Vladimir Putin’s Christmas surprise?
Military intelligence analysts are taught to trust their instincts — their Spidey senses. When they start to tingle, you investigate. Something is not quite right in Ukraine. There is a lot of noise but not much signal.
The best deceptions in military history are the ones that were the most believable. Replete with supporting stories, they deceived foes by ensuring formations could be seen by imagery or observed firsthand, supported with intercepted fake communications between units, the movement of equipment, and the media’s coverage in anticipation of an event. The most famous and successful deception, arguably, was Operation Fortitude in advance and support of the Normandy invasion in 1944. Gen. George S. Patton was ceremonially designated as commander of the First U.S. Army Group. Decoys of military equipment were deployed and made visible for German reconnaissance aircraft to photograph, and radio communications established between fictional units made it all believable.
The Allied use of double agents fed and reinforced the deception. Even the intentionally telegraphed landing point in Calais, France, made strategic sense. It was the closest point across the English Channel between the United Kingdom and France. The investment in misdirection resources made the deception believable — are we now seeing something similar in Belarus?
Belarus has been very active as of late. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin have made recent office calls in Minsk. Shoigu’s concluded with a protocol “amending the Russian-Belarusian interstate agreement on the joint provision of regional security in the military sphere.” Putin’s joint press conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko affirmed their mutual support. Both highly publicized events commanded substantial press coverage and intense media speculation about an impending second invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s meeting, notably, was preceded by the formation of a joint military group and a snap comprehensive readiness check on Dec. 13.
Deception involves actions intended to influence and cause confusion, which Russia has achieved. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov dismissed the notion that Russia intends to reopen the Belorussian front against Ukraine, saying such ideas were “totally stupid, groundless fabrications.” But this is the same Peskov who dismissed warnings from Washington in February that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine.
Meanwhile, images of Russian military equipment on rail cars en route to the border persist on social media, as does nonstop speculation by military analysts, reinforcing the narrative. All eyes are focused on Belarus, which is exactly where Putin likely wants them.
What are we missing? Does Putin have a Christmas surprise for Ukraine and the West while President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a Bakhmut battle flag to the White House? If Belarus is a deception, it certainly is very believable. Something is amiss, and it is up to the intelligence community to shed light on Putin’s next move.
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