NATO: The Growing Alliance and the Insider Risks

The alliance has not properly considered the risks emanating from the half-hearted or hostile within the organization.

During the Cold War, the insider threat to the transatlantic alliance was either infiltration by the Warsaw Pact or some form of theft. The central focus was on counterintelligence and the main enemy was Soviet espionage.  Today, in 2023, the insider threat is not only spies and sabotage; it is any misalignment with the mission, which undermines the mission and its ability to conclude the tasks successfully. Regretfully, that can mean some member states are the issue. This is of course a problem of success. As the alliance grows — Finland’s entry on April 4 making it member state number 31 — was a wonderful moment, reflecting the free choice of a representative democracy to seek the security offered by military alliance with its fellows.

But not every alliance country is Finland, as the case of member state number 32 makes clear. Sweden too is a democracy which ranks at the top of just about every global ranking, from wealth to personal freedom and personal contentment. It is, as Shakespeare once said of England, the envy of less happier lands. Its entry is being blocked by two NATO members — Turkey and Hungary — run by illiberal rulers using their veto power to punish a likely future ally for past slights. Sweden is no more a paragon of virtue than any other country, and can no doubt be very irritating in some of its positions, but there seems more than a hint of malice in this process.

The issue of Swedish membership is a case study of the problems inherent in a military alliance relying on consensus. It is inevitable that in such a huge organization there will be enormous cultural width, differing perceptions, call it weltanschauung or political views, as well as old and new cleavages. Several NATO countries have relatively large far-left and far-right parties, demanding everything from the rejection of the market economy to an illusionary condition of ethnic homogeneity, free from any foreign influence or influx.

Both the far-left and the far-right oppose NATO in most cases. Even 30-plus years after communism’s collapse, many citizens in former occupied states harbor a romantic view of what totalitarian socialism is and how it was to live under those conditions. They understand that such values, including an absolute hostility to liberal democracy, are among the defining features of the Russian Federation. And they admire that.

These anti-NATO sentiments will migrate into the military establishments of those countries, even on a minor scale, since the armed forces reflect the populations they are drawn from. And of course these societal fissures present opportunities for adversarial states to undermine the most important pillar of NATO democracies – the population’s trust and confidence in their political leadership.

We know this because we can see it. Russian troll factories have in recent years actively supported far-right groups to catalyze splits in targeted societies, with material designed to stoke anti-immigration, anti-government, and anti-NATO sentiment. The Russians know they have sympathizers within the European Union and NATO countries. The Kremlin’s agents present themselves as an alternative to colonialism, capitalism, and American influence — a narrative that might seem laughably false, but is packaged as a plausible explanation for those already leaning in an authoritarian direction.

The difference between this anti-NATO undercurrent and official policy surfaced very clearly as the full-scale war in Ukraine got underway. Several countries have faced a discrepancy between domestic popular support, or lack thereof, for sending arms to Ukraine and the official government position. Public backing for NATO commitments could erode, often stemming from a wider socio-historical context.

A commentary about support for Russia in Slovakia from the Polish Institute for Central Europe suggested: “An intuitive explanation may be that this is a generation that no longer had experience of communism or the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops. After all, the last Red Army soldier left the country in 1991. This is also a generation that was born in a free country and does not associate Russia with danger.” (There have since been polling indications that pro-Ukrainian sentiment has risen.)

Are the Russians really the baddies, to use the British comedy act Mitchell and Webb’s term for bad guys, or are the Russians merely misunderstood? Russian disinformation campaigns present Russia as the defender of timeless European values, including family values, but suggest the West cynically portrays it as a genocidal dictatorship to malign its essential purity. For disaffected voters in the West, this can be an appealing message since it echoes their anger with their own governments and with the US, which they blame for their problems.

It would be profoundly naïve to dismiss or downgrade the significant insider threat within NATO among voters who have intellectually defected from free market economics and open liberal democratic norms. This segment of the population seeks an alternative to rule by so-called economic elites, even when their governments do not. Russia seeks to lure them though cognitive warfare and disinformation. That Russia is itself the ultimate corrupt crony-state run by illegitimate, thieving elites doesn’t matter, because this tale is clouded by illusion, confusion, and disillusion.

NATO needs to think about this, and think hard. Last time I looked at the ongoing work at NATO Science & Technology, not even one paper out of hundreds addressed insider threats.

The topic is uncomfortable, and politically sensitive, but that doesn’t remove the fact that NATO has an insider threat problem that warrants attention.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D., LL.M., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the United States Military Academy. He is a Non-resident Senior Fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Follow him at and @Cyberdefensecom.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy or the Department of Defense.

Offensive Cyber in Outer Space

The most cost-effective and simplistic cyber attack in outer space with the intent to bring down a targeted space asset is likely to use space junk that still has fuel and respond to communications – and use them to ram or force targeted space assets out of orbit.  The benefits for the attacker – hard to attribute, low costs, and if the attacker has no use of the space terrain then benefit from anti-access/area denial through space debris created by a collision.

The life span of a satellite is between five and 30 years, and even afterward it can still be orbiting with enough propellant to move through space and with functional communications which could be reactivated. Space contains thousands of satellites, both active and inactive, launched by numerous organizations and countries, hosting 5,000+ space-borne transponders communicating with Earth. Every transmission is a potential inlet for a cyber attack. Older satellites share technological similarities, providing opportunities to cyber-exploit industrial systems for control and processing. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems within our municipalities, facilities, infrastructure, and factories are designed and built on older technology and hardware, sometimes designed decades ago, and the software is seldom updated. These SCADA systems are considered a strategic vulnerability and have drawn growing attention from the US cyberdefense and homeland security communities in recent years as critical infrastructure is now a top priority. The lack of up to date security features within utilities and other critical infrastructure is mirrored in outer space. Satellites may be based on hardware and technology from the 1980/1990s for one straightforward reason—they are unlikely to be upgraded after they have been launched into space.

Terrestrial cyber attacks are a single exploit on thousands, if not millions, of identical systems, and the exploit will be eliminated afterward by updates or upgrades. The difference between satellites and terrestrial cyber exploits is that a satellite is in many cases custom made or in relatively small series, whereas the computing design is proprietary. Cyber attacks in space exploit a single system, or a limited group of systems, within a larger group of satellites. These spaceborne assets have a variety of operating systems, embedded software, and designs from disparate technological legacies. As more nations engage in launching satellites with a variety of technical sophistication, the risk for hijacking and manipulation through covert activity increases. A satellite’s onboard computer (OBC) can allow reconfiguration and software updates, which increase its vulnerability to cyber attacks. A vulnerable satellite that will be orbiting for the next ten years can be preset by a cyber perpetrator for unauthorized usage when needed.

Even with the most-advanced digital forensics tools, tracing a cyber attack is complicated on terrestrial computer systems, which are physically accessible. Space-borne systems do not allow physical access, thus, lack of access to the computer system nullifies several options for forensic evidence gathering. The only trace from the perpetrator is the actual transmissions and wireless attempts to penetrate the system. If these transmissions are not captured, the trace is lost.

If the adversary is skilled, it is more likely the attribution investigation will end with a set of spoofed innocent actors whose digital identities have been exploited in the attack rather than attribution to the real perpetrator. A strong suspicion would impact interstate relations, but full attribution and traceability are needed to create a case for reprisal and retaliation. Attribution can be graduated, and the level varies as to what would be accepted as an “attributed” attack. The national leadership can accept a lower level of tangible attribution, based on earlier intelligence reports and adversarial modus operandi than the international community might demand, but it is restrained in taking action. China has had a growing interest in building cyber warfare capabilities and is one of several nations that would have a sincere interest in degrading US space assets. Currently, nation-states are restrained by the political and economic repercussions of an attributed attack, but covert cyber war targeting US space assets removes the restraint of attribution.

A cyber attack resulting in a space collision would lack attribution and thus would be attractive to our covert adversaries. A collision between a suddenly moving foreign satellite and a mission-critical US satellite is neither a coincidence nor an accident. Even if there is no collision, a satellite on a potential collision course would force the targeted satellite to move and adjust position – and could eventually run out of fuel – and during these adjustments have degraded service levels.

 However, without attribution, it does not matter that this is so obvious. Other forms of direct and indirect attack would be traceable to an attacker, which could result in military, economic, and political repercussions. In criminology, we know that the major consideration of a perpetrator for premeditated acts is the risk of getting caught. The size of any repercussions if caught is secondary. If a cyber attack can destroy or disable US satellites with no attribution or traceability, it is likely to be considered by those who are openly adversaries and certainly by those who are covert. From a cyber warfare perspective, this creates an opportunity for a third party to hack and hijack a satellite with the express purpose of colliding with a mission-critical US satellite.

The attack could be either a direct collision or an indirect attack using the debris cloud from another collision. The hijacked ramming satellite can come from any country or international organization. The easiest way to perpetuate this attack would be to hijack satellites from countries less technically advanced or from less-protected or outdated systems.

Post-mission disposal (PMD), the UN-initiated international effort to remove satellites after their productive life spans, would require satellites to be removed from space within 25 years after their mission ends. Naturally, it could happen earlier than 25 years, but it can also be a drawn-out process, as there are currently no tangible sanctions for noncompliance. If a satellite has a lifespan of 10–20 years, the additional 25-year allowance would increase the total number of years when the satellite can be remotely commanded to 35–45 years. Satellites launched in 1977, 1987, and 1997 are already technically outdated and several technology generations behind. The time between launch and end of the operation for a satellite is the foundation for its cyber vulnerability. It is a sound financial decision to use a satellite to the full extent of its lifespan. However, the question becomes Is it worth the risks? We must keep in mind technical leaps made since early space launches and what vulnerabilities could be embedded when space is populated by 25- to 45-year-old assets that can still navigate. Since technology today develops so quickly, PMD, in reality, increases the risk of cyber attack by hijacked satellites because it prolongs the time a satellite can be remotely commanded by radio signals exploiting obsolete and outdated communication equipment.

In a future near-peer conflict, one of the potential adversary’s goals is early in a conflict separate the Joint Force in spaces, time, and functions (TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1). Cyber attacks in outer space are no longer science fiction; it is a valid concern.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Russia’s Industry and Economy Can’t Sustain the War Effort

In the industrial age of the mid-20th century, tycoons became tycoons because they saw the big picture and could assess opportunities and risks. During World War II when Sweden stayed neutral, the industrial magnates and brothers Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg ran their businesses while also acting as official trade emissaries. The brothers were well-traveled and understood the fundamental dynamics of world trade and industry. Jacob negotiated with the Germans and Marcus with the Allies.

The Wallenberg family has been the leading Swedish industrialist family for over 100 years. The most famous Wallenberg, the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who was murdered by the Russians, was from the outer circle of this notable family. The same day that the German Reich declared war on the United States, Marcus Wallenberg concluded that the war was over and started to plan accordingly. Why? He had traveled and worked in the United States; he had been to the Pittsburgh, Bethlehem, and Gary, Indiana, steel mills. He had seen manufacturing plants, shipyards, and airplane production lines across the country.

A year before El Alamein and Stalingrad, later considered turning points for the Second World War, and three and half years before the ultimate Allied victory, he realized that Germany had no chance of winning if the United States was fully committed on the side of the Allies.

The American economy, and the ability to manufacture military equipment, weapons, ships, and airplanes, would eventually lead to an Allied victory over Germany; it was only a matter of time. The American economy would outproduce the Germans. It may take a year, two, or five, but it would happen. Germany will run out of resources as their replenishment rate will not keep up with the pace of losses and material consumed.

Marcus Wallenberg’s views were shared by Winston Churchill, who, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, concluded that Germany no longer had the strength to invade Britain and, after Germany declared war against the United States a half-year later, realized that the Allied forces would win. The power of the American production apparatus would ultimately force Germany to surrender. As James Carville later told us, it’s all about the economy, stupid.

During World War II, the British, with some American raw materials, and the Americans themselves built far more destroyers, airplanes, and tanks than they lost. Simplified, if the Allied forces lost 10 planes, they made 20 new ones. If the Germans lost 10 airplanes, they could build only five as replacements.

That is why Germany lost and that is why Russia will suffer the same fate. The only real question is how long it will take. This isn’t designed to comfort Ukraine, though that’s a noble goal, it is a statement of the facts and there is a wealth of evidence to support it.

According to the Icelandic data scientist Ragnar Bjartur, over half of all Russian tanks lost in January and visually confirmed, were manufactured before 1991. These tanks are Soviet vehicles brought out from long-term storage, but these stores will not last forever. The Russian mobilization adds to the problem as newly mobilized units require equipment that does not exist. Russian social media already talks about artillery regiments on paper only with no guns.

As for military outlays, his figures show that NATO’s European member states spend 5.75 times as much on defense as Russia ($276bn compared to $48bn.) Not only are those alliance numbers set to rapidly increase, but they also take no account of Canada or the enormous US defense budget. Russia too is increasing spending, but its anemic economy simply cannot compete.

Comparing Russia’s economy to that of NATO countries using purchasing power parity, the ratio is a huge 1:10. Non-NATO countries — Australia, Japan, Sweden, and Finland as examples — support Ukraine as well. Additionally, Russia is heavily sanctioned and has had at least $300bn international assets frozen.

The war in Ukraine has entered its second year; a war that very few believed — at the outset — would last beyond a few weeks. The fact that Ukraine continues to fight has not simply saved Ukraine; it has ensured that Russia lacked the strength to bully (or worse) the Baltic states, Moldova, Romania, and other neighbors. Vladimir Putin has failed to invade, absorb, and suppress Ukraine. Kids still read books in Ukrainian; the Ukrainian historical narrative spins even further, and Ukrainian freedoms still exist, at least for those outside the occupied parts of the country.

As is already evident, the Russian army is struggling to create new formations, where draftees are given hardware from the 1980s, of lower technical standards and are altogether inferior compared to the original invasion force on 24 February 2022. There will be no large-scale Russian offensive.

The Russian economy (GDP) from Kaliningrad to Sakhalin is smaller than the Italian economy in GDP terms. Russian military salaries are lower than NATO, but combat aircraft will cost the same for Russia, Italy, or whoever buys it because technology is increasingly expensive. If an airplane costs $30m, the pilot and ground crew costs do not matter; they are marginal.

Putin’s regime cannot win, but it may put its own future at risk. The longer the war continues, the chances of regime change increase. Either way, Russian media is banging the drum about a long war, and so preparing the population for lower living standards, scarcity, and hardship in the coming years. And, of course, many more combat deaths.

For Russians with any doubt about state propaganda, it will now be obvious that the economic costs of funding a war with too little productive capacity are enormous. The undersized economy is already apparent for the soldiers on the frontline, made plain by intermittent logistics and deteriorating competitiveness on the battlefield, older equipment, and the artillery’s shell famine.

Continued Russian offensives can guarantee only increased Russian casualties, beyond the 200,000 already suffered. A larger Russian army in Ukraine will only worsen the logistics crisis. There is no Russian victory in sight.

The outcome is clear. Now we should ask, what are the events that will lead us to the ultimate destination? Like Marcus Wallenberg, we must draw our conclusions and plan accordingly.

Jan Kallberg. PhD

My text in CyberWire: After the war in Ukraine: Cyber revanchism.

The original text in CyberWire: “After the war in Ukraine: Cyber revanchism.”

At some point in time, the war in Ukraine will end. How it will end is harder to forecast, but it will end.

Russia has taken a significant beating in the war; even if the Russian forces learned as the war progressed and partly mitigated the worst vulnerabilities, the war was not the intended success story it set out to be. The planned three days until the Ukrainian government collapsed and Ukraine could be absorbed into Russia never happened. Instead, it became a long war that made Russia look incapable, and less than a superpower.

The limited cyber exchanges during the conflict have surprised the cyber community as many expected far more cyber attacks and cyber campaigns to be executed at a time of war. So, will future peace be cyber peace as well? Probably not.

Here is the reason why. Russia historically has had a hard time dealing with defeat. There is a culturally entrenched will to strike back as any failure goes contrary to the spurious Russian perception of imperial grandeur and supremacy.

Therefore, it is likely that the time after the war in Ukraine will open the floodgates for Russian and Belarussian cybercrime as a state-sanctioned form of digital revanchism and proxy war. Why after the war and not now?

Revanchism, online.
The reason is simple. During the war, with sanctions and more questions asked in third- fourth-countries through which the harvest from the criminal activity is funneled, there is no business case. Cybercriminal networks need the ability to launder money in order to convert the stolen assets to such tangibles as gold, cash, apartments, cars, or whatever they want to buy. Under current sanctions, Russian cybercriminals face “hardship” in making these arrangements. Some of them have left the country to avoid being called up to the war in Ukraine, those still in the country cannot travel, and the outer world is more suspicious than before. Banks and financial institutions, even in developing countries, are concerned about breaking the sanctions and being punished, leading to an unwillingness to put profit before ethics. In the symbiotic relationship between the Russian cybercriminal networks and the security apparatus, some of the gangs might be pressed into service for the government as the war continues. Still, it is marginal compared to the cybercriminal activity driven by money.

Therefore, it is likely that after the war in Ukraine, we will see a general surge in ransomware, social engineering, and cyber attacks. Russia and its allies, who already harbor cybercriminal networks, would encourage these activities against Western countries as a form of digital revanchism.

These attacks don’t need to be at a grand national security level with strategic intent, because the cybercriminals want to squeeze out money, and the Russian regime wants the targeted societies to feel the pain. Consider the damage broad attacks can do, when they inflict individual pain: a ransomware attack that affected cars, for example, would leave drivers stuck with a car they can’t use unless they pay. David Brumley has envisioned ransomware locking up cars as one of his projections for 2023.

If you can’t beat them, at least hurt them.
Revanchism in the face of defeat is nothing new. At the end of WWII, Germans attacked London with V-2 rockets which had no strategic or operational impact, but the Germans wanted to strike deep against the Allies even as their war went from bad to worse.

For the Russian leadership, to give their cyber criminal networks free range to attack Western interests, sheltered by the government and by Russian sovereignty, gives a sense of striking back. The Ukrainian war was not only defeat and mayhem, the Russians were able to bring the fight to the Western countries through unrestricted cyber attacks. In a Soviet manner, the Russians will likely claim having no knowledge or responsibility of the crescendo of cyber aggression even if it is blatantly obvious.

So do not rule out a larger cyber engagement after the war in Ukraine, rather than under the war, as it could be the cyber fallout of the conflict. A revanchist-in-spirit counter strike through proxies would be a face-saving way of getting in the last word.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

Cyber in Arctic Warfare


The change from a focus on counter-insurgency to near-peer and peer conflicts also introduce the likelihood, if there is a conflict, of a fight in colder and frigid conditions. The weather conditions in Korea and Eastern Europe are harsh in wintertime, with increasing challenges the further north the engagement is taking place. I have personal experience facing Arctic conditions as a former Swedish reserve officer and light infantry company commander.

In traditional war, theaters have the threat to your existence line up as enemy, logistics, and climate. In a polar climate, it is reversed – climate, logistics, and the enemy.

An enemy will engage you and seek to take you on different occasions meanwhile the climate will be ever-present. The battle for your physical survival in staying warm, eating, and seeking rest can create unit fatigue and lower the ability to fight within days, even for trained and able troops. The easiest way to envision how three feet of snow affects you is to think about your mobility walking in water up to your hip, so either you ski or use low-ground pressure and wide-tracked vehicles such as specialized Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV). The climate and the snow depth affect equipment. Lethality in your regular weapons is lowered. Gunfire accuracy decreases as charges burn slower in an arctic subzero-degree environment. Mortar rounds are less effective than under normal conditions when the snow captures shrapnel. Any heat from weapons, vehicles, or your body will melt the snow and then freeze to ice. If not cleaned, weapons will jam. In a near-peer or peer conflict, the time units are engaged longer, and the exposure to the climate can last months. I say this to set the stage. Arctic warfare occurs in an environment that often lacks roads, infrastructure, minimal logistics, and snow and ice blocking mobility.

The climate affects you and the enemy; once you are comfortable in this environment, you can work on the enemy’s discomfort.

The unique opportunity for cyber attacks in an Arctic conflict is, in my view, what either destroys a small piece of a machine or wastes electric energy. First, the ability to replace and repair equipment is limited in an Arctic environment; the logistic chain is weak and unreliable, and there are no facilities that effectively can support needed repairs, so the whole machine is a loss. If a cyber attack destroys a fuel pump in a vehicle, the targeted vehicle could be out of service for a week or more before being repaired. The vehicle might have to be abandoned as units continue to move over the landscape. Units that operate in the Arctic have a limited logistic trail and the ability to carry spare parts and reserve equipment. A systematic attack on a set of equipment can paralyze the enemy.
The second part, electric energy waste, is extremely stressful for any unit targeted. The Arctic area has no urban infrastructure and often no existing power line that can provide electric power to charge batteries and upkeep electronic equipment. If there are power lines, they are few and likely already targeted by long-range enemy patrols. The winter does not have enough sun to provide enough energy for solar panels if the sun even gets above the horizon. The sun if you get far enough north is for several months a theoretical concept. The batteries do not hold a charge when it gets colder. A battery that holds a 100-percent charge at 80 degrees Fahrenheit has its capacity halved to 50-percent at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Generators demand fuel from a limited supply chain and not only generate a heat signature but also noise. The Arctic night is clear, with no noise pollution, so a working generator can be pick up by a long-range skiing patrol from 500 yards, risking an ambush. The loss or intermittent ability to use electronics and signal equipment due to power issues reduce and degrade situation awareness, command and control, ability to call for strikes, and blinds the targeted unit.
Arctic warfare is a fight with low margins for errors, the climate guarantees that small failures can turn nasty, and even limited success with Arctic cyber operations can tip the scales in our favor.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

Russia’s Imperial Farce

Russia has moved from Soviet-style warfare to self-pitying introspection, but it remains dangerous and must be defeated.

Russia is going to war with Ukraine to defend the Motherland from gay parades. Russia is defending against an onslaught of transgender NATO satanist mercenaries of mixed ethnicity. Russian state television discusses whether it’s best to bomb Berlin first, or more sensible to start with London and then move on to eradicate the rest of Western Europe, thus removing the sources of support for the queer-Nazi government in Kyiv.

I must be honest and say it is hard to write about the Russian geopolitical situation when the Russian weltanschauung (worldview) is, to put it mildly, clinically interesting. For those of us who were active during the Cold War and spent time studying the-then Soviets, the war in Ukraine has gone from the predictable — e.g., the old-school Soviet doctrine of an initial air assault on the Antonov airfield in a bid to decapitate the Ukrainian government — to a humiliating exposure of Russian military shortcomings and failures, and thereafter a profoundly odd misalignment to reality. I don’t say Russia’s ability to kill and harm other people should be underestimated, but that now appears the only skill left in the toolbox, while the narrative supporting the war has disintegrated.

A recent interview with the Russian lawmaker and actress Yelena Grigorevna Drapeko, a long-serving member of the Russian legislature, epitomizes the supremacist and ethnocentric view dominating the official discussion. According to Drapeko, Ukraine doesn’t exist; it is Russia. Borders are not to be recognized; these lines on maps are phony, and the population in the territory of Ukraine would only benefit from a Russian takeover.

The interview is not unique; it is an echo of Vladimir Putin’s notorious July 2021 faux-history essay On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians and mirrors widespread sentiments that have not surfaced overnight. The Russian von oben perception of inherited supremacy considers Russian culture superior throughout all of Eastern Europe and Euro-Asia, which in turn gives Russians the right to establish hegemony across “its” sphere. This is not the creation of a disinformation campaign or a troll farm; it is a century-old (or more) supremacist belief that has gone from tsarist to communist to fascist.

The German school atlases from the 1930s showed the Deutsche Reich, that is Germany within its borders; but they also showed German Sprachboden, the Germanic language area, which was significantly larger, and then the German Volksboden, which was half of Europe; and then finally the most extensive map depicted the German cultural area, or Kulturboden, which stretched from Russia to Normandy. Modern (there really is no other word) fascist Russian rhetoric posits something similar within the concept of Russkiy mir; the Russian world is a statement of Russian kulturboden and the Russian regime’s right to conquer and invade and recapture “what is theirs.”

In reality, the Russian invasion has failed. The professional army has been humiliatingly denied victory by an adversary it considered inferior in every way. Russia now has to beg, and amend its foreign policy, to suit rogue states like Iran in its pursuit of the missiles and drones its industry is unable to produce. Likewise North Korea. The combat-averse air force only flies where there are no Ukrainians, it’s Black Sea flagship; Moskva, is a reef on the sea floor; and the hardware offered to newly mobilized units was old even in the 1980s. The shattered and rusted remains of Russia’s spearpoint shock units — more than 8,000 tanks and other vehicles — now litter the fields of Ukraine, or are in Ukrainian service.

Future reunions of Russian Spetsnaz, paratroop, and naval infantry units will be small gatherings, as their losses in Ukraine are staggering. The attack on the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea to put a stranglehold on Western Europe didn’t work. Instead of a professional army driven by discipline, effective leadership and ethics, the Russian army gives no signs of being anything other than a fear-driven horde that kidnaps, tortures, and murders human beings. It is meanwhile so focused on loot that it is reduced to stealing llamas and a raccoon from a zoo, while despoiling Ukrainian museums and carting off electrical goods from vandalized homes.

Meanwhile, Russian public storytelling continues to assert a moral superiority in a world perversely misunderstanding its motives. This, it tells anyone willing to listen, is another Great Patriotic War. No, it isn’t; it is a failing supremacist dream. The war in Ukraine is better described as a Great Pathetic War which attempts to reshape the world, its history, and its realities. This is far beyond the powers of an energy-rich but kleptocratic state whose ability to inspire is illustrated by the hundreds of thousands of draft dodgers who have left the country rather than fight for Putin’s imagined “Russian World.”

The idea that the world’s democracies should bend their knee to this absurd ideology is preposterous. An early, face-saving peace enabling Putin to claim victory will merely guarantee another European war within the decade. Just as the participants at the Casablanca conference in 1943 did not waste time figuring out how to spare the blushes of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, the democratic world must stay strong in defense of Ukraine. Russia’s supremacist ideology must come to an end.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D., LL.M., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the United States Military Academy and a Scientist in the Insider Threat Research program. He is also a  Non-resident Senior Fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Follow him at and @Cyberdefensecom.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of Defense, or the US Government.

The War in Ukraine – Russian officer losses reach strategic impact

For a mobilization effort to create new units that can enter the war and successfully fight, not only are arms, equipment, and soldiers are needed, but a cadre of available experience tactical leaders that can train, forge cohesion, and lead the new units into combat. After over ten months of war in Ukraine, Russian ground forces lost a significant portion of their able tactical leaders – the ground-war company commanders. The company commanders lead the fight at the forward platoons, are close to contact with the enemy, and must be in the forefront to maintain the initiative. The Russian junior officers have been more exposed due to the low motivation of the Russian troops, forcing the officers to be at the edge of the front and lead by example in urban combat, with heightened risks. The Russian mobilization efforts’ strategic impact is doomed to fail as the Russian army runs out of experienced tactical leaders – the company commanders.


The function company commander is a crucial player in ground combat because it is the first role that synchronizes fire, movement, indirect fires, and combined arms. A company commander is also the highest level that knows each soldier in their unit. It takes several years to train, educate, and prepare a junior officer to become a company commander. A captain or senior lieutenant leads a Russian company, and by looking at data from death records and published information, a fair assessment is that half of all Russian company commanders that have fought in Ukraine are either killed, wounded, or captured.

The Russian mobilization efforts will likely have a marginal strategic effect as the mobilization only produces replacement soldiers to compensate for existing units’ losses. So even if Mr. Putin orders the mobilization of additional 100 000 men, it will not translate into a more considerable fighting force but only enable existing units to absorb more casualties.

The reliance on experienced tactical officers is a flawed Russian organizational design, which is exacerbated by the absence of a leadership layer of non-commissioned officers that could train, lead, and augment the tactical officers. Russian companies have fewer soldiers than their Western counterparts and rely on the direct leadership of the company commander, who executes command and control.


According to the volunteer-driven Twitter feed Russian Officers killed in Ukraine, which gathers information about slain Russian officers in the Ukrainian war from obituaries, death notices, and other publicized sources, as of the 29th of December 2022, there were 1,602 Russian officers killed in action. International news outlets have to focus on the ten slain generals in the widely accepted listing, which is natural as a division commander is considered a more significant loss for the Russian war effort than a company commander, just from a strict news perspective. But the systemic impact that will cripple the Russian army is the loss of junior officers.

Western sources have estimated the initial Russian invasion ground force to have been 140 000 soldiers. As a raw estimate of the number of Russian company commanders that entered Ukraine on the 24th of February, an average Russian company has a size of 60 soldiers as Russian companies are smaller than their Western counterparts. As a simple calculation, that would give approximately 2 300 Russian company commanders at the start of the war, and adding an estimated transferrable 500 captains and senior lieutenants in other roles would give a pool of 2 800 company commanding Russian captains and senior lieutenants.

The researchers of Russian Officers killed in Ukraine had, by the 8th of December, identified and verified 840 killed Russian captains and senior lieutenants. The ratio of killed to wounded in action (WIA) is traditionally 1:3; for each killed in action (KIA), there are three wounded in action in a highly intense war. The Russian logistic failures also affected the ability to care for the wounded by having far more deaths due to the inability to evacuate in time and provide care. So the ratio KIA / WIA is likely 1:1.5, which would be using only the number of verified killed Russian captains and senior lieutenants 1 260 WIA. If half of these WIA will not return to active duty due to the severity of the injuries, then 1 470 Russian captains and senior lieutenants are either killed or injured to the degree that they can not be tactical leaders in the continued war.

The estimation of killed Russian captains and senior lieutenants is a confirmed minimum estimate.

In Russia, a soldier or officer missed in action is not declared dead, even if fellow soldiers witnessed, for example, a catastrophic armored kill, until at least six months after the report. There is also likely unwillingness to publicize all deaths in death notices and obituaries for several reasons ranging from family requests to cover up the extent of losses in highly valued units such as special forces.


Experienced company commanders play a crucial role in the creation of new units as they set the training standard, act as subject matter expert of the fight to come, and drives the preparation before a new infantry or armor unit is ready to be sent to the front. The Russian army has already lost many experienced tactical leaders and will need the ones it still has to upkeep the existing army. Not enough competent tactical leadership is available to lead the companies already engaged in the fight and divert officers to newly formed conscripted units. So officers from other branches will have to fill the ranks of these newly mobilized units, which will only increase the losses and hardship for the Russian army as there is no rotation of their officers between branches. So once the Russian army no longer has ground war officers, the other branches will fill ranks in the infantry and armor units. Due to no rotation, these officers from signal corps, logistics, and administration will have close to zero experience leading a ground fighting unit, which will only increase the fatalities and mistakes in the Russian tactical performance.

The massive losses of captains and senior lieutenants in the Russian army created an obstacle to creating capable military units out of the hundreds of thousands of mobilized Russian conscripts, which is almost impossible to solve in the short term. The Russian mobilization, followed by a second mobilization, will not produce the strategic effect sought to enable a decisive Russian offensive, as the Russian army has an increasing deficit of capable tactical leaders.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

The Lost Will to Fight

More than six months of fighting have hit the Russian army where it hurts, sapping its will to continue Vladimir Putin’s adventure.

//The article was written before the Russian mobilization order 20 September 2022, but it is unlikely that the newly mobilized would have any higher motivation than the existing Russian force – at least after experienced the operational realities// 

Russia’s failed assault on Hostomel airfield at the outset of all-out war on February 24, when it tried to use air-assault troops to decapitate the Ukrainian government in nearby Kyiv, left a clear sense that military operations were not going the way it had planned.

The decapitation attack followed a Soviet tactical modus operandi established in Cold War planning. In all Russian newsreels, propaganda outlets, and show-off military maneuvers, airborne troops (VDV) were the ultimate elite as shock troops to get quick results on the group. The VDV got things done. Supposedly.

The attack on Hostomel-Antonov airfield, was a classic Soviet/Russian playbook operation to move into Kyiv rapidly, eliminate or capture the Ukrainian government, and catapult Ukraine into confusion, disarray, and chaos, meanwhile installing a Putin-loyalist regime to pave the way for the Ukrainian surrender. The initial assault would enable waves of IL-76 transport aircraft to bring in the rest of the airborne force and seize the Ukrainian capital.

Instead of a rapid, glorious victory for Russia’s paratroopers, however, they failed to secure the airfield because of the determination shown by a few platoons of honky-tonk, rag-tag Ukrainian third-tier territorial defense forces with a powerful will to fight. Instead of kicking doors in Zelensky’s presidential quarters, the Russian paratroopers were pinned down in open spaces and started to die in large numbers. At that point, a day or two into the war, it was evident that the Russian plan had derailed.

For the Russian paratroopers, Spetsnaz, tank crews, and naval infantry, who imagined themselves la crème de la crème, that initial failure became hundreds of days of mortal reality. Day after day, fellow soldiers kept dying in a losing war.

Even worse, the Putin-driven mythology of modern Russia describes Ukrainians as members of a non-existent nation, as sub-Russians who have taken a misconceived historical path and must be returned to the fold by their Slavic superiors. The only one outcome of this special military operation (Ukrainians did not deserve the backhanded compliment of a real war) was a decisive Ukrainian defeat.

More than 200 days have passed since the failed Hostomel airfield attack, 200-plus days when very little has worked as Russia imagined. Russian units have not been rotated, so that if you, a Russian soldier, entered the war on February 24, you are still fighting. Numerous of your comrades have been killed or wounded.

For 200 days, Russian soldiers have seen vehicles explode, Russian corpses along the roads, an imploding logistic chain, and uncertainty about when a drone will hit you or call down an artillery strike. These experiences have only escalated in recent weeks as precision HIMARS and MLRS strikes create great balls of fire on the horizon in the middle of the night, and where you, as a Russian soldier, know that dozens of your comrades just died.

Some Russian units have taken massive losses. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces estimates, for example, that the Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade has lost 85% of its declared strength at the outset of the war. Even if the unit still exists, it is now maybe at half-strength, with only one in three soldiers from the original unit. Russian elite units are now rag-tag third-rate units, hauling obsolete equipment. Russia’s modern weaponry had been destroyed or captured in vast quantities, (including the loss of around 1,100 tanks), and in parts of the front, is barely able to defend itself.

Experienced and trained units become a mishmash of replacements and scrambled equipment. When the war dragged out, and the fight started to become urban, such as in Mariupol and Severodonetsk, Russia lacked infantry, and VDV, Spetsnaz, naval infantry, and even police units; OMON, a gendarmerie force, had to fill the role. These units were used as ersatz infantry, with the wrong equipment, vulnerable vehicles, and tactics that amplified the already high casualty rates — and suffered the inevitable consequence of death by incompetence.

This author applies his “Six-day War Rule”, based on the 1967 war between Israel (which was under-prepared and lacked enough hardware) and neighboring Arab countries, which states: “You can stink as a warfighter, but as long as your enemy is even worse, you still prevail.” The Ukrainians are not perfectly organized and do not always use the best tactics, but Russian military performance is much worse. The Ukrainians therefore prevail.

So Ukraine’s strategy of corrosion has exhausted Russian grit, spirit, and morale, and inflicted massive material losses. It might be even better as a strategy of erosion, as it removes the underpinnings of the Russian authoritarian regime — its authority.

News commentaries, opinion pieces, and editorials tend to focus on the bigger picture. These outlets discuss the clash between political systems, the force ratio, and differences in macroeconomics, and seek to understand the leader’s intent.

But the soldier’s view is much more personal —seeing a continuous stream of fellow soldiers die or suffer wounds for months on end; ordered to launch futile attacks the Ukrainians repel; suffering strikes from modern Western weapons with unprecedented effects when you least expect it; daily witnessing spirals of smoke from knocked out tanks, vehicles; barely any company commanders left alive along the front, while more senior officers worrying about HIMARS attacks hide in shelters far from the front; intermittent starvation due to a failed logistic chain; and on top of all this, a national leader in denial.

These developments compound one another. A significant number of Russian units have now lost the will to fight (as on the Kharkiv front), placing greater pressure on those with a continuing esprit de corps, and ultimately paving the way for Russian defeat.

It doesn’t matter whether Russia has lost 1,500 or 500 tanks; what matters is when Russian troops lose the will to fight. As units start to disintegrate, their casualties soar; Nazi Germany’s casualties on the Eastern front skyrocketed after the fall of 1943, when they lost the initiative and beaten units with intermittent supply and coordination straggled back towards the River Oder and Berlin. Ukraine’s current dual counteroffensive matters because it once again signals to Russian soldiers that their cause is lost, that there is no successful endgame, and that there is only pain and death in front of them.

Putin’s grip over Russia is sliding away in slow motion, a drip-drip of authority that increases with every tank turret blasted into the Ukrainian sky. For an authoritarian regime, this is a disaster, and brings nearer the day when the military loses its fear of ignoring or disobeying orders, ceases to fight, and instead trains its disillusioned eyes on the man in the Kremlin who made this mess.

Jan Kallberg

The West Has Forgotten How to Keep Secrets

My CEPA article about the intelligence vulnerability open access, open government, and open data can create if left unaddressed and not in sync with national security – The West Has Forgotten How to Keep Secrets.
From the text:
“But OSINT, like all other intelligence, cuts both ways — we look at the Russians, and the Russians look at us. But their interest is almost certainly in freely available material that’s far from televisual — the information a Russian war planner can now use from European Union (EU) states goes far, far beyond what Europe’s well-motivated but slightly innocent data-producing agencies likely realize.

Seen alone, the data from environmental and building permits, road maintenance, forestry data on terrain obstacles, and agricultural data on ground water saturation are innocent. But when combined as aggregated intelligence, it is powerful and can be deeply damaging to Western countries.

Democracy dies in the dark, and transparency supports democratic governance. The EU and its member states have legally binding comprehensive initiatives to release data and information from all levels of government in pursuit of democratic accountability. This increasing European release of data — and the subsequent addition to piles of open-source intelligence — is becoming a real concern.

I firmly believe we underestimate the significance of the available information — which our enemies recognize — and that a potential adversary can easily acquire.”



Bye bye Vladivostok! The Chinese claim of the Russian Far East.

Russia’s decline is visible to everyone, including China, despite its grandiose claims and attempts to bury history.

In 1997, the First Opium War officially ended with the British administration and forces leaving Hong Kong. The Second Opium War is still ongoing, since the Russian Federation continues to occupy the Amur region and Outer Manchuria. This land area was extorted from China in 1860 during the Second Opium War, under threat to set Beijing ablaze.

Surely no one these days thinks of returning Vladivostok to China? 

Let’s first understand the limits of Russia’s expansive claims to territory it does not currently occupy. The Kremlin or its servants claim any terrain that has been Russian territory or under Russian administration for the last 800–900 years, or has a Russian-speaking population. These claims include Alaska, Ukraine, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova. Russia also sees any country that was a part of the defunct Soviet Union as part of the Russian Empire, which must at the very least accept Russia’s authority, or risk being brought back to the fold at any time. Putin has for years talked about Russian peace, or Russkiy Mir, as the natural end state. The concept is pure Soviet ideology; mir was the happy state of global harmony achieved once the Soviets had eradicated all obstacles to socialism.

Putin further enunciated this idea at the St Petersburg Economic Forum on June 17, when he asked, “What is the Soviet Union? It’s historical Russia.” He then attempted to reassure anxious neighbors that they were unlikely to be invaded (unless they took the Ukrainian path.)

The trouble with old territorial claims against others is they’re just as likely to have claims against you. So Russia has a potential counterclaim clan composed of Finland after the loss of Karelia, Viborg, and Petsamo, and other countries such as Georgia. As things stand, the irredentists are silenced by the disparity in power between Russia and minor countries.

Not so China. Its claims to Russia’s Far East are fact-based and indisputable. Chinese maps from the 13th century show the area around Vladivostok as Yongmingcheng, and to this day the port itself is still called Hǎishēnwǎi alongside the Russian imperial name of Vladivostok. From a Chinese and Korean perspective, the name Vladivostok must feel as natural as Salisbury, as Zimbabwe’s capital was formerly known, in Mashonaland.

It is notable that public discourse on decolonization regularly avoids any mention of Russia’s continuing colonial occupation. Maybe it is time to change that.

Once understood, Putin’s selective imperialism becomes glaringly obvious. Treaties and agreements are subservient to the Kremlin’s understanding of history, or Russian military power, whichever is the greater.

Chinese (and Korean) claims over the Russian Far East are significant. There was a substantial Chinese population in the Russian Far East until Soviet mass deportation to China; ethnic cleansing of the Far East peaked in the 1930s. Before the Russian revolution, the Chinese made up 41% of the registered labor force in the then Amur and Primorsk oblasts. The actual number was likely higher as many Chinese did seasonal cross-border work as day laborers. Ethnic Russians were likely the minority, which is what drove Stalin, as always, to select the inhumane policy of mass expulsion to guarantee Russian supremacy.

What does modern China make of this? For now, it is content to ally with its fellow global disruptor in an axis fueled by discontent at the continuing dominance of the US and a supporting cast of allied democracies. Despite the laughable imbalance between the two (Chinese adjusted national wealth is more than 5.5 times that of Russia), the Communist party (CCP) is getting cheap oil and gas from Putin’s regime while helping to prop up a large, if failing, autocracy.

The real strategic upside for China is a continued deterioration of Russia’s economy and abilities (it is, for example, short of more than 170,000 IT staff after a post-invasion exodus), and population — 2020 saw its largest recorded peacetime decline following huge numbers of pandemic deaths. Officials have warned that it may lose another 12m of its 145m population by 2035.

Russia is rotting, giving China a huge range of options with its declining neighbor. If current trends persist, China can reasonably expect its old territories to one day fall into its lap.

The CCP has a long memory, as it has made clear over the years with sometimes splenetic outbursts aimed at Japan and the UK, and their role in its history. Will Russia get a free pass? That seems hard to believe.

But China can hope to decolonize the Far East by simply continuing the current long-term strategic path. This doesn’t undermine access to Russian resources because the Kremlin is ever-more reliant on its giant neighbor’s goodwill to prop up the economy. Past attempts to diversify with Japanese and South Korean investment have failed, not least because Russia swiped the Kuril Islands at the end of World War II and refuses to discuss the matter. That tentative relationship is anyway now sanctions-bound.

Seen in this light, China can take its time.

The Chinese population is 10 times that of Russia and yet each Russian has 17.5 times more land per capita than his/her Chinese counterpart. Chinese farmers already work on Russian soil in the Far East and businesses have a strong presence.

Chinese leaders may well have a better understanding of Russian decline than their Western counterparts. Russia is not a superpower but is treated as a superpower. There is a reason why Russia constantly threatens the use of nuclear arms; the country is an economic dwarf compared to its geographical size.

Russian GDP is only nine times greater than the revenues of the American retailer Costco. The economic strength of Russia is limited; natural resource sales produce cash flow that can be distributed to keep the Russian people calm and elites happy, but not much else. Almost no one outside Russia seeks to buy Russian cars, household appliances, or TVs.

It confounds logic for China to treat Russia as a superpower and an equal when Russia has a tenth of the economic torque, unless China itself has fallen for the Russian propaganda and sable rattling.

Sun Yat-Sen, the nationalist father of modern China, pushed for the decolonization of the Russian Far East and the resettlement of Han and Manchu Chinese on their ancestral lands, until the Chinese Revolution halted further discussion. But even these days, Chinese spokespeople splutter when reminded of its past status.

Will China now get tough on Russia and raise its demands, now that the Russian Far East is drained of military units, while the Kremlin has made itself an international pariah and its economy groans under the weight of Western sanctions? Probably not.

For now, Vladivostok can continue under the Russian flag with the certain knowledge that one day it’s more than likely to become Hǎishēnwǎi, a city in China once again.

Jan Kallberg

Picture credit: By Raita Futo from Tokyo, Japan – Zolotoy bridge, Golden Bridge, CC BY 2.0,

Defending NATO in the High North

Defending NATO in the High North


The invitation and entry of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance radically improve the Alliance’s ability to defend the High North. Sweden and Finland will provide NATO with operational depth and logistic routes that the Alliance lacked earlier. With Sweden and Finland outside of the Alliance, the route to move NATO reinforcement to Finnmark, the Northernmost part of Norway, follows the single coastal road E6 along the Norwegian shoreland. Any Russian stand-off weaponry, or special forces, could, with limited engagements, strike the E6 route and cut off Northern Norway, leaving it open to a rapid Russian advance.

This lack of operational depth and NATO’s reliance on a single route to reinforce the High North has been an opportunity for a Russian fait accompli attack early in an evolving conflict with NATO.

A sustained fight to defend an area needs a land-based supply route to maintain the flow of equipment, logistics, and reinforcements, as these represent thousands of tons to be hauled into the operational area. Airborne or air transported troops can only sustain a fight over a limited time. The recent battle for Hostomel Airport outside of Kyiv, where Russian airborne troops lost against Ukrainian ad hoc formations, shows the short duration airborne forces can sustain a fight without a land-based logistic trail that follows.

The fastest way to move ground units from Germany, Denmark, and the U.K. to Northern Norway is through Sweden, which has several roadways leading to the far North. Meanwhile, coastal Norway has fjords, deep-cut valleys, mountainous terrain, and numerous bridges that could be destroyed and hinder a NATO movement; Sweden offers a straighter route to the North.

A Russian military planner, creating a case for assault plans on Northern Norway, had to focus on the Western edge towards the defending NATO forces along the Norwegian coast. The High North engagements Southern flank towards Sweden and Finland was “protected” by the Swedish and Finnish decision to be neutral and not be a part of the conflict. So the Cold War case, and until now, for a USSR/Russian attack on Northern Norway went from East to West without considering the Southern flank.

The NATO defense of the Norwegian High North will also benefit from the opportunity for NATO with the Swedish and Finnish entry into the Alliance to base and prepare rapid build-up of air assets on Swedish and Finnish airfields when a conflict is on the horizon. The Swedish towns of Kiruna and Gällivare have civilian airports, and any airport can also be used for military purposes. There are also several airfields in Finland; Enontekiö airfield is almost on the Norwegian Finnmark border. These added airfields and assets give NATO a stronger ability to establish air superiority in the Far North and less reliance on a few Norwegian airports that can be struck in the initial stages of the war.

The development of modern anti-ship missiles, with a range of 100s of kilometers, in combination with an enhanced ability to base and use operational space in the North, also ensures NATO a broad ability to prevent the Russian Northern Fleet from reaching the Atlantic Ocean and intercept the movement of U.S. and Canadian formations to Europe.

The entry of Sweden and Finland gives NATO more opportunities to defend the High North by providing logistic pathways, operational space and depth, and the ability to base air assets which would combine strengthen the deterrence posture against Russian aggression. Deterrence translates to a higher threshold for conflict, not only the NATO’s objective but also Sweden and Finland’s, and a gain for both parties.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.



Drones Will not Liberate Ukraine – but Tanks Will

My CEPA article “Drones Will not Liberate Ukraine – but Tanks Will” – see full text.

From the article:
“Drones have changed the battlefield, providing additional situation awareness and the ability to strike targets, but their high success rates in the Ukraine war is a result of unique conditions unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.

Unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) such as the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 have been successful in the Russian-Ukrainian war and helped prevent the Ukrainian defenses from crumbling under the initial Russian onslaught. The absence of short-range air defenses (SHORAD) in the initial months of the war gave drones free range.

But four months later, man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) like the US-manufactured Stinger, its Russian counterpart the SA-25, and other air defense systems, are bringing down drones.”

Air defenses can as easily target larger, slow-moving drones such as TB2 Bayraktar just like other slow moving aerial targets such as helicopters and transport aircraft.


A Potemkin Military? Russia’s Over-Estimated Legions

My CEPA article about the overestimation of the Russian abilities – see full text. 

From the text:
“Seen from the West, the Red Army was an able, well-integrated, and competent opponent able to rapidly launch joint offensive operations with no or little warning. Every Western soldier learned how the Soviets would fight by watching Red Army propaganda movies which projected a fast-moving armored onslaught that would either overrun any defense, or destroy the defending forces after encirclement.

The West was taken in by the Communist propaganda machine because these were the only movies showing the Soviet capabilities. We believed that Russian armored divisions would sweep across the open landscape, cross rivers and streams with ease when engineers unfolded pontoon bridges as the spearhead arrived, all surrounded by a symphony of well-orchestrated artillery and rocket fire and framed by the smoke trails of SU-24 ground attack aircraft in joint operations.

We looked at the Soviet, and now Russian, order of battle and drew mathematical inference – and ended up being wrong.

We missed discipline, leadership, coordination, trust, and the effects on troops and hardware, living in a culture of corruption and theft for decades. These factors could not be quantified and never made it to the model. Instead of passing the Portuguese border on day 75 of the assault, following the original Seven Day to Rhine model, the Russians in reality barely made it to the next postal code in Donbas.”


CEPA Article: Russia Won’t Play the Cyber Card, Yet

My article from CEPA (Center for European Policy Analysis). Read the full text following this link. 

In reality, the absence of cyber-attacks beyond Ukraine indicates a very rational Russian fear of disclosing and compromising capabilities beyond its own. That is the good news. The bad news is that the absence of a cyber-offensive does not mean these advanced capabilities do not exist.

From the text.

“The recent cyberattacks in Ukraine have been unsophisticated and have
had close to no strategic impact. The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyber-attacks are low-end efforts, a nuisance that most corporations already have systems to mitigate. Such DDoS attacks will not bring down a country or force it to submit to foreign will. These are very significantly different from advanced offensive cyber weapons. Top-of-the-range cyber weapons are designed to destroy, degrade, and disrupt systems, eradicate trust and pollute data integrity. DDoS and website defacements do not even come close in their effects.

A Russian cyber-offensive would showcase its full range of advanced offensive cyber capabilities against Ukraine, along with its tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), which would then be compromised. NATO and other neighboring nations, including China and Iran, would know the extent of Russian capabilities and have effective insights into Russia’s modus operandi.

From a Russian point of view, if a potential adversary understood its TTP, strategic surprise would evaporate, and the Russian cyber force would lose the initiative in a more strategically significant future conflict.

Understanding the Russian point of view is essential because it is the Russians who conduct their offensive actions. This might sound like stating the obvious, but currently, the prevailing conventional wisdom is a Western think-tank-driven context, which in my opinion, is inaccurate. There is nothing for the Russians to strategically gain by unleashing their full, advanced cyber arsenal against Ukraine or NATO at this juncture. In an open conflict between Russia and NATO, the Kremlin’s calculation would be different and might well justify the use of advanced cyber capabilities.

In reality, the absence of cyber-attacks beyond Ukraine indicates a very rational Russian fear of disclosing and compromising capabilities beyond its own. That is the good news. The bad news is that the absence of a cyber-offensive does not mean these advanced capabilities do not exist.”

Jan Kallberg