'They're Jamming Everything': Putin's Electronic Warfare Turns Tide of War

As Russian forces push for territorial gains in eastern Ukraine, they're turning to a military capability they've largely forgone during the war but is expected to give them an edge: electronic warfare.

After earlier failing to topple Ukraine's government, Russia's military has focused its offensive on the country's eastern Donbas region, which is home to a large population of Russian speakers. New reporting shows Russian forces are increasingly intercepting the Ukrainian military's communications while jamming navigation and guidance systems.

"They are jamming everything their systems can reach," an official with the Aerorozvidka, a Ukrainian agency that develops unmanned aerial vehicles and other military capabilities, told the Associated Press in a report published Friday. "We can't say they dominate, but they hinder us greatly."

Russia has jammed GPS receivers on drones used by Ukrainian forces used to locate and fire artillery at enemy targets, according to the report.

Christian Brose, a former aide to Senator John McCain and author of The Kill Chain, recalled a story from a Ukrainian officer who said Russians killed a commander after tricking him into returning a wireless call from his mother, according to the report.

An Armored Vehicle Towed in Donbas
In a strategic shift, Russian forces have begun heavy reliance on electronic warfare in their push into Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, according to reports. Above, an armored vehicle is towed on a highway near the city of Soledar in Donbas on Friday, the 100th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. ARIS MESSINIS/Getty Images

After failing to take Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv early in the conflict, Russia's redeployed forces in the eastern Donbas region appear to be making territorial gains and be poised to drive Ukrainian forces from Severodonetsk.

Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Newsweek last month that a victory in the region is central to the propaganda campaign of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Congressional Research Service report published in April says that "the Russian military appeared not to use many of the systems and capabilities it had amassed prior to the invasion."

"We have not seen what we believe the full scope of their electronic warfare capabilities brought to bear," a senior Pentagon official said during a March briefing.

U.S. allies earlier sounded alarms about Russia's electronic warfare capabilities. A report from an Estonian think tank concluded that Russia's technology will "pose a serious challenge to the proper planning and execution of NATO's defence of the Baltic states."

Another report by Janes defense think tank found that Ukraine has developed its electronic warfare systems following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

As Russia has launched its offensive in Donbas, the think tank reported in April that the Russian military was increasing its use of electronic warfare, along with more unmanned aerial vehicles and heightened coordination of artillery with maneuver units.

Russia may have held back on its use of electronic warfare out of concerns that poorly trained technicians may not use it correctly, reported the Associated Press.

"What we're learning now is that the Russians eventually turned it off because it was interfering with their own communications so much," retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, a former U.S. Army commander for Europe, told the Associated Press.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian government for comment.