Espreso. Global

Ukraine's cross-border tactics to destabilize Russia are working 

3 June, 2023 Saturday

Ukraine's strategic cross-border tactics are aimed at the destabilization of Russia, and the evident response indicates their effectiveness

Ukraine's strategic cross-border tactics are specifically designed to destabilize Russia, and the response thus far suggests that these tactics are proving to be effective, CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley says in his analysis.

Ukraine has embarked on a new front in its efforts to repel the Russian invasion, this time within Russian territory. However, it is rather reluctant to openly acknowledge its deployment of troops, artillery fire, and drones into its neighbor's territory.

The activities of Russian citizens, equipped with Ukrainian military identification, donning Ukrainian uniforms, and launching attacks from within Ukraine, remain shrouded in official secrecy. This constitutes Kyiv's contribution to what has come to be known as "hybrid warfare" in the contemporary realm of conflict's "grey zone."

These terms ignited a flurry of books and a deluge of fervent opinions from countless pundits when Russia initially invaded Ukraine back in 2014. During that period, individuals referred to as "Little Green Men" emerged in Crimea, dressed in distinctive two-tone sport-hunting attire or Russian military fatigues.

When it was suggested that these individuals were, in fact, Russian troops, Vladimir Putin dismissively remarked, "You can go to a store and buy any kind of uniform."

Moscow's official stance was that these men, who raised the Russian flag over Simferopol and forcefully took over Crimea's local parliament, constituted "self-defense units" of pro-Russian Ukrainians seeking to bring their region under Moscow's authority.

By the time Moscow eventually admitted the presence of its troops in Ukraine, a significant portion of the sovereign nation was under Putin's control.

Ukraine is now employing similar tactics on a smaller scale to achieve strategic objectives. Under the umbrella of Ukraine's Defence Intelligence structure, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion have been carrying out brief cross-border raids into Russia.

Primary objective is destabilization

Although the terminology and methods have evolved, this tactic is not new. Aside from Russia, South Africa's apartheid regimes employed similar techniques in the 1970s and 1980s by launching attacks on the Frontline States of Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Pretoria dispatched troops on cross-border raids to undermine independent African nations that opposed its racist rule. These raids often took the form of "false flag" operations, with the attackers posing as local liberation fighters, targeting civilians to erode support for liberation movements.

To lend credibility to the atrocities they sought to attribute to others, these groups frequently included fighters from Angola or Zimbabwe. Often, these operations were led by white men donning blackface camouflage.

The long-term objective, which was often achieved, was to keep nations supporting South Africa's internal liberation struggle perpetually destabilized and off-balance.

Efforts to rattle Russia are working

The recent developments have caused a significant stir in Russia. It serves the interests of Kyiv to have Russians crossing into Russian territory on its behalf.

While the tactical outcomes may be relatively minor, with brief incursions into small border villages, the desired effect of destabilizing Russia is being achieved. Russian television has been flooded with frantic reports from local journalists about artillery attacks targeting Russian towns, generating a sense of fear and alarm.

The governor of Belgorod, the region most impacted by the ongoing campaign, has taken the initiative to evacuate hundreds of civilians. He has been personally in contact with Putin and has already been recognized for his bravery in handling the situation.

Simultaneously, the Freedom for Russia Legion is actively recruiting drone pilots through advertisements on its Telegram channel. Although it remains unclear whether the Legion is responsible for the increasing number of drone strikes on Russian soil, these attacks have reached various locations, ranging from the Kremlin and affluent Moscow suburbs favored by Putin's associates to cities like Kursk, Smolensk, and Krasnodar.

The objective behind the attacks inside Russia is to create an impression that they are carried out by Russians themselves, aligning with the dissident movement aiming to depose Putin, known as "Cry Freedom."

Both the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion claim to have supporters within Russia. Recent events, such as the display of the blue and white flag of the Russian opposition movement over Moscow, indicate some level of support, which is also evident through involvement in flying or training drones for targeting Russian sites.

For Ukraine, it is advantageous if Russians believe that their fellow countrymen are actively participating in actions against the Russian regime. The element of doubt itself has a destabilizing effect.

Based on the rhetoric emanating from Russia, it appears that this strategy is having an impact. During a Security Council meeting, Putin emphasized the need to prevent "ill-wishers" from destabilizing Russia, particularly with regards to intensified efforts to provoke internal disturbances within the country. Putin stressed the necessity of exerting every possible effort to prevent such activities under any circumstances.

War on Russian territory

In this strategy, Ukraine finds a valuable ally in Yevgeny Prigozhin, the outspoken leader of the Russian mercenary group known as Wagner.

Prigozhin said that Wagner PMC needed a recovery period of at least one month due to the demanding nature of their recent activities. He further suggested that there would likely be further confrontations, this time taking place on Russian soil.

As an additional advantage for Kyiv, Prigozhin openly criticized Russia's military leadership. He accused the Russian chain of command of being controlled by “clowns” who disregard the lives of their soldiers, stating that his group would not be part of that chain of command.

Regarding the recent drone attacks on Moscow, Yevgeny Prigozhin directed scathing remarks towards Russia's generals, accusing them of incompetence and referring to them as "stinking animals" and "swine." He expressed frustration at their lack of action and urged them to take a more proactive role in defending the country.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of Putin, reacted with a heightened sense of alarm and agitation due to the escalating conflict within Russia. He called for the complete annihilation of those responsible for the attacks, not only on an individual level but also within the "hornets' nest" itself, referring to Ukraine. Medvedev's statements carried disturbing echoes of the genocidal Holodomor in the 1930s, during which millions of Ukrainians perished from deliberate starvation and other oppressive measures imposed by the Soviet Union, including the banning of the Ukrainian language and the elimination of the middle-class farming population.

However, such vehement outbursts may not resonate with the average Russian population, as they seek stability and a resolution to the escalating situation.

According to the governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, numerous strikes have targeted border districts within Russia over the past day or so. In a detailed post on his Telegram channel, Gladkov mentioned that the incoming fire mainly consisted of artillery and mortar attacks on these districts. He reported damage to roads, property, and vehicles, and mentioned that 12 people had been injured within 24 hours in the border town of Shebekino.

A woman interviewed by a pro-Russian Telegram channel described Shebekino as being "on fire" with ongoing battles, stating that they had fled the city. She also expressed concern about the lack of Russian military presence and response to the shelling, leaving the local population feeling abandoned and unsupported. 

However, the sentiments expressed by this woman may resonate and spread among the population. The Russian response to the incursions on its soil has the potential to disrupt its military campaign within Ukraine and create political instability domestically.

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