No one should conclude that the current lull in the fighting in the Donbas marks the end of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, according to Valentin Badrak, head of the Kyiv Center for the Military, Conversion and Disarmament. Instead, it points to a shift toward more subversive actions inside the rest of Ukraine.
The defense analyst told Kseniya Kirillova that Moscow’s plan is to continue to work for the destabilization of Ukraine for a decade or more and that while its new tactics may be “less bloody,” they may be even more threatening because they won’t gain Kyiv the international backing direct attacks have and would.
Badrak suggests that Moscow’s current construction of a large military base near the eastern border of Ukraine and its plans to create another one in Belarus provide evidence for his conclusion that the Kremlin has decided to focus its efforts on subversion rather than direct aggression at least for the time being.
“At this stage,” he says, “the Russian government is trying to minimize the rating of the presidential and prime minister’s party, to get to the top of the Ukrainian political pro-Russian forces, intensify the activities of agents of influence, intelligence network, sabotage groups, to create chaos in society by terrorist acts and violent statements and provocations.”
According to Badrak and other Ukrainian analysts, Kirillova points out, Russian intelligence operatives have experience with this kind of activity extending back a decade or even more. She mentions a study of FSB activities in Ukraine as being especially instructive in that regard.
Badrak suggests that Ukrainians should expect this new emphasis on subversion to take four forms: an intensification of past Russian techniques, an increase in the use of murder and violence to spread Russian influence, more widespread employment of bribery, blackmail and economic blockades, and more provocations of other kinds as Putin seeks to get Europeans to agree to a compromise on Ukraine.
The Ukrainian security analyst concludes: “The Kremlin teaches us that we must be tougher every day in order to respond to such new threats.” And despite the dangers, he expressed optimism: Ukraine now has a much stronger civil society than it did and must use this “undeniable trump card against the plague of Putin.”