Operational / Strategic Military

  • Social media channels have indicated a pro-Ukrainian group named the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) have conducted an attack in unidentified towns (reported by Russian state media TASS as Lyubechane and Sushany) in Bryansk Oblast, Russia, which borders Belarus to the west and Ukraine to the south. Overall, in all the videos circulating on social media, a maximum of four perpetrators appeared in clean, Ukrainian style uniforms and the yellow armbands associated with Ukrainian soldiers. It was quickly dismissed by Ukrainian officials as a Russian false flag operation; however, there is still speculation that it was ordered by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) / Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) (as at the report cut-off there were no further details known).

A video of purported RDK fighters which have entered Bryansk Oblast, Russia. It is likely to be a Russian false flag attack. Source@wartranslated

So What?

  • Whilst there is open-source intelligence to indicate that RDK has had links to the UAF in the past, it is typically known as being a Russian, anti-Putin, neo-Nazi, “football hooligan” organisation with no legitimate provenance. Seeing as Ukrainian officials were quick to dismiss the operation as false flag, it is likely that RDK had operated according to its own agenda, with no direction from the UAF. However, Russia has appeared to be setting conditions for false flag operations over the past two weeks in Chernihiv Oblast (Ukraine), and the international border, which northern Ukraine shares with Belarus and Russia (Bryansk Oblast). Ukrainian intelligence sources had reportedly observed Russian convoys with unmarked military equipment and personnel dressed in uniforms resembling those worn by the UAF move to areas near the Chernihiv Oblast border. It is possible that the event in Bryansk Oblast is a Russian false flag operation; however, the outcome either way is highly likely to be the same. The purpose of false flag operations is highly likely to accuse Ukraine of violating territorial borders. Notably, this is a similar use of language by the Chinese in the 12-point peace plan which was published on the 24 February 2023, regarding the borders of sovereign territories are to be respected.
  • It is likely that Russia seeks to undermine Ukraine’s promises to the West that it will not conduct attacks outside of its own borders. However, if such a false flag event were to have Russia’s desired effect, it would highly likely fix UAF at the northern border weakening UAF defences in eastern Ukraine and disrupt preparations for counter-offensive operations. Should this event be a false flag operation, it is highly likely linked to the speeches Putin gave last week in which he set the conditions for a long and existential crisis of neo-Nazi attacks on Russian culture. False flag attacks which have “successful” outcomes (as in – Russia successfully dealt with an attack on Russian soil) will likely provide favour for the war amongst Russian people, show Russian Military competence (making up for the lack of military success in Ukraine), and possibly influence men to enlist, or set the conditions for another round of mass mobilisation.


  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Beijing on 28 February 2023 for a three-day visit, during which he met with Chinese President, Xi Jinping. The visit occurred a week after President Putin met with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and two weeks after Lukashenko met Putin in Moscow. The Belarusian news agency, BELTA, reported significant agreements were signed between the two Presidents, totalling $3.5 billion which includes development of cooperation in investment, agriculture, food supplies, healthcare, construction, industry, scientific and technical cooperation, sports, tourism, and media. In the presence of the heads of state, a memorandum of understanding was also signed on the implementation of cooperation projects using concessional loans from the Chinese government.

President Xi Jinping and President Lukashenko meet in Beijing, China to continue their already well-established bi-lateral relationship. Source@SpokespersonCHN

  • Over the last few days there has been notable civil unrest in Moldova’s capital Chișinău. The protests have reportedly been organised by the pro-Russian socialist/communist opposition bloc and have involved protestors being bussed into the city from unidentified locations. Some reporting indicates that a fairly large percentage of protestors interviewed or detained did not speak the Moldovan language, and may have been Russian in origin. Wizz Air (the commercial airline) has also stated that it will cease flight operations over Moldova from 14 March 2023 in response to the reported instance of Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) missiles passing through Moldovan and Romanian airspace on 14 February 2023 on their way to targets in Ukraine. The Moldovan aviation authority have reportedly released new guidelines for airlines over safe operations in their airspace, likely in an attempt to prevent further economic loss through a cascade of other airlines suspending services as well.

Footage reportedly showing protestors and police in Chișinău during anti-western/pro-Russian demonstrations. Source @Maria_drutska

So What?

  • Despite the Russian connection, Belarus and China have maintained their post-Soviet era relationship for the past 30 years. However, much like the relationship with Russia, China’s relationship with Belarus is based on economic interest and the weakening of Western influence. Chinese state enterprises already operate in Belarus in industries such as construction and mining. Whilst there is an obvious assessment of Lukashenko being sent to China on Putin’s behest, likely establishing a narrative ahead of Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow in the coming months; it is also likely that Lukashenko is seeking to reinforce relationships and ensure they have not suffered as a result of supporting Russia. Lukashenko is highly likely aware of Belarus’ international isolation from allowing Russian staging and training within its borders. Regardless of the outcome of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Belarus will still require an economic relationship with China as Western sanctions have forced Belarus to conduct almost half of its trade with Russia alone and diversification is required for economic expansion. It is highly likely the well-established Belarus-China relationship is comprehensively understood by Putin; and is being exploited with regards to the Chinese consideration of providing lethal aid to Russia.
  • Although there have been some media reports (released by United States (US) intelligence services) stating that falsification of import/export certificates would see Unmanned Aerial Vehicle parts labelled as civilian aircraft parts, a trade agreement between Belarus and China could highly likely include products with a dual purpose. The likelihood of which is increased when coupled with “cooperation” in science and technology. It is likely that China and Russia seek to exploit the Belarusian comparative lack of sanctions to Russia when accessing dual-purpose component markets. This would enable Belarusian organic lethal aid production, which combined with persistent Chinese intellectual property theft, likely renders US threats to China null and void from a legal perspective. The use of Belarus as a conduit is highly unlikely to change the stance of Western nations; however, it’s possible that the exact nature of what is provided and how it adds obfuscation, thus plausible deniability for China, likely gives Lukashenko credit with Putin without having to commit Belarusian troops.
  • It is highly unlikely that the RFAF will conduct physical attacks against Moldova from their garrison locations in occupied Transnistria. The chances of increased subversive activity (including both political levers through the pro-Russian opposition, or through civil disorder/disobedience) are increasing. It is also unlikely that Moldova will close its borders with Ukraine in the immediate term (within the next week) in spite of the tension in the capital. There are many Ukrainian refugees that cross into Moldova, and closing the borders would cause additional humanitarian issues as well as sour Moldova-Ukraine relations. There may however be increased scrutiny at Border Crossing Points – particularly of Fighting Aged Males who may be suspected of being ‘little green men’ (a-la Crimea/Donbas 2014) or other subversive elements seeking to infiltrate the country posing as refugees from Ukraine. There is uncorroborated reporting (from the leader of the opposition party in Georgia) that within the last few weeks Moldova has instituted greater scrutiny at borders for Syrian, Iranian, Georgian, and Belarusian nationals.

What Next?

The facts of the RDK activity in Bryansk Oblast, remain to be seen, but it is highly likely that the Russian State Duma will call for Putin to change the national stance and turn the ‘Special Military Operation’ (SMO) into a war as it broadens in scope and a threat appears to exist to Russian territorial integrity. If the SMO is declared to be a war, this would unlock additional legal powers to militarise industry and conduct further mobilisation, as well as increase the eligibility and number of mobilised/reserve troops to be committed to the conflict. A declaration of war would likely enable the more rapid integration of regional administration into national efforts to streamline the recruiting and equipping processes for the RFAF – but would still be likely to encounter significant friction.

It is highly likely that protests and political discourse in Moldova will continue over the next reporting period, although the likelihood of a successful Russian false flag operation is low due to the intense scrutiny that Russian actions abroad are under. It is a realistic possibility that Western intelligence agencies will release any evidence obtained of Russian provocations in order to maintain a united front and reduce Russian malign influences in Europe.

Russia is highly likely demonstrating its intent to expand the conflict outside of Ukrainian borders. It was only three weeks ago that Lukashenko stated that Belarus would not commit troops to the war unless an attack occurred on Belarusian soil. Russia is possibly conducting false flag operations to bring Belarus and its forces into the conflict. Coupled with the highly likely state-level cooperation with China to subvert Western red-lines regarding the provision of lethal-aid, Russia is drawing on all its sources to make up for the lack of military success in Ukraine. It is highly likely that in lieu of military success, the hyperbole of Russian culture being under threat will continue, not just within Russian borders. The Moldovan region of Transnistria will be observing what has occurred in Bryansk Oblast and will likely influence the already high tensions of ethnic-Russians.