There will be much crowing and chest-pounding with the claims “US intelligence was right, time for the naysayers to admit it” (it is already happening). Anyone that does any of the classes of intelligence or works or has worked in planning military operations knows, or ought to know that the concept of “likely enemy action” (MLCOA) and “most dangerous enemy action”(MDCOA) exists. What we ought to wonder is why did US and Western intelligence assets and their mouthpieces and lackeys assess that the most dangerous course of action was the most likely.
Most commanders when presented with such an assessment would drill into his staff. The “enemy” seldom picks the most dangerous course of action as his first option – it is dangerous and risky to him also. Part of the intelligence assessment process involves wargaming, one section of the team ‘plays’ the enemy and the other your side, each makes moves, and with each move, the assessment is filled in. Nothing happens in a vacuum and both sides, and non-involved actors get a vote. So the question remains – how did Western intelligence agencies wargame out all the potential moves and end up with the most dangerous as the most likely? What played a part in their considerations during wargaming?
Lieutenant Colonel Tulsi Gabbard is a Civil Affairs officer (yes, that Tulsi), a branch near and dear to my heart for ‘reasons’. Civil affairs officers understand the cultural aspect of geopolitics, history (that is the freaking job) and are involved in all aspects of operational planning – they know a lot about the intelligence process. When she wrote:
This war and suffering could have easily been avoided if Biden Admin/NATO had simply acknowledged Russia’s legitimate security concerns regarding Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO, which would mean US/NATO forces right on Russia’s border. [Gabbard - Tweet, 23 Feb 10:57 PM]
She was speaking to the wargaming process and events that have occurred over the last month - our actions and Russian counter-reactions. This week when the West declared “We Stand with Ukraine” and announced draconian sanctions on Russia and more loans and military assistance to Ukraine (more encroachment and militarization from a Russian perspective) – that was an action that surely was considered in the intelligence process. Smart people knew that such actions would change the calculus of Russia’s decisions and change their preferred course of action. I admitted as much on 23 February: (not claiming I am smart)
Sanctions, talk of more sanctions, talk of individual sanctions on Russian government officials – turning off Nord Stream 2… as of 23 Feb 2022 Putin has zero disincentives not to take all of Ukraine and a lot to lose if he does not. He would be a fool at this juncture not to make moves to secure the entire place, even if he only occupies the east. [23 Feb, 04:50 am]
The most likely Russian course of action going into this was a show of force and escalated hybrid activity in the east of Ukraine (with a significant presence across the border to dissuade Western intervention)[17 January Tweet]. The most dangerous course of action, (full spectrum operations across Ukraine with the goal of occupation of the east, regime change and destruction of the Ukrainian military) only became the preferred course after the West registered its vote and intent by indicating an increase in military funding to Ukraine and draconian sanctions on Russia.
In the “We Stand with Ukraine” talking points, what the West never indicated was a willingness to actually help defend Ukraine in any substantive way. The West was willing to put no real skin or teeth in the game. They knew, or should have known what the Russian reaction to their tough talk and stated intentions would be – and that makes it all rather immoral. Putin had everything to lose and a lot to gain by moving forward with a full-scale operation after the West painted him into a corner and refused to budge on any issue of importance to him. Ukraine and the Ukraine Army were sacrificed to make a point it seems, to paint Russia as the aggressive bear so many need and want it to be.
It is clear now, and undeniable, that the Russian General Staff planned numerous potential operations and actions, months in advance. Likely coinciding with Russia’s change to their NSS last year. One of those planned operations was a full-spectrum operation against the whole of Ukraine. They also planned the operations for the other courses of action, waiting on the vote of the West, in just as much detail. That it is obvious they planned full-spectrum operations in detail and in advance is not proof it was their preferred course of action (many will miss that point).
The most likely Russian course of action was always limited to the east, with a deterrence and show of force to ensure that succeeded. Putin knows there are bean-counters in all major intelligence agencies counting his expended ordinance, broken tracks and blown engines. He knows the real capabilities and limitations of his military. His present course of action has tremendous cost to him – it was never his primary choice.
- ♦ I still see some touting the fact that videos of Russian troop movements were so prolific from inside Russia, OSINTers believe themselves so smart for being able to track it all. The same folks will talk about how authoritarian Russia is and its Cyber capability. Surely Russia could have stopped all those videos – if it wanted to. It was an intentional information operation, Russia signaled its resolve on its key concerns to the West, giving the West time to ponder and react. The Western reaction was to not defend Ukraine but rather to take a hardline stance that ensured Putin had to choose the most kinetic of his options.
- ♦ Many now will claim this is another thing "Biden did" - mess up Ukraine, show weakness and stupidity resulting in that country falling and prices soaring. I suggest this was calculated, not incompetence -it achieves an end and advances an agenda.
Chest pumping and crowing have no place in all this. Most that consider themselves “experts” were misled by Russia’s information operation and others failed to assess its motivations, desires, concerns, and resolve. The smart ones, those in positions to influence Western policy and actions, they knew, they calculated their advice and assessments to lead to this very outcome. Ukraine be damned to them, it was sacrificed to advance an agenda.