Janusz Bugajski for The Geopost, 12 September 2023
Ukraine’s counter-offensive is not only the enormous military effort to regain all of its occupied territories from Russian invaders. It also involves a multi-pronged strategy to make sure that Ukraine is not attacked again by decimating Moscow’s capabilities and dismantling its empire. This external front consists of three main elements: sabotage operations, informational warfare, and promoting national and regional liberation.
Sabotage operations within Russia have expanded over the last few months. Although Ukrainian authorities do not disclose the source of these missions, evidence indicates that much of it is coordinated by special forces infiltrated into Russia and assisted by local anti-Moscow sympathizers. The purpose is to destroy as much as possible of Russia’s infrastructure by burning ammunition dumps, energy storage facilities, weapons production factories, railway yards, storage warehouses, and any locations that can be used for military purposes. Arson attacks are reported and filmed every day, although the Kremlin remain silent about the scale and persistence of such actions.
The most spectacular sabotage operations have been drone attacks on military airports deep inside Russia. They have exposed the weak condition of Russia’s air defense systems in a country that is too large for Moscow to control. In a recent dramatic success, a drone strike destroyed or badly damaged six Ilyushin Il-76 military transport planes at Pskov airport – hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border. The drones were deployed inside Russia by Ukrainian operatives and sympathizers. Such attacks have been replicated in other parts of the country, including in Novosibirsk, Siberia where a Su-24 supersonic bomber was recently destroyed. Some of the sabotage is also attributed to local rebels protesting the war or seeking to overthrow the Putin regime.
The second effective element in Ukraine’s dismantling of Russia is informational warfare. Unlike Moscow’s disinformation offensive that tries to convince the world that Russia is a superpower, Ukrainian specialists are revealing each day the wretched condition of the Russian economy, military, infrastructure, and society. Although Moscow tries to block such facts, an increasing numbers of Russian citizens are realizing that the state edifice is based on a massive lie about Russia’s military power, economic strength, and international prestige. Russia has become a laughingstock in much of the social media and this will intensify as Ukraine presses forward with liberating its lands and the Russian military retreats.
The third element of Ukraine’s offensive is a movement of “promethean liberation” in which a platform is provided for nations and regions inside Russia that seek freedom and new political structures. “Prometheism” is an ideology and strategy devised in the early part of the 20th century to combat Russia’s imperialism by encouraging its collapse and creating new national states. The movement is being revived by Ukraine and Poland in the midst of Russia’s military defeats.
The first Promethean movement emerged during the collapse of the Tsarist empire and heralded the national liberation of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland as an example to other captive nations. Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917 in order to restore the collapsing Russian empire. After several years of war and reconquest they managed to subjugate several new states that had declared their independence, including Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and a number of republics in what is now the Russian Federation, including in the North Caucasus and Middle Volga.
In August 2023, Ukraine’s parliament established a Special Commission to develop state policy in interacting with the national movements and indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation. Commission leaders assert that a broad consensus exists in Ukraine that as long as Russia retains its imperial possessions, it will continue to pose a threat to its neighbors. Hence, the Commission seeks to establish contacts with representatives of non-Russian nations, including in the Caucasus, Siberia, and Middle Volga with the goal of disintegrating the artificial federation. Although most independence movements operate abroad, they also maintain links with their home republics, including the governments-in-exile from Chechnya and Tatarstan.
2023 witnessed the emergence of the Forum of Free Nations of Post-Russia, as a broad platform for liberationist movements seeking independence from Moscow. The Forum has held events in various capitals, including Kyiv, Warsaw, Washington, and Tokyo. Its key message is that encouraging nations and regions to cooperate in designing a “post-Russia” will help contain the violent disintegration that some Western governments fear. It is better to be prepared for Russia’s rupture than be caught by surprise when it starts to unravel.
Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington DC. His recent book is Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture. His forthcoming book is titled Pivotal Poland: Europe’s Rising Strategic Player./The Geopost/