Kyiv’s western allies continue to express concern over the buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine (see EDM, November 8, 29). US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was “concerned about reports of atypical Russian military activity” (Voice of America—Russian service, November 23).
On November 20, Ukrainian Brigadier General Kirill Budanov said, in an interview with the Military Times, that he has evidence of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine in January–February 2022. According to him, the invasion will include airstrikes, attacks by artillery and armored vehicles, followed by the landing of troops in Odesa and Mariupol. A day earlier, Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov, following his meeting with the head of the Pentagon, confirmed that the intelligence data on the risks of a possible attack by Moscow, which was obtained by Ukraine, matches the data collected by the US and the United Kingdom (Nv.ua, November 22).
These reports look especially alarming against the background of a November 20 article in Aktualnyie Kommentarii, written by the former aide to the Russian President and the “gray cardinal” of Kremlin politics, Vladislav Surkov. Therein, Surkov acknowledges a spontaneous increase in social tensions in Russia (see EDM, October 27) but is silent about the true reasons for this trend, explaining it only by the abstract “second law of thermodynamics” and “natural growth of entropy.” At the same time, Surkov speaks out against “liberal experiments” and calls for the export of chaos “for its disposal on foreign territory” (Aktualnyie Kommentarii, November 20).
The Kremlin ideologist writes in plain text that the ideal recipe is to unite “compatriots” and divide “outsiders,” which allows Moscow “to rule both of them.” At the same time, he professes that “for Russia, constant expansion is not just one of the ideas, but the true essence of our historical existence,” and the country does not know how to survive any other way. Further, Surkov openly admits that “the Crimean consensus is a vivid example of the consolidation of society by the disbursement of a chaos in a neighboring country,” and “the complaints of Brussels and Washington about Moscow’s interference […] show that our state has not lost its imperial instincts” (Aktualnyie Kommentarii, November 20).
It is highly likely that Ukraine will again become the main springboard for this “external expansion of chaos,” especially considering that the Kremlin’s political scientists unceasingly continue to harp on the idea of “the failure of the Ukrainian state” (Vzglyad, November 4). Vladislav Surkov also previously oversaw Russian policy toward Ukraine. He is credited with the “Shatun” plan, obtained, according to the media, by Ukrainian hackers in 2016 from Surkov’s personal correspondence. The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) and the then-advisor to the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anton Gerashchenko, confirmed the authenticity of the document (Сurrenttime.tv, October 26, 2016).
According to the plan, Surkov proposed destabilizing Ukraine and “rocking” society by imitating large-scale anti-corruption investigations, embedding Russian agents, as well as organizing “tariff Maidans” (social protests against rising utility prices) and separatist movements in the regions (Deutsche Welle—Russian service, October 27, 2016). Regardless of the authenticity of the document, this strategy fits well with the Russian model of “hybrid” (“New Generation”) war. Knowing the “specialization” of Surkov in the creation of “political simulacra,” it can be assumed that his current article is also about the “simulation” of a military aggression through the destabilization of neighboring countries from within.
Several Ukrainian experts are of the same opinion. Former prime minister of Ukraine Oleksiy Honcharuk is confident that, this time, Ukrainians should not fear another invasion from Russia. According to him, Putin prefers to attack when no one expects it, and “one gets the impression that he is just putting on a show” (Forum Daily, November 17).
Oleksandr Danilyuk, who heads the Center for Defense Reforms and is the coordinator of a platform for countering the hybrid threats to Ukraine-NATO, agrees with him. According to him, Surkov’s article is a part of the Kremlin’s general plan to force the West to accept peace on the Kremlin’s terms. The expert believes that a deliberate ratcheting up of tensions should, according to Moscow’s calculations, create favorable conditions for negotiations with the West, primarily with the United States, and achieve “de-escalation through escalation.” At the same time, Danilyuk is convinced that Russia will not abandon hybrid methods, and, therefore, political destabilization in Ukraine has to be expected. According to this expert, a political crisis can be generated around the public distrust of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his entourage, while a possible social protest will be associated with high utility tariffs and interruptions in the supply of heat and electricity. Separate covert influence will be exerted on the Ukrainian oligarchs (Author’s interview, November 22).
According to the Georgy Logvinsky, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament (MP) and previously a vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Ukraine and the West should also expect Russia’s activation on other fronts of the hybrid war—in particular, in the economic and international legal arenas. A striking example of economic war, according to the former MP, is the artificial increase in natural gas prices, forcing Europe to speed up the commissioning of Nord Stream Two (see EDM, November 4). As for the international legal arena, Logvinsky noted Moscow’s increasing attempts to discredit the current Ukrainian judge on the European Court of Human Rights and delay the consideration of claims filed against Russia. The former parliamentarian warns that it is beneficial for Russian agents in Ukraine’s security forces to violate legal norms to discredit the country’s image in the eyes of the international human rights community. Another consequence of this tactic may be the undermining of Ukrainians’ confidence in European institutions and the very idea of European integration (Author’s interview, November 23).
Be that as it may, Ukrainian experts like Logvinsky and Dainlyuk point out that the country is ready to repel any “hybrid’ attacks by Russia. And any new attempts at escalation will end up not in negotiations and concessions but in tough sanctions against Moscow.