Small Wars Journal

How Western Intelligence Mortally Wounded Russia’s War Effort in Ukraine

Tue, 03/22/2022 - 9:03pm

How Western Intelligence Mortally Wounded Russia’s War Effort in Ukraine


By Kane Tomlin


Predicting the future is a fool’s errand, but allow me to play the role of fool for a minute.  According to the Victim Identity Model (VIM), I believe that the US and Western Intelligence Community (IC) played a pivotal role in the inevitable defeat of Russia in their war with Ukraine.  The main hypothesis of the VIM is “that a prerequisite for organized forms of collective violence is a motivated organizational leadership element that convinces his or her followers of their in-group victim status. This vicarious in-group victimization legitimizes the stated retaliatory causes of the group, subsumes individual responsibility to the group, and enables psychologically normal group members to commit violence against their perceived aggressors.”


Here’s a quick infographic that shows each element necessary for a motivated population to commit large scale group violence.  If you only have two, you typically don’t see real group violence committed by people who were otherwise not directly affected by a situation.  If a robber breaks into my house, then I might be shooting at them, but it’s not likely my whole block is going to come out and help since they weren’t affected by it, that larger scale effect I call macrovictimization.


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  The IC’s contribution to Russia’s defeat is remarkable because this may be the first time that such a role was so instrumental to the war effort without the US firing a shot. As Dr. Joyner stated earlier at Outside the Beltway, US intelligence has preempted numerous false flag attacks prior to the Russian invasion; noting “[a]t some point, plausible deniability just isn’t plausible,” which is absolutely true.  But the significance of this loss of justification by Putin may not be fully appreciated.  People need to buy into a macrovictim mindset aka “victimization by proxy” in order to lower our normal inhibitions against out-group violence.  Events like Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were highly effective macrovictimization events primarily because they happened to be true attacks on an “innocent US” from our perspective.  I use quotes because nuance (like the sanctions of Japan by the US prior to 1941, our involvement in the Middle East prior to 9/11 etc.) is lost in these kind of rallying cries; war tends to be as binary as our elections.  However, these events do not necessarily have to be factual to work for the targeted in-group, in this case the Russians, because the mechanism of injury doesn’t matter as much as the effect of the injury itself. 


The mechanism of macrovictimization’s lowering of inhibitions against violence only has to be true in the mind of the target in-group.  Conversely, if that fails to occur, the in-group population will tend to be reasonably anti-war.  Even dictators like Putin need a large enough population ready to engage in out-group violence to man the military and successfully prosecute a war, there is simply not enough leaders in an army to ensure every Soldier shoots to kill by coercion; most of it has to be voluntary.  When a population no longer perceives themselves as a righteous victim fighting in self-defense, wars tend to go the way Vietnam or more recently Afghanistan did for the US, which is not to say that properly trained military members will not shoot at all, but rather within the military and population at large people tend to engage in “Irish Democracy”, where they just stop cooperating with the leader’s agenda with enthusiasm.  Sabotage, foot dragging, and generally just being bad at their assigned role increases the longer the war progresses.  In addition, political pressure to end the war starts to affect the population at large.


There are lots of ways humans in and out group each other, but for the sake of this article I will simply say that our tribal nature is evolutionarily grounded and that the primary in-group motivator is in-group visibility.  The fact the Ukraine and Russia are ethnically Slavic is already a step against Putin’s ability to out-group Ukraine.  The other variables that affect in-group formation are: geographical proximity, goal alignment, level of abstraction (group size), and level of accentuation (group homogeneousness / uniqueness). These all cut against a Russian military member’s motivation to “other” or out-group Ukrainians without some additional mental gymnastics, like claiming some kind of victim status.  Note that while we were at war with both Japan and Germany during World War Two, the US only put one “out-group” of US citizens into internment camps; even horrible things have a scale all their own.


As we see in almost every civil war, out-grouping based solely on a country’s borders isn’t necessarily a requirement for group violence.  The big kicker is out-group victimization of a person’s in-group; Shia/Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, and the Hutu/Tutsi Tribes in Rwanda had no trouble out-grouping their kin.  So, if macrovictimization is the lynchpin, then the IC has been effective by allowing our policymakers to remove it from Putin’s war arsenal.  The IC prevented macrovictimization from ever being born by preempting any false flag attack lie to really rile up the Russian population (both civil and military) and allow Putin to convince them they are in a war of self-defense.  Preventing the lies in this case is vastly superior to trying to debunk them after they have been spread because misinformation tends to travel fast.

As Jonathan Swift stated in 1710:

“Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.”


Swift’s statement is now commonly clichéd into the saying “a lie can travel around the world before the truth gets its pants on”. It’s sadly true, and the source of so much consternation in our modern media misinformation landscape.  Debunking false flag operations like the ones Putin was attempting weeks or months after they occurred would have been ineffective; they would have still provided the macrovictimization effect needed to get Russians at large to lower their inhibitions against violence against Ukraine, and they would have remained there for some time due to the closed nature of Russian information distribution.


What the West’s IC did that is so groundbreaking here is that they published their plan before these actions occurred.  Finally, the truth was all dressed up and ready to party before the lie had a chance to wake up and take a shower.  In this situation, the VIM predicts that the reason Russia never had a chance to become a strong unified in-group that believed they are macrovictims of “Ukrainian Nazi atrocities” is because of how we perceive our out-group threats.  In essence Putin outran his coverage here.  I like to pick on the IC when they are wrong, so allow me to praise them when they perform masterfully.  By rushing their raw intelligence to publication so quickly without jeopardizing methods and sourcing; and without declassification snafu’s, a normally risk-adverse organization got its important work done within the timeline it needed to be effectively released by our policymakers.


So how do we know that the IC’s preemptive work is having an effect on the war?  Count the abandoned vehicles and reports of Russians walking off into the woods, watch videos of Russian troops surrendering and making seemingly un-coerced confessions, note their use of standoff crew served weapons which separate the combatant from the result of their violence, and more recently Russians have been reported to be shooting themselves in order to avoid combat.  Morale is low in Russian forces for more reasons than just bad MRE’s and fuel shortages.  This isn’t the same army that turned back Hitler at Stalingrad.  Even Russian state run media members have put themselves at great personal jeopardy to push back against Putin.  Courage is not what is missing from the Russian population, conviction however is another story.  That conviction is why macrovictimization is so important.


Russia as an army may still inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on the Ukrainian people, and they certainly have so far sadly.  But this particular fool predicts the end state was inevitable as soon as the use of timely western IC was published by our policymakers and effectively removed the myth of macrovictimization from Putin’s information war-effort in both his military and the Russian population at large.


So what does the defeat of Russia look like in Ukraine?  That gets a little murkier, but if I had to bet I would argue that Putin will only gain the territory that the vast majority of locals believed in their macrovictimization by Ukraine; so it will likely be limited to Crimea (which has been effectively Russian since 2014), and maybe a portion of the eastern provinces; though even that is not guaranteed.  If there is even a small to medium pocket of Ukrainian resistance in Donbas, they will torment their Russian occupiers forever.  Because the VIM cuts both ways, and right now there are an awful lot of Ukrainians who will want to fight Putin’s Russia for the rest of their lives, and thanks to our IC they have weakened the resolve of their tormentor while reenforcing the resolve of Ukrainians.





About the Author(s)

Dr. Kane Tomlin is a former US Army Master Diver, Special Programs Director for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and a current executive consultant with the state of Florida. Professor Tomlin teaches Applied Cybersecurity, National Security, Domestic Terrorism, and Emergency Management at Excelsior College in Albany, NY and Tallahassee Community College in Florida.  Kane has deployed twice to Iraq (in 06-07-08 and 10-11) and has worked extensively around the globe while a member of the Army’s Engineer Dive Teams.  Kane’s research specialty is organized group violence, he has been published by the Army War College, Small Wars Journal, Project Management Institute, and The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, & Violence.  Kane has also served on the Excelsior College Board of Trustees.