Spymaster: Info reaching the battlefield weakness of Russian intelligence

Kaupo Rosin.
Kaupo Rosin. Source: ERR

Ukraine's recent successes in reclaiming territory have relied on Kyiv and foreign intelligence, Estonia's new foreign intelligence chief Kaupo Rosin said. He described transfer of information as a weakness of Russian intelligence.

Rosin said on the "Esimene stuudio" evening talk show that Western intelligence services have likely offered Ukraine plenty of help in the war.

"My feeling is that it has been quite extensive. Ukraine clearly has capable intelligence organs, but every bit of foreign aid – as other countries sport different approaches – is a great help. There is, I believe, enough of it today," Rosin said.

The new head of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) added that Ukraine's recent victories have also relied heavily on intelligence. "Ukraine's recent successes – Kherson, Kharkiv – they did not go on the offensive on a whim. They had some kind of intelligence info, whether Ukrainian, foreign or a combination of the two. I dare say that modern warfare without intelligence would come to a quick and grizzly end."

Rosin said that this does not mean Russian intelligence could be underestimated.

"They are keeping busy on the strategic level. They have the numbers, they are aggressive, trained and persistent. Rather, their problem might be information moving between their own structures. In other words, it seems that information sourced often fails to reach the people on the battlefield, whether out of reluctance or inability to share it. This facet of command and control seems weak on the Russian side," Rosin said.

The intelligence chief said that when he was still working as deputy director of the intelligence and security division of NATO Headquarters, full-blown war breaking out was expected before February 24, adding that Russia has achieved its strategic goal in Ukraine, while it has failed to do so on the battlefield.

"Working at NATO Headquarters, we were convinced there would be full-blown war some time before February 24. That there would be attacks from multiple directions, from Belarus, eastern and western flanks. That there would be an offensive on Odessa etc. Putting all of it on a map, it looks unbelievable. They look like World War II maneuvers, which no one has seen for a long time, and it doesn't seem to make sense. But it happened because the decision had been made. The plan might not have worked on the battlefield, while strategically speaking, Ukraine has taken a massive hit – millions of refugees, economy destroyed – so there is a strategic effect."

Need to build up defenses in peacetime main lesson from conflict

Rosin said that the main conclusion one can draw from the Ukraine war is that Estonia must develop its defense in peacetime.

"We know that the Russians are capable of making foolish decisions, but at the end of the day, they will still be counting tanks – everything our NATO allies have prepositioned in the region, NATO plans etc. The other side is always watching and trying to figure out how serious all of it is. And if we take ourselves seriously, then the enemy will take us seriously, which can help avoid all manner of miscalculations," Rosin offered.

The war must end in a Ukrainian victory as a pause would otherwise simply see it continue a few years from now. A Russian victory or break in the fighting would also send aggressors everywhere the signal that war is worth it. "War must not be allowed to pay off," Rosin said.

He said that were Russia to win, Estonia's efforts to ramp up defenses would have to be all the more urgent. The spymaster said that while Estonia has made the right calls, its Western allies should come along.

Enemy plans need to be known as soon as they're drawn up

The aim of the foreign intelligence service is to know the enemy's plans as soon as they're laid.

"This is not easy, while it would provide us with the longest advance warning. We saw in Ukraine that it can come well in advance. The question is whether to believe the information or not. Our task is to source information to cover various indicators to be sure in our decisions and assessments as too sudden or early advance warning that proves false wastes resources, should we decide to mobilize, while warning that comes too late is completely useless as there won't be time to mobilize," Rosin said.

He also said that the human factor will always remain key in intelligence. "The role of human contacts is not going anywhere. Every intelligence discipline has its advantages and disadvantages. The pro of human contacts is that having sources in the right place allows one to get an idea of intention, who has decided what and where. Technical methods can help detect activities and processes. A modern intelligence service must use different disciplines to put together the puzzle pieces," Rosin remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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