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    Defence Intelligence of Ukraine: Rulers of the Stars

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    1. Intro

    The Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine (DIU) acts as the overarching authority for all military intelligence assets across the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Their motto is Sapiens Dominabitur Astris, in English: the wise will rule the stars. Birthed from the ashes of the Soviet Union, for over 30 years they have been responsible for all components of Ukrainian military intelligence and helped to legitimize the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The DIU has a multitude of responsibilities, ranging from identifying potential threats to facilitating cooperation with foreign nations.

    “Above us only stars” is the motto of the aggressor state’s intelligence. “The wise will dominate the stars” – Sapiens dominabitur astris is the answer of thousands of Ukrainian intelligence officers, whose names we may never know, but thanks to whom Ukraine has been defending Europe against the “Russian bear” for eight years. – DIU Website

    2. History of DIU

    2.1. Baby Steps

    The history of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine is closely tied to the history of Ukraine itself. Ukraine gained independence in August of 1991, only a few months before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than letting the country fall into disarray, the country’s strong leadership recognized the need to establish not only a military but also an intelligence body. Intelligence officers from the former Soviet Union were largely responsible for the development of the new intelligence body as well as the regulatory parameter. These officers were Ukrainian intelligence officers, stationed abroad who were returning home as well as officers who were stationed in Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed. They primarily came from assets in: (Source)

    • Kyiv
    • Odessa
    • The Carpathian Military Districts
    • The Air-Defence Army
    • 17th Air Army
    • The Black Sea Fleet
    • Center-Controlled Units

    While in its infancy, this newly formed intelligence unit lacked much of the plumbing or internal infrastructure required to be successful at many of its duties. However, it was a proof of concept and it would continue to evolve. By February of 1992 Ukraine began to formally establish the Intelligence Directorate of the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. At this point in time, the intelligence groups of the Armed Forces lacked a centralized command and control that could unify their efforts. Additionally, the aforementioned infrastructure was still missing. There were no units to train new intelligence officers, no operational control, and no logistics. The Intelligence Directorate’s primary goal was to unify the intelligence assets from the various branches of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and rectify the lack of infrastructure. (Source)

    2.2. Pulled in Two Directions

    Throughout 1992, the Intelligence Directorate was hard at work establishing the groundwork for the Armed Forces’ military intelligence. It had begun to centralize control of the different branches’ intelligence assets and had established a peacetime mission for them. Additionally, it had begun to develop regulations and field manuals for the military as a whole. However, the Intelligence Directorate was lacking strategic direction. On the 7th of September, 1992 the president of Ukraine signed a decree that established the Strategic Military Intelligence Directorate. The rationale was solid but the execution left something to be desired. Now Ukrainian military intelligence had two authoritative bodies controlling it. This led to an overlapping confusion of responsibilities and a lack of clear direction. (Source)

    The leadership of both directorates recognized that this dichotomy of control was counterproductive to the formation of an effective intelligence body. As a result both directorates made the recommendation for the creation of a unified central defence intelligence authority. On the 6th of July, 1993 the president of Ukraine allowed the two intelligence directorates to begin merging into the new Main Military Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine. (Source)

    2.3. A New Name, A New Beginning

    On the 14th of April 1994 the Main Military Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine was given a more concise name. It was now known simply as the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. Along with the new name, this was also widely considered to be the beginning of their all encompassing, multilevel military intelligence system. (Source) Around this time the DIU would also begin establishing special operations forces within the organization. The tasking fell upon the shoulders of a man named Yaroslav Horoshko. Horoshko was a veteran of the Soviet-Afghan War and had earned the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, an award similar to the Medal of Honor or the Victoria’s Cross. Horoshko helped to establish the combat arms wing of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine and ultimately gave his life in service to it. He died training special operations combat divers. (Source)

    3. DIU in the 21st Century

    In March of 2001, the DIU was elevated to the status of a special government authority. (Source) However, less than 9 years later the DIU was almost destroyed from within. In 2010 Viktor Yanukovych was elected as the president of Ukraine. Although international investigators found his election to be legitimate, he was widely corrupt and subversive. Yanukovych was responsible for appointing Russian loyalists to high ranking positions within the Ukrainian government. These Russian appointees subsequently began dismantling the DIU and its strategic capabilities. (Source) Additionally, Yanukovych was responsible for crushing anti-Russian protests in 2014 in which 100 people were killed by his regime. That same year his government was delegitimized and he fled to Russia to live in exile. Three years ago he was tried in absentia and will be subject to 13 years in prison upon his capture. (Source)

    DIU soldier in full kit with night vision.
    Ukrainian DIU member. (Retrieved via Ukraine.gov)

    3.1. Russian Invasion

    Despite years of demobilization and demoralization of the DIU and Ukrainian Armed Forces they were able to launch a successful counter offensive when Russia initially invaded in 2014. However, it wasn’t without difficulty. Much of the responsibility fell onto the reconnaissance units of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. They were pushed into roles they weren’t well equipped for due to their high professionalism and readiness despite subversive efforts. Rather than recon missions, these units were charged with escorting convoys and establishing military checkpoints. (Source)

    3.2. Middle Finger to the Russians

    Two years after the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimea, the DIU decided to change its emblem. It now more accurately reflected the country’s views towards their aggressive neighbors to the east. Featuring the DIU’s name, motto, and an owl plunging a sword into Russia, as it stands alone highlighted on a globe. This is an “FU” for a few reasons, the most obvious is the sword being plunged into Russia. The less obvious symbolism includes the use of an owl, a natural predator to bats. Bats adorn the unit patches of GRU operators, the Russian counterparts of the DIU. Lastly, Russian state intelligence’s motto translates to “above us only stars”, while the DIU’s motto is “the wise will rule the stars”. All of this sends a very clear message to the Russians that the DIU and Ukraine is not to be trifled with.

    Emblem of the DIU. (Source)

    3.3. Western Integration

    After over half a decade of ongoing war with Russia, in September of 2020, Ukraine passed a law to better integrate with its allies within NATO and the EU. The intelligence community in Ukraine adopted new regulatory practices that mirrored its Western allies. In turn, Ukraine and its allies in the West began to share their experience and increase the cooperation between intelligence agencies. Since then Ukraine has begun increasing multinational cooperation and deployability. The DIU played an important role in the Kabul airlift after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in early 2021. (Source)

    Since Russia’s second invasion attempt in 2022, cooperation with Western allies, particularly the US, has been unprecedented. The head of Army Cyber Command and the NSA, General Nakasone, stated that he had never seen a better sharing of accurate, timely, and actionable intelligence than what is happening with Ukraine in his 35 years of service. (Source)

    4. Structure of DIU

    Almost all of the information regarding the internal structure of the DIU has been scrubbed from the internet. This is likely done at the request of the DIU to help maintain its operational security in light of the Russian invasion. What information is available is tentative at best. Its believed that the DIU is broken into five main directorates and an additional five departments:

    Directorates:

    • Strategic Intelligence Directorate
    • Armed Forces General Staff Intelligence Support Directorate
    • Information Support Directorate
    • Personnel Policy Directorate
    • Logistic Directorate

    Departments:

    • Internal Security Department
    • Planning Department
    • Automation and Communication Department
    • Economic and Finance Department
    • Information and state secret protection Department

    Additionally, it is highly likely that there are various mission-specific commands somewhere within the organization. At its inception, the DIU was heavily based upon its Soviet predecessor, the GRU. The GRU was and still is composed of a multitude of directorates with missions such as specific geographic areas like Western Europe or Asia. Additionally, there are also directorates that specialize in missions such as signals intelligence and information operations. (Source) This is also a model of compartmentalization that Western intelligence organizations also follow. It is highly likely that the DIU also follows a model similar to this one.

    A group of DIU soldiers posing in a foxhole.
    8th Separate Special Forces Regiment circa 2016. (Source)

    4.1. Military Units of DIU

    Somewhere within this formation lies the 4th Special Intelligence Service which controls the multitude of Ukrainian special operations intelligence units. Additionally, there are units that report to the DIU but are organic to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and National Guard. 

    4th Special Intelligence Service

    • 3rd Separate Special Forces Regiment
    • 8th Separate Special Forces Regiment
    • 10th Separate Special Purpose Unit
    • 54th Separate Reconnaissance Battalion
    • Regional Electronic Intelligence Center South
    • Regional Electronic Intelligence Center West

    8th Separate Special Forces Regiment Patch (Source)

    Armed Forces Units

    • 10th Special Detachment
    • 49th Reconnaissance Battalion (Training)
    • 54th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 74th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 129th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 140th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 143rd Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 129th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 130th Reconnaissance Battalion
    • 131st Reconnaissance Battalion

    National Guard Units

    • Special Forces Anti-terrorism Detachment – Omega
    • Special Forces Detachment – Vega

    Special Forces Intelligence Detachment – Ares

    5. Responsibilities of DIU

    The Defence Intelligence of Ukraine has numerous jobs for which it is responsible. The most obvious being to collect, analyze, and process intelligence products for its customers within the Ukrainian government. Additionally, the DIU is charged with ensuring the security of the state and national interests of Ukraine, although it is not alone in this mission. The DIU also helps its customers in the government formulate policy and ensures that it is being implemented in accordance with the Laws on Intelligence. (Source)

    Within the DIU’s collection and analysis mission, it is responsible for identifying and classifying external threats to Ukraine in all domains. This includes cyberspace and government interests abroad. Additionally, the DIU has the authority to conduct covert action. Covert action refers to government activity inside of another country’s borders, without the knowledge or permission of that government. A good example is the US’s mission in Pakistan to kill Usama bin Laden. Additional responsibilities of the DIU include:

    • Counterterrorism
    • Counter intelligence
    • Combating subversive activities
    • Combating organized crime
    • Achieving cooperation with foreign militaries and non-state actors

    6. DIU’s Training

    The exact training that members of the DIU go through isn’t publicly known. However since 2020, Ukrainian military intelligence has been standardizing with its allies inside of NATO and the EU regarding oversight and integration. It’s highly likely that this extends to the training and selection of intelligence officers. Western intelligence officers typically require a four year degree as a minimum qualification. Additionally, they must be eligible to attain a security clearance, which requires an extensive background check of financials and acquaintances. This is a model followed by the Russian KGB and GRU as well and it is highly likely the DIU officers must meet these types of requirements to be considered for the job. 

    6.1. International Training

    Beyond initial training, the DIU is highly involved in cross training with other nations. The DIU has done significant amounts of training with the US in recent years. A report from the US DOD to Congress reveals some of the training DIU intelligence officers have attended. (Source)

    • Command and Staff College (USMC)
    • Cyber Security Fundamentals And Defense Course (USN)
    • Special Forces Qualification Course (Army)
    • Basic Reconnaissance Course (USMC)
    • Combined Strategic Intelligence Course (Defense Intelligence Agency)

    The list is likely longer than what appears in the report at first glance. Classified information is often either scrubbed from Congressional reports, only appearing on reports presented to subcommittees with specific clearance. Alternatively, the line item may be altered so as to not give away what the money is going towards. Since fiscal year 2016, Ukraine has received approximately US$7.6 billion in funds appropriated for security assistance. However, this doesn’t include funds allocated for foreign military financing, of which Ukraine received a significant portion of. (Source) The bulk of these funds were appropriated in the wake of the 2022 Russian invasion and it’s clear to see that the funds have been put to good use by both the DIU and the UAF as a whole. Comparing images of DIU operators from the mid 2010s to ones taken in the early 2020s illustrate a massive leap forward in equipment. 

    7. Equipment of DIU

    The DIU has experienced a massive shift in the quality of the equipment its members use. As recently as 2016, members of the 8th Separate Special Forces Regiment were still utilizing AKMSs and AKS-74s with wooden furniture. Its operators used cumbersome body armor vests and PAGST style helmets without night vision mounting points. This is fairly typical for a post-Soviet state and there is nothing inherently wrong with the gear they utilized. An elite special operations soldier is still just as lethal with a 60 year old AKM as they are with a brand new M4. However, when the money started to roll in, DIU’s operators received a significant upgrade in capabilities. 

    Rifles

    • AKM
    • AKMS
    • AK-74
    • AKS-74
    • AKS-74U
    • AK-74M
    • M4
    • AR-10 Variants
    • Malyuk 

    SVD-63 Dragunov

    7.1. Upgrades

    When the budget allowed, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine’s operators began utilizing the most advanced technologies on the market. Their AKs received overhauls, the wooden handguards were replaced with rail systems allowing users to attach lights and laser aiming modules. Operators began utilizing EoTech holographic weapon sights and Aimpoint red dot sights. Newer weapons began to be used as well, the domestically produced Malyuk bullpup rifle began to see more widespread use by operators. Soldiers began to swap out their bulky body armor vests for more streamlined plate carriers. PAGST style helmets were replaced with OpsCore style high cut helmets with provisions to mount communications systems and night vision devices.

    Light Machineguns and Special Weapons

    • PK
    • PKM
    • GP-25 Undermounted Grenade Launcher
    • Javelin Missile System

    Four DIU soldiers in outdated equipment.
    8th Separate Special Forces Regiment circa 2016. (Source)

    7.2. American Assistance

    The funding coming from America for Ukraine’s war effort allowed for radical modernization of Ukraine’s special operations forces. But it wasn’t just the money that helped, Ukraine also received the US State Department’s blessing to purchase some of the most advanced warfighting technologies in the world. Now DIU operators can be seen with PVS-31 and GPNVG-18 night vision devices. These devices allow its operators to own the night, providing close to day-light levels of vision and situational awareness in close to complete darkness.

    Accompanying the high-tech night vision is infrared laser aiming modules like the PEQ-15 and PEQ-15A. These units mount to the operators rifle, allowing them to project a laser only visible to others utilizing night vision devices. These technologies, among others, are unmatched by Ukraine’s adversaries. While the Russians are still struggling to equip their special operations forces with optics and lights for their rifles, Ukrainian special operators have Predator vision.

    7.3. Malyuk

    The Malyuk rifle has become a fairly iconic rifle. It is primarily seen in use with Ukrainian special operations units but some elements of the national guard and territorial defence forces have also been seen using it. It is sometimes referred to as the Vulcan and is produced by a domestic arms company known as Interproinvest. Essentially the Malyuk is just a reconfigured AK pattern rifle. The receiver is a key indicator of this, the fire control selector is in the same location as a normal AK, as are the mag well dimples. The rifle comes in three calibres and can utilize AK-47, AK-74, and AK-100 series magazines depending on what it is chambered for. 

    Bullpup rifle with Ukrainian drone in background.
    Malyuk rifle with an Aimpoint Comp M4S and a suppressor. (Source)

    7.3.1. Improvements

    However, that’s where the similarities end and the improvements begin. AKs have a rock-in magazine, meaning the user has to insert the front of the magazine into the mag well first, then rock the rear into position. Consequently, it has to be rocked back out too. This can make mag changes take longer when compared to an M4 pattern rifle where the user simply presses a button and the mag drops free. Since the Malyuk is a bullpup design, the mag is close to the end of the stock, making reloading difficult.

    Interproinvest managed to redesign the weapons mag release system into a simple push button near the trigger which drops the magazine free. Additionally, the Malyuk has accessory rails, allowing the user to mount optics, lights, and lasers as needed. Most bullpups are not friendly to left handed shooters because they eject spent casings into a left handed shooter’s face. However, the Malyuk solved this by having the spent casings eject downward, allowing the rifle to be used ambidextrously. Lastly, Interproinvest also produces a purpose built suppressor for the rifle and is capable of mounting a grenade launcher. (Source, Source)

    7.3.1. Specs

    • Calibres: 5.45×39/7.62×39/5.56×45 NATO
    • Barrel Length: 415mm (16in)
    • Operating System: Long-stroke gas piston
    • Weight: 3.8 kg (8.4lb)
    • Max Effective Range: ~500m (varies based on calibre)

    8. Known Engagements

    The Defence Intelligence of Ukraine has taken part in important missions since its inception in the early 1990s. It’s impossible to know the full breadth of their operational history. However, two key engagements highlight the dedication to duty and heroism of the DIU. 

    8.1. Genocide in the Balctics

    In the mid-1990s civil war was ravaging the Balkan states. Despite being only a few years old, the DIU was a part of the multinational peacekeeping mission. In the wake of the genocide at Srebrenica, where the Bosnian Serb army massacred over 8,000 Muslim civilians, partially due to a Dutch peacekeeping contingent’s failure to intervene. The Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent, composed of only 79 people, was responsible for guarding the town of Zhepa. Rather than retreating or standing by as the Serbian army advanced on the village, the Ukrainian soldiers stood their ground even as they came under fire. A DIU intelligence officer named Mykola Verkhohliad managed to negotiate with the leader of the Serb army, Ratko Mladic. As a result of Verkhohliad’s actions over 10,000 Bosnian Muslims were rescued from certain death at the hands of the Serbs. (Source)

    8.2. The Kabul Airlift

    In late 2021 the Taliban had managed to retake most of Afghanistan as the US was withdrawing its forces. Chaos ensued. Countries from all over the globe began to send troops to Kabul to assist in evacuating their citizens from the country as well as local Afghan allies. On the 22nd of August, Ukraine sent operators from the DIU to assist in the evacuation of their personnel from the country. The group managed to successfully rescue 83 people, both Ukrainian and Afghan citizens. However, the DIU operators didn’t stop there. At the same time, Canada’s military was struggling to evacuate its Afghan allies, even with help from the US State Department. In their moment of need Canada turned to Ukraine. On the 27th of August, DIU operators managed to evacuate 29 of Canada’s Afghan interpreters hours before the terrorist attack that killed 13 US service members and 170 Afghans. (Source)

    “For a month I have been trying to get someone to take us away. We asked Americans, Canadians, Qataris, everyone – and there was no solution. They were afraid to go out. Ukrainian soldiers have become angels for us. They did an extraordinary job. They have big heart.” – Javed Hakmal, interpreter for Canadian Special Forces

    Ukraine soldiers standing behind concrete wall with Ukrainian flag.
    Ukrainian DIU operators in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Source)

    9. Summary

    The DIU’s history is as old as Ukraine’s. It was formed out of the collapsing Soviet Union by intelligence offices with an unrelenting love of country and commitment to duty. The ideals of the DIU’s founding officers continue till today. The Diu’s intelligence offices and special operators are some of the most well equipped and trained in the world.

    As Ukraine’s president, Volodymir Zelensky has said, “I can say with complete certainty: military intelligence of Ukraine is one of the most professional and effective in the world. And this is not just an estimate, it is a fact that you prove every day in the battles for our state, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, for our families, in the struggle for our land and future.” The DIU has proven its worth since the beginning and has acted in defence of innocent people across the globe. It has played an incredibly important role in fighting the Russians since they invaded in 2014. The Defence Intelligence of Ukraine will continue to play a crucial role for the country but also for all of its allies.

    Jordan Smith
    Jordan Smith
    Jordan is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He is majoring in International Politics with a concentration in Security Studies and a minor in Russian language.

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