It’s a hot spicy night in frozen Saigon. The massive Russian cyber-attack on Ukraine’s principal mobile ‘phone network has wrecked everything. None of us know what on earth is going on. I went to dinner tonight, with some dear friends and colleagues, and we couldn’t pay other than with cash because the mobile networks are down and who knows how long it’s going to last and who knows really what is happening. Basically, there is no telephony in Ukraine right now, and none of this 3G and 4G and all these other silly things because the country’s mobile telephone masts are all down. It could last hours or days or weeks and none of us have the slightest idea. Mos Eisley Space Port is still taking credit cards, but a lot of places are not and suddenly Ukraine has to revert to the cash economy. It’s a sobering moment for Ukraine, to realise that all the electronic payment mechanisms and mobile ‘phone this and that, developed to modernise the country, are all suddenly at risk of mysterious, complicated but undoubtedly very sophisticated Russian cyberattacks.
Of course we should have been more careful. The West should have seen it coming. We should have warned Ukraine of these risks and helped the Ukrainian authorities in preventing this sort of thing, and we should have given them the sort of advice and guidance they need to stop this kind of thing. We have an enormous intelligence structure and we know how these things work. But it seems we didn’t pass the right sort of information onto the Ukrainians, or at least not in good time. The net result is that now the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the front line are cut off from their families, loved ones and friends, because the Ukrainian Armed Forces give all their soldiers Kyivstar SIM cards and of course the Russians knew that and that is why they deployed a massive cyber-attack against Kyivstar: to demoralise the Ukrainian soldiers fighting so valiantly on the front line by cutting off their communications with the people they love. We should have spotted these things in advance and taken countermeasures to prevent it. But we didn’t. That’s because we’re not joined up. We’re acting like a bunch of amateurs.
As a friend and colleague put it to me the other day, “the Russian Armed Forces are very motivated, because they don’t want to die. If they retreat from their positions on the front line, they will be shot by their commanding officers or by the FSB. If they advance into Ukrainian territory, they will be killed by Ukrainian soldiers who know their own territory. So they stay put where they are, staying alive, firing mortars and ammunition but not intending to move an inch in either direction.” This is absolutely right. The Russian Armed Forces started this war in late February 2022 without any battlefield experience. But now they have learned it, and they have learned that it is in their best interests to stay exactly where they are in hostile territory in an alien land they understand nothing about and just to stay alive. And that is the colossus that we are dealing with.
There are rumours on social media that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have liberated the city off Horlivka, close to Bakhmut and under Russian occupation since 2014. Do not believe this nonsense. I have the best sources, and they all tell me that this is simply not true. It is Ukrainians trying to play up military successes on the Eastern front line that simply do not reflect reality. Horlivka remains under Russian control, very sadly. Were it otherwise, the scene would be set for an all-out Ukrainian Armed Forces assault on the city of Donetsk; but this is a long way off. This is all part of the propaganda war. But it is no good these voices on social media, anonymous and unaccountable, spreading fallacious rumours about imagined Ukrainian successes on the battlefield in advance of the US Senatorial vote in a couple of days. US Senators know what is at stake. Spreading them disinformation and propaganda is not in any way useful.
There’s a group of people I know, and maybe I once had something to do with them, who have apparently moved their operations from the dicey and lethal operational centre of Zaporizhzhia, to Dnipro, a somewhat calmer city a couple of hours to the north. The whole thing is kind of ridiculous. This is a well-funded British charity, making mistakes in eastern Ukraine, close to the front line, placing their staff and volunteers at risk, with trustees at a distance who understand not a damn what is going on in Ukraine and whose chief executive has been objectionably rude to me. He does not understand, this fat barrel of a man who told me “don’t bother offering me your opinions because I know how to run an NGO myself”, what is really going on here. But, dear Sir, and I know you and your colleagues are reading this, I have my spies everywhere and I know exactly what you are doing and I am disappointed by you and I saddened by your lack of responsibility. The very mission of your charity is misconceived, and there are so many things you could be better spending your money on.
I am so disappointed by the wastefulness, greed, ineptitude and clashes of egos in the western response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As a dear friend and colleague conveyed to me this evening, we in the West are guilty of a gross inefficiency in the deployment of our resources. It’s pathetically sad, and that’s what I am determined to make a difference and to change these sad and silly attitudes. And if this involves treading on a few people’s toes and twisting some arms and knocking some noses out of joint, then that is what I am going to do. I have nothing but the hardest and most resilient of determination. Make no mistake about it. I am going to see this through.
I have committed to a minimum of three more months in Ukrainian military theatre beyond January. I may go East; I may stay in the West. I have not decided yet. I know I have the domestic and international political support to keep going with what I am doing. I am a determined man. And God help anyone who stands in my way. My priorities are supporting the Armed Forces and the people of Ukraine, and to continue to lobby western governments and to press for the financial and military support to bring Russian imperial aggression, an age-old concept, to a solid and irreversible halt. You are either with me or against me. It’s up to you.