Russian special services deployed a “large secret spy network” in Ukraine before the invasion, according to a new report from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank. This network is still “viable” more than a year after the start of the war“providing a constant flow of intelligence to the Russian forces,” the analysis underlines.
At the moment, Ukrainian authorities are focusing on identifying citizens working with Russian forces. In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that any Ukrainian who wishes to support or work for the Russian government must register to live in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia.
“Anyone can be a Russian collaborator or a traitor: age, gender or background doesn’t matter,” a Ukrainian official told Foreign Policy in January 2023. Thousands of people accused of collaborating with Russia have been detained since the start of the war.
The eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which together form Donbas, were engulfed in Fighting in 2014 between the Kyiv government and Russian-backed separatists. This “internal threat” limited Ukraine’s ability to prepare the country for war in 2022, according to the RUSI report published on Wednesday.
Russian troops have been able to “corrupt targets” and recruit under false flag operations to build these “big networks quickly,” the report says. Under false flag operations, the Ukrainians may think they are working on behalf of Kyiv, and their actions ultimately benefit Moscow.
Those who infiltrated Ukraine’s political or economic elites could “recruiting people not as Russian spies but as his personal clients who therefore unknowingly promote Russian interests”according to the report, which adds that many agents working for the Kremlin have been on the ground for decades.
He FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, he was probably ordered to prepare plans for an occupied Ukraine in the summer of 2021, according to the RUSI report. Moscow has sought to place experienced agents in Ukraine to run its own networks, rather than control operations from Russia.
Although some of those working on behalf of the Kremlin have been identified, many and their operations have yet to be exposed, the report’s authors warned. “A significant part of Russia’s agents both in Ukraine and in other countries continue to operate actively”they wrote.
However, so far Moscow has not provoked the “internal political crisis” which “powerful agents of the state authorities” in Ukraine were working on, according to the report.