December 15, 2022
IntelBrief: Russians Resort to Asymmetric Tactics and Ukrainians Fiercely Fight Back
As the Russian military continues to struggle on the battlefield in Ukraine, Moscow has broadened its approach by ramping up a range of asymmetric tactics, including an aggressive disinformation campaign and the use of proxies to foment instability throughout Europe. The Russian approach to hybrid warfare is expansive, and includes economic, information, diplomatic, and subversive means, as well as the use of covert and clandestine operations across the so-called “gray zone.” The recent disinformation efforts have been focused on causing problems for Ukrainian refugees who relocated to Europe, with narratives suggesting that Ukrainians are gaining exclusive access to finite resources, including energy. Protests and demonstrations against the rising cost of living and utilities, many promulgating pro-Putin and Russia narratives, have sprouted up across Europe. Germany has seen an uptick in attacks, including arson, against refugee centers, with many far-right groups and politicians capitalizing on pre-existing tensions to further anti-migrant and refugee narratives. Poland has been targeted with similar disinformation efforts.
Russian forces have pounded Ukraine’s power grid to inflict pain and suffering on the civilian population, targeting critical infrastructure with relentless bombardments. The Kremlin is waging a war of brute force, with widespread accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Numerous credible reports of torture and rape have been published, while mass graves continue to be uncovered. Moscow’s conventional military operations have been faltering and the Pentagon believes the Russians are facing an ammunition shortage, which could force them to use decades-old, degraded rockets and artillery shells. Meanwhile, in Melitopol, a Ukrainian offensive augmented by long-range precision missile strikes, targeted assassinations, and sabotage missions has damaged Russian command centers, ammunition depots, and supply routes. In the eastern city of Bakhmut, Russian scorched earth tactics have led to heavy fighting and reports of high numbers of casualties on both sides, as civilians flee in large numbers.
On Telegram, Task Force Rusich, a neo-Nazi paramilitary unit linked to the private military contractor Wagner Group, has called on individuals who are “needed in Europe and in Ukraine to fight NATO forces.” One posting called for “partisans” who were able to both cover the location and block the transfer of NATO personnel and equipment; hold demonstrations and actions with local European populations against the war with the Russian Federation; and, in phrasing that could be interpreted quite broadly, “to solve other problems.” A more recent posting called for those willing to provide information and intelligence on border and military activity in Baltic nations. Some of these Telegram channels boast more than 60,000 subscribers, so the messages are reaching a wide audience. European countries already have a heightened sense of concern after a recent spate of letter bombings and suspicious packages targeting Ukrainian diplomatic missions across the continent. Ukrainian embassies in Denmark and Romania received “dangerous parcels” while numerous letter bombs were mailed to offices in Spain, including the Ukrainian embassy and the office of Spain’s prime minister. The U.S. embassy in Madrid also received a suspicious package that had to be detonated. There were also parcels that were soaked with an unspecified liquid and contained animals’ eyes, which were delivered to Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Austria, Italy, and the Czech Republic.
The Ukrainians, as they have since the February invasion, have fought fiercely and proven to be innovative, adaptive, and agile against a much stronger adversary. The United States is now preparing to send PATRIOT missile defense systems to Ukraine, a move that would greatly aid the Ukrainians in defending their urban centers, power grid, and other critical infrastructure. While Ukraine has demonstrated a remarkable ability to repel waves of Iranian-made drones deployed by Russia, the PATRIOT systems would be a welcome upgrade for Kyiv. The Russians launched new strikes in Kyiv and Kherson yesterday, coming on the heels of drone strikes in the southern port city of Odesa last weekend, which according to officials left more than 1.5 million without power. Ukraine recently launched a drone strike of its own, targeting an airfield within Russia’s borders. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, careful not to escalate the conflict with Russia directly, distanced Washington from the attack, stating, “We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia.” Still, some within U.S. national security circles have called for a more aggressive posture vis-à-vis Russia, including sending Ukraine Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) with a range of nearly 200 miles.