Brief Meditations on the Selection of Surovikin as Russia’s Overall Commander in Ukraine, His Capabilities, and Possibilities for His Success

Russian Federation General of the Army Sergei Surovikin (above). In an announcement on October 8, 2022, stated: “By the decision of the Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Surovikin has been appointed commander of the joint group of troops in the area of the special military operation.” At 56, Surovikin had already reached what normally would have been the pinnacle of a Russian officer’s career when he took command of Voyska Vozdushno-Kosmicheskoy Oborony, Rossijskoj Federacii (the Russian Federation Aerospace Defense Forces) in 2017. However, he has been called upon to take on further assignments to include his current one in response to the Russian Federation ever changing national security needs. He has now taken on a great challenge in Ukraine. To better understand this important change in command for Russian Federation forces in Ukraine, one must find out more about Surovikin, and even more, try to understand what is going on in the mind of the individual responsible for the invasion: Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Federation’s Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) of 2022 was born of ill will and bad intentions. Whatever sense of certainty Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin may have held concerning the ultimate success, perhaps even expectant of lightning success by  Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii or the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) when he green-lit the invasion has doubtlessly fizzled down from flames to cinders. Clearly, he was dreadfully incognizant of what a discordant harmony of circumstances very likely could and would do his plans and hopes. Since the early days of success after February 24, 2022, nothing has been working well for the Russian Federation Armed Forces on the battlefield. At this point, res ad triarios venit, the matter has come to triarii. Triarii were the reserve soldiers of the Roman Army. When it reached the point in a war that they were called upon, most or all the front line troops had fallen. Putin in fact, mobilized all male Russian citizens eligible to serve on the front lines in Ukraine. Their performance has been something better than terrible. 

In other countries at war, facing such circumstances, leaders and their advisers come to recognize that intractable decisions, all very difficult ones, lie ahead. Among the choices, Putin could further escalate, resolve to hold any gains while minimizing further losses, negotiate inequitable peace terms, or simply withdraw. US President Richard Nixon found himself in a similar predicament, mutantis mutandis, regarding the US military operations in Southeast Asia. In the end, his Secretary of State “managed” to negotiate what was referred to as “peace with honor” with the North Vietnamese government. Selecting from the choices mentioned would be fine for other countries, however, Putin’s Russia is not like other countries. Still, finding a solution, given how things have panned out, is not simply a matter of satisfying one man’s thinking. The Kremlin is hearing ever increasing criticism for the abominable losses in Ukraine, particularly from elites with close ties to it. Nationalist and ultranationlist political parties and personalities began reacting to the situation in Ukraine with asperity. They, too, know the truth. The change in commander was ostensibly designed to send the message both inside Russia and worldwide that Russia still intends win and will emerge victorious in Ukraine. The Kremlin might hope to convince its perceived audience that with a few adjustments, albeit major changes, everything will be on track and the Kremlin has found the commander who will make things right. The impact of the change, at least around the world, has been akin to a misspelled placard at a protest. The time and energy in the Kremlin put into appointing Sergei Surovikin to direct the war and promote the change publicly as a new beginning, may have been a wasted effort.

Surely, foreign and national security policy bureaucracies worldwide have parsed out Surovikin’s appointment in the round and using logic, have reached their respective conclusions. Yet, what seems logical is not always right. To best understand this important change in command for Russian Federation forces in Ukraine one must learn more about Surovikin, and even more, try to understand what is going on in the rather unique mind of Putin. Whatever he does he does for  his ownly reason. Whatever he has done, invading Ukraine and suffering heavy losses for example, has never troubled him. Though nearly isolated, he does not appear to beweep Russia’s outcast state. Putin’s decisionmaking and probable moves must remain the subject of indispensable speculations and the development of prospective scenarios. 

As has been the pattern with preceding posts, historical examples are used to demonstrate that no matter how recherché and bizarre events have been in this present-day episode, which hopefully will somehow end diplomatically to the satisfaction of all parties involved, humankind has been beset and strained by parallel issues. Some examples reach back to Antiquity to provide apposite examples of thinking and behavior that most resemble that of Putin and his top acolytes on the Ukraine matter. Additional supportive examples are drawn from the Napoleonic era. In his satirical monthly magazine Les Guêpes (The Wasps), the 19th century French writer Alphonse Karr expressed the apt phrase: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (The more things change, the more they remain the same.) How often is that the case.

Surovikin’s official Russian Federation Ministry of Defense photo (above). Surovikin has a reputation for being a hard-as-nails, no-nonsense commander who did not suffer subordinates lightly. Any feelings that he might have had, were never allowed to get in the way of his decisionmaking. In his military career, there were what could delicately be called “bumps in the road”, some small, some big, some very big. In each case, fate somehow stepped in and saw Surovikin through. In June 2021, Surovikin reached the rank of Generál Ármii (General of the Army), the second highest military rank in Russia, second only to a marshal. One year later, in June 2022, it was revealed that he was named the commander of the Army Group “South” of the Russian Armed Forces engaged in the special military operation. Four months later, it was announced that he would be commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine.

Some Background on Surovikin

In an announcement on October 8, 2022, stated: “By the decision of the defense minister of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Surovikin has been appointed commander of the joint group of troops in the area of the special military operation.” Note the announcement stated the Russian Federation Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, not Putin, made the decision. With the announcement, Surovikin became the first overall commander of Russian forces committed to Ukraine. With the aim of providing readers with a decent sense of Surovikin’s experience and expertise, greatcharlie has provided a tour d’horizon of his rather event filled military career.

Surovikin, age 56, was born in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk on October 11,1966. He is married and has two daughters. Reportedly, Surovikin stands about 5 feet 10 inches. While many sources state Surovikin is Orthodox Catholic, presumably meaning Russian Orthodox Catholic, the degree to which he is observant is unknown to greatcharlie. He has been awarded the Order of the Red Star, the Order of Military Merit and the Order of Courage three times. He was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation. Surovikin had already reached what normally would have been the pinnacle of a Russian officer’s career when in 2017 he took command of Voyska Vozdushno-Kosmicheskoy Oborony, Rossijskoj Federacii (the Russian Federation Aerospace Defense Forces, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces). It was still a relatively new organization, established in 2015 when the decision was made by the Ministerstvo oborony Rossijskoj Federacii or Minoborony Rossii (the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense) to combine Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii, (the Russian Air Force), Voyska Vozdushno-Kosmicheskoy Oborony, (the Air and Missile Defense Forces), and Kosmicheskie Voyska Rossii, (the Russian Space Forces), were placed under one command. However, he has been called upon to take on further assignments to include his current one in response to the Russian Federation ever changing national security needs.

After graduating from the Omsk Higher Military School in 1987, Surovikin began his career serving as a lieutenant in the Voyská Spetsiálnogo Naznachéniya (Special Purpose Military Units) or spetsnaz. Spetsnaz units, a carry over from the days of the Soviet Union,  have been trained, and tasked as special forces and fielded in wartime as part of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU. Not much has been offered at least in the mainstream or independent newsmedia on Surovikin’s work in spetsnaz. He reportedly served in spetsnaz during last stages of the War in Afghanistan, but the specific unit he was assigned to has not been identified. As is the case with special forces in most countries, the primary missions of spetsnaz are power projection (direct action), intelligence (reconnaissance), foreign internal defense (military assistance), and counterinsurgency.

By August 1991, Surovikin was a captain in the 1st Rifle Battalion in the 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division in August 1991 when the coup d’état attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was launched in Moscow by the self-proclaimed Gosudárstvenny Komitét Po Chrezvycháynomu Polozhéniyu (State Committee on the State of Emergency) or GKChP. Orders were sent down from the GKChP that would require Surovikin to send his mechanized unit into the tunnel on the Garden Ring. He drove his vehicles into barricades of a group of anti-coup protesters. A short time afterward, Surovikin was promoted to the rank of major. In 1995, he graduated from the renowned Frunze Military Academy. Surovikin participated in the Tajikistani Civil War where he commanded a motor rifle battalion. He then became chief of staff of the 92nd Motor Rifle Regiment, chief of staff and commander of the 149th Guards Motor Rifle Regiment and chief of staff of the 201st Motor Rifle Division. Whether due to qualifications, politics, or whatever might possibly be a factor under the Russian Federation’s system of government, Surovikin’s superior saw enough potential in him to prepare him for flag rank. In 2002, he graduated from Voyennaya Akademiya General’nogo Shtaba Vooruzhennykh Sil Rossijskoj Federacii (the Military Academy of the General Staff of the RussianFederation). He became commander of the 34th Motor Rifle Division at Yekaterinburg.

By this point in Surovikin’s career, he had acquired a reputation for being a hard as nails, no nonsense commander who did suffer subordinates lightly. Any feelings that he might have had, were never allowed to get in the way of his decisionmaking. In March 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Chibizov accused Surovikin of physically assaulting him for taking leave from his post to serve as an elections observer. In April 2004, Colonel Andrei Shtakal, the 34th Motor Rifle Division deputy division commander for armaments, shot himself in the presence of Surovikin and the district deputy commander after being severely dressed-down by Surovikin. A military prosecutor found no evidence of guilt in both cases. 

In 2004, according to the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense’s website, Surovikin commanded the 42nd Guards Motor Rifle Division stationed in Chechnya. He was the chief of staff of the 20th Guards Army from 2005. In April 2008, he made the meteoric rise to army commander. In November 2008, Surovikin became Chief of Glavnoe operativnoe upravlenie General’nogo štaba Vooružёnnyh sil Rossijskoj Federacii (the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation), essentially the General Staff’s think tank. In January 2010, he became chief of staff of the Volga–Urals Military District, which soon became part of the Central Military District. Reportedly, from November 2011, he headed the working group charged with creation of the Military Police. The Russian newsmedia indicated that Surovikin had already been selected to head the new organization. Though delayed as a result of the intervention of Voyennoy Prokuratury Rossiyskoy Federatsii (the  Russian Federation Military Prosecutor’s Office), apparently, the discussion on the potential creation of the Military Police stirred a parochial struggle between the Russian Federation Defense Ministry and the Military Prosecutor’s Office, Glavnoye upravleniye voyennoy politsii Minoborony Rossiyskoy Federatsii (the Main Directorate of the Military Police Ministry of Defense Russian Federation) with a strength of 20,000 was stood up. In October 2012, he became the chief of staff of the Eastern Military District. In October 2013, he was appointed commander of the district. On December 13, 2013, Surovikin was promoted to the rank of colonel general. 

In March 2017, Surovikin began his first of two tours in Syria. The first was supposed to last about three months. It was reportedly part of an effort by Moscow to provide first-hand combat experience to as many high-ranking officers as possible. However, on June 9, 2017, Surovikin was introduced to the newsmedia as the Commander of the Russian Federation Armed Forces deployed to Syria. The Russian Federation Defense Ministry repeatedly credited Surovikin with achieving critical gains in Syria, saying that Russian Federation Group of Forces in Syria and Syrian Arab Army forces “liberated over 98 percent” of the country under him. In a June 2022 Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper article explained that Surovikin received this unofficial nickname of “General Armageddon” from colleagues for “his ability to think outside the box and act tough.” in the fight against the Islamic terrorist group, ISIS, Surovikin is credited for directing the Syrian Arab Army when it lifted the siege of Deir al-Zour and directing the attack that recaptured Palmyra for the second and last time. On December 28, 2017 he was made a Hero of the Russian Federation for his leadership of the Group of Forces in Syria.

While all of that was transpiring, at the end of November 2017, It was the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense’s journal Krasnaya Zvezda that reported Surovikin’s appointment to Commander of the Aerospace Forces by a presidential decree of November 22, 2017. Interestingly, TASS made special note of the fact that Surovikin became the first combined-arms commander in the history of Russia and the Soviet Union to be put in charge of the Russian or Soviet Air Forces. According to a report published by RBK Group on November 2, 2017, Surovikin had been appointed Commander of the Aerospace Forces in spite of his initial objections.

From January to April 2019, Surovikin again took command of Russian military forces in Syria. It was during that period Surovikin directed the operation against Idlib which included countless air and ground attacks on civilian objects and infrastructure. A 2020 Human Rights Watch report states that Russian forces under his command struck Syrian “homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and markets – the places where people live, work, and study”.

In June 2021, Surovikin reached the rank of Generál Ármii (General of the Army), the second highest military rank in Russia, second only to a marshal. One year later, in June 2022, it was revealed that he was named the commander of the Army Group “South” of the Russian Armed Forces engaged in the special military operation. On October 8, 2022, it was announced that he would be commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine.

In Surovikin’s military career there were what could delicately be called “bumps in the road”, some small, some big, some very big. In each case, fate somehow stepped in and saw Surovikin through. As aforementioned, during the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt in Moscow, Surovikin was ordered to send his battalion into the tunnel on the Garden Ring. As a result of his action, three anti-coup demonstrators were killed. After the defeat of the coup, Surovikin was arrested and held under investigation for seven months. The charges were dropped without trial on December 10, 1991 because Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin concluded that Surovikin was only following orders. He was promoted to the rank of major afterwards. In September 1995, while Surovikin attended the Frunze Military Academy, he was sentenced to a year of probation by the Moscow garrison’s military court for illegally selling weapons. However, allegations were made that he had been framed. After an investigation, the conviction was overturned. It was concluded that Surovikin had provided a fellow student a pistol for use in a competition, unaware of its intended purpose. One might speculate that Surovikin either had such connections in very high places who were also benefiting from his sideshow that he was allowed to avoid any severe repercussions beyond a very public arrest or he managed to convince authorities that he was cured of his covetous mind.

On dit, there are supposedly whispers in Russia that that Surovikin reportedly had some business concerning the transporting of Syrian ore to Russia on the side. To date, no such rumor, however, has been substantiated or reported on by any mainstream newsmedia source.

Surovikin is an emblem to the Russian military for its “prowess.” The same was said to be true of Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who Putin appointed commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022. Russian commanders at different levels have often been made to sound too good to be true, only to have their “gold complexions” dimmed in Ukraine. The latest announcement did not mention Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who Putin appointed commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022. While some Western newsmedia sources insist Russian Army Colonel General Gennady Zhidko.was Surovikin’s predecessor, Moscow had not publicly specified that anyone had been placed in overall control of the operation until the announcement concerning his new command.

Surovikin, much as Dvornikov, had the opportunity to become familiar in Syria with the ways in which the US provides assistance to foreign forces on the battlefield. Moscow’s likely hope in that regard would be better understand how US and other NATO military minds might have special operations forces working in Ukraine, what to expect as a result of their “suggestions to the Ukrainian Armed Forces as to planning and operations,” and how to counter their assistance operations. If that were the case at all, perhaps Dvornikov never really discerned enough in Syria to exploit. He certainly failed grasp the role deception plays in US military operations and that failure played a role in opening captured territory up to rapid liberation by Ukrainian forces via a counteroffensive. Surovikin has the opportunity to demonstrate that he learned quite a bit more.

In March 2017, Surovikin (above) began the first of his two tours in Syria. The first was supposed to last only three months and was part of an effort by Moscow to provide first-hand combat experience to as many high-ranking officers as possible. However, on June 9, 2017, Surovikin was introduced to the newsmedia as the Commander of the Russian Federation Armed Forces deployed to Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry repeatedly credited Surovikin with achieving critical gains in Syria, saying that Russian and Syrian forces “liberated over 98 percent” of the country under him. In a June 2022 Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper article explained that Surovikin received this unofficial nickname of “General Armageddon” from colleagues for “his ability to think outside the box and act tough.” On December 28, 2017, he was made a Hero of the Russian Federation for his leadership of the Group of Forces in Syria.

Surovikin’s Appointment Shows the World Moscow Has a Handle on Ukraine

Fallaces sunt rerum species. (The appearances of things are deceptive.) As alluded to initially here, one could reach the conclusion at first blush that this change in command amounts to a bromide, an unoriginal idea intended to soothe or placate and have the illusion of problem solving. On the other hand, one might imagine the wisdom in putting a former Russian Federation Aerospace Force commander in charge are that air power will be better applied in Ukraine. Many in the Western newsmedia have assessed Surovikin’s appointment may have been an effort by the Kremlin to mitigate criticism from nationalists who have accused the army of mismanaging the war in Ukraine and of failing to use Russian military power overwhelmingly to force the government in Kyiv to submit. To that extent, close Putin ally and leader of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Raman Kadyrov, has publicly demanded that many top generals of the Russian Federation Armed Forces be sacked. Reportedly, many pro-Russia military bloggers have harshly criticized the prosecution of the war. 

Perhaps it would be reasonable to suspect that Surovikin came highly recommended for the Ukraine job by the same sort behind the scenes that likely lended him a helping hand whenever he landed himself in trouble in the past. Among Russians who welcomed the appointment of Surovikin was Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group), a private military company and a vocal critic of the military leadership. According to a statement put out by Concord, Prigozhin said publicly: “Surovikin is the most able commander in the Russian army.” He called Surovikin a “legendary figure, he was born to serve his motherland faithfully.” He noted: “Having received an order [in 1991], Surovikin was that officer who without hesitation got in his tank and went forward to save his country.” His appointment was also very vocally welcomed by Kadyrov,

However, Putin’s control and his choices and the relative influence of his inner circle was put succinctly in a January 12, 2020 interview in The New Yorker magazine of Masha Lipman, a Moscow-based political analyst who has written extensively on Putin’s regime. (The interview came on the heels of Putin’s proposals of Constitutional reforms that ultimately extended his years in power in Russia.) Asked about the degree of Putin’s control in Russia, Lipman responded: “The issue of control is tricky. If one talks about whether government management is efficient in Russia, then no, it is not. And Putin has repeatedly, over his very long time in office, spoken about the need to increase the productivity of labor and quite a few other very important goals. I wouldn’t say he has delivered so well on those. But, if we define control as control over the élite, over making the decisions, of course Putin’s fully in control. And the developments of the past few days are very clear and persuasive evidence of him being in control of making decisions.” Responding to a question about his moves at that time [Constitutional reforms], Lipman said; “This is a demonstration of how Putin is ultimately in charge and how he can make very important decisions by himself in an atmosphere of complete secrecy. We still do not know who was aware of what was in store for the country three or four days ago, and to what extent there is anyone who can actually challenge his decisions, even verbally.” Lipman continued: “Putin rarely consults with anyone, and, even if he does, it is done in a totally opaque way. He’s rarely explicit. Even if he consults with some people in his circle, people leave without having a clear idea of what his goal is and have to guess. Sometimes they guess right. Sometimes they guess wrong. Sometimes they try to curry favor and succeed, sometimes not. At the end of the day he is the ultimate decision-maker. And the strategy and the grand plans that he has for Russia, in their entirety, exist only in his mind.”

Given Lipman’s expert view and  the views that have been expressed by greatcharlie on Putin for quite some time–they may hold water for generous readers, it would only be reasonable to believe Putin naturally has morbid fear of anyone desiring to remove him from power. Equally naturally, he acts aggressively and often eccentricity to potential threats to his power, both real or imagined. No one should hope to get too close. Sometimes holding power too long breeds a familiarity that breeds contempt in many. Envy like fire always makes for the highest points. The Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provided in Greek, a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 B.C. through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In Book XXXV, section 10 of that history Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), Livy discusses the campaign for consul that pitted Publius Cornelius Scipio, the son of Gnaeus, who had recently returned from Spain after performing great deeds, and his brother Lucius Quinctius Flamininus, who had commanded the fleet in Greece. Herodotus writes of the challenges facing Scipio: But the eyes of all men were turned upon Quinctius and Cornelius; for both were patricians, contending for one place, and recently-won military glory lent favor to each. But before all else, the brothers of the candidates11 increased their rivalry, since they were the two most celebrated commanders of their age. The greater fame was Scipio’s, and the greater it was, the more it was exposed to jealousy; that of Quinctius was fresher, inasmuch as he had triumphed that very year. There was also the fact that the other had been for about ten years constantly in the public eye, a fact which renders prominent men less venerated from sheer surfeit of seeing them: he had been consul for the second time after the defeat of Hannibal and censor . . . .”

Admittedly, greatcharlie went the long way about presenting this passage from Ad Urbe Condita. However, Livy admirably presents the depth of thinking that led to the challenge to the well-known, long-serving, heroic leader, Scipio, for a newcomer, who could only offer a list of promises and seem so willing, despite his record of service, to challenge the incumbent leader with no apparent reservations. Surely, if this could be used as any measure. Putin always has much to keep his eye on politically.

Putin launched the Ukraine War lacking a worthwhile strategy and recognition of what Russian Federation forces would come up against. What was seemingly completely missed or misunderstood was the degree of support from the US and NATO Member States that Kyiv would receive. No effort, that was apparent, was made to obviate the ability of the US and its NATO allies to supply Ukraine at will as part of the military strategy. From the start, conquering Kyiv was the focus as if Putin and the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were blinded by rage. The door was left wide open between Poland and Ukraine. Such impetuous schemes and boldness are at first sight alluring, but are difficult to handle, and in the result disastrous.

Perhaps the real problem for Putin was not just that he relied on fortune, but was driven by blind ambition. What has likely been a reliable intuition that had served him well along the way and allowed him a leg-up in giving subjects light were darkened with regarding parsing out the many aspects of this massive enterprise in Ukraine. Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian,” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders. In his noted work, The Histories, Polybius covers the period from 264 BC to 146 BC, focusing primarily on the years 220 BC to 167 BC, and detailing Ancient Rome’s conquest of Carthage, which allowed it to become the dominant force in the Mediterranean. In his discussion of the causes for the start of the Carthaginian War, the Second Punic War in Book I, section 8, Polybius cites the work of the Roman analyst Quintus Fabius Pictor (born c. 270 BC, fl. c. 215–200 BC) . Reportedly, this choice may have been based more in homage than irrefutability given concerns even in his time that his work on the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) on Carthage was highly partisan towards the Roman Republic, idealizing it as a well-ordered state loyal to its allies. Fabius was the earliest known Roman historian. His writings, presented in Greek and now mostly lost besides some surviving fragments, were highly influential on ancient writers. He participated in introducing Greek historiographical methods to the Roman world.

Polybius writes: “Fabius, the Roman annalist, says that besides the outrage on the Saguntines, a cause of the war was Hasdrubal’s ambition and love of power. He tells us how, having acquired a great dominion in Spain, he arrived in Africa and attempted to abolish the constitution of Carthage and change the form of government to a monarchy. The leading statesmen, however, got wind of his project and united to oppose him, upon which Hasdrubal, suspicious of their intentions, left Africa and in future governed Iberia as he chose, without paying any attention to the Carthaginian Senate. Hannibal from boyhood had shared and admired Hasdrubal’s principles; and on succeeding to the governor-generalship of Iberia, he had employed the same method as Hasdrubal. Consequently, he now began this war against Rome on his own initiative and in defiance of Carthaginian opinion, not a single one of the notables in Carthage approving his conduct towards Saguntum. After telling us this, Fabius says that on the capture of this city the Romans came forward demanding that the Carthaginians should either deliver Hannibal into their hands or accept war. Now if anyone were to pose the following question to this writer–how opportunity could have better favored the Carthaginians’ wishes or what could have been a juster act and more in their interest (since, as he says, they had disapproved Hannibal’s action from the outset) than to yield to the Roman demand, and by giving up the man who had caused the offense, with some show of reason to destroy by the hands of others the common enemy of their state and secure the safety of their territory, ridding themselves of the war that menaced them and accomplishing their vengeance by a simple resolution–if anyone, I say, were to ask him this, what would he have to say? Evidently nothing; for so far were they from doing any of the above things that after carrying on the war, in obedience to Hannibal’s decision, for seventeen years, they did not abandon the struggle, until finally, every resource on which they relied being now exhausted, their native city and her inhabitants stood in deadly peril.”

As an experienced judoka, Putin knows that there are occasions when one competitor is simply outmatched by another. It is hard to accept when one is the outmatched competitor or the competitor’s loyal supporter. Still, no matter how unpleasant, it is a reality that must be faced with level-headedness. It would seem Putin has not reached that conclusion yet.

(From left to right) Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the Russian Federation General Staff, Russian Federation General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, Putin, and Surovikin at a presentation on aerospace weapon systems. On first impression, one might imagine the wisdom in putting the former Russian Federation Aerospace Force commander in charge is that air power will be better applied in Ukraine. Many in the Western newsmedia have assessed Surovikin’s appointment may have been an effort by the Kremlin to mitigate criticism from nationalists who have accused the army of mismanaging the war in Ukraine and of failing to use Russian military power overwhelmingly. In a January 2020 interview in The New Yorker magazine of Masha Lipman, a Moscow-based political analyst who has written extensively on Putin’s regime, explained: “At the end of the day he is the ultimate decision-maker. And the strategy and the grand plans that he has for Russia, in their entirety, exist only in his mind.”

Surovikin’s Appointment Provides Putin with Some Relief Personally

Choice of Surovikin may have been made simply to provide some measure of relief for Putin. By appointing an overall commander, something that most senior military and political advisers in Moscow might have urged Putin to do earlier or had begun to do once things went poorly, the move would feel something far different than a bromide. Putin would be acting proactively, putting fresh eyes on the matter and hopefully a more successful line of thinking.

Imaginably, there are many things Surovikin can now do under his new title that he could not do as Commander of the Aerospace Forces or commander of the Army Group “South” of the Russian Armed Forces engaged in the special military operation. Perhaps it might be more directly the case that they see something in the way in which Surovikin thinks. Much as with the commanders of air, ground, naval, and space components of  armed forces worldwide, one might presume in the abstract that intelligence preparation of the battlefield, providing predictive intelligence at the right time for use in planning and executing operations, has been a critical aspect of the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces efforts to deliver information superiority to its chiefs, and wing and squadron commander’s operating forces over Ukraine. Perhaps in strategy sessions of the armed forces general staff on the Ukraine operation, he proved more familiar with the battlespace as it stands than his counterparts and was thereby tapped for the top Ukraine job. So, he was given the job.

Perhaps in a conversation, an opportunity as his interview with Surovikin for the Ukraine job, Putin expressed concerns about the outcome of the war and Surovikin offered words that provided some measure of relief for him. That would be the conversation leaders who were in desperate situations or facing uncertainty have had with commanders for centuries. In The Histories, Herotudus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 BC-c. 425 BC), the renowned Greek historian of the Hellenic period known for that aforementioned masterwork which mainly discusses the struggles between Greece and Persia. In Book VII, Chapter 234, section 1-3, Herotudus reconstructs a hypothetical conversation between the Persian King Xerxes, and his general and uncle,  Demaratus following the king’s conversation with counselors. He writes: “Xerxes then sent for Demaratus and questioned him, saying first, “Demaratus you are a good man. I hold that proven by the plain truth, for things have turned out no differently than you foretold. Now, tell me this: how many Lacedaemonians are left, and how many of them are warriors like these? or is it so with them all?” “My king,” said Demaratus, “the number of the Lacedaemonians is great, and so too the number of their cities. But what you would like to know, I will tell you: there is in Lacedaemon a city called Sparta, a city of about eight thousand men, all of them equal to those who have fought here; the rest of the Lacedaemonians are not equal to these, yet they are valiant men.” “And how, Demaratus,” answered Xerxes, “can we overcome those men with the least trouble to ourselves?” Come, disclose that to me, for you have been their king and know the plan and order of their counsels.”

Surely, Putin is aware that not even the threat or dismissal or assassination cannot coax brilliance on the battlefield from Russian Federation commanders who simply iack the faculty to do anything that could dramatically change the situation in Ukraine in Russia’s favor. Hoping Ukrainian commanders might drop some almighty clanger that will provide an advantage–friction in battle and that sort of thing–would be futile given they are doubtlessly being “advised” by the some of the best military minds that NATO’s 27 Member States can supply respectively. The assistance in terms of weapons systems, training, and gear alone from NATO Member States has been breathtaking. Putin must have accepted by now that the Russian Federation armed forces are just not good enough to successfully execute the special military operation he chose to launch on February 24, 2022. Perhaps he has muttered to himself in private that all the talent is I n the other side. The Russian Army rejoiced in reputation of the post-war and Cold War Soviet Army. it was an illusion. Putin fell for it. It is all very tragic, especially for the soldiers and civilians on both sides caught up in the fighting and dying.

An army can not change overnight. What Russian top commanders can do is ensure that the many parts of the Russian Federation’s Ground Forces, Aerospace Forces, and Naval Forces work to their utmost in harmony to achieve success, but that still might not be enough to change the course of things. One should hardly expect to observe any maneuvers by Russian commanders to represent “an ingenious jesting with [the operational] art.” The Russians unit commanders in Ukraine continue to feign good intentions by ordering the use of overwhelming brute force, incredulously pretending they can muster any approximating power of that kind the field, with the respective objectives of overcoming Ukrainian strength now in what Putin has just recently declared Russian Federation territory. All those commanders are actually doing is sending their troops, the bulk of which are frightfully ill-trained and inexperienced, to near certain defeat. Numerous newsmedia reports in the West, impossible for any following the Ukraine War story to have missed, tell of field grade level commanders, gung-ho on the war and Putin, and eager to make their mark and possibly catch the attention of leaders Moscow, have sent their troops into better than questionable assault on well-armed and well-positioned Ukrainian units. Such assaults are being repulsed at the cost of extraordinarily high tallies of killed and wounded. Some Russian Army companies and battalions have been obliterated in this way. Many of those zealous commanders have ended.up on casualty.lists themselves. Surely such actions may later be found to be a main ingredient of a recipe for what may turn out to be a great military disaster. There may likely be a decisive clash ahead that will mark the end of the Russian presence in Ukraine, and end the myth that Russia is a conventional military power impossible to reckon with, a challenge to the combined forces of NATO.

The situation for Surovikin might in the end parallel that of the singular circumstances surrounding the renowned author of The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides, (c. 460 BC–400 BC). Thucydides once was an Athenian general who was subsequently sacked and exiled following his failure to defend the Greek city of Amphipolis in Thrace. (During his exile, he began compiling histories and accounts of the war from various participants on all sides.) As fate would have it, Thucydides was ordered to go to Amphipolis in 424 because, by his own account in Book 4, chapter 105, section 1, of The History of the Peloponnesian War (hereinafter referred to as the Peloponnesian War):  “He possessed the right of working the gold mines in that part of Thrace, and thus had great influence with the inhabitants of the mainland” He wrote in Book I, chapter 104, section 4: “The general who had come from Athens to defend the place, sent to the other commander in Thrace, Thucydides son of Olorus, the author of this history, who was at the isle of Thasos, a Parian colony, half a day’s sail from Amphipolis” The renowned Spartan general Brasidas, aware that Thucydides was on Thasos and had established considerable influence with the people of Amphipolis, and concerned over possible reinforcements arriving by sea, acted quickly to offer moderate terms to the Amphipolitans for their surrender, which they accepted. Consequently, when Thucydides arrived at Amphipolis, the city had already fallen under Spartan control. As Amphipolis was of considerable strategic importance to Athens, reports were received with great alarm. Thucydides became the target popular indignation among the Athenians. As was the usual decision in such circumstances, Thucydides was exiled for his failure to “save” Amphipolis.

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) As it was Thucydides’ fate, one might wonder whether Surovikin has been given a fool’s errand, destined to receive a mark of dishonor for failing to complete a mission that had become moot before he had even journeyed out to perform it. Whatever Surovikin manages to do, he will have to cut it a bit fine given the rapid progress of Ukrainian forces in reducing Russian gains, and their well-demonstrated ability to do a lot more. Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. They relentlessly seek to take ground and gain and retain the initiative. More often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones, stronger at least on paper. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.” With continued expert advice and robust levels of assistance from the US and NATO, Ukrainian forces could potentially displace and destroy Russian forces at many points before winter sets in proper.

Putin (right) decorating Surovikin (left) with the Hero of the Russian Federation medal for his leadership of the Group of Forces in Syria. If one might consider the role politics might have played in the decision to appoint Surovikin commander of the joint group of troops in the area of the special military operation, it would seem on its face that Putin and the general should have a very harmonious relationship, hardly oil and water. Surovikin’s loyalty and reliability was apparent in his performance in Syria. Surovikin, obedient to the letter, followed through violently in Syria, getting the results that Putin demanded. Unlikely lost on Putin is the fact Surovikin, as a captain commanding an armored unit, was a defender of his beloved Soviet state in the truest sense during the 1991 coup d’état attempt launched by Soviet hardliners, driving through barricades erected by pro-democracy protesters. As noted in the discussion here on his military career, three men were killed in the clash, including one who was crushed.

The Role Played by Political Likes and Dislikes in Surovikin’s Appointment

In greatcharlie’s humble opinion, now is certainly not the best time in Moscow for anyone but Putin to worry about image or petty politics. It is a very odd situation that this persists in the midst of calamity. Even though there is a war going on in which Russia is not performing so well as an invader, image apparently still matters in Moscow. There are ceremonies, speeches in the Kremlin, scholarly foreign and national security policy conferences still being held around Russia all attendended via special invite only. For the elites, it is all more about status than security. The elites still want to improve their relative proximity to Putin and his inner circle. They want to know, who has what title, who is in charge of this or that, who has the lead, who takes orders from whom

To that extent, if one might consider the role of politics might have played in the decision to appoint Surovikin commander of the joint group of troops in the area of the special military operation, it would seem on its face that Putin and the general should have a very harmonious relationship, hardly oil and water. Surovikin’s loyalty and reliability was apparent in his performance in Syria. Surovikin, obedient to the letter, followed through violently in Syria, getting the results that Putin demanded. Unlikely lost on Putin is the fact Surovikin, as a captain commanding an armored unit, was a defender of his beloved Soviet state in the truest sense during the 1991 coup d’état attempt launched by Soviet hardliners, driving through barricades erected by pro-democracy protesters. As noted in the discussion here on his military career, three men were killed in the clash, including one who was crushed.

Certainly Surovikin is not starting from scratch, coming in from outside the centers of power. As mentioned, he served as the Commander of the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces, a rung few have reached since, as aforementioned, the Russian Air Force, the Air and Missile Forces, and the Space Forces were placed under his responsibility. Few have demonstrated the ability to manage as many operational organizations as he has. Although one might point out that the Russian Air Force at war in Ukraine is the one for which he was responsible for many years. Perhaps its performance has been the least impressive among the armed forces.

The suggestion should not be ignored that Putin may be looking at Surovikin as a possible replacement for Russian Federation General of the Army Valery Gerasimov as Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation), hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation General Staff. To find support for that idea, one would only need to look at the condition of the Russian Federation Armed Forces and what the force he has been responsible for has produced in Ukraine. 

Gerasimov could be accused as having underperformed in keeping the armed forces prepared for war. On the eve of the special military operation’s launch, Russian forces situated near Ukraine’s border were still considered quite formidable. This belief was based not just on numbers and their fierce appearance, but on the assumption that Russia had undertaken the same sort of root-and-branch military reform that the US underwent in the 18-year period between Vietnam and its victory in the first Gulf War. Not all,, but many military analysts in the West speculated that the Russian operation would be something akin to a one act drama with an early curtain. The US Intelligence Community concluded that Kyiv would fall in days. Some European officials thought it might just hold out for a few weeks. 

However, starting on the first day of the of the invasion of Ukraine, all of the walls came down on the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Based on their overall performance in Ukraine, the forces that Russia sent into battle seemed almost counterfeit, poorly imitating what was expected by reputation. One could reasonably suggest  that in recent years their capabilities have been subject to hyperbole. As greatcharlie has stated in preceding posts, the Russian Federation General Staff was fortunate that they are not facing US forces. Copious amounts of supporting evidence for that argument has been presented on the battlefield daily in Ukraine. How the mighty have fallen. 

Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.) Russian forces were not organized for war with precision. Units were not ready for battle. Soldiers had no idea of what to expect. Ukraine was allowed to use its strengths against Russian weaknesses. Ukraine’s smaller units were able to achieve relative superiority force on force initially in the field. One might have expected that occasionally good fortune would shine upon the relatively lightly-armed Ukrainian forces, and a Russian Army or Russian Naval Troops patrol rolling around or crossing into a danger zone might face ambush, a well-organized ambush, and losses would be suffered. With so many patrol ordered in the different avenues of attack by Russian forces, the greater the chance there would be losses. However, Ukrainian forces outrightly routed Russian units over and over on the battlefield and line of successes would force Russia to adjust its strategy.. The possibility of endsieg, victory against the odds, has become all the more real for the Ukrainians.

As discussed earlier to some extent, Putin surely felt the Russian Federation Armed Forces were well-trained and well-equipped to bring swift victory. To be fair, even to Putin, in practical terms, he mainly had the well-choreographed Zapad military and naval exercises to use as a measure of the Russian Federation armed forces effectiveness. The scenarios rehearsed in those exercises were apparently poor preparation for the invasion at hand. The scenarios rehearsed in those exercises were apparently poor preparation for the invasion at hand. There is also the issue that the Zapad exercises were not exactly all that they were made to appear to be in terms of demonstrating their actual strength and capabilities of the Russian armed forces, as well as the possibilities for their use. Imaginably, the truth was deliberately kept from Putin. No matter what was really going on at Zapad, their true value of the exercises can now be discerned by all. Military commanders simply during each exercise went through the motions with elaborate displays of firepower and mobility with little to no concern about how it would all come together in real world situations. The bigger and better Zapad exercises since 2017, lauded by the leadership of the Russian Federation armed forces, were surely “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Putin, himself, had regularly observed the Zapad exercises and everything seemed fine enough.

One NATO commander caught on to what had been happening at Zapad and other Russian military and naval exercises before the invasion and could predict Russian military action in Ukraine might prove for Moscow to be catastrophic. When he was commander of American naval forces in Europe and Africa, US Navy Admiral James Foggo had the duty to plan US military exercises recognized that planning the huge Russian exercises were enormous undertakings. As Russia was planning the Vostok exercises in September 2021 in Siberia, Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, declared it would be the largest since the Soviet Union’s Zapad exercise of 1981. It would involve 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft and 80 warships. However, Foggo discovered there was quite a bit of deception involved. Rather than actually field large numbers of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, a company of troops (150 at most) at Vostok, for example, was inflated and counted as a battalion or even a regiment (closer to 1,000). Single warships were passed off as whole squadrons.

How spectacularly did the illusion created by Russian commanders disintegrate when challenged by reality! It is a sad lesson for commanders in all armies to learn from. Beyond the seemingly deliberate desire to create an illusion of capabilities, the impression left is that the Zapad hoax over the years is that a certain disinvoltura apparently plagued the Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders, that has manifested itself at the worst possible time in the worst possible way. Clearly, Gerasimov was the main one who fed Putin’s illusion concerning the capabilities and  readiness of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Maybe Putin has reached a point at which he could see some benefit in making a change. The easiest way is to bring forward other faces from the Russian Federation General Staff. It is somewhat surprising that in the West, investigative journalists have not gotten the hint that Gerasimov is being slow-walked out the door and have not tried to pick up the scent of blood. Some may have. A good guess would be that Surovikin is being advanced piecemeal by Putin to where he wants him to be. Interestingly, the indications and implications of such would also be that Putin has the sense that he has a future as leader of Russia.

Removing Gerasimov would cause some stir, perhaps both plus and minus, even among Putin’s nationalist and ultranationalist following. He has been viewed as a very loyal Putin acolyte for nearly a decade. However, if Putin is acting in that direction, it would surely be “business as usual in the Kremlin” with regard to military commanders at all levels. Putin has already replaced a number of top commanders in its armed forces. In an October 8, 2022 story, RFE/RL expressed from available public reporting, a list of prominent Russian commanders that have been sacked. Reportedly, the head of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Sergei Melikov, wrote on Telegram on October 7, 2022, that North Caucasus native Lieutenant-General Rustam Muradov had replaced the commander of the Eastern Military District, Colonel-General Aleksandr Chaiko. The RBK news agency on October 7, 2022 cited sources close to the Russian military as saying Muradov replaced Chaiko without giving any details. Much of the Eastern Military District’s personnel are engaged in the special military operation in Ukraine, despite the fact that the district is based in Russia’s Far East. Muradov previously led troops in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, parts of which have been under Russia-backed separatists’ control since 2014. He also commanded Russian peacekeepers in Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

An October 3, 2022 RBK report stated that the commander of the Western Military District, Colonel-General Aleksandr Zhuravlyov, had been replaced shortly after dramatic Russian losses in northeastern Ukraine in September and the strategic city of Lyman in the Donetsk region had been recaptured by Ukrainian forces. In September 2022, Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev replaced. General Dmitry Bulgakov as deputy defense minister in charge of logistics.  Curiously, Mizintsev is accused by the European Union of orchestrating a siege of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol early in the special military operation that reportedly killed thousands of civilians. In August 2022, state media outlets in Russia said the commander of the Black Sea fleet had been sacked after Ukraine carried out several successful attacks, including the sinking of Russia’s missile cruiser Moskva and the loss of eight warplanes in an attack on a Russian base in Crimea. As Ukraine continues to liberate settlements in its eastern region from occupying Russian troops, Moscow will likely continue to replace top commanders in its armed forces.

However, Putin apparently appreciates Gerasimov as a grand strategist, a military thinker of some talent. He has well-expressed in military terms the imaginings of Putin and his acolytes on the US ambition to conquer Russia for its abundant resources. Worth noting is the very strong and pertinent 2013 Military Statement a response to NATO expansion and Putin’s sense of vulnerability and belief that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”, it was noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The parallels with Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia are stark. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. Putin accepted the threat assessment of the Russian Federation General Staff, and signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The notion that Russian borders were being threatened by the US and NATO and adequate defensive measures are being taken has near controlled Russian military thinking since, culminating so far in this great blunder in Ukraine.

Suggestions that Shoigu has concerns over General Surovikin would be almost baseless. As Shoigu and Surovikin have interacted on countless occasions while he commanded Russian Federation Aerospace Forces. No friction between them has been publicly reported at least. Many new weapon systems critical to Russia’s strategic defense have been introduced by the Aerospace Forces under his leadership. One might in this case again harken back to 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union to give life to such a suggestion. At the time, Shoigu, fairly senior in the Russian Rescuers Corps, was a firm supporter of Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Republic, leading protests against the coup d’etat that forced Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from office. However, the fact that Surovikin and Shoigu were on opposing sides at that time should not hold any real value in any analysis. It is very unlikely that Shoigu has  borne some grudge against Surovikin over the matter. While greatcharlie cannot swear that Surovikin’s rise is nothing signify concerning Shoigu’s perch at the Ministry of Defense, any suggestion that Surovikin’s appointment has meaning in that direction would seem by the by. The truth is that Shoigu’s role in the rise of Putin and his place in the regime is quite firm and rather singular.

One might recall that in 1999, Yeltsin became acutely aware that he was losing power in Russia, and his supporters were shifting to the opposition. Taking steps to ensure his legacy with less than a year left in office, Yeltsin, with the help of political allies, created a new party, with a new face, loyal to him: Unity. Shoigu, who was serving as Minister of  Ministestvo po Delam Grazhdanskoy Oborony, Chrezvychainym Situatsiyam i Likvidtsil Posledstviy Bedstviy (Ministry of the Russian Federation for Affairs for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters Emergency Situations also known as the Ministry for Emergency Situations) or EMERCOM, and part of Yeltsin’s successful re-election campaign in 1996, was named the leader of the pro-president party. He was partnered with Alexander Karelin. Elements of Unity’s economic policy were akin to Thatcherism. It included, for example, the promotion of low inflation, the small state and free markets via tight control of the money supply, and privatization. That said, Unity also supported the reliance on powerful police and security structures and media control. After parliamentary elections in 1999, Unity took a commanding position in the Duma. Having secured some control of the Duma, Yeltsin sought a successor for the presidency.

While Yeltsin called Shoigu “our greatest star,” he chose Putin. Yeltsin first saw promise in Putin when he selected him on July 25, 1998 to serve as head of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB. At the time, Putin was an unemployed deputy-mayor from St. Petersburg. He served at the FSB until August 9, 1999, when Yeltsin called him to the post of acting prime minister. Late that same month, there was a bomb blast in a luxury shopping mall by Red Square which was the first in a series of blast resulting in casualties. In September 1999, there were apartment bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk, Dagestan, and Volgodonsk, in Rostov. They collectively killed 300 Russian civilians and wounded hundreds more that were reportedly the responsibility of Chechen Islamic militants. Putin acted forcefully against the mall bombing, the apartment immolations, and a bold Islamic militant incursion from Dagestan into Chechnya, led by Shamil Basayev. The first of 100,000 troops were sent to the northern Caucasus within weeks. In a famous September 24, 1999 speech, Putin spoke with determination in explaining his approach to defeating terrorism: “We will pursue the terrorist everywhere. If they are in an airport, then, in an airport, and forgive me, if we catch them in the toilet, then we will waste them in the outhouse . . . The issue has been resolved once and for all.” Putin marked his rise in power by acting viciously against terror. Shoigu’s Unity Party then served as the instrument for Putin’s rise to the presidency. The Unity Party eventually entered into an alliance with the Fatherland-All Russia political bloc. The Party later morphed into United Russia, the country’s current ruling party that rubber stamps Putin’s initiatives in the Duma. Putin has remained in power by confounding insincerity, and he does not suffer fools lightly. Having observed him closely, Putin obviously feels Shoigu well-serves his needs. Shoigu was neither in the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB nor worked in St. Petersburg with Putin. He has been able to make use of his own unique sensibilities to understand his leader’s thinking and feelings. An informed guess by greatcharlie is that Shoigu is unlikely going anywhere, anytime too soon.

As remarked earlier, it is not publicly known which particular aspects of Surovikin’s military background, as seen through the singular lenses of his superiors, took on significance in the decision to select him to tackle the “Ukraine conundrum.” Perhaps those aspects would not be those leaders of other countries might seek in an ideal overall commander of a military campaign. Recalling here how Putin acted in Chechnya when brand new to the post of Russian Federation President, it would not be difficult to understand why Surovikin, with his background, would be the commander he would want handling Ukraine.

One might wonder whether Surovikin (above) has been given a fool’s errand, destined to receive a mark of dishonor for failing to complete a mission that had become moot before he had even journeyed out to perform it. Whatever Surovikin manages to do, he will have to cut it a bit fine given the rapid progress of Ukrainian forces in reducing Russian gains, and their well-demonstrated ability to do a lot more. Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, They relentlessly seek to take ground and gain and retain the initiative. More often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones, stronger at least on paper.

Surovikin: The Prospective Savior of Russia?

It is very possible that Putin, Shoigu, Gerasimov, and the others on the Russian Federation General Staff authentically feel there is a real chance that under Surovikin’s command, Russian forces can beat back Ukrainian forces tearing through their lines, gain and retain the initiative, and somehow obviate the effects of US, NATO, and other foreign military assistance to Kyiv. The initial Western newsmedia commentaries of what Surovikin would bring to war as the new joint commander of Russian forces was that he would bring “his violent Syria playbook closer to home.” Reporting focused on a rush of heavy rocket attacks against civilian targets across Ukraine. Naturally, Surovikin’s main challenge in Ukraine, will be to solve the structural problems plaguing the Russian military as it faces fierce Ukrainian forces hell bent on liberating every speck of Ukrainian sovereign territory. Many Western Military experts have expressed that view.

Yet, equally naturally, Surovikin has the grand opportunity to apply his thinking–within the limits of the Russian government system–of what has been done wrong, what has been done right, and what can best be accomplished. As broached in-brief earlier, Surovikin may have expressed a singular interpretation of the battlespace. To be succinct and express it as it might still be taught in military educational institutions at the command and staff level, the battlespace is the mental picture a commander establishes in order to analyze and choose courses of action to apply his military assets in relation to time, tempo, and depth. Perhaps Surovikin’s superiors at this point are hoping that his way of thinking will make a difference on the battlefield and they may be turning to him as a last, best resort. Moreover, it could be that the results of the ongoing Ukrainian drive in fact proved Surovikin’s conceptual view of the situation in what was previously his southern front and his neighboring eastern front were correct. He may have expressed what turned out to be the best understanding of how factors as the strengths and weaknesses of Ukrainian forces to include new weapon systems being introduced via Western assistance. He may have sounded the alarm that firepower in particular would allow them “the upper hand” on the battlefield. He may have demonstrated a better understanding, reliable intimations, on how, where, and when to apply the combat power of Russian forces. He may have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Russian forces and, since their power has dwindled so dramatically, how they could be more effectively and perhaps economically mustered, how those forces could be better protected, and how they might be able to take a stab at making some respectable gains more immediately. Much as noted previously, being commander of the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces, since 2017 has perchance allowed Surovikin to gain experience, an expertise in managing multidimensional aspects of warfare to create a harmonious or synergistic whole. To that extent, he conceivably would lend an expertise applicable to managing the multidimensional aspects of air, sea, space, land, and information operations in his planning and execution of military operations.

Concerning Russian Federation Aerospace Forces specifically, more than simply contributing to the Ukraine campaign as the situation stands as of this writing, they could play an effective role, indeed have a multiplier effect. With his experience as Commander of the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces, Surovikin presumably would know best how to manage all assets of the force to strike strategically and tactically to make a positive difference in the war effort. Strategically, destroying Ukraine’s ability to construct weapons and disrupting its supply of weapons from external sources would likely be a priority. Tactically, a priority would likely be coordinating efforts by Russian Federation Aerospace Force assets with ground forces currently facing great pressure or extremely challenging situations almost everywhere on the frontlines from well-armed, well-supplied, and highly-motivated Ukrainian forces.

Dediscit animus sero quod didicit diu. (The mind is slow in unlearning what it has been long learning.) For many, it might understandably be difficult to conceive exactly how under the same leadership, with an additional title, the situation could be altered for its better. With specific regard to the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces, large scale exercises of recent years appear to have been nothing more than staged acts, performances that presented illusions about the capabilities of its different branches. Indeed, those performances were full of sound and fury, but reality signified nothing. In the Ukraine campaign, the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces so far have had little impact to the degree that they were present. The Russian Federation Aerospace Forces have been near nonexistent relative to its size, supposed power, and the expectations of military analysts worldwide. Its best fighters and fighter-bombers have been regularly blasted out of the skies by Ukrainian forces using both pricey sophisticated air defense weapons systems gifted to Kyiv by Western powers and shoulder fired rockets operated by individual soldiers in the field. Russian Federation Ground Forces could be assessed as fighting much as one of a third tier power, seemingly lacking sophisticated aircraft and possessing no close air support assets, and they have resultantly suffered losses the same as an trained observer might expect of a type of third tier force against a high-tech force of a military superpower. In this case, it would appear that with the combined support of the US, the United Kingdom, EU, and NATO member countries, Ukraine, to a degree, is fighting much as that very sort of military superpower described. As greatcharlie has stated in preceding posts, one could only imagine the loss Russian Federation forces would have suffered if they had clashed directly with US forces. If any units sent into battle under that scenario would have been spared, it would have been purely a matter of happenstance.

Still, Putin would unlikely put all of his hopes in the hands of these military men. To go a bit further with the hypothetical, perhaps during one of his summit meetings and bilateral talks with Putin, People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping diplomatically and encouragingly shared the suggestion that he might adopt “a new way of thinking about warfare.” Perhaps he discussed the concept of combined warfare without boundaries emphasizing that a complementary level of energy be placed on matters that could not only greatly influence, but even more, have a decisive impact on its outcome. While it may also include the use of armed force, under the concept of combined warfare without boundaries prioritizes the use of non-military forms of warfare: psychological, media, information, technology, cyber, financial, political, social, and espionage. The aim of combined warfare without boundaries is to weaken the US internally and to exploit its vulnerabilities. Since under combined warfare without boundaries the battlefield is everywhere, everything can be weaponized. On a short list of things weaponized, Xi could have told Putin in this hypothetical situation that, optimistically, there still was time to put things right, but certainly there was no time to waste. It is all hypothetical, imagined from the abstract.

In the past, the activities undertaken as part of combined warfare without boundaries would have fallen under the category of intelligence. Perhaps, they still do. Intelligence services engage in open and clandestine, and covert activities, using appropriate tools and available resources, to create or exploit opportunities to act in support of the policies and the interests of their countries. As part of those activities, the everyday can often become weaponized. Putin is perhaps the most prominent Russian intelligence doyen around today having served in the KGB and as head of the FSB. He would very likely see value and potential in that tack, and would surely have a stream of ideas on what he could do away from the battlefield in a robust way. 

Under such a scenario, one could reasonably expect his mind to harken back to the heady days of the Cold War when he served as an officer in the KGB in the former Deutsche Democratische Republik (German Democratic Republic, also known as GDR or East Germany). Putin and his KGB comrades cooperated–“oversaw”–the work of their HVA counterparts who were infiltrating West Germany and countries beyond in the West to not only collect intelligence but to a great extent prepare as best as possible for a likely conflict between Warsaw Pact forces and NATO Member States in Central Europe. For 34 years, Generaloberst Markus Wolf was the very successful head of GDR’s foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance), commonly referred to as the HVA. With frightening efficiency, he developed an array of tactics, techniques, procedures and methods for operating against his Western opponents in advance of any eventual conflict in Europe between East and West, or to break down the societies of opponents of the Eastern Bloc. Throughout the Cold War, his agents poured into West Germany and when possible countries beyond, secured positions, reported about, and influenced the activities of a multitude of organizations in a broad spectrum of areas, social, political, diplomatic, military, commercial, financial, scholarly,  scientific, and informational. (For those interested in more on Wolf and the HVA, see the November 13 2019 greatcharlie post entitled Book Review: Markus Wolf, Man without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster (Times Books, 1997) for a bit more detail on the matter.)

With a dearth of good ideas, some interest could possibly arise in mining benefit from what might seem as an outre thought on first impression. If such a hypothetical exchange on the matter of combined warfare without boundaries were at all true, and under such a scenario, Putin might have put any thought into the matter, he would likely have begun to think beyond the battlefield in a big way. Some might suggest that Putin already was engaged in such activities as observed in Russia’s hybrid warfare attacks in Europe which began in 2014.

Hybrid warfare has been associated with Gerasimov who developed what has been dubbed the Gerasimov doctrine. The Gerasimov Doctrine, an operational concept for Russia’s confrontation with the West, is also a whole-of-government concept that combines military power and soft power across many domains, transcending boundaries between peace and war. However, there is a distinction between combined warfare without boundaries and the Gerasimov Doctrine. When combined warfare without boundaries is applied, the purpose is not to prepare or support the use of force. What is accomplished by non-military means should offset the use of force. To that extent in Ukraine, what is transpiring on the battlefield should not be looked upon as determining the final outcome of the confrontation. 

In a robust application of some simulacrum of combined warfare without boundaries, alterations in a few aspects of Russia’s behavior would likely signal the change. There would likely be greater emphasis on garnering assistance from allies with the wherewithal to contribute assets of high value. That list of allies would likely include: China, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran, and perhaps Cuba. Applying combined warfare without boundaries, top diplomats of Ministerstvo Inostrannykh del Rossijskoj Federacii (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation) would approach each to secure the maximum level of assistance. Reports surfaced in September 2022, that Russia was in the process of buying millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea to use in Ukraine. That information was reportedly sourced from the US Department of Defense. In August 2022, US officials disclosed that Russia received shipments of Iranian-produced drones. 

Top diplomats would also be tasked with keeping the negotiations door open without leaning too far that way as to encourage bolder action on the battlefield by Kyiv and its NATO backers. It may be the case that when Western representatives approach Putin about peace, he may very well get the sense that he is slowly wearing down their countries and Ukraine. Thereby, his resolve to fight on may be strengthened.

As part of Putin’s twist on an hypothetical implementation by him of a combined warfare without limits strategy similar to that of China might be to green-light direct action of a calibrated nature in a top tier Western country whose foreign and national security bureaucracies surely will not be expecting but actually should have been prepared for once the Ukraine war ignited over some preposterous reasoning began.

Russian Federation intelligence services would be called upon to collect all they can on the level of will Western countries possess on investing in the war: concerns expressed in capitals on capping assistance expenditures, Ukraine’s use of all forms of assistance, and the effects of Moscow’s nuclear threats. Sweet to the ear of Putin would surely be any true Intelligence collected that shows some decay in the united front of the NATO Member States. As the situation stands now, it would seem illusory for the Kremlin to put hope in some deterioration of Western unity or loss of will or concern over the drain funding the war has had on national budgets or an actual pull back of support for Kyiv. Further, if the Russian Federation could hastily organize and task Its respective intelligence services to impact Western countries lined against it in some significant way as to influence events in Ukraine, there would unlikely be enough time to get any operations going before events on the battlefield rendered their fruits meaningless.

As for the Russian Federation Armed Forces, they would still be implored to hold on territory gained. However, in the use of their weapon systems, they would need to be a bit more creative. In the May 30, 2022 greatcharlie post entitled, “Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine”, it was suggested that ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced due to Russian attacks at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta in Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. (Given results, it almost seems as if Russian engineering officers, artillery officers, air power officers, and ordnance officers, have drawn up plans for the systematic demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns, district by district, block by block, using ordnance fired from a variety of weapon systems.) The intermittent attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Yet, something of far greater conception may be behind them. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. Destroying certain parts of cities and towns would also make them far less desirable. At the time of this writing, UN estimates are that over 4.1 million Ukrainians have moved into other countries. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine. In that same May 30, 2022 post, it was imagined that following the capture of Ukrainian cities and towns, “There might be the chance that citizens of the Russian homeland would be ‘invited’ to relocate and settle in those cities and towns to participate in their reconstruction and, particularly in the southeast, reside in cities and towns in order to reconstruct and work at ports on the Azov Sea and in the many mineral mines. Veterans of the military operation who were so inclined could be invited to relocate to the cities and towns they ‘liberated,’ in effect to enjoy the spoils of the war.”

Hypothetically under an overarching combined warfare without boundaries concept insisted upon by the Kremlin, Russian forces would act more directly to break the will of the Ukrainians throughout the country. While propaganda would likely have limited effect, there would be the possibility of attempting to break the morale of the Ukrainian people and as important, their will to fight on. To that extent, Ukrainian civilian infrastructure would be targeted with the purpose of terrorism the population, albeit the of terrorizing civilians in this manner would be a war crime. As of this writing, Russian forces reportedly have been bombing Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure, to include energy facilities. As put by Amnesty International, the intent of these attacks–somewhat in line of combined warfare without boundaries–is “to undermine industrial production, disrupt transportation, sow fear and despair, and deprive civilians in Ukraine of heat, electricity and water as the cold grip of winter approaches.”

Surovikin (center), Gerasimov (left), and Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff (right). It is very possible that Putin, Shoigu, Gerasimov, and the others on the Russian Federation General Staff authentically feel there is a real chance that under Surovikin’s command, Russian forces can beat back Ukrainian forces tearing through their lines, gain and retain the initiative, and somehow obviate the effects of US, NATO, and other foreign military assistance to Kyiv. It could be that the results of the ongoing Ukrainian drive in fact proved Surovikin’s conceptual view of the situation in what was previously his southern front and his neighboring eastern front were correct. He may have expressed what turned out to be the best understanding of how factors as the strengths and weaknesses of Ukrainian forces to include new weapon systems being introduced via Western assistance. He may have sounded the alarm that firepower in particular would allow them “the upper hand” on the battlefield. He may have demonstrated all along a better understanding, reliable intimations, on how, where, and when to apply the combat power of Russian forces. He may have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Russian forces and, since their power has dwindled so dramatically, how they could be more effectively and perhaps economically mustered, how those forces could be better protected, and how they might be able to take a stab at making some respectable gains more immediately.

Surovikin: The Invaluable Multilateral Operations Expert

The renowned 19th century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde explained: “To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” Surovikin surely gained experience with multilateral operations as a result of his experience in Syria. Ukraine has doubtlessly put him in contact with operational commanders of allies assisting Russia in various ways. Given the DPRK’s arms shipment to the Russian Federation Armed Forces and persistent murmurs of its troops assisting the Russian with the deployment of their troops, the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff, with the permission of DPRK Chairman Kim Jung-un, by now surely has observers on the ground in Ukraine, examining everyday of the conflict and gleaning every lesson possible. Surely, those lessons learned will manifest in alterations of DPRK armed forces tactics, perhaps even the configuration of certain units, and use of their weapon systems to create whatever advantages they could possibly muster as well as mitigate any apparent weaknesses across the board. That might also include any structural changes their system of government might allow. From the Russian side, the work entailed in establishing interoperability with DPRK ordnance might be developed as a foundation for further areas and levels of cooperation. 

It was suggested at the time when the situation for the Russian forces in the Donbass began to seriously deteriorate that Kim might send 100,000 troops  of the KPA to Ukraine. On first impression, one might view such talk as part of Russia’s political warfare operations. If their suggested deployment should occur, the DPRK expeditionary force could potentially accomplish enough to offset the somewhat grandiose plans of Kyiv to raise a force of 1,000,000 soldiers to eradicate Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, to include the liberation of Crimea. The DPRK’s military is reported to be the world’s fourth largest, with nearly 1.3 million active personnel, and an additional 600,000 serve as reserve soldiers. Noteworthy is the fact that the DPRK has also offered to send over 1,000 workers to assist Russia in rebuilding postwar Ukraine. It has also been reported that Moscow would provide energy and grain in return for the deployment of DPRK troops. According to UN Resolution 2375, passed in 2017, countries are prohibited from supplying the DPRK all condensates and natural gas liquids (paragraph 13). UN Resolution 2397, passed in 2017, limits the annual amount of crude and refined petroleum that can be provided to North Korea (paragraphs 4 and 5). The former resolution also precludes any joint ventures or cooperative entities with North Korea (paragraph 18). The latter resolution reiterates the prohibition of any DPRK national from earning income in other states (paragraph 8). At this point, it would be unreasonable to think that such UN Resolutions have any meaning. Russian forces in Ukraine are already receiving the DPRK weapons shipments. As for prohibitions on the DPRK regarding arms shipments, its military assistance to Russia would also violate UN resolutions. UN Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, prohibits North Korean exports of heavy weapons, such as tanks, artillery, and missiles, and requires UN member states to prevent their transfer (paragraph 8). UN Resolution 1874 (paragraph 9), passed in 2009, and UN Resolution 2270 (paragraph 6), passed in 2016, expanded the export ban to include all DPRK arms, including small arms and light weapons, as well as “technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms or materiel.” Further, under UN Resolution 2270, paragraph 8), the DPRK is also prohibited from any military exports that “support or enhance the operational capabilities of armed forces of another Member State.” Pyongyang has established a record of totally disregarding UN Resolutions.

Napoleon is quoted as saying: “Unity of command is essential to the economy of time. Warfare in the field was like a siege: by directing all one’s force to a single point a breach might be made, and the equilibrium of opposition destroyed.” If DPRK troops, conceivably a combined arms force, were deployed to Ukraine, they would likely be applied as a decisive unified force on the battlefield, rather than separating them into individual units and dole them out as replacements for battered and tattered Russian battalions  Under the latter scenario, the likely command, control, and communications problems might be enormous. Further, the fact that Russian and DPRK have not trained together, at least in recent years, in such great numbers, surely would almost immediately become apparent despite Surovikin’s best efforts. How he would manage that would likely require summoning up answers from the depths of his knowledge, experience and talent. Perhaps the common wisdom is that if Surovikin is hoping to make any decisive moves, they would be planned for the Spring of 2023. However, there is the possibility that he plans to act in the mid-to-late Winter when weather conditions might obviate advantages provided to Ukrainian forces through the use of drones. Astonishingly, Russian forces seem to lack the appropriate equipment to monitor the skies electronically or a frightful lack of competence to do so.

One might recall weather was a key factor in the planning of Germany’ Oberkommando der Wehrmacht for its Ardennes Offensive that was launched on December 16, 1944. As the attack was envisioned, a heavy winter storm would prevent Allied attempts to provide air support and resupply to beleaguered US troops caught head on in the German armored and mechanized rampage through Belgium and Luxembourg, determined to reach the sea at Antwerp. For several days during the offensive, considerable progress was made, causing a huge bulge westward on the US frontlines. The battle was thereby given the name the “Battle of the Bulge.” Eventually, the winter storm that was vital to the German advance cleared enough for Allied air assets to fly in and have a devastating impact against the German attackers. They also managed to deliver much needed supplies–manna from heaven–to US troops. Certainly, it is possible that the drone technology Ukrainian forces possess might be able to overcome any challenges caused by weather conditions. If not, such technologically equipped drones could perhaps be rapidly supplied to them by Western powers

Though DPRK troops hypothetically sent into Ukraine would certainly be prepared to do business and make a good showing on behalf of their Dear Respected Comrade [Kim], it is possible that the hypothesized DPRK force could unexpectedly find themselves caught in a situation with Ukrainian forces similar to what their Russian comrades had in Kyiv and Kharkiv. After all, this hypothetical DPRK expeditionary force, imaginably combined arms,  could hardly expect more close air support from the Russian Federation Aerospace Force than Russian troops have received. They might deploy their own fighters and attack helicopters and fly them out of Crimea or even the Donbas only to find the skies over Ukraine no safer than the Russian pilots had. A disastrous assistance effort to support an ally that comes to mind is that of the British Army which sent a force under Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore into Spain to support the United Kingdom’s Spanish allies against the forces of Napoleon in 1809 during the Peninsular War. The French campaign, initially led by Napoleon himself, defeated the Spanish armies. Moore attempted to attack the French force, a corps under Marshal of the Empire Jean de Dieu Soult with the objective of diverting it. The strength of Moore’s forces was 16,000, which included 15,000 infantry and 9 to 12 guns. Soult’s corps in near parity included 16,000 troops, of which 12,000 were infantry, 3,200 were cavalry. He also had 20 guns

When the plan as conceived failed. Moore withdrew his force, but Soult’s corps relentlessly pursued it. The British retreat, under harsh winter conditions, took Moore’s force across northern Spain while their rearguard fought off repeated French attacks. Both the British and French troops suffered from the severe weather. With the exception of the elite Light Brigade under Robert Craufurd, much of the British force suffered from a loss of order and discipline during the retreat. Having managed against tremendous odds to reach the port of Corunna on the northern coast of Galicia in Spain, a few days ahead of the French, Moore’s troops found their transport ships had not arrived. When the fleet arrived a couple of days later, Soult’s forces also arrived and launched an attack on the British who were embarking. The British had no choice but to fight another battle before leaving Spain, the Battle of Corunna. In the fight which took place on January 16, 1809. Moore’s force repeatedly repulsed attacks from Soult’s force until nightfall, when both sides disengaged. However, during the battle, Moore was mortally wounded, but he died after learning that his men had successfully repelled the French attacks. That night, British forces resumed their embarkation. The last troops sailed away in the morning under French cannon fire. Soult would capture the port cities of Corunna and Ferrol. The outcome of the withdrawal of British forces from Galicia was the fall of northern Spain to the French.

Perchance General Surovikin would also has the solution to avoid a similar catastrophe. Perhaps the hypothetical intervention by DPRK troops would more resemble that of the Prussians at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. As it is fairly well-known, during the battle, over 30,000 Prussians under General Der Infanterie Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr Graf Bulow von Dennewitz and General-Leutnant Otto Karl Lorenz von Pirch shaped the outcome at the Battle of Waterloo. The Prussians desperately sought to capture the strategic point of Plancenoit on the right flank of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Army. Much of the Prussian’s fight against the 10,000 French defenders in Plancenoit was in the streets of the town itself. Though the battle at Plancenoit was to be hard fought, the Prussians eventually overran the French right, causing the French army to turn and flee. Their success sealed the fate of Napoleon. The Commander-in-Chief of the Prussian Army, Generalfeldmarschall Gerhard Leberecht von Blücher was famously to meet British Army Field Marshal The Duke of Wellington on the battlefield between 9:00PM and 10:00PM, close to the Belle-Alliance farm, where history records, the Prussian general conjured up in French: “Quelle affaire !” Given the battering the Allied army had received throughout the day, the relatively fresh Prussian troops were to take the lead in pursuing the fleeing French troops. The Prussians had neverthless lost 7,000 men. Napoleon’s carriage was to be seized by Prussian cavalry at Gemappes, and the routed French were to be given no quarter by the furious Prussian pursuit. Blücher’s advance guard was finally to reach the outskirts of Paris on June 29, 1815. With Napoleon’s abdication on June 22, 1815, the war would officially end upon the signature of the Convention of St-Cloud on July 3, 1815.  Surely, this would be the sort of outcome that Moscow and Pyongyang would be hoping for.

Surovikin (left), Shoigu (seated right), and Russian Federation Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy (center). Surovikin gained considerable experience with multilateral operations as a result of his experience in Syria. Ukraine has doubtlessly put him in contact with operational commanders of allies assisting Russia in various ways. Given the DPRK’s arms shipment to the Russian Federation Armed Forces and persistent murmurs of its troops assisting the Russian with the deployment of their troops, the DPRK General Staff, with the permission of Kim, by now surely has observers on the ground in Ukraine, examining everyday of the conflict and gleaning every lesson possible. Surely, those lessons learned would manifest in alterations of DPRK armed forces tactics, perhaps even the configuration of certain units, and use of their weapon systems to create whatever advantages they could possibly muster as well as mitigate any apparent weaknesses across the board. That might also include any structural changes their system of government might allow. From the Russian side, the work entailed in establishing interoperability with DPRK ordnance might be developed as a foundation for further areas and levels of cooperation. It was suggested at the time when the situation for the Russian forces in Ukraine began to seriously deteriorate that Kim might send 100,000 DPRK troops to Ukraine. Surely, Surovikin would be best suited to manage a multilateral effort with the DPRK.

The Way Forward

Ultimately, it was Putin who created the Ukraine War. Still, commanders are responsible for what was happening to young soldiers in the field. Surovikin expectedly understands the situation in Ukraine. He has been part of the military decisionmaking on the special military operation from its inception. The loss in troops and materiel in Ukraine even to the of top Russian Federation commanders’ eyes must also be absolutely astounding. They are after all only human. All of the ills of the forces they have led have been exposed to the world. The walls have come down. 

Included among root causes for troubles that have surfaced, with which Surovikin or anyone who might come after him must contend, are extremely poor soldier discipline and terrible fieldcraft. Training has likely been lax for decades. Leadership has likely been poor at the lower level leadership for just as long. It is unlikely that senior leaders were circulating or doing so in a meaningful way. One might presume there was a lack of standards particularly among the ground forces and very low morale. If morale was not low in the past, it is surely low now. Russian military technology appears crude as well as corroded in some cases. The world is not discovering how capable NATO has been to confront what was formally understood to be a Russian military juggernaut. Indeed, the world is seeing just how corroded the Russian system is and how that corroded system likely for years had grabbed hold of and mangled the armed forces. What has been manifested from that system in Ukraine has been a longtime in development. Weapons systems which are designed for US military and naval personnel to go to war and win must be robust. This approach is in stark contrast to that of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. An army that operates under the archaic notion that troops are expendable and can be casually sacrificed to achieve objectives will be overcome and overrun in the present era. No one should knowingly be sent to war without being given every chance with regard to their survival and the performance of their equipment.

The above are symptoms of an affliction of corruption that has beset and poisoned authoritarian regimes throughout history. Embezzlement becomes ubiquitous, the powerful feel entitled to spoils befitting their rise. And their countries are bled dry strength and wherewithal stealthily and it is all uncovered in unexpected crises. In every way, the Russian Federation Armed Forces appear to have all along been a paper tiger, emblematic of the very flawed government they serve. William Shakespeare, in Sonnet 66 (1609), provides a short list of ingredients that best describe the realities of authoritarian regimes so appropos concerning the thinly veiled current one of Russian Federation. In the third quatrain, he writes: “And art made tongue-tied by authority, / And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill, / And simple truth miscalled simplicity, / And captive good attending captain ill.”

China’s Operation Fox Hunt: Facts and Theories on How Missions Succeed and Flaws and Delinquencies Ripe for Exploitation (Part 1)

An Air China jet (above) soars upward after take-off on its flight home. On a number of similar flights from the US, a considerable number of For nearly a decade, undercover Chinese identification and repatriation teams, as greatcharlie has dubbed them, at the direct request and under the authority of the Chinese government, have entered the US under false pretenses, enlisted US-based accomplices, stalked hundreds of people, including US citizens and permanent residents, and coerced and cajoled them to return to China to face charges for economic crimes they allegedly committed. This effort is called Operation Fox Hunt. It went on near unhindered by US authorities until a bungled mission to capture a target in New Jersey led to arrests and allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. Through an examination of flaws in the development, planning, and execution of that New Jersey mission based on available facts, greatcharlie provides some insights on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future missions by Chinese identification and repatriation teams.

On the intelligence front, the crisis of Chinese espionage in the US and the rest of the West has all of the hallmarks of a sort of ordeal. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. It would seem safe to say that Chinese espionage operations are ubiquitous. It is very likely that everyday they work harder and harder to make their networks and operations better and more effective, pushing their espionage capabilities far-beyond the reach of the counterintelligence services of the countries in which they operate. The primary conductors of China’s successful espionage operations orchestrated in the US, and globally are the Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, China’s preeminent civilian intelligence agency, responsible for overseas espionage and counterintelligence both at home and abroad, and the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign military intelligence, including technology. 

But alas, there are other efforts at penetration and clandestine action undertaken by Chinese operatives in the US as well as other countries that are as insidious and perhaps worse. For nearly a decade, Chinese identification and repatriation teams, as greatcharlie has dubbed them, have absconded not with precious, secret information or property, but rather with people. (Identifying targets was actually one of the most challenging aspects of the teams’ activities. Without the ability to investigate and identify targets, any repatriation effort would be hopeless. In a worst case scenario, the wrong individual might embarrassingly be brought back to China.) Targets have not only been non-residents, but residents and naturalized US citizens. Indeed, incontrovertible proof exists that shows undercover identification and repatriation teams at the direct request and under the authority of the Chinese government have entered the US under false pretenses, stalked hundreds of people, including US citizens and permanent residents, and enlisted US-based accomplices–private investigators and self-styled bounty hunters–and relentlessly hound their targets. Ostensibly, the Chinese operatives have sought out fugitives from justice in China as part of an anti-corruption campaign. 

In a number of operations, Chinese identification and repatriation teams were completely successful in capturing their targets and bringing them back to China to face what the Communist Party of China deemed as justice. Yet, that has not always been the case. There is a great difference between grabbing intellectual property, trade secrets, computer files as well as actual technologies and grabbing people. There is a human element which, particularly under conditions that the Chinese government creates for its “volunteers,” leaves a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability that cannot be assessed until one sees actual results. In identification and repatriation operations, that same uncertainty can exist in the way that the targets may behave, too! That was the case with Chinese identification and repatriation operatives acting in New Jersey beginning in 2016. It was a bungled mission that has allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. 

From the New Jersey case, a few insights are drawn by greatcharlie on this particular case of Operation Fox Hunt that may provide a better understanding on what Chinese operatives are doing via the operation and how they are doing what they are doing. With the color and life of the investigative reports greatcharlie found most informative aggregated with the facts laid out plainly in the federal court document, a somewhat definitive account of the event can be constructed. By highlighting flaws in the development, planning, and execution based on available facts of that case, greatcharlie seeks to provide insight on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future Chinese identification and repatriation activities under Operation Fox Hunt or under some new operation launched by Beijing. Just knowing what is wrong is not as great as knowing how to fix the problem. This commentary does not look at the situation only in the end to say everyone appears to be doing their best to halt China’s malign activities and all is peaches-and-cream. Comments and suggestions are offered, leaving it up to readers, think tank scholars, academics, policy analysts, and military and diplomatic officials, journalists, and students, but particularly practitioners who may serve in US counterintelligence, to observe, reflect, and act as they may. In the essay’s discussion, greatcharlie hopes to avoid any appearance of instructing counterintelligence officers on what to do. It would be satisfying enough to know that some of what is presented here might resonate with a few of them. By shedding light on some flaws in the development of plans and the organization of operators for action, as well as delinquencies in the execution of the plan, greatcharlie hopes it can offer something of use to the US, its allies, and friends to combat and to defeat similar malign clandestine and covert operations by China worldwide. If the matter of the identification and repatriation and repatriation operations is not put right, surely it will have an unfortunate effect on US national security now and into the future. Nihil tam difficile est ut non possit studio investigari. (Nothing is so difficult that it is not able to be tracked down by study.)

After People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above) assumed power in 2013, he initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Xi vowed to hunt down powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in the campaign to eradicate corruption. The slogan of the campaign became “fight tigers, swat flies and hunt foxes.” Xi warned corruption was so bad that it could threaten the Communist Party of China’s grip on power. That campaign has netted thousands of party leaders and rank-and-file government officials domestically. Indeed, Operations Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net were part of the effort internationally in that regard. In June 2014, authorities established the International Office of Pursuing Fugitives and Recovering Embezzled Assets–staffed with a composite of personnel seconded from eight government agencies. In the first alone, 3,587 fugitives from over 90 countries had been returned to China.

Overview of Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net

As alleged in a July 22, 2021 criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division, defendants participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe #1 and his family, in order to force John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 to return to China as part of “Operation Fox Hunt.” It was revealed in the reports of investigative journalists that John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2 are Xu Jin and his wife, Liu Fang. The defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned and illegal conduct within the US and facilitated the travel of Chinese government officials to the US in order to further carry out these illegal acts.  Between 2016 and 2019, multiple Chinese officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to China.

The US Department of Justice has identified Operation Fox Hunt as an initiative by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Public Security to locate and repatriate alleged Chinese “fugitives” who had fled to foreign countries that have committed crimes under Chinese law.  The Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS is an internal and political security and domestic intelligence service. Once back in China, those individuals typically face stiff charges. After  People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping  assumed power in 2013, he initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Xi vowed to hunt down powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in the campaign to eradicate corruption. The slogan of the campaign became “fight tigers, swat flies and hunt foxes.” Xi warned corruption was so bad that it could threaten the Communist Party of China’s grip on power. According to Human Rights Watch, that campaign has netted thousands of party leaders and rank-and-file government officials domestically. Operations Fox Hunt and Skynet were part of the effort internationally. In June 2014, authorities established the International Office of Pursuing Fugitives and Recovering Embezzled Assets–staffed with a composite of personnel seconded from eight government agencies. Just three years afterward, 3,587 fugitives from over 90 countries had been returned to China. 

Absent an extradition treaty between the US and China, one might look upon the problem as Chinese authorities taking it upon themselves to bring criminals to justice. However, it is of great concern for US officials that Operation Fox Hunt operatives, rather than working in the US with the approval and coordination of the federal government, instead regularly enter the US without notifying any bureaucracy in Washington relevant to their planned actions and engage in violations of US criminal law. To that extent, the activity has been described not only as “an end-run around the Department of State and the Department of Justice,” but “an end-run around US law.” Even more, it is alleged by US national security officials that despite Beijing’s claims to the contrary, identification and repatriation teams are pursuing certain individuals not due to a business dispute in China or violation of Chinese criminal law. Rather, there is a political purpose to the activity. In addition to tracking down those accused of economic crimes, Chinese identification and repatriation teams travel the world in pursuit of those afoul of the Communist Party of China, to include: Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and followers of the Falun Gong religious movement. To force them into returning, authorities subject their relatives in China to harassment, jail, torture and other mistreatment, sometimes recording hostage-like videos to send to the US. Somewhat less concerning is Operation Sky Net which is a program that runs concurrently alongside Operation Fox Hunt and augment it by cutting-off the financial flows of citizens who have fled overseas and working to recover any proceeds gained through corruption.

Operation Fox Hunt: A MPS Mission

Although the Chinese citizens sought under Operation Fox Hunt are located overseas, identification and repatriation would be a task intrinsic to the mission of MPS. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records on Chinese citizens and tracking down and identifying citizens its officers have honed and polished over decades. For that reason, MPS may very well be pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities more often than may be presently conceived in the US and among its allies and partners. That same information about Chinese citizens is certainly of great interest to the Communist Party of China and in its hands via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that its present raison d’être and primary responsibility is to help the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

To cloak their pursuit of individuals in apparent legality, Beijing has had the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices,” enumerating hosts of business crimes allegedly committed by their targets. In April 2015, China published a most-wanted list, called “100 Red Notices” that held the names of 100 officials and business executives accused in major corruption cases. According to government statistics, by December 2017, 51 out of “100 Red Notices” had returned to China. Among them, 10 were reportedly repatriated by foreign governments, while 35 returned “voluntarily” after being “persuaded.”

To cloak its pursuit of individuals in apparent legality, Beijing has had the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices,” enumerating hosts of business crimes allegedly committed by their targets. In April 2015, China published a most-wanted list, called “100 Red Notices” that held the names of 100 officials and business executives accused in major corruption cases. According to government statistics, by December 2017, 51 out of “100 Red Notices” had returned to China. Among them, 10 were reportedly repatriated by foreign governments, while 35 returned “voluntarily” after being “persuaded.”

Interestingly, Beijing’s acquisition of Red Notices on the innocent is surely a sinister practice. It has been a human rights concern of considerable importance in US-China relations. Reportedly, there are ongoing efforts by the US and other countries to snuff out Beijing’s Red Notice acquisition activity. One might say that any effort to do that would be near akin to shutting off the lights in the library reading room before closing. The list of “100 Red Notices” and every Red Notice acquired since that list  was posted, long ago should have served as figurative beckoning fingers for those seeking to defeat Operation Fox Hunt as to where the identification and repatriation teams would eventually show up. Countless traps and other tricks should have brought the whole cabaret down. With a proper strategy, officers directly from US counterintelligence services and perhaps truly well-equipped and well-experienced state, county, and municipal law enforcement organizations around the US should have used for good, stealthy, professional reconnaissance and surveillance. That reconnaissance and surveillance would have needed to have been performed unobtrusively and for the sake of those under Beijing’s requested Red Notices, unintrusively. Patience would also have been a main ingredient for success. The 17th century French traveller and jeweller, Jean Baptiste Chardin, (1643 – 1713) in “Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient” (1711), wrote: “La patience est amère, mais son fruit est doux.” (Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.) Further, to succeed, no assistance from contractors in the activity should have been allowed. Contractors for the most part can only offer what the young people refer to as “gangstalking,” “Keystone Cop” type choreography, and school-boy pranks. In one way or another they would have ruined anything they touched as they typically do.

Federal Court Documents Versus Investigative Reports as Sources

In an interview with George Plimpton in the Fall 1990 edition of the Paris Review, Maya Angelou said: “The facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like.” Many might imagine the rudiments of tactics, techniques and procedures, and methods of China’s efforts as presented in the federal court document might serve as a source for guidance. They would be mistaken. Reading through the indictment, the facts of the case on first impression may appear laid out in the federal court document in a somewhat Daedalian manner to the nonlegal scholar, the layman. Not even the sequence of events was not made clear. From what is presented in the federal court indictment, one might believe the case leading to the indictment of Operation Fox Hunt operatives was rather featureless. The ways in which Chinese identification and repatriation teams acted as laid out appear almost predictable, given the nature of their mission and their desire to satisfy the authorities who commissioned the enterprise. There is nothing in the document that would strike a reader as something new, intriguing, or recherché. Much of what is within could hardly serve as a foundation upon which US law enforcement and counterintelligence service might be better enabled to construct new approaches to mitigate them. The whole matter actually took on new meaning for greatcharlie after reading a July 22, 2021 ProPublica article which conveyed the facts of the case in an interesting way stirred greatcharlie’s interest and resulted in a decision to dive deeper into the facts of the case.

 In the reports of investigative journalists of ProPublica and other publications, there is general acceptance of the facts as presented in the federal criminal complaint. Yet, even more important, the investigative reports provide color to the story of the identification and repatriation team’s activities. The investigative journalists’ stories offer assessments of principal actors involved, ascribing traits to them, painting pictures of them as well as locations where specific acts occurred, and aiding readers in understanding how it likely felt to be victimized by such an enterprise. Investigative journalists also present moments of life in a way that allows readers to enter an experience. Indeed, there is much to learn from several impressive articles by investigative journalists. By including that information with facts, the story of the episode provides a structure that allows a sufficient parsing of everything involved. 

Xu Jin (above), a legal permanent resident in the US, formerly directed the development commission of Wuhan, China before he left for the US in 2010. In both 2012 and 2014, the Chinese government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to issue “Red Notices” for Xu and Liu. According to those Red Notices, Xu was wanted by the Chinese government for “embezzlement,” abuse of power, [and] acceptance of bribes,” pursuant to Chinese Criminal Law Articles 383, 385, and 397, which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment. In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for US assistance about the couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted in the US.

Targets of the New Jersey Mission

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Xu had directed Wuhan’s development commission before he left for the US in 2010 with his wife, Liu, who is a former insurance company executive. Xu and Liu, both 57 at the time of this writing, had obtained US green cards through a program that grants residency to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in the US. In the interest of full-disclosure, a California consultant who helped them apply for the green cards later pleaded guilty to immigration fraud, and investigators in that case alleged that the wife’s petition for residency contained false information. But they remain legal residents. Using its standard artifice to tie everything up neatly with a legal bow, in and around 2012 and 2014, the Chinese government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization to issue “Red Notices” for Xu and Liu. According to those Red Notices, Xu was wanted by the Chinese government for “embezzlement” abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes,” pursuant to Chinese Criminal Law Articles 383, 385, and 397, which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment. In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for US assistance about the wanted couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted here. A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on that assertion.

In April 2018, the Chinese privately owned company, Xinba Construction Group Company, filed a lawsuit against the couple in New Jersey state court, accusing Xu of holding up projects to extort money from companies, and due to his actions, those companies still owe Xinba more than $10 million for contracts performed. In court filings, the couple denied Xu extorted or looted any company, calling the litigation an artifice designed to coerce the couple “to return to China and, if not, to harass and attempt to bankrupt” them. Their countersuit also alleged an extensive harassment campaign was being waged against them by Chinese operatives. They also claimed those same operatives had kidnapped Xu’s father living in China and that they had posed as special agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to stalk an immediate relative of Xu’s living in the US. Although the endangered couple’s attorney had accurately and clearly laid out the Chinese government’s villany, a judge in September 2019, out of ignorance, rejected their claims, saying they failed to provide sufficient evidence that Xinba was working with the Chinese government. A preceding judge overseeing the case, completely failing to understand the absolute gravity of matter with regard to US national security, remarked: “It’s not your ordinary case you see in the Superior Court in Essex County, but we’re open for all business I guess . . . No herniated discs. No slip and fall in this case.”

Perchance, back in Beijing, dismissive responses as such  from jurists of the US court system were predicted. US judges, unsure when they wanted to be sure, would reject what they did not understand or thought unimaginable. Predicting such behavior would presumably be one among a set of assumptions and predictions made in Beijing on the actions and reactions of those elements in the US whose responsibility and capability would be to present obstacles or prevent Operation Fox Hunt from succeeding. Those elements in the US were apparently no more threatening to senior executives, managers, and planners in MPS than the Maginot Line was to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in 1940.

Liu Feng (above), is the wife of Xu Jin. A former insurance company executive, she came to the US with Xu in 2010. According to a Red Notice issued by Interpol, Liu is equally sought for arrest as Xu. In April 2018, the Chinese privately owned company, Xinba Construction Group Company, filed a lawsuit against Xu and Liu in New Jersey state court, accusing Xu of holding up projects to extort money from companies, and due to his actions, those companies still owe Xinba more than $10 million for contracts performed. In court filings, the couple denied Xu extorted or looted any company, calling the litigation an artifice designed to coerce the couple “to return to China and, if not, to harass and attempt to bankrupt” them. Their countersuit also alleged an extensive harassment campaign was being waged against them by Chinese operatives. They also claimed those same operatives had kidnapped Xu’s father living in China and had posed as federal agents to stalk an immediate relative of Liu living in the US.

Preparation for the Mission: What Was likely Raised in Feasibility Studies Done in Advance?

One should never expect China to come charging in with reckless abandon. If it had happened in the past, it surely will happen any more. The efforts of those operating in the US on all levels, espionage, identification and repatriation, and perchance, covert operations, will typically be calibrated, with supposedly every precaution taken into consideration. Vouloir c’est pouvoir. Operation Fox Hunt has been marked by concerted, energetic, and endless activity by China. For the most part, Chinese efforts in the US have been quiet, smooth, and quite sophisticated in nature. Albeit moving into the realm of conjecture, one can imagine how a feasibility study for the rendition operation was constructed and the assessments that led to the project being green-lit. 

MPS in coordination with China’s foreign intelligence services likely studied the situation, and recognized just how open the US was for the theft of its secrets in all sectors and then clearly decided to pour through, taking whatever they could. To date, there is no indication that they have decided to pare down any aspect of their clandestine and covert operations in the US, and evidently they have encountered nothing to even suggest that they should retreat. Ventis secundis, tene/tenete cursum. (The winds being favorable, hold the course.)

Surely, there were several feasibility studies produced on the possibility of successfully conducting identification and repatriation operations with concern at minimum focused on how under current circumstances, with espionage activities drawing so much attention in the US, the situation has not been made less secure for all teams operating there,  and the pitfalls of conducting such identification and repatriation operations with relations between the two countries at a relative low point. Such studies would likely be put before those assigned to manage the identification and repatriation operations in the US ostensibly  along with the volumes of studies done that provided confidence fhst China’s “espionage tsunami” would meet with considerable success.

Imaginably, information gathered for such feasibility studies would be up-to-date, and perhaps would be thorough enough to include manifests of law enforcement officers and counterintelligence officers within the planned area of operation of the identification and repatriation team, with notes on their working hours, usual movements and daily habits. If that might even remotely be the case, it would also mean China has engaged, and is likely continually engaged, in covert surveillance of many law enforcement and counterintelligence officers in the US who they may have discovered were handling Chinese espionage and identification and repatriation cases. They may have discovered that those investigators often display varied levels of diligence, are often inattentive when visiting site, are rarely thorough and at time outrightly remiss when interviewing individuals of interest, display their insecurities in conversation, prone to bullying their own citizens without any apparent cause, and are unprofessional often in dealing with existing contacts. Despite this perception based on analyses in the abstract or empirical evidence, US counterintelligence and law enforcement organizations around the US are not without count, and it would prove to be a mistake to minimize the threat of their presence altogether.

It is possible that feasibility studies such as those suggested had some influence on the decision on the location, the timing of the operations, and which émigré to pursue from a list of those sought. To this extent, Chinese investigators, as those participating in the identification and repatriation scheme, would be armed and enabled with an abundance of information. They enter the US, clearly equipped, able, and expecting to overcome difficulties foreseen and unforeseen from federal, state, or even municipal law enforcement or US counterintelligence services they may encounter. They have managed to establish, in the venues in which they have operated, freedom of movement so to speak. Of course, certain levels of information deemed “ultra-secret” or however it might be described by Chinese intelligence, would unlikely be shared by intelligence services with the identification and repatriation teams. Perhaps overall, the exchange of information by some organizations would be on a “need to know” basis.

In the abstract, conceivably lessons learned are internalized, studies and observations of law enforcement as much as counterintelligence surely are constantly underway in all the countries by every organization operating in respectively. In turn those studies and observations are doubtlessly shared to mutually support the success of one another. What may be recognized as too risky, ineffective, expected by the adversary through recent experience, would be cut away. What seemed to be a more available path to ends, is given consideration, and will likely find its way in efforts to prepare those going on the next missions. Malum est consilium quod mutari non potest. (Bad (ill-considered) is the plan that cannot be changed.)

Most important to note is that whether the matter is espionage or other malign clandestine and covert activities overseas, there can be no doubt that all are constantly moving through a process of evolution. It appears to be a manifestation of an idea, reflective of what has been dubbed “Xi thought,” that Chinese activities performed by government, Communist Party of China, or irregulars must be driven by an energy to push the country onward and upward into the position of the dominant power of the world and one might imagine perhaps even beyond that stature, whatever designs the Communist Party of China leadership might have in mind for that to be. At first blush, these comments may strike a few readers as being a bit lightweight, but some reasoning behind risking such audacious action in the US should be parsed out and laid out for readers to possibly accept and provide a basis for greatcharlie’s suggestions as to what may have been organized and had transpired beneath the surface.

The Main Operation Fox Hunt Players in This Drama

Once fully operational, the identification and repatriation team for the New Jersey mission grew to at least 19 US and Chinese operatives. Nine of the operatives among the identification and repatriation team members of the Operation Fox Hunt New Jersey operation are part of the case filed in the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division.

Included in the criminal complaint were the following. Hu Ji was the lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader.  Hu was at the time of the indictment a 46 year old officer serving in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, a municipal bureau of MPS. To be a bit more specific, he was a veteran officer of the bureau’s foreign affairs unit. Hu is a man of the world with a natural turn for clandestine action and placing others in trying positions. Hu gained notice after joining an Operation Fox Hunt task force. Reportedly, in early 2016, the Wuhan newsmedia had published glowing profiles about him, describing his imposing height, his travels to 29 countries, and his arrests of eight fugitives.  In the view of the Wuhan newsmedia, Hu est a un autre niveau! In an interview, Hu told the Hubei Daily: “Out of the country does not mean out of the legal system.” He added: “Show your sword and punish even those in faraway lands.” 

Though in photographs Hu looks careworn, they typically present him as a professional, intelligent, well-minded, well-built–about 6-foot-1, well-dressed, well-groomed, handsome, smooth, and confident-looking, Chinese male. Hu is a compound of cunning and audacity, girded with steady nerves. His gift as a cool observer of mankind and an understanding of complicated interpersonal relationships allowed him to successfully carry off the job of team leader. That understanding of people surely aided him in manipulating and exploiting others. Hu’s cases had led from Fiji to France to Mexico, making headlines back home. The work was riskier here; in fact, it was illegal. He acquired dominant knowledge of the territory in which he operated. Hu was not even afraid to be at the elbow of law enforcement personnel to explain his purpose using some tall story, some artifice. Hu would identify himself as a Chinese police officer on his tourist visa. US officials hardly gave him a second glance. Sometimes, it was best to hide in plain sight. Perhaps the best way to express what is discussed here is to state that in his work, Hu could be dashing and audacious, but also honorable and discreet, using wits and memory, acting gradually. He could display a certain gentleness but certainly had the capability to be quite cruel. He had no qualms about exploiting individual weakness. Surely, individuals as Hu often seem far too well-equipped for the world in comparison to people most readers might know, or to themselves. In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Hu given his role as a normal Operation Fox Hunt lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, as far as one can tell, these are precisely the traits that assisted Hu in becoming a master at his work.

 At the time the complaint was filed, Zhu Feng, also known as “Johnny Zhu,” was a 34 year old PRC citizen and US lawful permanent resident, and until approximately April 2017, was a resident of Flushing, Queens, in New York City. Zhu had studied in Guam before moving to Flushing, which holds one of largest enclaves of Chinese immigrants in the US. His extended family became legal US residents and appreciated life in their new home. Zhu’s older brother served in the US military and then worked for the Social Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection, according to court documents and public records. Zhu reportedly performed odd jobs: tour guide, selling used cars. On social media, he sported a Yankees cap and a boyish smile and called himself “Endless Johnny.” He was torn from that life to serve as an involuntary clandestine operative for the Chinese government. Zhu Yong, also known as Jason Zhu,” was a 64 year old Chinese citizen and a legal permanent resident in the US. Zhu Yong was the father of co-defendant Zhu Feng. The older Zhu, is divorced and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. He did not have a steady job, and divided his time between a home in Connecticut and his older son’s place in Queens. He traveled frequently to China which very likely caught the attention of MPS.

This conscription of families of captured targets is a ruthless and effective tactic. Yet, Chinese authorities find great value in it reportedly because they believe it ensures loyalty and obedience. They also apparently believe that allowing identification and repatriation teams to use local intermediaries enable them to shield Chinese officers from scrutiny by US counterintelligence services and state, county, and municipal law enforcement organizations around the US. The teams are often organized in what has been described as silos to keep operatives unaware of who other team members are or the full details of their mission.

Michael McMahon, a 53 year old US citizen, was a licensed private detective in New Jersey. McMahon came from an Irish-American family of police officers and firefighters. During his 14 years at the New York City Police Department, he worked in narcotics and an elite street crime unit, rising to detective sergeant. He received the Police Combat Cross, the department’s second-highest honor, for his role in a gunfight in the Bronx. In 2003, he retired on partial disability related to ailments caused by his time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His wife, an actress, once had a long-running part on “As the World Turns,” a daytime soap opera. Zheng Congying, a 25 year old Chinese citizen and legal permanent resident, resided in Brooklyn, New York. Investigators believe he was hired muscle. Li Minjun, a 65 year old citizen and resident of China, was a physician formerly of the Hubei Xiangyang Center Hospital in Xiangyang, China. Li had also worked for the MPS. Brought aboard the team as a specialist, her assignment was to escort Xu’s father from China to the US against his will with the hope that he would cause his son to surrender to the identification and repatriation team.

Hu Ji was the lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader.  Hu was at the time of his indictment was an officer serving in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, a municipal bureau of MPS. To be a bit more specific, he was a veteran officer of the bureau’s foreign affairs unit. Hu is a man of the world with a natural turn for clandestine action and placing others in trying positions. Hu gained notice after joining an Operation Fox Hunt task force. Reportedly, in early 2016, the Wuhan newsmedia had published glowing profiles about him, describing his imposing height, his travels to 29 countries, and his arrests of eight fugitives. In an interview, Hu told the Hubei Daily: “Out of the country does not mean out of the legal system.” He added: “Show your sword and punish even those in faraway lands.”

PRC Official-2 was at one time an individual whose identity was known only to the Grand Jury. However, PRC Official-2 has since been revealed to be Tu Lan, a 50 year old citizen and resident of China, was employed as a prosecutor with the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate and a leader of a Wuhan Fox Hunt task force. She would eventually direct day-to-day activities of the identification and repatriation team. However, as she did not speak English, Johnny would stick close and be her intermediary between her and Michael McMahon, the US private investigator, who was referred to by the identification and repatriation team members simply as “Mike.” 

Zhai Yongqiang, a 46 year old Chinese citizen, resided in China and California. According to court documents, Tu Lan and Zhai Yongqiang, age 46, were the last of the nine charged in the superseding complaint. The identity of a ninth defendant, named Anonymous by US prosecutors, remains under seal.

Among those also included in the federal court documents but not indicted were PRC Official-1 is an individual whose identity remains known only to the Grand Jury.  PRC Official-1 is said to be a Chinese citizen and a director of the Wuhan prosecution office’s anti-corruption bureau. Note that US prosecutors did not charge or identify PRC Official-1 or PRC Official-2 which frequently occurs for strategic and diplomatic reasons with regard to counterintelligence cases. Rong Jing, a 39 year old permanent resident in the US, was Hu’s point man in California. He was a married businessman, living in Rancho Cucamonga, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. Court documents state Rong described himself as a bounty hunter for the Chinese government. He apparently enjoyed his “Motherland” and was quite talkative about it. Rong’s discussion of his work as identification and repatriation team member provided investigators with a wealth of information on the insidious nature and ubiquitous presence of the Operation Fox Hunt networks. Co-conspirator #3 was an operative who on or about and between May 15, 2017 and May17, 2017, contacted and hired a private investigator in California–dubbed P1 in the federal court document–for the purpose of surveilling Jane Doe #2. Co-conspirator #3 provided P1 with a picture of a document from the defendant Zhai Yongqiang containing the name and personal identification information belonging to Xu.

Communist Party of China Expectations of the Identification and Repatriation Team 

In 2015, Liu Dong, then deputy director of MPS’s economic crimes division, headed Operation Fox Hunt for the organization. He used interviews with China’s newsmedia to supposedly provide citizens with a rare look into the Operation Fox Hunt teams. He told Xinhua news agency that the work required a young team because members needed the strength to withstand long hours and frequent long-distance travel. Liu also told Xinhua that his team was highly intelligent, tough and nimble, with backgrounds in economics, law, foreign languages and business management. He further stated that team members were selected in part for their “emotional quotient” for dealing with overseas law enforcement, and for their ability to handle adversity.

For those team members indoctrinated in Communist Chinese thought doubtlessly recognizes his or her solemn responsibility to ensure China achieved its maximum potential everyday. Chinese intelligence officers in the various services likely feel that they can outperform their opponents and overcome their efforts to defend targets from espionage and efforts to intercept them. One might postulate in the abstract that Chinese intelligence officers may very well have closely observed, or may have read reports on how the behavior, performance and professionalism of officers of organizations in adversarial countries responsible for investigating and halting China’s espionage and any other activities in them was so negative, self-defeating, and self-destructive that confidence in their own abilities was uplifted. Perhaps this impression or belief grows in certitude with every review of certain adversaries. While there may not exactly be a wide open door there likely appeared to be seemingly endless potential for action and perhaps limitless possibilities.

Imaginably, those operatives from China already associated with the Chinese government who were selected for the identification and repatriation team had no bad habits–such as indulging in alcohol, narcotics, pornograpby, misogyny, and prostitution–that could potentially become amplified in a Western environment. To go a bit further using Chinese intelligence officers as a model, identification and repatriation team members, while deployed in service of their country, would not be expected to take any aspect of their duties lightly. They expectedly would never display any desire to involve themselves with banal amusements to fill time when not active in the field–one could hardly call any time while deployed “outside working hours.”–or entertain themselves on mobile phones while performing work tasks. One might presume that whatever they may most enjoy, they contented themselves with least. In effect, the team was expected to figuratively display the “company culture” of the Communist Party of China and live and act by “company principles.” By engaging in heavy handed actions against family members of the targets, team members certainly could be said to have displayed the “best practices” of the company.

Despite all of the safeguards in place, team members were well-aware that danger in the form of lurking US counterintelligence services. While perhaps highly motivated, on the ground, the hyperbole of China’s domination of the field in the US uttered by senior executives and Communist Party of China leaders is likely obviate in the minds of many operatives due to the very strong desire not to be captured. Presumably, no Chinese intelligence officer or clandestine or covert operative of any kind wants to be caught due to his or her own delinquency, carelessness, or outright stupidity. There is also the matter of punishment they might face back home for their failure. In recent memory, few to none among have been caught and put on trial in a US court. This is surely the standard and the expectation for all of those deployed at the Chinese government’s bidding. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

In 2015, Liu Dong, then deputy director of MPS’s economic crimes division, headed Operation Fox Hunt for the organization. He used interviews with China’s newsmedia to supposedly provide citizens with a rare look into the Operation Fox Hunt teams. He told Xinhua news agency that the work required a young team because members needed the strength to withstand long hours and frequent long-distance travel. Liu also told Xinhua that his team was highly intelligent, tough and nimble, with backgrounds in economics, law, foreign languages and business management. He further stated that team members were selected in part for their “emotional quotient” for dealing with overseas law enforcement, and for their ability to handle adversity.

Stalking and Attempted Repatriation of Xu Ji and Liu Feng

As the story goes, in September 2016, Hu flew to New York to launch the operation. Among his first moves, he went into New Jersey to reconnoiter the house in Short Hills and other locations. Then at Hu’s direction, his bevy of clandestine operatives began building a network. First, they needed a local private investigator, preferably a former police officer with contacts and the skills to track people down. Zhu Yong, together with co-conspirator whose identity is known only to the Grand Jury as “Co-conspirator #1,” hired Michael McMahon to investigate and surveil Xu. McMahon came from a family of police officers and firefighters. As an officer in the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for 14 years, he had served in a narcotics unit and an elite street crime unit. He rose to the rank of detective sergeant. He received the Police Combat Cross for his role in a gunfight in the Bronx. McMahon retired in 2003 on partial disability related to ailments caused by his time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack. Reportedly, his wife, an actress, had a long-running part on “As the World Turns,” a daytime soap opera. Imaginably as a security precaution, Hu’s operatives enlisted a woman who presented herself as the New York-based employee of a translation company to contact McMahon. The woman explained to him that she discovered him through a Google search. She then introduced him to Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong, describing them as representatives of a private Chinese company that was trying to recover assets from a former employee who had stolen money.  Zhu Feng identified himself as the nephew of the owner of the Chinese firm, which he allegedly described as a construction company. The following month, Hu traveled to the US to meet with McMahon at a Panera Bread restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, a suburb about 20 miles from New York City. Reportedly, the MPS officer presented himself as Eric Yan, an executive of the private company, during that meeting and other interactions. Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong also participated in Hu’s meetings with McMahon. Hu provided McMahon with a retainer of $5000 at that first meeting.  The two Zhu’s were reportedly involved with his succeeding payments. McMahon’s attorney claims his client “believed he was meeting company personnel” and never learned the identification and repatriation team’s true mission. “Nothing seemed suspicious at meetings” according to McMahon’s attorney. He also indicates that the identification and repatriation team members that his client met at no point mentioned the Chinese government or that anybody worked in law enforcement in China. He claims the focus of discussions was asset recovery, and they convincingly portrayed themselves as company employees with a vested interest in locating the money. 

Soon after he was hired, McMahon began to investigate Xu and his family, a process which included conducting surveillance on Xu and obtaining his banking information. ProPublica reports that McMahon brought in two more investigators to help stake out a suspected location of Xu and Liu, a house in New Jersey. He took the precaution of alerting local police to the surveillance presumably to prevent any misunderstandings if detected or reported by passers-by. (At that point, McMahon demonstrated the willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Thereby, ample opportunity existed  for US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to enlist his assistance as an informant or operative. For reasons unknown, the opportunity was passed up.) As indicated by the federal document, McMahon’s activities were initially directed by the defendant Zhu Yong and later directly by Hu and Zhu Feng. McMahon was diligent in providing reports on his progress to Hu. In the Fall of 2016, McMahon sent Hu information regarding Xu and his family. In or about November 2016, McMahon emailed information about Liu’s international travel. Later, around December 2016, McMahon emailed Hu information concerning Liu’s date of birth, Social Security Number, and banking information. In November, Hu, still using the nom de guerre Yang, emailed McMahon to say he had “reported all we found” to his superiors in China

In December 2016, Hu visited New York again. On that occasion, he traveled with his manager. US authorities only identified Hu’s superior only as PRC Official-1, the director of the Wuhan prosecution office’s anti-corruption bureau and a leader of a Wuhan Fox Hunt task force that includes prosecutors and investigators in the Communist Party’s anti-corruption unit. After that visit, Hu and Zhu Feng returned to China. Oddly enough, in a meeting in Wuhan, Hu confided to Zhu that next time they did not plan to come back from the US without the targets.

Following months of investigative work by McMahon, the identification and repatriation team planned a specific operation to stalk and grab Xu via psychological coercion. It was then that the team moved to bring Xu’s elderly father from China to the US in order to communicate a threat on behalf of the Chinese government directly to Xu. As part of the plan, Xu’s father was directed to tell him to the effect that if he did not return to China, his family there would suffer serious harm, including imprisonment. In furtherance of this criminal scheme, team members, Zhu, Tu Lan, and Li Minjun traveled to the US.

Malgré-nous Among the Team’s Members

It has been said that in zealousness, one can usually find some weakness, some hidden doubts. In China, the world is limited to what is seen through the lens of the Communist Party of China and “Xi thought.” For some Chinese citizens, that line of thinking and a will of iron act as blinders, preventing other perspectives from seeping in. From the view of the Communist Party of China, in the New Jersey operation, a team was being sent in under Hu’s leadership whose members’ minds were turned wholly toward bringing John Doe #1 back to China. In no small part, therein lies the causality for the ultimate breakdown of the New Jersey identification and repatriation operation. 

Interestingly, not all team members were members of the Communist Party of China or aspired to be such. One would think Party membership would be sine qua non for a mission of this type as it was actually commissioned by the Party and given that certain exigent circumstances could arise, requiring almost anything of team members, including literal self-sacrifice. Those called upon were indeed not the most dedicated. The teams and their superiors in Beijing erred in presuming without any reliable ability to predict or confirm the fidelity of those non-Party members would gladly follow orders in every circumstance.

With the New Jersey enterprise, it is clear two team members, Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong were called upon presumptively because their loyalty was guaranteed with dangled threats to cause misfortune for their relatives, some of whom had already suffered by the government’s hand. It was certainly an odd type of fidelity. In Zhu Feng’s particular case, in the summer of 2016, he received news from relatives in Wuhan that MPS had brought his uncle, a former accountant, back to China from Houston. Zhu’s relatives also contacted him to say: “The cop who caught your uncle is named Hu Ji. They further explained: “He will contact you about another case. Do what he says.” Team Members of identification and repatriation teams such as Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong are ostensibly China’s version of the French malgré-nous. Malgré-nous were those men of the Alsace-Moselle region who were conscripted against their will into the German Wehrmacht or the Waffen SS during World War II. Chinese citizens were torn from their normal daily lives and pressed into service not simply as a matter of being under the authority and thumb of hostile power that controlled the territory in which they lived, but coping with the threat of harm, even death, of loved ones also living under the regime.

The Initial Effort and the First “Emotional Bomb”

In the spring of 2017, the plan was ready and all team elements were assembled in the US. Hu remained in Wuhan, managing activities, but he sent in a specialist, Tu Lan, a prosecutor for the Hanyang District of Wuhan. She would lead the repatriation team on the ground, but because she did not speak English, Zhu Feng (hereinafter referred to as Zhu as the role of his father, Zhu Yong, was not discussed beyond this point in any sources) would stick close and be her intermediary with McMahon. The other specialist sent into the US, Li Minjun, as aforementioned, was a doctor who had worked for MPS, US officials allege her assignment was to escort an elderly man across the world against his will in order to ambush his son, Xu. Reportedly, Hu hoped the shock would cause the wanted man, Xu Jin, to surrender on the spot. The true age of Xu’s father has not been disclosed, but presumably Hu felt he was frail enough to put Li at his side for the more than 15-hour flight. Interestingly, Zhu Yong, who at the mission’s outset was entrusted to find and establish links with a US-based private investigator with specific characteristics, Tu, Li, and McMahon were ages 64, 50, 65, and 53 respectively. It seems that for MPS managers, age has importance, imaginably equating to experience, capability, reliability, solid judgment, and wisdom among other positive qualities.

Hu told McMahon in an email in March that the plan was to bring the father unannounced to the house in New Jersey and lure him out. Hu also gave him the following instructions: “We just want to recomm[e]nd you trace him to find [his son’s] address.” According to the federal court document, Hu offered to pay McMahon in cash for his assistance. McMahon accepted the offer. Hu later emailed McMahon two photographs, one of which depicted Xu and Liu while the other depicted Xu’s parents. Before returning to the US, Zhu was given the task of overseeing operatives he had hired in the Chinese community in New York. He sent a text message ordering one operative to join Mahon’s  surveillance in New Jersey with instructions to “conduct surveillance there for 5 days. 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 8 hours on the last three days . . . The compensation is 1800USD.” 

To all appearances, Zhu had Hu’s complete confidence. On first impression, an interesting historical parallel comes to mind with regard to the developing relationship between Zhu as a conscript with his superiors, or more accurately, his captors Hu and Tu. Despite being torn from his former carefree existence and forced to become a player in Operation Fox Hunt, he was nevertheless given key tasks, considerable responsibility, and treated in a rather avuncular manner particularly by Hu. In Ancient Rome, occasionally certain masters would depend upon slaves to perform important duties and provide them with opportunities for growth within the society. A couple of famous examples of that are the relationship that grew between the master Terentius Lucanus and Publius Terentius and that between Carpophorus and Callixtus. Born between 195/185 BC, Roman senator Terentius Lucanus brought Publius Terentius to Rome as a slave. He educated him, and freed him after being impressed by his abilities. Publius Terentius would become a playwright known better today as Terence. Terence’s 6 plays have survived through the centuries. He died young around 159 BC. Callixtus was a young slave from Rome. His master Carpophorus, gave him the responsibility of collecting funds given as alms by other Christians. Callixtus would become a Christian himself. According to Sextus Julius Africanus, Callixtus would become the Bishop of Rome from c. 218 AD, and is known both as Callistus I and Pope Callixtus. He was martyred for his Christian faith in c. 223 AD and is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. Perchance Hu was grooming Zhu as a protégé and foresaw a future for him as a full-fledged officer in MPS or some other security service.

Exploitation of Émigré Communities

Clever choices have been made by the identification and repatriation teams based on studies on the practices of law enforcement organizations around the US where Chinese investigators must operate. Aware of the Chinese government’s hostile activities within their own community, it would seem to be grave error to believe law enforcement around the US could possibly know what the Chinese government is doing in the US against émigrés or what it is capable of doing to please or make a good impression with the Communist Party of China. It is not always the case but to an extent, the émigrés, thinking ostensibly in survival mode, will typically see no other way to get by but to remain obedient to Chinese authorities. Unfortunately, there is of course the other reality that not everyone can be or wants to be a noble soul. 

As discussed in the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled  “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago,” under Article 9 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress, maintenance of national security, priority shall be given to prevention, equal attention shall be paid to temporary and permanent solutions, specialized tasks shall be combined with reliance on the masses, the functions of specialized authorities and other relevant authorities in maintaining national security shall be maximized, and citizens and organizations shall be extensively mobilized to prevent, frustrate, and legally punish any conduct that compromises national security. Article 11 decrees that there will be no tolerance shown for the failure to meet one’s obligation to maintain national security. The article states: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China, state authorities, armed forces, political parties, people’s groups, enterprises, public institutions, and other social organizations shall have the responsibility and obligation to maintain national security.” Authorities in China understand that extraordinary powers are entrusted in the hands of many, such as MPS and MSS officers, who work on national security matters. Contractors, and even informants, who might work on their behalf are placed under the same scrutiny. Those who have attempted to cross the Chinese government have faced stiff reprisals. The shadow of sudden death can hang over the head of any individual arrested for such betrayal. As stated under Article 13: “Whoever as an employee of a state authority abuses power, neglects duty, practices favoritism, or makes falsification in national security work or any activity involving national security shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The article further declares: “Any individual or organization that fails to fulfill the obligation of maintaining national security or conducts any activity compromising national security in violation of this Law or any relevant law shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The furtive work of Chinese citizens at home and abroad under the direction of the MPS, MSS, or PLA, does not need to be without guerdon. As explained under Article 12: “The state shall commend and reward individuals and organizations that have made prominent contributions to maintaining national security.

Unable to keep pace with the identification and repatriation teams from the start, naturally the initial hope would be given the gravity of the intrusion on US soil, that while moving about within Chinese émigré communities, the teams would at least act with some measure and would not exceed what is decent. That has not been the case regarding their behavior. Operation Fox Hunt teams have created great fear among the émigré communities. One might toss on top of that an apparent impunity with which hunters from China act against them. True, on paper, members of the Chinese émigré communities have nothing to fear in the US and are welcome to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Yet, as the MPS was able to accomplish more than imaginable in the US, displaying its power and capabilities, there remains uneasiness, fear, terror among Chinese émigré communities from something they are thousands of miles from. Chinese émigré communities are for the most part convinced of the ubiquitous nature of the Communist Party of China and China’s security services.

Chineee Émigré Communities and Unshakable Grip of Beijing

Unable to keep pace with the identification and repatriation teams from the start, the initial hope would be given the gravity of the intrusion on US soil, that within Chinese émigré communities, the teams would act with some measure and would not exceed what is decent. Surely, that has not been the case regarding their behavior. Operation Fox Hunt teams have created great fear among the émigré communities. One might toss on top of that an apparent impunity with which hunters from China act against them. True, on paper, members of the Chinese émigré communities have nothing to fear in the US and are welcome to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Yet, as the MPS was able to accomplish more than imaginable in the US, displaying its power and capabilities, there remains uneasiness, fear, terror among Chinese émigré communities from something they are thousands of miles from. Chinese émigré communities are for the most part convinced of the ubiquitous nature of the Communist Party of China and China’s security services. Indeed, within the émigré communities, there is an expectation, especially among more recent arrivals that always close by are recruited informants of MPS, Party Members, planted United Front Work Department operatives and informants, planted MSS intelligence officers, operatives, recruited informants. Memories and ways of living to survive in an authoritarian China are not easily shaken off. Quando libertas ceciderit, nemo libere dicere audebit. (When liberty will have fallen (falls/is lost), no one will dare to speak freely.) 

The learning curve for law enforcement organizations around the US may remain steep for some time as the ways and means with which the Chinese government uses to approach Chinese émigré communities on matters such as returning citizens and former citizens to China “to face justice,” is ever evolving. Use of lessons learned by the Operation Fox Hunt identification and repatriation teams will mean for the future more effective use of artifice, more effective collection of information within émigré communities, more effective counter-surveillance, more effective sharing information and data useful for operations among organizations engaged in clandestine and covert operations in the US.

To get Xu’s father into the US without incident, Zhu coached the captive elderly man on responses to standard questions asked by border inspectors at Newark Liberty International Airport. In advance of Xu’s father’s arrival in the US, the defendants Zhu and Tu flew to  Newark Liberty International Airport on or about April 3, 2017. Xu’s father and Li, the doctor, arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight from Shanghai on April 5, 2017. While in the US, the Tu met with Zhu and an individual known to US prosecutors as Co-conspirator #2 at a hotel in New Jersey. At that meeting, Tu directed Zhu and Co-conspirator #2 to surveil a residence belonging to a relative of Xu and Liu using night vision goggles in advance of bringing Xu’s father to the home. Tu also subsequently communicated with Zhu with regard to the logistics of the operation. On the evening of April 5, 2017, identification and repatriation team members brought Xu’s father to a house in New Jersey that belonged to his wife’s relatives. As that transpired, McMahon performed surveillance in the vicinity of the house belonging to Liu’s relatives to determine the present locations of members of Xu’s family, including Hu himself, which at that time remained unknown to the team.

On April 6, 2017, Xu met his father at a public location before they returned together to his residence. McMahon and other team members monitored the meeting of Xu and his father. That same day, Zhu requested that McMahon run a database check for a license plate number and address associated with Xu. McMahon provided that info. Xu’s father remained with his son for several days. During that time, he explained to Xu that his family in China would be harmed if he did not return to China. Hu’s hopes for a lightning-bolt triumph evaporated. Instead of acquiescence, the family stood fast and contacted law enforcement. The FBI got involved, a move the Operation Hunt team was almost immediately made aware of. According to the federal court document, on April 7, 2017, Zhu sent a text to Tu saying Hu wanted her “and the doctor to come back as soon as possible” to “evade actions by US law enforcement.”  That same day, Tu departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York on a flight to Beijing. The next day, Li departed from Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight to Beijing.

Identification and Repatriation Team Receives Intriguing Alert

Although executed piecemeal, the departure of key members and leaders of the identification and repatriation team after the alert was sounded may have followed a prearranged course. As it was always possible that such a need to move fast would arise. Nevertheless, a flaw became apparent in that process. it would have made a bit more sense if team lead investigators and their superiors, when selecting team members, had only selected individuals who possessed certain talents, perhaps demonstrated on previous operations maybe in other areas, who would expectedly contribute to the operation’s success. In this particular situation, some identification and repatriation team members who remained in the field as Zhu appeared unsure of how to proceed, were unfamiliar with steps to take, and required supervision. Those next steps that needed to be taken should have been standard operating procedures deeply ingrained through training. In an exigent situation, the team leader also appeared not certain as to how team members might perform. Tu, for instance, appeared to feel the need to be emphatic when issuing instructions. Zhu communicated in a similar way to the operatives that he supervised. This “crack” in the team selection process was to a degree a self-inflicted handicap and vulnerability that could have proved costly if US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations around the US were aware of the situation and positioned themselves to take advantage of it. Knowing that this is how the identification and repatriation teams operate, it could allow them to be better prepared and steal a March on their prey on another occasion when they are in their sights. However, this may have been a lesson learned by Operation Fox Hunt managers and it is unlikely that they would not make the necessary changes to avoid dealing with this issue in the future. Surely, there remains a chance the situation will be the same next time, too! Some Operation Fox Hunt managers may feel on ne change pas une équipe qui gagne!

Chinese Countersurveillance Operations in the US

The fact that the identification and repatriation team received an alert that the FBI was fully aware of the effort to coerce Xu by using his father was reported almost as a trifle in the federal court document. Yet, in reality, it was small much in the way that the small movement of a needle on a seismograph can report a giant earthquake. Upon first reading about this particular moment of identification and repatriation operation, there grew an interest in greatcharlie in how Chinese operators engaged in all sorts of activities in the US are seemingly forewarned whenever law enforcement and counterintelligence services draw near them. Of course, one of the counterintelligence organizations might just be a leaky ship. There could be rotten apples in their midst. However, it certainly would not be too fanciful to conceive that Chinese operatives on government sanctioned missions receive more support from unknown entities nestled in the US than may be recognized officially or publicly.

One might postulate that with so many Chinese intelligence officers–there were reports of as many as 25,000 “in country” back in 2017–and their operatives and informants moving furtively throughout the US, there may very well be specialized counterintelligence elements, covert surveillance teams, positioned in numbers deemed sufficient by the powers that be in the PLA CMC Joint Military Staff Intelligence Bureau and MSS counterintelligence that provide overwatch for espionage operations. The PLA teams, rather than come from intelligence units, might instead be formed from PLA Army special operations units primed in the reconnaissance and surveillance operations and to engage in a special reconnaissance mission. Teams from MSS would likely be secounded from the provincial departments and municipal bureaus, Chinese intelligence elements operating in the US would surely appreciate a resource that would allow their officers, operatives, and informants to repeatedly evade intercept. Similar covert surveillance teams may be operating in other countries. It is just a theory.

One might postulate that with so many Chinese intelligence officers–there were reports of as many as 25,000 “in country” a few short years ago–and their operatives and informants moving furtively throughout the US, there may very well be specialized counterintelligence elements, covert surveillance teams, positioned in numbers deemed sufficient by the powers that be in the PLA CMC Joint Military Staff Intelligence Bureau and MSS counterintelligence secounded from the provincial departments and municipal bureaus, that provide overwatch for espionage operations. If providing assistance to them would actually be feasible, it would be counterintuitive not allow identification and repatriation teams to enjoy the overwatch of any theorized covert countersurveillance teams of MSS and PLA operating in close proximity to them. 

If providing assistance to them would actually be feasible, it would be counterintuitive not allow covert countersurveillance teams of MSS and PLA to provide overwatch for other operations ostensibly underway in close proximity to them, perhaps of a variety and number far in excess of espionage. Such would be to the great benefit of the Operation Fox Hunt identification and repatriation teams.

As part of their mission, the theorized covert surveillance teams would very likely shadow any law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations for the purpose of countersurveillance and early warning. No law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would be allowed to surprisingly appear at the site of a meeting between team members and a target ol contracted operative. No law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would be allowed to place surveillance teams on any of Chinese operatives without the knowledge of the covert surveillance teams. Any alerts about threatening moves by law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would unlikely be relayed through channels from the intelligence element’s headquarters down to those managing the teams as the circumstances would invariably be exigent, and time would be of essence. Communication between intelligence elements and the team would ostensively be confined at the level of the intelligence field managers and the lead investigator of the team. Imaginably, MSS and PLA managers would establish some incognito for their contacts as a security measure in case some catastrophe should befall the identification and repatriation team and through interrogation, the team leader reveals anything about their MSS or PLA counterpart that could identity them.

MSS and PLA intelligence network managers would hardly want some incident with the identification and repatriation team to draw unwanted attention to their province. It would be best to help the team get in and get out rapidly and safely. Additionally, having the opportunity to study and make observations of their opposition’s practices in surveilling suspected foreign operatives or the steps they go through and how they perform and behave while in investigation mode imaginably would be invaluable for MSS or PLA intelligence officers operating in the US. On top of everything, as the identification and repatriation operations are apparently the brainchild of the Communist Party of China, it would be essential for them to accomplish their task. Those able to make that a reality would be expected to do their utmost to assist with all possible precautions taken into consideration. All involved would likely be called to account if it failed. A MSS or PLA field manager who has the identification and repatriation teams operating in their area of operation would have to be considerably indifferent to the wishes of the Communist Party of China to have a clear ability to ensure the success of the team’s effort, and do nothing to assist and actually allow it the flounder.

Much as the MPS organized the identification and repatriation teams, it may very well be that any prospective covert surveillance teams organized for purpose suggested, might be well trained officers of MPS–also an intelligence service with what might be deemed a counterintelligence proclivity, doing what they do best for the Communist Party of China, keeping an iron grip on all Chinese citizens. Covert communications between team lead investigators and the covert countersurveillance teams theorized here would likely be uniquely designed by MPS in China for the operation. If the theorized covert surveillance team discussed in this essay were a creature of MPS, having it take their eyes off what members of the identification and repatriation teams were doing surely would not thrill the powers that be at MPS Headquarters.

Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. (We have great notions of everything unknown.) Of course, it is possible that nothing remotely resembling what has been suggested here exists at all. On the other hand, there may actually be surveillance teams operating around the US in a manner of far greater conception than what has been hinted.

Gnawing Bit More on the Theorized Covert Surveillance Teams 

Conceivably, when not engaged in their patient vigil over Chinese operatives of all kinds, the hypothetical covert surveillance teams maintain a low key, traveled existence wherever they are. What may be viewed as most remarkable about the covert surveillance team members if discovered would be the fact they are by appearance so unremarkable. Anything linked to their activities would hardly be found wherever they might reside or frequent. All in all, they would surely keep themselves to themselves. Yet, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the theorized covert surveillance team is that they would likely be gaining experience and honing their skills with everyday that passes during which they have perhaps been out in the field. As their skills increase, their capabilities and willingness to take on greater challenges would also likely increase. Further, for those trying to cope with Chinese operatives of all kinds in the US, the imagined increase in experience and capabilities among the theorized covert surveillance teams would surely be attended by a marked increase in the degree of difficulty in capturing them. Imaginably some financial support would be provided for the additional expenditures on logistical needs for the supportive surveillance work. As the activity would be in direct support of a Communist Party of China directed operation, a large request would unlikely be made to cover personal service expenses. The honor and privilege of serving the Communist Party of China would expectantly be viewed in Beijing as sufficient reward.

Oddly enough, the identification and repatriation team still did not just pull the shutters down and run off just because FBI agents were onto them. With the specialists safe, the identification and repatriation team members rather audaciously continued to watch Xu’s in-laws home and Xu’s home. Tu joined Hu at the command post back in Wuhan where she continued to direct the identification and repatriation operation while in China. On April 9, 2017, Zhu messaged Tu Lan, inquiring: “Prosecutor Tu [Tu Lan] whose order should I take for now while I am here?” Tu replied: “You communicate with me and Hu [Hu Ji]. I will go to the Commission for Discipline Inspection this afternoon. I will contact you afterwards.” The “Commission for Discipline Inspection,” which was a Chinese government agency responsible for investigating members of the Communist Party for corruption. Tu also wrote to Zhu: “[Y]ou need to confirm that Mike [McMahon] can execute according to our requirement.” According to the federal court document,, on April 9, 2017, Tu  sent an electronic message to the Zhu asking: “Did you tell Hu [Hu Ji] that I still want to confirm [John Doe #1’s ] [Xu’s] father’s status?” Zhu responded, “It seemed that he has reported to the [Chinese Official #1] already,” and added that “I arranged to have me [McMahon] stay there Monday morning.” Zhu told Tu Lan that ” the money I have on hand can only have me [McMahon] to stay there for two days.” On April 11, 2017, McMahon and Zhu discussed–in English–additional steps to intimidate Xu into returning to China. The federal court document specifically quotes McMahon as proposing they “harass” Xu, including by “[p]ark[ing] outside his home and let him know we are there.” Zhu replied that they “can’t harass [John Doe #1] [Xu] like that lol.” The efforts to persuade Xu to return to China were unsuccessful. The emotional bomb fizzled.. On April 12, 2017,  Zhu and Xu’s father departed from Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight to Shanghai.

Discussion will be extended in Part 2, to be published later.