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US intelligence key to Ukrainian attacks on Russian generals

Kiev has confirmed the deaths of 12 Russian army generals. Such cooperation in a sensitive area could increase tensions between Washington and Moscow
Fotografia de archivo, un militar ucraniano junto a los cuerpos de militares rusos tendidos en el suelo tras un ataque de las fuerzas ucranianas a su posición en las afueras de Kiev, Ucrania, el jueves 31 de marzo de 2022 AP/VADIM GHIRDA

AP/VADIM GHIRDA  -   File photo, a Ukrainian serviceman stands next to the bodies of Russian servicemen lying on the ground after an attack by Ukrainian forces on their position on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March 31, 2022.

US intelligence information provided to Kiev about Russian troops has been instrumental in the Ukrainian attacks targeting Russian generals. This has been confirmed on condition of anonymity by senior Washington officials to The New York Times, which also stresses that "the targeting assistance is part of a classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine". Officials have admitted that the US began providing intelligence to Ukraine prior to Russia's invasion, which began on 24 February. 

US intelligence reportedly provided Ukraine with information on anticipated Russian troop movements, as well as the location and other details of generals' headquarters. This data, combined with Ukraine's own intelligence tools, such as communications interception, has led to the elimination of a total of 12 Russian army generals, a figure that has surprised military analysts.

Soldados ucranianos llegan a un edificio abandonado para descansar y recibir tratamiento médico después de luchar en el frente durante dos meses cerca de Kramatorsk, en el este de Ucrania, el 30 de abril de 2022 AFP/YASUYOSHI CHIBA
AFP/YASUYOSHI CHIBA - Ukrainian soldiers arrive at an abandoned building to rest and receive medical treatment after fighting on the frontline for two months near Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, April 30, 2022

Also noteworthy here is the use of "unsecured telephones and radios" by Russian generals, which, in the words of Frederick Hodges, former supreme commander of the US Army in Europe and current analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis, "shows poor discipline, lack of experience, arrogance and lack of appreciation of Ukrainian capabilities". According to data published by independent Russian media and reported by The Moscow Times, at least 317 Russian officers, including two major generals, have been killed in Ukraine. 

However, US officials did not specify to The New York Times how many Russian generals had died as a result of Washington's assistance. Likewise, they would not explain how they obtained information on Russian positions, although the US newspaper recalls that throughout the war different intelligence agencies have used "classified and commercial satellites" to monitor Russian troop movements.

Miembros del servicio de las tropas prorrusas en un vehículo blindado de transporte de personal en la ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariupol REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - Service members of pro-Russian troops in an armoured personnel carrier in the southern port city of Mariupol.

Before the war, US intelligence also warned Kiev of "an imminent attack on Hostomel airport", one of the first bases attacked by Russian troops at the beginning of the invasion. The information provided by Washington prompted the Ukrainian army to strengthen its defences in the area, preventing Russia from maintaining control over the airfield. 

Militares con el fondo de un avión Antonov An-225 Mriya destruido durante los combates entre las fuerzas rusas y ucranianas en el aeropuerto de Antonov en Hostomel, Ucrania, el 2 de abril de 2022 AP/VADIM GHIRDA
AP/VADIM GHIRDA - Military personnel in the background of an Antonov An-225 Mriya aircraft destroyed during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces at Antonov airport in Hostomel, Ukraine, on 2 April 2022.

The exchange of information is part of the assistance the US is sending to Ukraine during the war against Russia. On the battlefield, it is not only weapons and ammunition that are critical; data and intelligence can also play a key role in attacking enemy positions or pre-empting their movements.

However, this key assistance could also infuriate Russia, especially at a time when Moscow has expressed its rejection of Western countries sending arms to Ukraine. In this regard, the Kremlin has warned that arms shipments will be considered legitimate targets. The Biden administration has therefore sought to conceal such assistance to Ukraine for fear of increasing tensions with Russia. 

Un soldado ucraniano se sienta junto a un misil antiaéreo mientras descansa cerca de Lyman, en el este de Ucrania, el 28 de abril de 2022 AFP/YASUYOSHI CHIBA
AFP/YASUYOSHI CHIBA - A Ukrainian soldier sits next to an anti-aircraft missile as he rests near Lyman, eastern Ukraine, 28 April 2022

Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby declined to discuss "the specifics of that information", although he did acknowledge that the Pentagon is providing Ukraine with "information and intelligence that they can use to defend themselves". The spokeswoman for the National Security Council (NSC), Adrienne Watson, expressed a similar view, stressing to AFP that the United States provides intelligence on the battlefield "to help the Ukrainians defend their country". She also assures that this information is not transmitted "with the intention of assassinating Russian generals". For this reason, Watson has dismissed as "irresponsible" the claim that Washington is assisting Kiev in the assassination of Russian generals.

Esta foto de archivo del 21 de octubre de 2014 muestra al secretario de prensa del Pentágono, el contralmirante John Kirby AFP/PAUL J. RICHARDS
AFP/PAUL J. RICHARDS - This Oct. 21, 2014 file photo shows Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby

On the other hand, Evelyn Farkas, a former Defense Department official for Russia and Ukraine in the Obama administration, tells The New York Times that the US "clearly" wants the Russians to know "at some level" that they are helping the Ukrainians in this regard. Farkas also stresses that it will continue to do so. "We will give them everything they need to win, and we are not afraid of Vladimir Putin's reaction to that. We will not be self-dissuasive," she adds. 

Un zapador ucraniano busca explosivos sin detonar al pasar junto a un Antonov An-225, el mayor avión de carga del mundo destruido durante los recientes combates entre las fuerzas rusas y ucranianas, en el aeropuerto Antonov de Hostomel AP/EFREM LUKATSKY
AP/EFREM LUKATSKY - A Ukrainian sapper searches for unexploded explosives as he walks past an Antonov An-225, the world's largest cargo plane destroyed during recent fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, at Antonov airport in Hostomel

As officials told the New York media outlet, the US "forbids itself from providing intelligence on top Russian leaders". For example, the attack on Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov was carried out without US assistance, although US intelligence was "instrumental" in the deaths of other generals, officials acknowledge. 

El presidente ruso, Vladímir Putin, con el  jefe del Estado Mayor de las Fuerzas Armadas de Rusia, Valeri Guerásimov AFP/SERGEI GUNEYEV
AFP/SERGEI GUNEYEV - Russian President Vladimir Putin with the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov

The same newspaper also reported in mid-April that the US had increased the flow of intelligence to Ukraine regarding Russian forces in the Donbas and Crimea. Through such data, the Ukrainian military could conduct more effective attacks on Russian positions in these two regions or predict their movements.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra