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Former KGB officer Putin’s intelligence failures hold Russia back as Ukraine fights for freedom and democracy


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Russian President Vladimir Putin had a long career as an intelligence officer in the former Soviet Union’s KGB – the former Communist spy agency – and likely took great efforts to plan his invasion of Ukraine before sending thousands of troops into the country earlier this week.

But American and British intelligence analysts say Russia appears to have underestimated Ukraine’s defensive capabilities – at least initially. 

Russia’s stalled advance could be because of faulty or ignored intelligence, according to Dan Hoffman, a former CIA senior officer and station chief. But it’s impossible for anyone outside the Kremlin to know for sure, he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a long career as an intelligence officer in the former Soviet Union’s KGB – the former Communist spy agency – and likely took great efforts to plan his invasion of Ukraine before sending thousands of troops into the country earlier this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a long career as an intelligence officer in the former Soviet Union’s KGB – the former Communist spy agency – and likely took great efforts to plan his invasion of Ukraine before sending thousands of troops into the country earlier this week.
(Yuri Kochetkov/Pool)

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“Is Russia surprised by all this? Yes,” he told WHD News Digital Saturday. “Therefore, they didn’t do a great job in collecting the intelligence that they needed. And that’s pretty humiliating, because Ukraine’s on their border and they were occupying pieces of it.”

Putin invaded Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and has been backing separatists in two other eastern regions of the country, an area collective known as Donbas, and he said he would recognize them as independent republics in the days before the all-out invasion of Ukraine. 

“Why did Vladimir Putin do this?” he asked. “He should have known these things – but didn’t.”

Ukrainian servicemen are seen next to a destroyed armoured vehicle, which they said belongs to the Russian army, outside Kharkiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. 

Ukrainian servicemen are seen next to a destroyed armoured vehicle, which they said belongs to the Russian army, outside Kharkiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. 
(Reuters/Maksim Levin )

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Hoffman had predicted back in 2019 that Putin’s long-term objective “is the destruction of Ukraine as a state.”

“Putin doesn’t want a successful democracy next door serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration for his own domestic opponents, who are denied basic civil liberties,” he wrote at the time, along with Sir Nicholas Soames, a former United Kingdom defense minister.

And Putin could have been planning that destruction for as long as two decades, he said.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this week, with Putin claiming the move was a defensive measure amid threats from Ukraine. The White House warned earlier this month that U.S. intelligence had predicted the invasion on fabricated grounds.

Surveillance footage shows a missile hitting a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022, in this still image taken from a video.

Surveillance footage shows a missile hitting a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022, in this still image taken from a video.
(Reuters)

For the first three days of the conflict, Russia failed to establish air superiority over its smaller neighbor. 

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But analysts have said Putin won’t back down – and they expect him to ratchet up the attacks to beat down Ukraine’s defenses.

Before dawn on the fourth day, a Russian missile strike blew up a civilian oil depot in Vasilkov, about 24 miles south of Kyiv, according to Ukrainian Member of Parliament Anna Purtova.

Missile hits oil depot near KyivVideo

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She called it an “ecological catastrophe” and appealed to the U.S. and European Union to close down the sky over her country.

Hours later, another infrastructure attack took out a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, a large Ukrainian city near the border with Russia where the invaders had been met with stiff resistance.

Civilian volunteers check their guns at a Territorial Defence unit registration office on February 26, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

Civilian volunteers check their guns at a Territorial Defence unit registration office on February 26, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. 
(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Ukraine has put up a valiant defense in the face of overwhelming force – but few experts expect that to dissuade Putin, who has a larger army and more resources available. Attacks on infrastructure could intensify as a way to overwhelm the resistance. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy turned down a U.S. evacuation offer Friday, calling on Western powers to step up their assistance instead.

“The fight is here,” he said, according to a translation of his remarks. “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Russia’s president has an extensive background in intelligence gathering and has helmed the country since 2000 – with a break in office from 2008 to 2012 due to term limits.

Ukrainian soldiers take positions outside a military facility as two cars burn, in a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine's capital Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. 

Ukrainian soldiers take positions outside a military facility as two cars burn, in a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine’s capital Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. 
(WHD Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

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The Russian leader graduated from Leningrad State University in the mid-1970s and joined the KGB, where he became an intelligence officer and rose up in the ranks.

He spent much of his career in Soviet-held East Germany and after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, he became chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the KGB’s successor agency.

The contributed to this report.

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