression of the Russian Federation against our state. Why do many experts consider the period from the end of June to the end of September to be threatening?
First (this is confirmed by data from Ukraine's military intelligence), the armed forces of the Russian Federation are currently carrying out active measures of operational and combat training. Our guiding documents - the Military Doctrine of Ukraine, the National Security Strategy - clearly state that the Russian Federation's build-up of a group of troops near Ukraine's state border with a powerful offensive potential is an urgent military threat to our country.
Second, this year Russia is planning strategic exercises Kavkaz 2020, the active phase of which will take place in late September. Many training grounds will be used, including in the occupied Crimea and in the Southern Military District, with a large concentration of weapons and military equipment. At the same time, separate special exercises of units of the Russian Armed Forces will be held from July-August, where they will practice various tactical episodes: offensive, overcoming water obstacles, reinforcements, mobilization measures, and interaction between the military leadership and local authorities.
For us, the threat is due to the fact that Russian troops will go to the training grounds and conduct military coordination. As experience shows, it is during this period that the groups of troops created are the most dangerous - they can quickly move from training to direct use. Many experts are inclined to believe that this may happen.
The military intelligence and the intelligence community of Ukraine in general monitor all these issues in real-time - in order to identify in a timely manner the intelligence signs of possible preparation for large-scale military operations by the Russian Federation against our state.
THE PLAN OF A LAND CORRIDOR TO CRIMEA HAS NOT DISAPPEARED
Question: The issue of water supply to Crimea has sharply intensified in the information space. Russian TV is already openly discussing the possibility of using Russian troops to provide access to the dam on the North Crimean Canal. What do you make of such a threat?
Answer: This threat remains.
The attention of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry is focused on the group of troops that Russia has deployed in Crimea. Currently, there is an increase in airborne and naval components, and the possibility of the use of military transport aircraft is being expanded.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces pays special attention to this issue. It is important to predict the probable nature of Russia's actions and to determine a set of measures needed to protect the southern regions of our state.
Question: In the event of an invasion from the occupied Crimea, and not only from there, what threats do you see from the Transdniestrian direction, where another Kremlin separatist project is being implemented - the so-called "Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic"- and where a Russian group of troops is also deployed?
Answer: We are interested in resolving the territorial problem in Moldova related to the so-called "Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic." The Russian Federation is also present there, and its representative Dmitry Kozak, who now takes care of the Ukrainian issue in the Kremlin, has previously initiated the federalization of Moldova.
The presence of Russian troops in Transdniestria is clearly a threat, exactly the same threat that the stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea posed before the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Any military presence can be used for reconnaissance and subversive activities, or larger-scale aggression.
In this regard, we are most concerned about the use of Transdniestrian infrastructure, including Tiraspol airfield, and the possibility of using the contingent of the Russian Armed Forces and other paramilitary formations, such as "Cossack formations," against Ukraine.
Question: Has Russia abandoned the idea of "creating" the land corridor to Crimea and, perhaps, even to Transdniestria?
Answer: This is not an idea, but a plan. It is obvious that the strategic plan to use the Russian Armed Forces to create this land corridor and deprive Ukraine of access to the Black Sea and the world's oceans remains relevant in Russia.
Military intelligence has some information about exercises conducted under this scenario and other actions.
KREMLIN IS CONSTANTLY ADJUSTING ITS PLANS FOR OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
Question: Russia did not annex the so-called "LPR" and "DPR" as it did with Crimea, and did not recognize their "independence" as that of "North Ossetia" and "Abkhazia." What is the Kremlin's strategy for these entities?
Answer: The only strategy is to prevent Ukraine's European integration and to do everything possible to keep Ukraine in the sphere of influence of the Russian Federation.
It's now difficult to say whether there are plans to join the occupied territories to Russia. We see that with the beginning of Russian aggression against our state in 2014, the Kremlin's plans are constantly being adjusted, depending on how our state acts.
Russian passportization is a threatening issue now. If residents of the occupied territories who received Russian passports take part in the vote on changes to the Russian constitution, it will be the first signal that Russia will speak about the people of Donbas as "Russian citizens." And this is dangerous: it can manipulate not just the presence of the "Russian-speaking population," but "Russian citizens" in order to interfere in our internal affairs.
At the same time, as part of the existing economic vertical, Russia is demanding that its occupation administrations in Donbas reach a higher level of self-sufficiency: increase budget revenues, restructure mines and start enterprises that can generate at least some income, and so on. And this may indicate the policy of the Russian Federation aimed at supporting a quasi-state entity, through which it will influence the situation in Ukraine.
Question: Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic and falling energy prices, there is a significant deterioration in the economic situation in Russia. Against this background, the issue of lifting or easing Western sanctions is becoming increasingly important to Russia. Can a "hole" in the budget push the Kremlin to the waiver of its costly adventures abroad, in particular, support for the "DPR/LPR" project?
Answer: Of course, due to these problems, certain adjustments will be made to Russia's plans. To some extent, this will also apply to armament and re-equipment programs of the Russian Armed Forces. At the same time, everything related to strategically important issues is developing and being financed according to plan.
NATO STANDARDS IN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE
Question: Ukraine has recently joined NATO's Enhanced Opportunities Program, which, in particular, provides for an in-depth exchange of intelligence. What are the expectations of the Main Intelligence Directorate for this exchange, and how is our intelligence cooperating with partner intelligence services now?
Answer: This is not just a hope, but a real step towards closer cooperation between Ukraine and our partners and allies, especially with regard to the intelligence society.
The development of relations with the military intelligence of other states was laid down in the National Intelligence Program for 2015-2020, which even provides for the preparation of joint intelligence assessments on the most pressing issues.
Of course, the program contains not only a military component but also aims to strengthen Ukraine's cooperation with NATO entities and partners in various fields. As for military intelligence, its implementation will accelerate the transition to NATO standards, because without it we simply will not be able to fully interact. Of course, the level of responsibility to partners will increase, in particular, for the information they will provide to us. This in-depth cooperation involves constant monitoring, exchange of information on air and sea space, various data on current threats both to us and to the international community.
Question: Last year, in an interview with Ukrinform, you spoke about the problems with the financing of the Main Intelligence Directorate - intelligence was only 47% funded in 2019. Has the situation changed this year?
Answer: It was about underfunding. All public funds allocated to us were used to increase our intelligence capabilities. It is clear that the purchase of modern equipment, means of electronic intelligence, and other modern intelligence requires significant funds.
What will be the funding this year? We hope that it will be at a sufficient level so as to increase the level of intelligence support for the leadership of our state.
CONTROL MUST ENVISAGE ASSISTANCE
Question: In January, the Verkhovna Rada passed at first reading a bill on the intelligence of Ukraine. How does the intelligence agency of the Defense Ministry assess the provisions of this document?
Answer: We took an active part in the preparation of proposals for this bill. It is designed to regulate the activities of the intelligence community of Ukraine and make it even more effective.
It clearly defines the areas of intelligence of each body, areas of responsibility and methods of cooperation, exchange of information within the intelligence community, social protection of employees.
Another important aspect is the establishment of civilian democratic control in various areas, as is the case in other countries of the civilized world. At the same time, it is important that it is not just control for the sake of control, as is often the case, but the control that involves the provision of assistance. Many issues are related to the need to adopt legal acts that will help increase the efficiency of intelligence agencies.
Question: Another bill that is being considered in the Verkhovna Rada is on parliamentary control over the activities of special services and law enforcement agencies. How can we guarantee that, on the one hand, control over intelligence is effective, and, on the other hand, there is no leak of information because deputies are different?
Answer: There is the international experience that provides for the responsibilities of parliamentarians in such activities, the possibility of involving them in the inspection, access to documents and materials of intelligence agencies, and so on. In NATO countries, parliamentary control is clearly regulated, including that there is no leak of information and that no damage is done to the activities of intelligence agencies.
I hope that all this will be taken into account in the adoption of the Ukrainian law.
Vasyl Korotkyi, Vienna
Photo credit: Pavlo Bahmut