Ukraine Update: 20 February, 2022 (Evening)

Diplomacy may be afforded one final opportunity to prevent war from erupting in Ukraine. US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to meet for a summit meeting to discuss the ‘security and stability’ of Europe. Biden added that he will attend only if an invasion has not happened. The office of French President Emanuel Macron was swift to take credit for the summit idea as well as getting both the US and Russian leaders to agree. Macron has been attempting to shoehorn his way onto centerstage and keep France in the diplomatic limelight for weeks now. It serves his purposes to take credit for brokering a summit and helping to bring about an eleventh-hour peaceful solution to the crisis. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss the summit when they meet on 24 February.

At this point in the crisis, open source intelligence ‘experts’ are tripping over themselves in an attempt to correctly identify from satellite photographs the extent of military deployments near the Ukrainian border. Their ‘analysis’ has flip-flopped severely in recent days. If anything, this crisis is highlighting the limits of OSINT analysts and pointing out their limited value in a fluid, fast-moving situation like this crisis. I realize this is not the first time I’ve broached the topic, yet I felt it was appropriate to mention this evening. It will likely be the last time I mention the OSINT sources who seem to be more interested in picking up followers on social media then they do with providing useful conclusions to the data.

Ukraine Update 11 January, 2022: Helicopters and Mild Winter Weather

While negotiations between Russia, NATO and the United States play out this week in Europe, talking heads, and self-ordained military experts are taking to social media to explain their theories for what a Russian invasion of Ukraine will look like, or what the next step down the road to that invasion will look like from a geopolitical vantage. Added to the mixture are the Open Source Intelligence ‘experts’ who are little more than amateurs, neither gifted or useful. The OSINT folks are akin to a person with a handful of jigsaw puzzle pieces and a desire to put them together into a clear picture. Only they’re missing dozens of other pieces and have no idea what the end result is supposed to even resemble.

But with a brief lull setting in as the talks continue, newspapers, cable news programs and news websites need to fill the void somehow.

The positioning of Russian helicopters close to the border has captured the attention of some talking heads and they’re pointing to this as an indication that a Russian attack could be near. Why? Because these helicopters can be used to transport air-mobile forces and special operations units behind enemy lines to seize and attack targets like bridges, headquarters, and fuel storage sites. In the opening minutes of a large-scale attack into Ukraine, airmobile companies and special operations teams will be the first Russian units to see action.

  An equal number of ‘experts’ has pointed to the weather as a growing factor for Russia’s timetable. The long-expected surge in Russian military units to the border has not happened as US intelligence agencies and the military expected. The reason it hasn’t could be that the winter season in Ukraine has been unusually mild so far. The ground has not hardened enough to support the rapid movement of large numbers of armor and mechanized formations across it. If the mild weather continues into March when the ground usually softens, the Russians may have missed their opportunity to launch a successful attack. Or, to put it more accurately, a missed opportunity for Russia’s Plan A. If this plays out, rest assured there will be a Plan B for them to fall back on.