US President Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled a new aid package for Ukraine that includes heavy weapons and more intelligence. Since the beginning of the war, the United States has made innovative use of declassification and sharing of sensitive information with the public and Ukraine. An approach that has an obvious impact on the course of the conflict.
For the first time, the United States decided, on Wednesday, April 13, to send heavy weapons, including Howitzer howitzers, to Ukraine to defend against Russia. A new step in Washington’s commitment to kyiv that has not ceased to be highlighted by the media.
But that is not all. The new US aid plan for Ukraine -valued at 800 million dollars- has another component, much more unnoticed, dedicated to intelligence.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to send more data collected by his intelligence services to Ukraine, as the Russian military appears to draw ever closer to the great battle for the Donbass begins.
Joe Biden even put the supply of weapons and intelligence on an equal footing. The exchange of this sensitive information “plays an obvious role in the evolution of the balance of power between Ukraine and Russia on the ground,” admits Jeff Hawn, a specialist in Russian security issues and Russian-American relations at the London School of Economics, contacted by France 24. The United States is by far “the most advanced country for satellite data collection and signal interception, and having access to this information can be invaluable,” he notes.
But its real impact remains difficult to assess: the effects of timely intelligence are less visible than those of an anti-aircraft missile or anti-tank rockets. In addition, they are, by definition, condemned to circulate behind the scenes, away from the eyes of the general public and the enemy.
Since the beginning of the war, the debate on the role of intelligence has revolved mainly around the approach “unprecedented” declassification of sensitive information. From the first months of the Ukrainian crisis, the Biden administration showered the media with data (war risk assessment, satellite imagery of Russian troop mobilization) coming straight from the back kitchens of the various foreign intelligence offices. Americans (CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency).
The documents, normally reserved for the exclusive eyes of the allied governments, thus fueled public debate. This strategy “did not prevent the war, but it allowed the majority to accept that Russia was the aggressor. This later facilitated international coordination to impose sanctions,” emphasizes Ofer Riemer, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a specialist in international affairs. intelligence, contacted by France 24. Hawn.
Another indirect effect of this very public display of “secret” Russian plans before the start of the invasion war could have been “to create distrust between the Kremlin and the Russian secret service”, Ofer Riemer believes. This proliferation of revelations may have given the impression of a Russian general staff infiltrated by Western intelligence services. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the highly reputable Russian intelligence services seem not to have played a decisive role during this conflict: Vladimir Putin no longer wanted to listen to his spies.
information that can kill
These repeated declassifications of information have almost made people forget that once war was declared, spies were still spying. But this time, it is difficult to know how much Ukraine has benefited.
“There are two types of intelligence that the United States can transmit to kyiv: strategic information, rather of a general nature, about Russian war plans and objectives, and tactical data for real-time monitoring of troop movements,” summarizes Jeff Hawn.
The United States has never hidden that it has continued to transmit the first type of information to kyiv since the beginning of March. But Washington maintains an artistic vagueness around the provision of tactical data. Asked directly about it in early March, Democrat Adam Smith, head of the US House Armed Services Committee, “got it all.” But she declined to go into detail.
A reticence that can be understood. This kind of intelligence can kill: geolocation data to track Russian troops on the ground would allow the Ukrainians to mount targeted elimination operations. The United States would then risk appearing to be more than a party to the war in Ukraine, thus paving the way for a dangerous escalation of the conflict.
Hence the importance of the announcement of an intensification of the exchange of confidential information with kyiv. “A new doctrine has been developed in Washington that allows US intelligence services to share data that will allow kyiv to have a very accurate picture of the Russian military system established in Donbass and Crimea,” says the Wall Street Journal.
Therefore, the US administration seems to have decided to “provide raw data that allows the Ukrainian military to have a real-time picture of Russian troop movements,” estimates Jeff Hawn. The US General Staff also appears to have confirmed this to the Wall Street Journal by stating that the red line of the new doctrine was “not providing intelligence on Russian positions in Russia so as not to allow Ukraine to carry out offensive operations”. write the diary. In other words: everything else would be allowed.
An important change in the doctrine that is explained by the evolution of the context on the ground. The offensive being prepared in the Donbass requires more than strategic information, Jeff Hawn believes. It is a narrower front where there will be encirclement attempts by the Russian forces, so it is even more important that “Ukrainians know precisely where the enemy is coming from in order to defend themselves correctly,” this specialist stresses.
And even if the United States did not, in fact, provide this famous tactical information, simply suggesting it “can have a demoralizing effect,” Ofer Riemer reckons. Russian soldiers, who have already suffered a setback in their attempt to take kyiv, risk becoming more defensive if they believe Ukraine knows their precise position from the Americans.
But this opening of the American intelligence spigot is not just a hostile act by the United States towards Russia. It is also, paradoxically, “a way of indicating that they are not going to get involved later and directly in the conflict,” says Ofer Riemer. A nation ready to engage militarily on a front keeps its information to itself so it can use it when needed. In other words, Moscow will have something to really worry about the day the American spies keep quiet.