Cold War Degradation: Putin’s Intelligence

The Centre for Grand Strategy published a report commemorating the first anniversary of the war in February 2023.

Wishful thinking

It was intended to be a quick military triumph. The Federal Security Service (FSB) planned to assist in imposing a new pro-Kremlin puppet administration in Kyiv a few days after Russian tanks invaded Ukrainian land. But, it soon became apparent that Putin’s spies’ predictions were unduly optimistic. They misjudged the willpower of the Ukrainian people to resist the foreign invasion, the capability and training of the Ukrainian armed forces, and the unusually united commitment of the West to support Ukraine. Putin is waging a protracted battle he never wanted to fight a year later. Russia’s security and intelligence infrastructure, which has unavoidably become involved in the struggle in various ways, has been significantly impacted by the fight.

On paper, a lot of things appear to be the same, but in reality, Putin’s secret empire is changing fundamentally, both domestically and internationally. Long-term, this might pave the way for a much more significant cultural shift that would plunge the Russian intelligence and security services even deeper into isolation and closer to their forebears’ oppressive methods.

Consolidation for repressions

Putin’s war on Ukraine has been led by the FSB, essentially the KGB’s post-Soviet incarnation and is in charge of military and civilian counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and border security. Thus it should come as no surprise that the invasion has significantly affected its mission. The Security Service had two departments devoted explicitly to Ukraine before the war, one responsible for gathering intelligence and the other for thwarting Ukrainian espionage activities against Russia. Since the invasion, the FSB has been almost entirely preoccupied with the conflict and has taken an all-hands-on-deck stance

In actuality, this implies that all departments—including the Department of Economic Security, which is currently charged with assisting Russia in surviving Western sanctions—are intensely involved in aiding the Russian war effort; the Unit for the Preservation of the Constitution, which was lately given the task of enforcing the proper pro-war atmosphere throughout academia, colleges, and schools. 

The fundamental objective is to maintain the regime’s stability throughout the worst crisis Putin has ever experienced. This shift’s magnitude is unparalleled and cannot be compared to prior FSB help during emergencies or times of war.

War crimes

The militarization of Russia’s domestic civilian service is the second significant alteration in the FSB’s operations due to its excessive focus on the conflict in Ukraine. The FSB’s involvement in the alleged “filtration” of Ukrainian citizens is possibly the finest illustration of this change. Many of these filtration facilities (camps) are allegedly managed by the FSB and have been established on Russian or Ukrainian land that has been annexed. Their ultimate goal is to track down Ukrainian police and military personnel, enlist collaborators, gather potentially valuable intelligence, and gather “testimonies” about Ukrainian war crimes.

Their ultimate goal is to track down Ukrainian police and military personnel, enlist collaborators, gather potentially valuable intelligence, and gather “testimonies” about “Ukrainian war crimes”.

Establishing overall statistics is challenging: Russian officials are believed to have imprisoned, interrogated, and forcefully deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians, according to State Department numbers from July 2022; Ukrainian estimates from December 2022 place the number at least 2.8 million. All FSB officers are now qualified to be sent on three-month missions in Ukraine, even if the more modest projections are accurate. The scale of the Security Service’s current involvement is unparalleled, despite the fact that it has carried out similar filtrations throughout prior conflicts, most recently the Chechen wars.

Still the same setbacks

Despite all this upheaval, several essential aspects of Russia’s intelligence and security empire haven’t changed. Notably, Russian strategic and tactical intelligence analysis appears to be in the same terrible shape as during the Cold War. After a year of fighting in Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Moscow’s invasion was preceded by several policy, military, and intelligence blunders, including misreading the geography and terrain of the country and underestimating the strength of the civilian and military resistance. Even though little is known about the actual analytical interactions between Russian intelligence producers, their spymasters, and the final consumers of their intelligence, intelligence failures of this magnitude frequently result in institutional upheaval or the axing of the top leadership.

No bright future for Russia. If it would be

The Russian security and intelligence organization is unchanged structurally from one year ago. The same institutions make it up, and the same chiefs oversee it. But, the Ukraine crisis has profoundly altered how Putin’s covert state functions. Most significantly, the war effort and quelling domestic dissent have taken over the FSB’s whole purpose. As a result, the service has become more militarized, and its officers will soon have firsthand knowledge of working in a combat environment. This could lead to a long-term cultural shift that affects how the Russian security system operates for decades. If this happens, Putin’s Security Service might return to the worst repressions of the Stalin era.

Thus, based on the research of the center mentioned above, it can be concluded that the invasion of Ukraine made the work of the FSB more rude and dangerous for the civilized world and consolidated Europe, which Russian propagandists dubbed the “hostile West.” Disgusting events with poisoning in the United Kingdom can only be harbingers of the future wave of “work” of this tool of repression. As for the Russian people, maybe someone will sympathize with people who “just follow orders.” For the EU, it’s better to think about themselves and get some resilience in the face of this threat.

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