Putin’s FSB: Failed Straightforwardness and Benevolence

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s rather amusing that in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War — the ancient Chinese monograph used globally to teach the fundaments of warfare — spying is addressed in the very last of its 13 chapters.

To conduct successful and effective warfare, intelligence collection and analysis including spying should be a country’s first consideration. A nation’s leader can’t make an informed, reasoned decision  to take any military action let alone commit resources ahead of the possibility of war, without knowing everything possible about the potential opponent as well as knowledge of one’s own state.

Somehow Vladimir Putin neglected this critical lesson, subordinating the critical nature of Russia’s own FSB to his narcissism. He’s learned the hard way — assuming he’s actually getting the truth from anyone in his circle — that the intelligence on which he operated was deeply flawed.

He has no one to blame but himself but he’ll be sure to punish others for his weakness. The director and deputy of FSB have allegedly been taken into custody for questioning.

I actually feel a little sorry for FSB personnel, if the first letter from the FSB insider is true; political conditions didn’t allow anyone to share anything but happy talk of victory based on the narrowest of intelligence, because Putin apparently can’t handle the truth.

From The Art of War:

15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.

16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness.

17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports.

Assuming the first FSB letter is true — and the detention of FSB leadership suggests it is — Putin wasn’t able to exercise the necessary benevolence and straightforwardness necessary to obtain candid and complete reports. How can spies and analysts obtain and present the truth when they’re under tight political restrictions to report only what a volatile president wants to hear?

Furthermore, if the president is afraid of his own intelligence community to the point where he ensures they are suffocatingly restrained, he will get out of them nothing useful.

~ ~ ~

Let’s look at the organization of the Russian “coercive apparatus” which has been compartmented to reduce the changes of a coup. Adam Casey, post-doc fellow at Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, shared a Twitter thread describing this system.

1 What are the prospects for a coup against Putin in Russia? A thread on what we know about coups in other similar regimes and how the Russian coercive apparatus is structured to prevent coups 1/16
2 First of all, the grievances that have motivated coups elsewhere are present in Russia: battlefield setbacks, low morale, economic catastrophe, disgruntled elites harmed by Putin’s actions
3 But Putin has been preparing for the risks posed by a palace or military coup for decades. The Russian coercive apparatus in fact has multiple mechanisms to prevent a coup
4 First, Russia has a large praetorian guard, the Federal Protective Service (Федеральная служба охраны). The FSO is the successor to the KGB 9th Directorate and is responsible for leadership protection and is well armed. Estimates of its size vary widely
5 Second, Putin consolidated his internal security troops under the National Guard (Росгвардия) in 2016. I don’t see the Guard as a coup-proofing measure per se, but more about centralizing the agencies useful for repressing mass protests in Russia
6 Yet by removing the possible use of the regular army for repression at home, Rosgvardia does help reduce some of the motivations for coups. In comparative perspective, we know militaries really dislike being used for domestic repression and it has motivated coups
7 Third, Russia has the FSB. The FSB is not only large, with its own security troops, but it has one key mechanism to prevent a military coup in Russia: the military counterintelligence department (Департамента военной контрразведки ФСБ)
8 The Soviet system had essentially three components to prevent a military coup: 1) party membership for officers/soldiers; 2) political commissars; 3) embedded secret police (‘special departments’). This was coup prevention through the penetration of the army by monitoring agents
9 Contemporary Russia has 1 of those 3 mechanisms. Officers are not generally members of the ruling party (United Russia) and when active duty officers have run for office (like Gen. Kartapolov last year) it was unusual. He also retired his commission
10 Commissars are also absent. There is technically a successor to the main political administration (the org responsible for managing the commissars) but it does not function in the same way as during the USSR)
11 The only major part of the Soviet system present is the military counterintelligence department of the FSB. This department monitors the military. It was strengthened considerably a couple months after Putin came into office. He once described the department as a “mini-FSB”
12 The FSB is much more autonomous than the Soviet KGB (it is not under any central party control), it is also engaged far more in corruption than the Soviet service. Corruption of course was (especially later on) a problem in the KGB, but in the FSB it is more pronounced
13 In short, there are a lot of mechanisms to prevent a coup in Russia. Yet in other ways Russia also doesn’t have a typically ‘coup proofed’ military. His nephew doesn’t run the 1st armored division in Moscow or anything like that. It has a professional officer corps
14 Instead, the Russian military’s loyalty to the system is generally sought through autonomy and insulation from politics, and of course the watchful gaze of the FSB military counterintelligence department.
15 In part for these reasons, I think the most likely scenario for actually ousting Putin is elite defection rather than a coup. It is really hard to coordinate a coup even against a hated dictator, especially with a security apparatus as extensive as Putin’s
16 But it might be more likely for elites to defect from the regime rather than use extensive repression to save Putin. This too is perhaps unlikely, but the costs of defection can be less than the costs of a failed coup (jail, exile, death). /end

There are so many moving parts watching other moving parts it’s a wonder anything constructive has ever been done — and perhaps there hasn’t. Each function must be constantly looking over their shoulder making straight feedback difficult. Benevolence as The Art of War calls it, or the lack thereof, expressed in suspicion inhibits productivity.

When the apparatus spends so much time looking inward, constantly second guessing what the leader wants to hear while working under pressure from kleptocratic forces, it’s irrational to expect lucid, honest intelligence. Straightforwardness in reporting is a casualty.

~ ~ ~

The quality of Russian intelligence is not the only loss; nine Russian generals are reported to have died since the invasion of Ukraine began.

I used the passive voice there because Russia and its predecessor the USSR have an unfortunate history when it comes to losing generals.

Materiel losses continue to mount…

…along with personnel losses.

There can’t be much regular army to call up to replace those killed, injured, or surrendered if Putin is calling for volunteers from elsewhere like Syria.

Wagner Group personnel were detailed as part of a hit squad to decapitate Ukraine’s government, but now there appears to be wider recruitment. Again, this also suggests limited regular army for deployment to Ukraine.

Contractors don’t have the same motivations as regular army; they may not accept getting paid in rubles which makes sanctions even more important to deterring mercenaries. They’re not loyal to a nationalist cause if they’re not Russian, which may make them harder to command and control.

How will the Russian army respond if it feels it’s not only been set up to fail, its efforts potentially undermined by contractors while it suffers for lack of adequate support? We’ve seen enough anecdotes about Russian troops who had inadequate food and water from day one; they may have been given permission to loot. What happens when remaining Russian military leadership feels the weight of  condemnation and ridicule directed at their mission, let alone its futility?

None of this suggests the kind of discipline necessary to prevent a coup.

~ ~ ~

Outside the “coercive apparatus,” the Russian government, and the shuttered social and independent media, the truth about Russia’s illegal and misbegotten invasion of Ukraine has begun to leak through to the public. Protests have made it onto television:

Vladimir Soloviyev, usually one of the Kremlin’s most reliable chief propagandists, had to interrupt guests on his prime time television talk show to stop their criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking during a broadcast on Russia 1, Karen Shakhnazarov, a filmmaker and state pundit, said the conflict in Ukraine risked isolating Russia.

He told Mr Soloviyev: “I have a hard time imagining taking cities such as Kyiv. I can’t imagine how that would look.”

He went on to call for the conflict to be brought to an end, saying: “If this picture starts to transform into an absolute humanitarian disaster, even our close allies like China and India will be forced to distance themselves from us.

This is an interesting sleight of hand. Soloviyev has been sanctioned by the European Union, his Italian villa seized. He stopped the protest against the invasion on his program featured on Russia 1 network, but he could have prevented the content from being broadcast if he really wanted to keep it off the air.

Similarly, a protest by a military officer also leaked through a talk show on Zvezda, the Russian ministry of defense’s network. The officer wanted the deaths of his comrades honored thought the program host asked him to stop his line of commentary. It was another subtle method of telling the public there are many military deaths in Ukraine to be acknowledged by the government and the public.

The invasion began only 17 days ago and it’s already been likened to “Afghanistan, but even worse” on Russian television.

One doesn’t need to be a trained intelligence analyst to understand what this means in a country which does not allow much free speech.

~ ~ ~

In the first chapter of The Art of War it is written, “All warfare is based on deception.”

Deceiving one’s own country about warfare treats them like the enemy. After a while it becomes difficult to know who the enemy really is. We might wonder if Russia’s FSB has come to the same conclusion.

72 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Later this evening I’ll post translations of the alleged FSB insider’s next three letters for discussion. So much to chew on.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nicely done. Thank you.

    It would seem that giving invading troops inadequate food, water, medical supplies, and fuel and ammunition – reportedly 24-hours worth of the former – is a command to loot, or an invitation for them to empathize with the purported enemy and stop fighting.

    • Rayne says:

      Which kind of damages the entire aim of this invasion, to win over what Putin sees as a breakaway state; there’s no winning the hearts and minds along with the obeisance of Ukrainians by smashing and grabbing their property.

      The Art of War, Chapter IV, Tactical Dispositions:

      16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.

      Giving troops too little resources and allowing them to loot isn’t discipline.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Like pauperizing a once thriving middle class, it keeps people narrowly focused on their own survival and not the larger picture and the people doing the pauperizing. With a trained military, however, the tactic seems – to paraphrase Dr. Strangelove – self-destrucitve, for reasons that must be all too obvious.

  3. Badger Robert says:

    If the people that know how to run an army are preoccupied with not getting arrested, its difficult to see how that army doesn’t end up in a military Chernobyl.
    They might be able to overcome the Ukrainians with sheer mass, but its not inevitable.

  4. Dmbeaster says:

    The video of the ambush demonstrates stupid incompetence, and maybe something else (timidity and cowardice). Tanks driving down a road as the spearhead of an assault is a bad tactic. They are highly vulnerable to destruction by an ambush from concealed infantry with simple anti-tank weapons (the column is driving by woods). Infantry dismounted must be accompanying the tanks to flush out troops hiding in ambush. It’s basic combined arms. Although people think of tanks as the ultimate attack weapon, they work far better in support of infantry advancing with them. The infantry uncovers hidden strong points, and the tanks just behind them then crush the defense with their weaponry.

    The infantry here is just riding along in vehicles as if no one is expecting anything. They are more secure but somewhat useless if ambushed. And they then flee once the shooting starts. At least some of them should be dismounted if advancing in an area of danger (and they had to think the spot was dangerous). Of course, that means risk, but the actual effort is just half-hearted. Not the Russian army of WWII.

    • P J Evans says:

      They’d come past a lot of woods without being ambushed. They’re approaching what looks like an open area. So of course they’re letting their attention wander…until that tank gets blown up, after the first went through.

    • Epicurus says:

      The video can indicate more than suggested. The video is being taken by, apparently, a Ukrainian drone which shows no Russian drones up in the air that I can see. Russia would use drones for two purposes: forward air surveillance for probable ambush/attack sites (in some cases they take the place of the observer role of supporting infantry on the ground because ground infantry severely limits the attack speed of tanks) and close support as they can drop a number of different types of anti-personnel and anti-armor armament. Had Russian drones been up in the air at this particular point they would have killed off the Ukrainian ambushers once the ambushers revealed themselves, or more likely the Ukrainian drones/ambushers would have seen the Russian drones as part of their surveillance and the Ukrainian observers would have called off the ambush to avert irreplaceable personnel losses. The Ukrainians cannot trade personnel losses one for one and win.

      Not having drones up in the air indicates a lack of such assets and/or personnel that haven’t been trained in their complementary fire support usage in the way the Russians are conducting the attack. Given the number of conscripted troops, lack of training seems a real problem for Russia. As it was, however, a tank behind the tank that was hit immediately fired back and a tank a couple places back was wheeling into position so who knows what the result for the Ukrainian ambushers was. More importantly as those types of ambushes occur, tankers are debriefed (especially among themselves) and learning to anticipate and to recognize the situation much more quickly should it happen again. They are just as scared and they want to live as much as the Ukrainians do.

      • Leoghann says:

        Maybe you saw a different video than I did. In the one that I saw, the tank behind that which was hit also exploded and caught fire. The three behind them turned and headed out over the open field, belching running personnel as they went.

        In the Twitter thread that published the video, it was stated that the Ukrainian artillery was operating by remote control.

        The propaganda from both Putin and Lavrov indicated that these tank convoys were meant as a “shock and awe” sort of thing, to make the Ukrainians realize that they were completely outgunned, so that they would surrender immediately. Of course, that isn’t what happened.

        • Epicurus says:

          Well we saw different videos. The fog of war. The second tank was hit and then moved forward while its troops sought cover in a regrouping downhill position across the road.The two tanks and their troops behind the second tank moved to a downhill position across the road to avoid direct enemy fire. (If it were a well thought out ambush the Ukrainians would have had anti-tank weapons waiting for the Russians as the Russians moved into the position across the road, especially if it were operating by remote control.) The third tank stopped and pivoted toward the firing Ukrainian positions. The video does not show the end of the skirmish.

          Propaganda from Putin about shock and awe was never going to make Ukrainians surrender immediately. It was more for Putin himself.

    • skua says:

      Never been in that sort of situation but sure would like to know that an enemy drone is watching closely if I was.
      cf Increasing frequency of people holding cameras suggested IED / ambush ahead to troops patrolling in Iraq.

      • Epicurus says:

        You are very observant. I would like to have had you for intelligence support. You probably would have saved lives.

        One of the oldest tricks in the book, like airport watchers in war zones or ship watchers in harbors. The watchers simply look at the types of planes/ships and number of flights coming and going and report that info up the line. Pretty much tells anyone what the enemy is up to. Can do it with kids and the elderly. The Ukrainians were probably watching that tank column for miles.

        Benghazi was probably a pretty good example. The bad guys probably watched who and how people were coming and going, had watchers along three or four potential routes out of the compound, and plans ready if x, y, or z scenarios occurred.

        The Russians may well have such observers deeply embedded in Ukrainian territory, although I don’t know how such observers would get relevant information to the Russian troops.

  5. Tom R. says:

    Are you sure 9 generals have been lost?
    The cited businessinsider article lists only 4 generals (3 regular army, 1 guard)
    plus 2 colonels (1 army, 1 guard)
    plus various LTCs (army, guard, warlord)

    Similarly, I have not seen reports from any other sources of nine generals lost (yet).

    • Ravenclaw says:

      I believe you are correct. Also, these are not the top echelon of the Russian military. Their rank of Major General is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Brigadier General (or British Brigadier), just above Colonel and with several tiers above them. What is being lost, however, are important front-line combat leaders.

      • Leoghann says:

        If they’re any good, Putin will have them killed anyway. Might as well die in the line of duty.

    • Rayne says:

      I reported what Military and Defense Insider tweeted and reported:

      You might go correct them.

      • osmill says:

        They are reporting a total of 9 “generals and commanders” killed, only some of whom were generals.

      • Tom R. says:

        Note the contrast:
        — The post that started this thread said

        nine Russian generals are reported to have died

        I’ve read it about ten times. I’m reasonably certain that’s what it says.
        — The cited reference does not report that. Leaving out the words “and commanders” changes the meaning of the cited sentence.

        If you are in any doubt about the correct parse, you could click through to the actual article, which lists the persons of interest by name and rank. Reportedly four of them are generals, while the rest are colonels or lower, as I spelled out above.

        Also, as previously suggested, you could cross-check other sources. Nobody is reporting nine dead generals (yet).

        • Raven Eye says:

          Regardless of the number of generals, when you look at the named colonels and lieutenant colonels, you see brigade and regiment commanders and deputy commanders. That’s pretty serious stuff.

          • Ravenclaw says:

            Yes, these are front-line leaders, not staff officers in some remote HQ. Of course they can be replaced, but the new commanders won’t know their troops as well (or vice versa).

            • Raven Eye says:

              And thinking just a wee bit more…

              KIA is one set of numbers, but what about general and senior officers WIA?

            • P J Evans says:

              That’s a problem – even if the troops aren’t yet in the field. (I was reading about the KS-MO regiment in WW1. They were reserve/Guard units, but they had spent a long time with the same officers. They got called up, and the “regular Army” felt that the old commanders weren’t good enough and replaced them. With resulting poorer performance.)

              • Raven Eye says:

                I think the units you are referring to were reserves — in the context of Guard & Reserve, militia, Territorial Army, Home Guard, etc.

                Historically, units such as imperial guards were to protect the monarch and family, major functions of governance, the capital, etc.

                In Soviet times the title “Guards” was given to units who suffered great battle casualties but succeeded in their assigned missions. This appears to have changed somewhat in current Russia, but Guards units seem to be considered elite. Their TO&E looks a lot like other Russian combined armies. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Guards were assigned an ongoing mission in Ukraine “protecting” the Putin-installed government officials and facilities. That also would that the new government would be constantly reminded where their loyalties lay.

                • Ravenclaw says:

                  (I think he meant National Guard, as the US Army doesn’t have imperial guards. But yes, “Guard” regiments are generally considered more elite than others – though at least one top-notch British regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, declined the honor of being named Guards because it would have made them junior to other Guards units.)

  6. madwand says:

    Two Russian FSB officers arrested and put in house arrest.


    Virtually the same story in the Times of London

    The formal basis for the arrests are accusations of embezzlement of funds earmarked for subversive activities in Ukraine. Real reasons may be different. Sergey Beseda, head of the FSB foreign intelligence branch and his deputy Anatoly Bolyukh were both taken into custody. FSB had also carried out searches at more than 20 addresses around Moscow of colleagues suspected of being in contact with journalists.

    • Purple Martin says:

      “The formal basis for the arrests are accusations of embezzlement of funds…”

      Since, in these circles, this is always true, it’s a handy charge to have prewritten against everybody, ready to pull out when circumstances warrant taking down a particular scapegoat.

  7. Tom R. says:

    The Russian and Ukrainian people still know about samizdat.

    That’s a lot easier to do now than it was during the Soviet era, since you don’t need a photocopy machine. For example, over short distances you can use bluetooth file transfer from phone to phone, and from phone to PC. For longer distances, shortwave radio receivers still exist and can pick up BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe, and Deutsche Welle. You only need a few of those per town, to feed news into the hand-to-hand network.

    There are other techniques that propagate faster. For example, you can reprogram ordinary wireless routers to create an autonomous relay network, even when the normal infrastructure is down. This could be useful in shattered but unconquered parts of Ukraine. To use such a scheme within Russia would require improved resistance to traffic analysis. This is a topic of current research.

    A famous proverb says “The internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it”. That’s only partly true, but if Vladimir Vladimirovich thinks he can completely cut off the flow of information he’s in for a rude surprise.

  8. Doctor My Eyes says:

    Thank you for this. I have seen two interesting threads along these lines, both starting with the assumption that Putin’s administration is more of a criminal conspiracy than a government or organization. The following makes the claim that the military is intentionally kept low down the hierarchy of power, even coming in below thugs who steal from soldiers by force. This is a safeguard against a coup.


    Thieves racketeering the military, including Syria veterans, nuke personnel is not an “accident”. It’s a deliberate government policy to keep professional military low in dominance hierarchy. Russian state purposefully keeps its military in this position. It’s all part of a plan.

    Along similar lines, the thread below from the same historian argues that the Russian leadership is essentially a cartel, and that violence and intimidation are essential to cartels keeping their power. Thus, they can make money exploiting extractive industries, such as oil and mining, similar to the avocado and drug cartels in Central and South America, but as industries become increasingly complex, the necessity of relying on nerds to run them shifts the balance of power away from the merely ruthless. This is why Russia is dependent on the west for technical goods.


    Taken together, these two analyses make sense out of Russian ineptitude as well as explaining why the only thing they seem to excel at is committing war crimes.

    • taluslope says:

      Very interesting thread about cartels and extraction industries. Maybe it’s worse in Russia than I ever imagined. If they are only competent enough to extract oil and gas then that doesn’t say much. And perhaps they can’t even do the extraction well. Whatever for was Rex Tellerson doing in Russia? Apparently, from this article, https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/exxon-russia-exit-tillerson-putin/, it was that Russia needed Exxon’s expertise in cold water drilling.

      I just can’t imagine an economy thriving under these kinds of sanctions. In today’s interconnected world, if you want to be competitive, you do what you do really well and buy whatever else you need. From a thread posted here (I think), Russia is reliant on imports for ball bearings! Maybe that explains the latest news that they are off begging unstated military supplies from China.

      Come to think of it, does the US import ball bearings? What do we do really well? Our economy wouldn’t survive these sanctions. Where would be get our vodka? Where would we get our chips? I was shocked to learn that Intel makes news by deciding to fab chips again! I didn’t know they’d stopped and I’ve had meetings recently at Intel up the road in Portland.

      • Rayne says:

        Come to think of it, does the US import ball bearings? Where would be get our vodka?” ~face palm~

        We make vodka all over the damned place in the US, and we make massive volumes. Smirnoff, Ketel One, Ciroc, Finlandia — all made in the US. We make ball bearings here, though Germany and Japan also make quite a few.

        Our biggest single problem is chip production which should never have been allowed to offshore as extensively as it has, and to China and Taiwan. That’s been a bone of contention since 2010. Shame on us for not insisting on US investment in chip production here.

        The other vulnerability the US needs to address is titanium; aerospace companies are already making changes to supply chain to work around Ukraine and Russia.

        Otherwise the US could survive the sanctions put on Russia if applied to the US.

  9. Anne says:

    What’s going to happen when the photos of war-damaged medieval Orthodox cathedrals get back to Russia? Putin’s culture wars have leaned heavily on Orthodox traditions, Kyiv as the heart and soul and origin of Russian culture and so forth. These are holy places.
    To see them, google cathedrals in Kyiv.

    • Doctor My Eyes says:

      The majority of Russians will believe the churches were destroyed by Ukrainian gay nazis if that’s what they are told, or so it seems. Propaganda works.

  10. madwand says:

    For Rayne if you are interested, “The Seven Military Classics” of Ancient China including the Art of War”. by Ralph D Sawyer. It’s an anthology of different writings primarily of the 1000 years from Shang through the Spring and Autumn period, the Warring states period and the First Emperor.

    As a young Officer we were encouraged to read many books, but the two I remember most are Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and Liddell Harts “Strategy”. Hart starts the book with how WW2 statesmen viewed the use of Atomic Weapons, which were only 8 years old at the time of publication. The thought was then that nuclear weapons would guarantee the security of peoples in the west. Events were to prove otherwise as conventional weapons and strategies took hold and far from outlawing war, it thrived in many different conflicts over the period to include the present one in Ukraine.

    The Seven Military Classics are very well known in China, Japan and Korea, and in fact are used in business as strategies for success.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I’m sure Rayne is more than familiar with those sources. I would add Musashi’s, Book of Five Rings. Those books and the multitude of contemporary ones they spawned dominated the business press in the 1990s. But that’s been forgotten, along with so much else. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from it.

      • madwand says:

        Thanks for the “Musashi’ I’ll add it. Your comment “The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from it.” Regrettable, but true for many, I guess that’s why we have historians, to remind us of what happened in the past.

    • john paul jones says:

      I have the Sawyer, and found some of the translations a bit hard to grok, so to speak. That is, they felt somewhat uneven. Still very interesting stuff, recommended for all armchair generals.

      • madwand says:

        I agree, a bit hard to grok and a bit tedious sometimes also, also agree good for armchair generals and admirals.

  11. Eureka says:

    I can’t comment on Rayne’s post. Or actually, at all. Last commented over an hour ago on an older post. Try to comment and it says “You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.” [Even on this page there are comments within minutes of each other from the same person, besides the zillions of conversations that take place every day within shorter periods of time.]

    What I was trying to say:

    OT, what’s up with the missiles striking near our consulate in Erbil, Iraq (allegedly from Iran), and this after the Saudis today had the largest modern-era mass execution (81 people).

    ETA: so this one went through: am leaving the note up in case others had this problem. It would just reject the comment with the message I pasted above

    • Rayne says:

      I’m not seeing comments by you in the moderation bin, very sorry about the inconvenience. I can only assume security is a little tighter right now than usual.

      • Eureka says:

        Well that is weird: after I edited that comment to which you replied, it vanished and the number count of comments on the page went down. So when it came back I assumed you had to have fished it out.

        When I tried before, it wasn’t even accepting a comment — just kicked out to a blank page with that message I pasted.

        Thanks & sorry for all the extras you’re dealing with.

        I’m looking forward to your next post. Did you see he added a fifth one today? [I’m a couple behind, was feeling reluctant like how many psyops are going on at once here / is this some kind of resistance grift / has he jumped the shark. Interested in your assessment.]

        • Rayne says:

          I had my hands full here at home today, didn’t begin to dig into any new OSINT including checking for another letter. Guess what I’m doing tomorrow. LOL

          The more letters come out, the more skepticism with which they should be treated. FSB must be under even greater scrutiny now. OR the system is even more fucked up than expected and that fuckedupedness should give us pause because it’s also continuing to drive Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine.

          Some of this smells so much like the stovepiped crap which led to the Iraq War,

          • Eureka says:

            Yep, your last line exactly and I do not have a good feeling about this, it could be even worse.

            Let’s hope there’s not a 6th & 7th sitting there by dawn.

            However, a good excuse to rock some good Scorpions tunes.

            [FYI I checked the wind of change (words altogether) hashtag earlier that the driver made to represent the letter-writer and it was only sparse, low-quality content, besides a piano performance clip of the song which came up incidentally and pre-dated speedracer’s creation of the hashtag.]

            • Rayne says:

              I’m avoiding going directly to any URL shared by anyone around the letters. Just too iffy. I suppose I’ll have to check the hashtag since it should be safe but no clickthroughs for me.

              • Eureka says:

                [eyeballs and nail polish emojis]

                I wanted to rephrase “low quality” since that could be mistaken for bots/trolls or something and I didn’t believe that to be the case (though did not investigate, either). Meant more like crickets in terms of amplification/who is amplifying.

                More thoughts I may add later (not interested in providing further instructions to anyone looking to perform influence ops).

                Also, yes, not clicking strange urls.

      • rip says:

        I’ve noticed that behavior on other sites that have embedded twitter images – at least I think it’s related to twitter.

        My hypothesis is that the twitter content is being delivered later than the rest of the page rendering and causes the browser to have to redraw everything when it finally arrives. I guess I could debug it using the browser developer tools….

      • Eureka says:

        Welp, therein lied my existential crisis.

        Leoghann: thanks for feedback, all I was trying to post was that one line re KSA/Iraq (Iran) events.

    • Leoghann says:

      So far, all my comments have gone through, although they’ve all been short. The page in general has been glitchy–jumping around, sometimes up or down two or three inches, but sometimes jumping by several comments.

  12. Ravenclaw says:

    I cannot help fearing that the reports paint too rosy a picture, that the Ukrainians are winning a number of small battles while steadily being ground down despite all their courage. And that the prospects of Putin’s removal are more dim than you imply. But I hope I am wrong in this. And the letters you cite, Rayne, are fascinating – especially if genuine.

    Meanwhile, there is no doubt but that Putin and his top generals have blundered into this war, overconfident in themselves and ignorant of what they were confronting. As Sun Tzu (or whoever authored the ancient book) wrote: “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken.” So far we are seeing only the worst two options exercised – along with the (long-term) disastrous policy of terrorizing the populace.

    • Rayne says:

      In re: rosy picture — I saw a report by Ukrainian authority, can’t recall who, which projected 10K Ukrainian civilian deaths already. Looking at pictures of the cities Russia has bombed in the manner of Aleppo, I’m not surprised by that number. We’re simply being spared images of the bodies so far.

      The other losses Ukraine is suffering may be less obvious, and that’s the fields over which Russia has been driving their tanks and in which they are getting stuck, over which their helos and jets are being shot down. How the heck Ukraine will begin planting in those fields boggles my mind. It’s no wonder Ukrainian farmers are hauling tanks away; they need them the fuck out of the way, stat.

      And yes, the siege of walled cities describes Ukraine perfectly — it’s as if FSB didn’t tell Putin and the military there were ramparts, literal or figurative, or as if Putin and the military were blind to them.

      • taluslope says:

        I not so concerned about “the fields over which Russia has been driving their tanks” and agriculture production. Think of it as a geometrical problem: tanks occupy 1D roads and farming take 2D fields to harness the sun. Ukraine is a big country occupying a lot of area. Hopefully winter wheat can be harvested and spring wheat planted in the midst of this mess.

        I could be wrong about that geometry thing however. While I was really good at math I was pretty bad at geometry, back in what, the 10th grade.

        • Rayne says:

          If Russian troops are actively driving tanks over wheat fields, do you really think a farmer is going to want to operate their tractor in that same field?

          This isn’t a geometry question.

    • madwand says:

      Yessir that is Sun Tzu and generations of American military officers have been fed it continuously. So starve them out while you’re continuously shelling them around the clock. Don’t waste your armor and infantry. Things are getting that way in Kharkiv and Mariupol. If they assault the city, ;then most likely all that is being said about the incompetence of the Russian military is true.

  13. Alan Charbonneau says:

    At a time when the Russians could use good intelligence, they don’t have anyone willing to give it to Putin—sounds like working for Donald Trump to me, difference in IQs notwithstanding.

    I read Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis for a class in crisis mgmt. It analyzed the conflict from 3 perspectives, the individual actor or “great man” viewpoint, the political viewpoint and the most interesting, the organization viewpoint. The US and Soviets each had ways of gathering intelligence, distributing it, and summarizing it. Thus, an “institutional style” reflecting the personality of each organization would influence the analysis. That didn’t even count the “boss won’t hear bad news” problems that infected both governments.

    The Soviets had other political issues, including a bureaucracy that had a certain way of doing everything. For example, while the Russian crew that built the silos took some measures to keep the missiles hidden, the spy photos showed what CIA analysts knew were the signs of a typical Soviet-style ICBM installation. The construction crew built them that way because it was they way you were supposed to; it was by-the-book even if it was easier to detect from the air.

    I think it was elsewhere, but I read that someone in Moscow thought the Russian advisors in Cuba would call less attention to themselves by wearing aloha shirts. 5,000 light-skinned 20-something men with IDENTICAL aloha shirts didn’t blend in quite as well as expected. I can only imagine the advisors having to wear them, feeling like idiots. Now you have FSB people brought in for “questioning”. What they are experiencing is much worse than feeling like idiots.

    It’s so hard to for us to know what is going on in Ukraine. The Russians are supposed to be moving ahead, but there are also reports they are low on on ammo and fuel. We hear rumors, but even if they are true, we sometimes lack context. If the Russians are low on ammo, is that shortage on all battlefronts? How about fuel? Are civilian trucks on rail cars in Russia headed to Ukraine because they are low on military trucks? Russia’s army equipment keeps breaking down due to lack of maintenance, how much of this is due to corruption? Will there be repair parts coming up the supply like? Mechanics to make the repairs? How long can Russia’s economy keep funding the war? Will Xi think it’s time to be a “global statesman” and cut his losses with Putin? There is so much we don’t know.

    • Rayne says:

      At a time when the Russians could use good intelligence, they don’t have anyone willing to give it to Putin

      Go back and read Letter 1 — according to the alleged FSB insider, it’s not because they’re not willing, it’s because they are tasked so narrowly and in a fashion which prevents 1) a broad perspective integrating more risk factors, and 2) anything but victory.

      As for “It’s so hard to for us to know what is going on in Ukraine.” Follow better OSINT folks, beginning with bellingcat.

      • Alan Charbonneau says:

        Yes, they are “tasked narrowly and part of that may be a continuation of the “need to know” structure that cuts off bureaucrats from knowledge they need. When Eisenhower invited Khrushchev to Camp David in September 1959, Khrushchev “…was initially suspicious of the meeting site because Camp David was not yet a world renowned weekend and holiday retreat of American presidents. He thought it sounded like a place where ‘stray dogs were sent to die.’” He asked the Soviet version of the State Dept and they didn’t know anything about Camp David either, nobody was supposed to possess knowledge outside of their silo, so nobody there knew.

        For the FSB, they are also tasked with finding a victory, not saying one is impossible.

  14. Leoghann says:

    I was thinking earlier today about the irony of Trump and Putin. For four years, we were alarmed that, with Trump’s stupid Narcissism, Putin was playing him like a cheap fiddle. (For those who remember Dubya’s trips to Russia, he got played too.) And we’ve been concerned that Trump is much further into dementia than we were allowed to see. Over the past two years, though, it appears that Putin played himself. And now they’re obviously two peas in a maniacal pod.

    • Tom says:

      Or as Stan Laurel would have said, “Pod-duh”. I’m thinking of the attic scene from “Sons of the Desert”.

  15. Tom says:

    Over the past several years I’ve often heard it said that authoritarian governments have an advantage over democracies because they can make decisions and act upon them quickly and decisively while democratic style governments have to take time to gauge public opinion, recruit political allies, follow legislative procedural steps, and so on before they implement policies. While this may be generally true, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates that when authoritarian governments screw up, they screw up big time with potentially catastrophic results for the regime itself.

    Also, it must be awkward for Putin to have to call upon Syria for troops to assist the Russian with the expected more intense urban warfare to come. He looks like a housewife who finds a big spider in the bathroom and has to call her husband in from the garage to deal with it.

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