U.S. intelligence agencies now have detailed information that Russia has amassed the kind of forces needed for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But the Obama administration hasn’t shared with Ukraine the imagery, intercepts, and analysis that pinpont the location of the Russian troops ready to seize more Ukrainian land, The Daily Beast has learned.
President Obama has repeatedly and publicly expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people—and warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin that there will be consequences if he takes over any more Ukrainian territory. Yet Obama’s administration has so far been reluctant to hand over the kind of intelligence the Ukrainians could use to defend themselves. U.S. officials and members of Congress briefed on the crisis in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that senior U.S. military officers have been instructed to refrain from briefing their Ukrainian counterparts in detail about what the United States knows about the Russians troops amassing on the border.
“I am not confident we are sharing any of that kind of information,” said Rep. Michael Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee that oversees U.S. tactical air and land forces. “It’s clear we are not giving them critical military advice about the Russian capability on their border and the best utilization of the Ukrainian military to counter that.”
Instead, the U.S. intelligence community’s detailed analysis of a potential Russian invasion has been shared only with the Congress, American policy makers, and members of the Obama administration. The analysis includes details such as the geographic location of specific Russian units and predictions for how those units would be used in combination for a potential invasion.
That’s the sort of information that would be invaluable for any military preparing for a possible incursion. But it would be particularly useful to the fledgling government in Ukraine that lacks the satellites, sensors and intercept technology to learn the details of the military force that looks like it is about to invade its territory. Ukraine's military is severely outmatched by Russia's, but detailed intelligence on the location and composition of Russia's invading force could advantage the Ukrainians in defending its eastern cities nonetheless.
And while any decision about an invasion is Putin’s alone, the signs are mounting that an invasion is near. Congressional staffers briefed on the matter say U.S. intelligence agencies have detected the supply lines needed for an invasion. Battlefield hospitals and mobile medical units have accompanied the infantrymen, tank columns and artillery units amassing at the border as well. When Russia announced military exercises near Ukraine in February, the U.S. intelligence community did not see such supply lines or medical units.
“It’s clear we are not giving them critical military advice about the Russian capability on their border and the best utilization of the Ukrainian military to counter that.”
Stephen Blank, a senior fellow and expert in Russia at the American Foreign Policy Council and a former professor at the U.S. Army War College for 24 years, said the presence of the mobile military hospitals was particularly important. “Mobile military hospitals mean preparation for war, it means they are preparing to take casualties.”
A senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed to The Daily Beast that Ukraine was not receiving detailed U.S. intelligence analysis of Russian troop positions. This official said the practice of sharing intelligence with a country like Ukraine is dictated by long-standing intelligence sharing agreements. In the case of Ukraine, the United States historically does not share much out of concern that the information provided to Kiev would make its way back to Moscow. Until February, Ukraine’s military maintained close ties to Russia. The chances that its military is penetrated by Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU are high. “We have to strike a balance between the information we share and the desire of foreign intelligence services to understand our sources and methods,” this official said.
Others disagreed. “This is not an issue of means and methods and techniques,” Turner said. “This is straight up, almost Google Earth-type analysis. Even giving Ukraine (intelligence) about how best to utilize its forces against Russia would be beneficial.”
Turner added that Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Olexander Motsyk, told him last week that Ukraine still needed massive assistance from the United States. To date, the only military assistance the U.S. has agreed to send Ukraine has been the delivery of 300,000 Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) for Ukrainian forces in the field.
Turner said Motsyk made it clear from his conversation that Ukraine also wanted the detailed intelligence on Russian troop positions. Motsyk declined to respond to an email requesting comment.
The current estimate is that Russia has amassed 80,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, the director for strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the Russian forces include fixed and rotor wing aircraft, tanks, artillery, light infantry and special operations forces. Pandolfe said the Russian military has the ability to deploy these different units in a “synchronized manner.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is now saying publicly what the intelligence community detected as early as February: Russian special operations forces or Spetsnaz units are responsible for the provocations and riots that have beset eastern Ukraine in recent days.
Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours.”
In light of the dire predictions for further Russian aggression against Ukraine, Turner is baffled that Obama has not done more. “Certainly if the Russians invade we would not want it to go well for them,” he said. “One way to ensure that is to give advice to Ukraine’s military on how to best respond to a Russian invasion. It’s unbelievable that we are not doing that right now.”