Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. 2023 Is the Year of Our Victory
In the days when there is only talk in Ukraine about the general offensive that the enemy is about to launch, Ukrinform met with Major General Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Deputy Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine to discuss the most pressing issues of today.
– Mr. General, how do you assess the recent changes in the russian military leadership? What is it for? Have the first consequences of replacing Surovikin with Herasymov already manifested themselves?
– In such a short period of time, it is still difficult to say how much the tactics have changed, but we definitely know that there will be changes. We can see how they are now moving, where their airborne units are regrouping. This is Herasymov's handwriting. Why? Because at the beginning of the full-scale aggression, we clearly knew that in all directions in the second echelon, in fact, there were paratroopers in the strategic reserve, and in the offensive on Kyiv they generally performed the main task. We expect that even now there will be a more active use of airborne troops. Apparently, it was against this background that misunderstandings arose between Herasymov and the commander of the airborne troops (Colonel General Mikhail Teplinskii during a meeting at the russian General Staff sent Herasymov on the "ship route" and was immediately dismissed. Ed.). First of all, because that under the command of Herasymov, the airborne troops of russia during the first six months of the great war in Ukraine were almost half knocked out. And these are elite troops - the 76th division, 106th, 98th... By the way, the latter was transferred from the Kherson direction to others, more important according to their estimates.
– You can share the forecast: what's next?
– There will be active fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk directions. Herasymov did not fulfill the task that was set before him. The first is the complete occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
– putin ordered them to take Donbas by March. It's a month and a half...
– Yes, there will be active fighting in February-March, and precisely in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. We are still seeing the transfer of the 2nd Mechanized Division of the 1st Tank Army from Belarus. We do not rule out that they may again try to enter our territory through the border, this is the Kupiansk direction, it is also possible to resume offensive actions with the aim of returning to control the territories previously captured by the enemy in the Luhansk region...
– And what do you think about Andrii Ilarionov's statement that they want to cut off Ukraine from Europe?
– Here I will say very simply. If we really evaluate, a powerful information campaign is being conducted against our state. They will stretch our forces, they will frighten our population... Look at how many russian analysts currently working abroad say there are 220,000 servicemen of grouping in the territory of Belarus, and just recently they said there were 150,000 servicemen deployed there... In fact, they are not there. The grouping that exists now cannot be compared to what it was in February last year. It is necessary to understand that we are also ready, the readiness checks of the units that defend the northern border of our state were conducted there, the corresponding defensive lines were prepared, the air defence system was deployed and strengthened, including Kyiv. And if we shoot down enemy cruise missiles now, believe me, shooting down helicopters and planes is much easier.
– But Ilarionov again spoke about some ticks from the north, from the south, the breakthrough to Lviv, the landing in Odesa region. He scared my wife a lot, and also many...
– Such plans, which concern ticks or the complete encirclement of our grouping of troops then in Donetsk and Luhansk directions, they had from the very beginning, this was the first plan developed by Herasymov himself during the invasion in February 2022. And what is the result of this? They have not yet been implemented.
– Vadym Vasyliovych, we often began to say that russia should not be underestimated, and in particular, they say that the enemy is also learning, and these 11 months did not just pass by for him. Does intelligence see any concrete indications that this is the case? Did they learn something?
– I would say more. Not just learning, they now began to more realistically assess our power.
– So. Then, in February, they entered in columns without any cover, without an organized anti-aircraft system, and we destroyed everything that was going to Kyiv, right in the columns. Now they realized that no one would greet them with flowers here. The more we fight, the more they draw conclusions. They are now building a clearer command and control system along the entire front line, we can clearly see this. They change the tactics of using their units. If a year ago it was battalion tactical groups (BTGs), now they have returned to the classic scheme - brigade, regiment, battalion. They began to create assault units numbering 140-160 people. Such detachments include mechanized units, tanks, artillery, mortars, anti-tank means – to break through in certain areas thanks to assault actions. And also the ‘Wagner’ tactics, which were first used in Bakhmut, then in Soledar. They are trying to carry out assault actions at the expense of delivering powerful artillery strikes with the aim of completely destroying our defensive positions. And this - wave after wave goes, despite the colossal human losses that they bear.
– Can this also be considered as experience?
- Yes, this is their experience of conducting hostilities.
– And rocket attacks?
– They make certain changes in the use of cruise missiles. Each time, you see, different launch lines, different aviation flight routes are chosen. They try to bypass our air defence system, they know in which areas it is strong and in which areas it is not so strong. These are all real examples of what - yes, the enemy is learning. The longer the fighting lasts, the more experience the enemy gains. And the threat is that their current demobilized are already different from those who came to our territory in October.
– What will they never learn?
– They always wait for what the senior commander will tell them from above. And the second. They are too often ready to sell their lives for money. According to the interceptions - you are simply surprised when he tells the woman that I will step on a mine here, we will get the 800 thousand or so, at the same time I will be returned to russia, I will not fight anymore. Or - I will fight, earn so much money, buy a car, pay off the loan, save for an apartment...
– Kyiv was recently shelled from the S-400 anti-aircraft complex. And we were immediately told that this shelling came from the north. Everyone thought that it was from the territory of belarus. So why not say it right away?
– Launches were carried out from the territory of the russian federation, this is the first. And secondly, the shortage of high-precision cruise missiles such as Kalibr, X-101 and X-555 forced the russian federation to use anti-aircraft missiles for attacks. They have undergone modernization, we understand exactly which one. It is possible that another combat unit will be deployed there in the future.
They have such missiles since the time of the Soviet Union, according to our calculations, from six to seven thousand. These rockets are already 30-35-40 years old. That is, there is disposal and, at the same time, the deficit in high-precision weapons is covered. Modernization allows you to use them for a range of at least 250 kilometers. These are, in fact, the same Iskanders, or other long-range weapons.
– We had forecasts that mobilization would begin in russia almost from January 5, that the borders would be closed... But they are still open. And what is objectively known about their next mobilization?
– Our borders are not closed either.
– In our country, men of a certain age are not allowed to leave.
– Same there. There is a directive instruction.
– We have it officially done at the level of the Verkhovna Rada, and there?
– This is russia, if you say something wrong, you will immediately be put somewhere. So, the answer to the question of whether they are ready/not ready for mobilization is: they are ready. In muscovy today, according to our estimates, not 300, but 315,000 have been drafted. They are now carrying out another mobilization in the temporarily occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. At such rates of war, there simply will not be any male population capable of working.
– Well, well, several hundred thousand were drafted. And then?
– There are not enough weapons for the units that are being formed now. russians do not produce it as much as they lose it. moscow began to remove equipment and weapons from storage, from arsenals, but it has also been standing for 30 years or more, needs repair and maintenance, and we know this, for example, from the 2nd division of the 1st tank army. They were supposed to finish combat cohesion on the first of December, and they finished on the first of January. That is, they waited a whole month for the division to be equipped with weapons that are not currently in production. In case of additional demobilization of 500,000 people, there will be even bigger problems with their provision. In addition, you understand what a colossal resource this is, even for russia, and how negatively it affects the economy of the russian federation, because it is mainly the working population.
– A representative of the State Department said that the United States is contacting foreign countries to ban "Wagner" from recruiting there. What do you think about this?
– "Wagner" should be banned and recognized as a terrorist organization at the international level. The necessary facts of war crimes committed by them are numerous: in addition to Ukraine, this includes Syria, the Central African Republic, and other regions...
– Fresh news: in Serbia, activists went to court with a demand to ban the activities of PMC "Wagner". The Americans generally want to block their recruitment outside of russia. How realistic is it to achieve such a goal?
– There is a very wide range of possible actions to neutralize such activities of "Wagner" - these are sanctions, this is the blocking of financial flows, this is the limitation of the supply of weapons... And there are also international conventions on mercenaries, in many countries criminal liability for mercenaries is provided...
– But mercenary is also prohibited in russia...
– And they claim that "Wagner" is a private company, although they do not have a law on private military companies.
– Can you give an approximate amount that "Wagner" costs per month? How and how much are they paid? Not everyone is the same...
– The russian federation will always find money at PMC "Wagner". Regarding their earnings, equipment? It is impossible to compare, for example, a professional Wagnerian or an instructor – his equipment, his training, his financial support – and someone who they simply took out of the colony, and after two months he was killed. russian mercenaries agree to 200-250 thousand rubles per month.
– Is it about 3,000 – 3,500 dollars?
– It turns out that it is so in the calculation. But there the gradation is very clear, management – one salary, professional instructors – another, professional militants – this is the third category, well, and the fourth, those who are now being recruited and used as cannon fodder.
– You said that they now have the task of occupying the entire Donbas. But at the same time, there is currently a lot of talk that they will launch a general offensive in the South at the end of winter - at the beginning of spring. What does intelligence know about their plans there? Are there any surprises?
– Everything will depend on the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk directions. These are related things. There may be distracting maneuvers, distracting strikes, this may be the development of the success they are counting on in the Donetsk direction. But we have enough information to analyze and determine the possible nature of the enemy's actions.
– And what forces have been accumulated there for today?
– We definitely know: which group, what its composition is, what weapons they have, in which settlements they are stationed. Don't worry, we have the situation under control.
– And is there anything to answer?
– I think there is. Our partners are also helping us now, they understand the complexity of the situation.
– The enemy is carrying out fortification works in the Crimea...
– Yes, the kremlin is preparing for defence. The aggressor is not just carrying out these works, the russian command has even created a corresponding defence group on the territory of Crimea.
– So, they will not use all their forces during the spring offensive?
– No. Territorial troops also enter there, these are divisions and regiments, and not only the Crimean formation.
– Their territorial defence began to form earlier than ours?
– We saw their territorial defence during the exercises, starting in 2016. Every time at strategic exercises - "Center", "West", "East", "Caucasus" - they practice the deployment of territorial defence troops. In particular, two divisions of territorial troops were created in the occupied Crimea.
– Are they well trained?
– What do you think about it? If we take a reservist who served in the army 20-30 years ago, or if he served in the Soviet army in a construction battalion? Of course, the training of such reservists is unsatisfactory, and the motivation is much lower than in units of the regular armed forces of russia.
– The number of these formations?
– If it is a motorized rifle regiment, then 1,500-2,000. We know the number of units and formations of the territorial troops of russia. And most importantly, our General Staff has this information and takes it into account when planning our actions. We should not scare our people with these figures of 300,000, 500,000... There are many other factors - weapons, morale...
– And what can we say about it?
– Very easy. Those who stand on the front line do not want to fight, do not want to go on the offensive, many of them try to mutilate themselves or receive a light wound in order not to return to the front. Most say that as soon as the contract ends, they will leave the position and go home. However, no one asks them anymore.
Many believe that there will be a rotation, but they have been talking about this rotation since the month of April, and it is not there. Separate units are withdrawn from the front line, but this is only to replenish losses and restore. At the same time, if at the beginning they were taken to the territory of moscow, now from Kherson they are simply transferred closer to the Crimea - Zaliznyi Port or Skadovsk. They "recovered" there for 3-4 weeks and went to the front again.
– Recently, there has been less "cotton" in russia. Is it because we humans don't take risks, or have they closed the problem areas?
– If there are vulnerable places, then, of course, they try to close them, use air defence. But the main thing is the counter-intelligence regime, powerful censorship. We see this in the temporarily occupied territories, and even more so in russia: the scene of the incident is immediately surrounded, the FSB arrives, no one will enter, will not leave, will not take any information. But ours are working, as they say... This is an enemy, it must be destroyed so that rockets are not launched at our peaceful cities and people, so that there are no repetitions of the tragedy in the city of Dnipro... russia has the pilot who launched this rocket. He must not fly, and for this the aircraft must be destroyed or put out of combat, a combat missile disabled in advance, which will not hit the target or simply explode in the air, etc. These are very complex things that require preparation, trained people, and appropriate measures.
– And what measures have been taken by the russians, so to speak, following in our footsteps "cotton"?
– I will tell about Engels. They dispersed strategic aviation at various airfields, including the Far East. And this has an effect now, because it's one thing to fly a thousand kilometers to the missile launch line and another to fly five thousand. That is, five thousand there, five thousand back... It's all a resource – the plane, the engine, it's a load on the crew, additional fuel consumption.
– The enemy's calculation of demoralization in Ukrainian society did not come true, intelligence sees some alternative strategies that they may have, say terrorist attacks, how do you assess our ability to resist this?
– Let's take a real look at this picture, let's take it from June to today. Name me at least a few high-profile terrorist attacks that were committed by the aggressor on our territory during this period, in addition to rocket attacks?
– Is our counterintelligence working?
– And not only counterintelligence, it is our population. Believe me, in February and early March, our people took an active part in the fight against subversive groups and spies. That is, they watched for new people in the house, for unusual manifestations in their neighborhood: wherever a mark appeared on the wall, on the sidewalk, people called the hotline en masse. Society has rallied, people understand that this is a war.
Look at what happened in the territories that were temporarily under occupation. In fact, the entire nation worked to transmit information about enemy movements and actions. It was physically very difficult to process everything, it was a kind of information explosion. By the way, our partners are simply amazed that it is possible to receive such help from the public online. I answered them: this is not Afghanistan or Iraq, there were completely different conditions for you and a completely different population. This is our country and we all protect it. From the Armed Forces of Ukraine – to the grandmother who lives on the first floor and sees through the window that strangers have entered her entrance.
– At the same time, there are many sociological studies that say that military failures do not demoralize russians, but on the contrary - consolidate. How do intelligence officers explain it?
– We operate with facts. Yes, there is such a mood there - against Ukraine, against the West, against NATO. They are already talking not about some "special operation", but about war - with the West, with NATO. After decades of brainwashing, russians believe in all this holiday. It is necessary to understand the situation that has developed in the russian federation. Society there is completely cleansed.
– And how does Ukrainian intelligence assess the level of psychological stability of russian society?
– The question is very interesting. To what extent can it, this psychological stability, collapse... For this, a powerful influence is needed – not so much an informational one, but in general, events that will serve to change the consciousness of the russian population.
– As for the threat of a strike with tactical nuclear charges, do the intelligence agencies have means of predicting such a strike, what is known about the technical condition of the enemy's nuclear munitions?
– First of all, today the threat and in general the rhetoric of using nuclear weapons is not as relevant as it was at the beginning of autumn. This was facilitated by the measures of the international community regarding nuclear safety, including the reaction of the United States of America, China, and European countries. Second, we constantly monitored and monitor everything related to nuclear weapons, especially before the start of a large-scale invasion. There are carriers of nuclear weapons in Crimea as well, the russians constantly worked out the issue of delivering a nuclear warhead, preparing weapons for possible combat use. As for the technical condition, this is a tactical nuclear weapon, which was manufactured even under the Soviet Union. Yes, the service life was extended, but the warhead was not even tested on the Iskanders and Kalibrs. Nevertheless, everyone understands that putin's regime has nuclear weapons and moscow uses this as one of the elements of pressure and intimidation.
– And if everything goes badly for them, they still won't apply it? After all, tactical nuclear weapons are like a suitcase that took a projectile and carried it...
– I mean, this is one of the elements of intimidation. Tactical nuclear weapons do not solve the main strategic task, it is necessary to talk about it.
– Somewhat unexpected question. In modern warfare, unlike the wars of the past, intelligence has become much more open. Forecasts are published, interviews are given... What are the reasons for such changes?
– This is strategic communications. We started doing it in 2015, as I remember now, my first broadcast was at the end of October 2015. At that time, many people did not understand how intelligence came out with its open information to society. And everything is very simple: then it was necessary to explain that in Ukraine this is not some kind of internal conflict, and this is not russia's support for "someone" in our country, this is a direct, brutal and undisguised armed aggression of the russian federation against our state.
In 2021, the American intelligence community, the British, others - also began to make their information public. And their message is also very simple: they prove the message that intelligence understands everything that's going on, that's the first thing. Secondly, it is a signal to the enemy, the russian federation, at this stage that we know about their plans. And since we know them, we are preparing for their aggression. Yes, these are new approaches, but they are unequivocally effective, effective for our society as well, because when a person in the modern world does not receive information, for example, from us - military intelligence, from the Ministry of Defence, the General Staff, he looks for it through other channels. And this is where the propaganda and disinformation of the enemy appears, in particular.
– So you have no complaints against your Western colleagues regarding their regular reports that they have learned about the war in Ukraine?
– Why should we have them? We have cooperation with them, they have their strategic communications, we have ours. Somewhere, at the expense of this, we even compare plans and conclusions: what do they know, how do they evaluate. We have become more transparent and understandable, although we have our secrets, our mechanisms.
– At the beginning of 2023, we heard at least three forecasts of our big offensive and the final turning point in the war: March, May, August. And in your opinion - when?
– I told you the forecast for the next two months, it is real. It is still too early to talk about a complete turning point in the war today, but there are signs that the situation will change. 2023 is the year of our Victory. Our Victory is already in the fact that we have been defending our independence for almost a year in a war with a nuclear state that has greater mobilization and economic potential. This is already a strategic defeat of russia, about which not only we are talking, but also the whole civilized world.
– We already have the title: 2023 is the year of Victory.
– That's right, even here, we are talking not only about victory on the battlefield, but also about victory in all other directions: such a powerful coalition of states, which supports Ukraine now, has never existed in the entire recent history of our country. This is already a victory.
– But probably in the entire history of mankind, there was no such support from other states - a state that was subjected to brutal aggression...
– The history of mankind is such a matter... Let's go back to the 18-21 years of the last century. Who then recognized Ukraine as an independent state, supported it in the fight against the moscow invasion? And now, after 100 years - what do we see? This is our Victory today.
Serhiy Tykhyi, Kyiv