U.S. rules for sharing intelligence with Ukraine

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The United States is sending billions of dollars worth of military equipment to Ukraine, including heavy artillery, drones and anti-tank missiles. Administration officials have publicly counted those contributions, virtually below the number of bullets. But they are much more cautious when describing another crucial contribution to Ukraine’s battlefield success: intelligence about the Russian military.

Information about the location and movements of Russian forces is flowing into Ukraine in real-time, and includes satellite images and reports from sensitive U.S. sources, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the cooperation.

“The intelligence is very good. It tells us where the Russians are so that we can hit them, “said a Ukrainian official.

The United States is not at war with Russia, and the aid it provides is intended to protect Ukraine against an illegal invasion, Biden officials insisted. But in practice, U.S. officials have limited control over how Ukraine’s beneficiaries use military equipment and intelligence.

This increases the risk of inciting the Kremlin to retaliate against the United States and its allies, and the threat of a direct confrontation between the two nuclear powers.

The administration has created guidelines for intelligence-sharing that have been calibrated to avoid escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow. Given to intelligence operatives at the working level, the directive imposes two broad restrictions on the type of information that the United States can share with Ukraine, officials said.

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First, the United States could not provide details that would help Ukraine assassinate Russian-led figures, such as the most senior military official or minister, officials said. Armed Forces General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will, for example, read this section.

The ban does not extend to Russian military officers, including generals, many of whom have died on the battlefield. But a senior defense official said that while the US government was “self-contained for strategic leadership on paper”, it also chose not to provide information on Ukraine’s position to the generals.

The defense official said the United States was “not actively assisting in the killing of any generals.”

According to officials, the second category of banned intelligence-gathering is information that could help Ukraine attack Russian targets outside Ukraine’s borders. The rule is intended to prevent the United States from becoming a party to Ukraine’s offensive inside Russia. These concerns prompted the administration to block previous plans to supply Poland with warplanes, which Ukraine could use to launch attacks on Russian soil.

U.S. intelligence provided information that helped Ukraine sink a Russian warship

U.S. officials have not discouraged Ukraine from carrying out the operation on its own.

Ukraine should “do whatever it takes to defend itself against Russian aggression,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told a congressional panel last month. He added that “its strategies are their decision.”

Blinken made the remarks without acknowledging that Ukrainian officials had justified their indiscriminate fires and explosions at sensitive targets in Russia.

In addition to the restricted intelligence-sharing division, the United States has a rule against providing information that Ukrainian officials call “targeting information.” Officials say the United States will not tell Ukrainian forces that a special Russian general has been spotted at a specific location, and will not then ask Ukraine to hit or help him.

But the United States will share information about the location of command and control facilities – where Russian senior officers are often found – as it could help Ukraine in its own defense, officials said. If the Ukrainian commanders decided to attack the facility, that would be their call, and if a Russian general was killed in the attack, the United States would not have targeted him, officials said.

Not targeting Russian troops and locations but providing intelligence that Ukraine uses to help kill Russians may seem like a difference without a hitch. But legal experts say the definition of target provides meaningful legal and policy guidance that could help the United States show that it is not a party to the conflict, even as it pours military equipment into Ukraine and launches a fireball of intelligence.

“If the United States provides targeting information to a foreign team, and we are closely involved in the decision to target, we are directing that force and they are acting as a proxy for us,” said former state Scott R. Anderson, a department official who was a legal adviser at the US embassy in Baghdad. “This could actually be seen as moving closer to the line of attack on Russia, where Russia could reasonably reciprocate.”

“This is why targeting intelligence is different from other types of intelligence sharing,” added Anderson, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The sinking of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship Moscow, Ukraine, shows how the United States can provide helpful intelligence that, whatever the circumstances, risks dragging the country into war.

In April, Ukraine spotted the ship off its coast. According to officials familiar with the matter, information provided by the United States has helped confirm his identity.

The United States regularly shares intelligence with Ukraine about Russian ships in the Black Sea, which have fired missiles at Ukraine and could be used to support attacks in cities such as Odessa, a senior defense official explained. However, the official stressed that the intelligence was not “specific target information on the ship”. The information is intended to help Ukraine mount a defense. Ukrainian officials could have decided that instead of attacking Moscow, they should take steps to strengthen security around Odessa or evacuate civilians.

“We have not provided Ukraine with specific targeting information for Moscow,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a written statement. “We were not involved in the decision to attack the Ukrainian ship or the operation they carried out. We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intentions to target the ship. The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian ships, as they did in this case. “

But lacking intelligence from the United States, Ukraine fought to target warships with the confidence needed to spend two valuable Neptune missiles, which were in short supply, according to people familiar with the strike.

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Analysts say the sinking of such an important ship, and its ability to defend itself against anti-ship missiles, is an insult to Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of Ukraine’s most dramatic successes in the war. In Putin’s view, in order to avoid escalating the conflict, Biden administration officials have repeatedly insisted that they did not directly assist Ukraine in the attack.

On Friday, the day after the Washington Post and other news outlets revealed the US role in the Moscow strike, Biden made separate calls to CIA Director William J. Burns, National Intelligence Director Avril Haynes and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a senior administration official. The president has made it clear that he is upset about the leaks and warns that they have undermined US aid to Ukraine, administration officials say.

Paul Sone, Ashley Parker and Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

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