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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF POTENTIAL RUSSIAN MILITARY ADVANCE INTO UKRAINE

Team: Federica Calissano, Pètra van de Gevel, Iris Raith, Martyna Dobrowolska, EUCOM; Marina Tovar, Counterintelligence and Cyber Team (CICYBER)

Demetrios Giannakaris, Clea Guastavino, Senior Editors

Week of: Monday, January 24, 2022


US Secretary of State Antony John Blinken[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for Russian forces' potential military advance into Ukraine. This situation comes after Russia moved its 100,000 troops more than 4,000 miles to Ukraine’s borders and continues to deploy Russian ships, tanks, and troops.[2] The new deployments raised concerns amongst US officials and the US President, Joe Biden, and EU representatives. US President Biden remarked that Russia will very likely militarily advance into Ukraine, very likely resulting in a spill-over effect to other countries.[3] President Biden said that any movement of Russian forces over the Ukrainian border would result in Russia facing a “stiff price,’’ very likely indicating that it would be met with a response from the US and its allies.[4] The US and its allies will almost certainly respond to the Russian military advance, very likely resulting in a wider regional conflict.


CTG is on HIGH ALERT following the potential Russian preparation to advance into Ukraine. It is VERY LIKELY that tensions between Russia and Ukraine will continue to rise in the next few days, especially after the Russian forces increase near the Ukrainian border. Russia almost certainly wants to prevent Ukraine from becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), very likely resulting in Russia trying to annex parts of Ukraine. A military conflict between Russia and Ukraine very likely poses a threat to European security.


Since the beginning of January 2022, Russian military forces have increased their presence near Ukrainian borders by deploying Russian troops and armor.[5] These developments come after months of rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as Ukraine increasingly reiterated its intentions to ally with Europe and Western States and become a NATO member.[6] Russia has likely perceived these intentions as a threat to its regional influence and security. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated when Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, an autonomous region in southern Ukraine, which consistently demonstrated strong Russian loyalties.[7] Recent developments will likely result in a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, very likely leading to Russia trying to annex parts of Ukraine.


Russia recently deployed critical combat capabilities to the region, increasing troop numbers and weapons systems, including 36 Iskander-K medium-range ballistic-missile systems, putting Russia within striking distance of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.[8] Russia has also deployed significant intelligence and logistics capabilities in the region, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and electronic-warfare systems, as well as logistics and combat sustainment units.[9] The military developments make a Russian advance into Ukraine’s territory very likely. Belarus announced it will hold joint military drills called Allied Resolve 2022 with Russia near Ukrainian borders in February 2022.[10] The large-scale joint military drills very likely indicate that Russia will use them as a cover-up for deploying more military capabilities to the region, almost certainly increasing the tensions with Ukraine. The potential increase in military capabilities in the border region will almost certainly pose an imminent threat to Ukrainian security as a Russian advance becomes very likely. Russia will likely use the drills to rehearse the potential entrance into Ukraine, likely increasing its chances of successfully executing a large-scale military operation in the country.


The recent evacuation of the family of staff from the Russian embassy in Kyiv likely indicates a potential Russian military advance into Ukraine, although Russia stated the embassy is operating under normal conditions.[11] On January 23, 2022, the US ordered its diplomats’ families to leave Ukraine.[12] On January 24, 2022, England started withdrawing its staff from Kyiv as tensions rose.[13] The authorized departures almost certainly show that the US and England are preparing to counter a Russian military advance into Ukraine, which almost certainly increases the risks of a military confrontation.


On January 14, 2022, the Belarus-affiliated cyberespionage group UNC1151[14] conducted a cyberattack campaign using malware similar to the one used by a Russian intelligence group, targeting 70 Ukrainian websites that were temporarily shut down and displaying “prepare for the worst” on the screen.[15] The Belarus-affiliated group very likely conducted the cyberattacks in response to the upcoming NATO-Ukraine cyber cooperation agreement and the steps both parties are undertaking to formally recognize Ukraine as a NATO member. The cyberattack campaign likely has a two-fold objective: warn Ukraine of the Russian willingness to formally attack Ukrainian cyberinfrastructure, and gather data, infiltrate, and weaken the networks. UNC1151 hacked a commercial company’s infrastructure that had access to the rights to manage the web resources affected by the attack and used malware to shut down the affected websites.[16] The cyberattacks very likely allowed UNC1151 to test the accesses and backdoors of websites and networks to find vulnerable spots to utilize them further. The infrastructure’s interconnectedness, which allowed UNC1151 to target multiple sites with only accessing one port, very likely makes the network vulnerable if proper mitigating mechanisms are not implemented. The cyberattacks very likely indicate the backdoors that were almost certainly left in the networks will be exploited before a Russian military advance occurs.


A military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine will very likely result in a wider conflict as many other actors will be involved, such as the US, England, NATO, and the EU.[17] A military conflict between Russia and Ukraine and its allies will very likely pose a threat to regional security as it could very likely result in a regional conflict. In the short term, Russia will very likely attempt to annex the regions around Luhansk, Donetsk, and Semenivka as they border Russia and are zones Russia tried to invade in the past.[18] This will almost certainly lead to a military response from Ukrainian allies. The potential military advance into Ukraine likely has the short-term goal of halting Ukraine-NATO negotiations to formally include Ukraine as a NATO member. The risk of a military advancement will likely prompt US-Russia conversations about US nuclear arms in Eastern Europe. EU Member States will almost certainly adopt different positions on how the EU should react to a potential Russian advance, very likely destabilizing the region and allowing Russia to gain more influence in Ukraine and change the balance of power.


A potential Russian military advance into Ukrainian territory will almost certainly result in military and civilian casualties on both sides. Along with the US and NATO, many EU countries will almost certainly provide military equipment and training to Ukraine to preserve peace in Europe. By providing military and logistic training, Ukrainian armed forces will very likely be more prepared for a defensive response if Russia decides to advance into Ukraine militarily.


US officials have warned that a Russian advance into Ukraine will very likely result in a significant flow of Ukrainian refugees into neighboring countries.[19] EU States that border Ukraine, such as Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary, are very likely to be the first points of entry for Ukrainians who will likely try to flee the imminent conflict. Given the heightened tensions, an outflow of refugees will very likely start in the next few weeks since Ukrainians will almost certainly not await the entry of the Russian army to begin migrating. The imminent conflict is very likely to exacerbate the refugee crisis for the EU given the ongoing situation at the Polish-Belarusian border since November 2021, where refugees from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are trying to enter EU territory.[20] These developments will very likely pose a threat to European security and stability.


The EUCOM Team recommends that the Ukrainian army increase its troops at the border with Russia. EU governments, the US government, and NATO should remain alert regarding Russian actions at the Ukraine-Russia border in the next few days. In light of Russia‘s increased troop presence, the threat level in Ukraine is VERY HIGH. Intelligence agencies of European States, such as the European Union Intelligence and Situation Center (IntCen), the US, and England, are recommended to continue sharing relevant information about the situation. Civilians living near the Russia-Ukraine border are advised to remain alert of their surroundings in the upcoming weeks. The Counterintelligence and Cyber (CICYBER) Team recommends improving mitigation strategies like implementing a risk assessment to determine infrastructure vulnerabilities and establish network access controls. A risk assessment will very likely identify the vulnerable access points where firewalls and antivirus software can be reinforced or put into place.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) EUCOM and CICYBER Teams will continue to monitor developments in Russian movements on Ukraine’s border and its security implications. The EUCOM and CICYBER Teams will actively cooperate with CTG’s other regional and specialty teams to monitor this threat’s developments and its implications in different geographical regions. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers will continue to monitor Russia's activity and provide up-to-date reports about this threat.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) produces Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) intelligence to deliver critical intelligence and investigation services to pinpoint and assess regional variations of global threats. We can provide you with the safety and protection needed to feel secure. No matter if it’s just one person or an entire organization, we can handle everything for your peace of mind. We are the present, and future solution to the ever-evolving global threat landscape. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


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[1] ‘’Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivers remarks on the crisis in Ukraine from Berlin, Germany, on January 20, 2022’’ by U.S. Department of State licensed under Public Domain

[2] Russian ships, tanks and troops on the move to Ukraine as peace talks stall, The Guardian, January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/23/russian-ships-tanks-and-troops-on-the-move-to-ukraine-as-peace-talks-stall

[3] Joe Biden thinks Russia will attack Ukraine – but will face a ‘stiff price’, The Guardian, January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/19/russia-could-act-against-ukraine-at-any-moment-says-us

[4] Ibid

[5] Will Russia make a military move against Ukraine? Follow these clues, Atlantic Council, January 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/will-russia-make-a-military-move-against-ukraine-follow-these-clues/

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Russian attack could happen ‘any minute’ Ukraine official says, AirForceTimes, January 2022, https://www.airforcetimes.com/flashpoints/2022/01/19/russian-attack-could-happen-any-minute-ukraine-official-says/

[9] Ibid

[10] Will Russia make a military move against Ukraine? Follow these clues, Atlantic Council, January 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/will-russia-make-a-military-move-against-ukraine-follow-these-clues/

[11] Russia says Kyiv embassy working normally after report on families leaving, Reuters, January 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-says-kyiv-embassy-working-normally-after-report-families-leaving-2022-01-18/

[12] U.S. orders diplomats’ families to leave Ukraine, urges Americans to depart, Politico, January 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/01/23/blinken-counter-russian-aggression-00000521

[13] Ukraine crisis: UK begins withdrawing embassy staff from Kiev as Russia war fears mount, The Independent, January 2022, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ukraine-crisis-uk-embassy-kiev-russia-b1999237.html

[14] Ukraine suspects group linked to Belarus intelligence over cyberattack, Reuters, January 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-suspects-group-linked-belarus-intelligence-over-cyberattack-2022-01-15/

[15] Massive Cyber Attack Knocks Down Ukrainian Government Websites, The Hacker News, January 2022, https://thehackernews.com/2022/01/massive-cyber-attack-knocks-down.html

[16] The Security Service of Ukraine investigates the involvement of Russian special services in a cyber attack on Ukrainian state authorities, Security Service of Ukraine, January 2022 https://ssu.gov.ua/novyny/sbu-rozsliduie-prychetnist-rosiiskykh-spetssluzhb-do-sohodnishnoi-kiberataky-na-orhany-derzhavnoi-vlady-ukrainy (translated by Google)

[17] Russia-Ukraine crisis: Why Brussels fears Europe is 'closest to war' in decades, BBC News, January 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60030615

[18] How Russia’s Military Is Positioned to Threaten Ukraine, The New York Times, January 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/01/07/world/europe/ukraine-maps.html

[19] A Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Could Flood Europe With Millions Of Refugees, Forbes, January 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/andyjsemotiuk/2022/01/20/a-russian-invasion-of-ukraine-could-flood-europe-with-millions-of-refugees/?sh=167fdab678c4

[20] Migrants stranded, freezing cold at Belarus-Poland border, NBC News, December 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/migrants-stranded-freezing-cold-belarus-poland-border-rcna10285





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