We can know, or reasonably suspect based upon what we observe, that Ukraine is not running its own information campaign. And yes, it is obvious one is active, and it is well-coordinated and has solid injects into all the right places. In terms of Information operations, Ukraine is winning the war. Social media is filled with people that ought to know better repeating all manner of stories. The ‘Ghost’ was a myth from the get-go, and it seems there are serious questions about the audio evidence from the Snake Island event. Beyond that, the narrative has been a continuous stream of Ukrainian victories and Russian losses; "massive losses" despite the apparent fact that last night, engagements could be heard occurring on the outskirts of Kyiv. Russia has gotten no traction with any information operations, not in the West.
We can reasonably say that we know Ukraine is receiving much support from the West in the form of Intelligence. We have been able to clearly observe Global Hawk racetracks, we know why and what. The intelligence feed is most certainly not raw data, it is analysis and packages. Cells in numerous locations across the West are likely working and creating intelligence products and analysis that is provided to Ukraine.
Beyond that, we can really know nothing. We suspect the engagements we can hear on the outskirts of Kiev is the Russian Army, that is a reasonable thing to believe without seeing. We are told of amphibious and airborne operations, much of that, specifically the airborne operations make little sense. We assume the Ukrainian air force is mission incapable, and yet, we have to wonder why the Russian air force is not demonstrating the sort of shock and awe one expects in modern warfare when you control the skies. We know that we believed, most in the know believed, in the West that Russia had great electronic warfare capabilities going into this, that plus their assumed dominance of the sky ought to mean the air defense capabilities of Ukraine are also mostly mission incapable -and yet. Russia has even left the Internet up, or was incapable of taking it down? Either scenario raises questions. It seems more likely they left it up, for a reason. The fact it is up and we get video and pictures from Ukrainians demonstrates that Russia's offensive is not the slash and burn type. This adds credence to other theories.
If you look at social media and listen to all the OSINT experts, you would come away with the idea that Russia is struggling, that they have no supply lines, no fuel and are taking heavy losses at every turn. Maybe, that is certainly what Ukraine’s information operation tells us. Or, maybe not.
It is possible that Putin really believes the words in his latest NSS and believes he is fighting Western decadence, but it is too late and the disease already infects his military and they are not willing to fight and are blundering it all – that is a possibility.
It is also possible that what Putin stated as goals going into the operation are truly his goals, to change the regime in Ukraine, demilitarize it, and then transition it to a neutral state. If those words are true, then the Russian information campaign, insofar as it got into the wild early on of laying down arms, surrendering, not fighting unless there was resistance – that all makes sense. The airborne operations, really an attempt to lock things down fast, make more sense if we accept that possibility.
It is even possible that some analysts have been correct about Putin when they claimed he is isolated and unaware of the true geopolitical and domestic situation. Maybe he simply did not know the real status of his army and its capabilities. (I personally cannot swallow that yet).
But most of all that, we cannot know. The entire OSINT world is guessing at this point or simply believing almost everything Ukraine says is happening. I was wrong when I said Putin would not cross the Dnieper, wrong if the reports are accurate. I cannot see Russia advancing west of highway M09 (Lviv), but perhaps if and when Russia takes Kiev that would not be necessary.
We do know that numerous US politicians, ‘conservatives’ are calling for a No-Fly Zone. This seems ludicrous and unlikely, but so much of this is ludicrous we cannot dismiss these people as ranting chickenhawks. Why is it always ‘conservatives’ doing the roadbuilding for this sort of thing?
There is much we cannot know. We know Russia has more experience in fighting in dense urban terrain than any other nation. They learned hard lessons in Chechnya, and their armor took heavy losses. Urban combat, by necessity, entails collateral damage, and despite what some claim -without evidence – Russia seems to have taken great steps to avoid collateral damage up to this point.
The strangest thing about all of this is the coalition of support in the West, from vanilla conservatives to progressives and radical anarchist/Marxist. The news media, even Wikipedia (which posted a page about Snake Island with nothing more than Ukraine’s word for it). None of these seem to care that neo-nazis are walking the streets of Kiev armed (Tradition and Order) nor that the Azov Battalion has been welcomed into the fold. Corrupt Ukrainian politicians, neo-nazis and war criminals stand on the side of ‘democracy’ against an authoritarian tyrant, and they are cheered on by folks across the political spectrum. Forget the fog of war confusion, this is perhaps the oddest development of a century. And it is all accomplished through the selective control of information.
Some say Zelensky will soon be removed by the nationalist (read Nazis), particularly if he persists in pursuing talks with Putin. What an odd circumstance that would present. The elected president removed by Nazis who were then removed by Putin. How would the State Department and the New York Times spin that?
We are all in the area of guessing and speculation. My guess is Russia is not as inept at fighting as portrayed and their advance has been conducted with a reduction in collateral damage in mind. If they had operated otherwise, the video evidence would be copious. As it stands, the pictures and videos we have could have been caused by Russian barrages, or falling ordinance from Ukrainian air defense weapons. We cannot know, but we do know there has to this point been no solid evidence of massive strikes on civilian areas.
Logically, the defeat of the Ukrainian military seems inevitable. In light of that, the West rushing more weapons to Ukraine seems immoral, it violates the principles of jus ad bellum. The last stands of the 300 are for existential crises, Ukraine will not be so very different after Russia conquers it than before. (very different for those in the West that have profited from corrupt deals there, but to hell with them) Ukraine and the Ukrainian people will not cease to exist, their culture will not be eradicated and their fields sewn with salt, this is not Carthage. My biggest fear is that the insidious voices of the chickenhawks will grow louder the longer this goes on, in two weeks the appetite for intervention might change. People that truly stand with Ukraine and are moral would simply wish to see this all end, let Putin replace the regime, stop the fighting and then move toward the day where Russia leaves, because, eventually they must, long-term occupation is not feasible. My prayer is that this ends quickly. That is a realist view of things, it is moral and it is practical. These things the warmongers and profiteers are saying are horrible words.