If you’re a Ukrainian officer and you need intel on tracking stealth advances by the enemy into your own territory, there is one very effective way to get it: just ask the Russians. It turns out that Russian troops are giving away their positions and they’re doing it by using cell phones on Ukrainian networks. Their positions are absurdly easy to track, and it represents a huge advantage for Ukrainian military operations against them.
A military blunder that’s easy to fix, you might say. Just issue a directive to all hands to stop calling home on cell phones, and cease use of such phones altogether. Or, better yet, why not just destroy cell towers in the area depriving Ukrainian military ops of the ability to track them at all?
Not so fast. In the first instance, getting the troops to stop using their phones (or phones they’ve stolen from the Ukrainians) is next to impossible. If they’re not homesick then they’re addicted to the internet. In the second instance, the Russians need the Ukrainian cellular infrastructure in order to operate their own encrypted communication devices. While such encrypted devices are untraceable, the Achilles heel is that they need to use the Ukrainian 3G and 4G networks to run them. They didn’t bring their own network with them, you see, as the American or Chinese military would have done given a similar strategic position.
Even when they’re turned off, cell phones can still give away the GPS locations of their owners. Even Ukrainian civilians who have had their iPhones stolen by Russian troops can find out where the thieves are by using an app available to everyone known as Find My iPhone. “I don’t understand why people don’t understand,” general Robert Neller said, “If I can find you, I can target you; and if I can target you, I can shoot you; and if I can shoot at you, I can kill you. It’s pretty simple.”
Part of the reason Russia was unable to issue their own network in their invasion of Ukraine was down to financial corruption. Even if a billion dollars was allocated for the purpose of setting up secure communications inside Ukraine, half of that money would wind up in Switzerland. The rest would be mismanaged and misallocated. That is part of the reason why Russian troops are so badly kitted out, and explains much of their discontent. Hence the need to phone home. Besides, many of the Russian brass didn’t see the need to adequately plan for the invasion because they honestly thought that the Ukrainians would welcome them as liberators,
There are a million stories in the naked city of Russian corruption and incompetence in their invasion of Ukraine. This has been one of them. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.