A new report published by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin has put the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in charge of intelligence operations in Ukraine, replacing the Federal Security Service (FSB) due to intel failures over the course of the invasion.
This is pretty significant if confirmed. Intelligence operations for Ukraine had been carried out by the FSB’s 5th service, whose primary objective is intelligence collection on former Soviet countries. The lead up and eventual start of the Ukraine invasion was marred by intelligence failures in part by the FSB, such as a general underestimation of Ukrainian preparedness, defenses, and resistance capabilities, as well as NATO’s resolve to back their war efforts.
One of the most significant was the failure to properly assess Ukrainian resistance surrounding the Hostomel airport on February 24, the first day of the invasion. The plan was to secure the airport quickly to allow for a sky bridge to Belarus that could ferry thousands of Russian troops and equipment to the outskirts of Kyiv. While the initial air assault by VDV forces was successful, they were underprepared for Ukraine’s response, which ultimately drove them back. By the time Russian reinforcements reached the airport to recapture it, the runway was destroyed and plans for a sky bridge were abandoned. It has been speculated that if Russia was able to establish a sky bridge, Russian forces could have been able to capture the capital. Instead, Russian forces were delayed a day and were eventually held up in Bucha and Irpin for weeks before their withdrawal in April.
Confirmed by Ukrainian authorities. A large air assault operation with Mi-8 helicopters on Antonov International Airport in Hostomel. Interior Ministry says Russia has seized control. Very dangerous; it’s just 15 minutes west of the capital ring road. pic.twitter.com/JhlyVktVRC
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 24, 2022
Wars are run (and won) in large part by intelligence. Russia failed to complete any of its day one invasion objectives, such as taking out Ukraine’s airforce and anti-aircraft defensives. These intelligence failures have reportedly angered Putin, as Bellingcat reports released last month claimed that 150 FSB officers of the 5th Service were fired and/or temporarily arrested, including its head, General Sergei Beseda, who was reportedly sent to Lefortovo Prison.
While the switch has not been confirmed by Russian officials, Russian state-media outlet Tsargrad TV aired a segment suggesting the GRU would take over operations.
The purported switch also comes amid other major shifts in Russia’s military leadership and tactics during the invasion. Last month, the United States reported that Putin appointed General Alexander Dvornikov to command Russian military operations in Ukraine. Dvornikov is one of Russia’s most experienced and decorated generals, having previously fought during the Second Chechen War and later commanding Russian forces in Syria to back Bashar al-Assad, having been credited with effectively helping turn the tide of the conflict. Dvornikov has been dubbed the “Butcher of Syria” by the West, who have accused him of carrying out military campaigns that seek to destroy the enemy, no matter the civilian cost.
Last month, the Deputy Commander of Russia’s Central Military District announced that the primary objective of what appears to be a new “Phase Two” of the invasion is to secure control of Ukraine’s south while also pushing to take over the rest of Donbas. While speaking at the annual Union of Defense Industry Enterprises, General Rustam Minnekayev stated “one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to Crimea, as well as affecting vital objects of the Ukrainian economy, Black Sea ports through which agricultural and metallurgical products are supplied to [other] countries,” according to Russian media. He also added that “control over the south of Ukraine is another exit into Transnistria, where there are also facts pointing to the oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” per Russian state-owned media outlet TASS.