Six days elapsed since the president of the United States said that he believed that, in fact, Vladimir Putin had already made the decision to invade Ukraine, on February 18, until the Russian offensive became effective, in the early hours of February 24. The Joe Biden Administration had been warning for weeks that the Russian president had made all the necessary preparations for the attack. The espionage services had made and shared the millimeter and real-time monitoring of the movement of Russian troops along the border of the country attacked today. They also knew of the Kremlin’s plan to fabricate a pretext in the form of a bogus attack to justify its attack on Ukraine.
US intelligence has removed the element of surprise from the equation of Russian aggression. It helped prepare the synchronized wave of sanctions on the Kremlin and facilitate the evacuation of US citizens in Ukraine. It also served to send reinforcement troops to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe and, ultimately, to shape the position of public opinion, unanimous in its condemnation of the war.
Almost two decades after the controversial invasion of Iraq with the unproven argument of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in that country, US intelligence has now scored a victory, which does not fulfill any redeeming function, nor has it achieved prevent the attack in practice: Putin is already besieging the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, without trembling in the face of civilian casualties. But intelligence from US intelligence has helped unite allies in the face of the Kremlin threat and provided leeway to design an unprecedented, coordinated, multi-pronged sanctions program. All this has not served to stop what seems to be the greatest risk of a world war in 80 years.
“The quality of American espionage is something that we cannot reach, they have penetrated every corner of what is happening in Moscow, and it is evident that they sincerely fear that something may happen,” a senior community official in Washington told this newspaper earlier. February. However, at that time the European authorities were still using a very different tone from that of the United States. While the Americans proposed the withdrawal of diplomats from the country, their partners from the Old Continent did not consider that there were sufficient reasons. If Washington exposed the arsenal of sanctions it was willing to apply, Brussels hid the cards.
At that time, in any case, the United States was not yet sure that Moscow had made the decision to invade, but it did have the perfectly designed plan and that it wanted to do so. On January 28, the Pentagon warned that Russia had full military capacity on the border with Ukraine to invade the entire country, an accumulation of troops — then estimated at some 130,000 soldiers — unprecedented “since the times of the Cold War.” And he warned: “There are multiple possible options, including the seizure of significant cities and territories, but also coercive acts and political acts that seek provocation, such as the recognition of the rupture of territories.”
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The Ukrainian president himself, Volodymyr Zelensky, came to warn the West against the spread of “alarmist” messages about an imminent attack, which, together with the continuous denials of Russia, contributed to generating doubts about the solidity of the information handled by the allies. Time has dispelled those suspicions in an atrocious way.
On February 21, Putin recognized the sovereignty of the pro-Russian territories of Donetsk and Lugansk as two new independent republics and ordered the entry of the first Russian soldiers with the aim of “maintaining peace” and protecting the population, victims, according to the Kremlin, of a “genocide” by Kiev. Putin denounced terrorist attacks in the area. Barely 48 hours later, in the middle of a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York (early on February 24 in Ukraine), the Russian president declared war on Ukraine under the euphemism of a “special military operation”.
The first warnings that something like this could happen reached the White House in October through secret meetings of the National Security team. The mess of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan was very recent, as was the conflict arising from the military agreement signed with the United Kingdom and Australia behind the backs of the allies. Biden tried to tackle the suspicions with Europe. He decided, first, to share intelligence findings with partners across the Atlantic (Germany and other EU countries heavily dependent on Russian gas took the information and acted on it); then with public opinion. He then doubled down on sending aid to Ukraine.
Always one step ahead of the Kremlin, US espionage has also had to face a fundamental component of hybrid warfare, disinformation, seasoned by another more traditional one, sabotage operations. Washington warned in late January that Russia was planning a fake attack on its forces in eastern Ukraine as a pretext to invade the former Soviet republic. A month later, he resorted to alleged terrorist acts in Donetsk and Lugansk to justify the “special military operation” that today has brought the world to the brink of the abyss. The lure of sabotage continues to be used as a disinformation resource by the Kremlin: the fire at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, attacked on Friday, was due to “Ukrainian sabotage” to shift blame to Moscow, according to the Russian ambassador to the UN. Satellite information has disproved the pretext.
The success is due to a combination of elements: an information network reconstructed on the ground in Russia, government and commercial satellites – such as those of the company Maxar Technologies, from Colorado – that track the movement of troops, the improvement of the ability to intercept communications and even selected open source material from Russian social networks.
Advances in cryptology and electronic interception technology over the past decade, coupled with an increasingly global reliance on computer networks and mobile communications, have bolstered intelligence resources, according to the daily. New York Times. Although Vladimir Putin himself avoids the use of electronic devices, his soldiers carry unsecured phones in their pockets, which multiplies the points of data collection.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers these days have considered the accuracy of the predictions as a well-deserved accolade to the espionage community, which was criticized for fiascoes such as the one in Afghanistan or, in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Some in the United States argue that Washington and Kiev could have done more with the abundant information collected, which the Biden administration has shared with the Zelensky administration despite some initial reluctance. The White House supplied its intelligence to Ukraine, even before Russia began to build up troops last year, and stepped up information sharing during the crisis. The US government relaxed the usual restrictions on espionage to share the findings with the Ukrainians and then with allies.
Still, the United States and Ukraine often disagreed in public and private about the nature and scope of the Russian threat and the actions that should be taken. Zelensky did not mobilize reservists until February 23, the day before the invasion, when he declared a 30-day state of emergency.