The Biden administration’s decision to step up aid to Ukraine is paying real dividends, providing not only the weapons to fight Russian forces, but also the intelligence that has helped Ukraine kill a staggering number of generals Russians and to sink the flagship of Moscow in the Baltic Sea.
While US military and intelligence officials have denied direct involvement in the deadly strikes, the aid has been crucial to Ukraine’s recent battlefield successes.
The developments highlight the delicate dance attempted by the Biden administration and its NATO allies as they escalate the fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin while being careful not to provoke an escalating response from a personality who controls the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
“I think what he’s saying is that the United States is involved in this war in virtually every way except directly fighting the Russians,” said Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security. , about sharing intelligence with Ukrainians.
At the same time, Fontaine criticized US officials for speaking to the media about the contributions intelligence-sharing has made to Ukraine’s struggle, saying the revelations help fuel a false Russian narrative that the war is about the war. NATO enlargement and a defiant West.
“In trying to gain public credit in the press for helping to kill Russian generals and sink Russian ships, I’m afraid it will help this narrative in a way that isn’t productive,” Fontaine said. .
Ukraine repelled the Russian onslaught for 70+ days, bolstered by billions of dollars in weapons from the United States and its allies, including light missile launchers, assault drones and, more recently, heavy artillery like howitzers and tanks.
Biden administration officials have openly said they share battlefield intelligence with Ukrainians, but stressed that Kyiv is responsible for deciding what to target and when.
“We have consistently shared intelligence that includes information the Ukrainians can use to inform and develop their military response to Russia’s invasion,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said March 3.
Ukraine overcame the Russian assault on kyiv and inflicted embarrassing defeats on Moscow, including the strike that sank the Russian warship Moskva in April. Ukrainian officials also said their forces have killed at least half a dozen Russian generals and even more high-ranking Russian commanders.
A series of reports this week provided a window into the extent to which U.S. intelligence sharing has bolstered those efforts. The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence helped Ukraine target and kill Russian generals, but noted officials said the U.S. refrained from providing intelligence “about Russia’s most senior leaders.”
The Washington Post and other outlets a day later reported that US intelligence also helped Ukraine shoot down the Russian vessel.
The headlines were quickly reprimanded by the administration — calling them misleading — and criticized by foreign affairs and national security professionals that the unnamed U.S. officials cited in the reports are undermining Ukraine’s on-the-spot successes. of battle and reinforce the Kremlin’s propaganda that the West is targeting Russia.
PSAKI called reports about the Russian warship, the Moskva, “inaccurate” during a melee with reporters aboard Air Force One.
“The view is that, one, this is an inaccurate claim of our role and an under-claim of the role of Ukrainians,” Psaki said, noting that she had spoken to President Biden and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, who previously issued a statement that the United States had not provided Ukraine with specific information on the targeting of the Moskva, told reporters on Friday that Kyiv did not did not inform Washington of its Russian targets.
“We provide them with useful and relevant intelligence so that they can better defend themselves,” he said. “They have no obligation to tell us how they will use this information.”
He added that the United States is not the “sole source of intelligence and information for Ukrainians,” citing other nations providing intelligence, without naming them specifically, and Ukraine’s own intelligence-gathering capabilities. Ukraine.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California) said the Biden administration is balancing the need to share intelligence with Ukraine without escalating the conflict between the United States. and Russia.
“We are providing real-time intelligence to Ukraine to help it defend itself. I don’t think the administration wants to go into specifics about the type or the circumstances,” he told CNN on Thursday.
James Clapper, former director of intelligence during the Obama administration, noted that, as is the case when the United States shares arms with Ukraine, it “does not attach conditions” to why the Ukrainians use this information.
“We don’t share it with them with such caveats because ‘here’s good intelligence we trust, but don’t use it to help kill generals or sink ships,'” he said. he declares.
Clapper also noted that the Ukrainians have their own intelligence apparatus and that information provided by the United States would be supplemented by intelligence from other allies, such as the United Kingdom and Poland.
John Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and who served as ambassador to Ukraine, called the reports “strange given the concern [administration officials] were before provoking Putin, they are doing it now, which obviously can be considered a provocation.
Herbst, who advocates sending US-made multiple rocket launchers and Polish-owned MiG fighter jets to Ukraine that were pushed back by the administration, said that from his perspective, the United States could provide even more actionable intelligence than is observed.
“I understand that we are not providing what I think we should be, which is continuous real-time intelligence on Russian military assets. We are providing some, but it falls short of what I just said.
Administration officials stressed that the broad picture of U.S. support for Ukraine, which includes intelligence sharing, has been critical in helping Kyiv repel Russian aggression.
“The most visible line of effort is with weapons,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served on former President Obama’s National Security Council. “But there are other areas of effort that have been very important, including intelligence sharing and cybersecurity assistance.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the administration’s goal was not just to help Kyiv repel Russian forces, but also to damage Moscow in ways that would prevent similar acts of Russian aggression in the future – a message the administration had carefully avoided in earlier stages. of the conflict.
“We want to see Russia weakened to the point that it can’t do the kinds of things it did by invading Ukraine,” Austin said during a visit to Poland last month and after a high-stakes visit to Kyiv.
Congress is now drafting legislation to meet Biden’s latest request for $33 billion in additional funding for the fight, mostly in the form of increasingly sophisticated weapons, ammunition and weapon systems.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), dismissing rising costs as a mere necessity, said votes on the legislation could be as early as next week.
“Can we afford it? We can’t afford not to,” she said Wednesday.
Jordan Williams contributed to this report.