Ukraine Update: U.S. In The Dark On Military Operations, Says New York Times


The U.S. government has better information on Russian troops in Ukraine than on Ukrainian forces, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing U.S. officials.

Kiev is keeping its biggest military sponsor in the dark, possibly even misleading Washington to protect the generous flow of American military aid into the country, the newspaper claimed in a report (U.S. Lacks a Clear Picture of Ukraine’s War Strategy, Officials Say, June 8, 2022).

According NYT sources, the Ukrainian government gives the U.S. “few classified briefings or details about their operational plans” while the U.S. intelligence community’s capacity to collect data in Ukraine is limited, because its focus has long been on Russia.

“When it came to the Ukrainians, the United States has worked on building up their intelligence service, not spying on their government,” the report claimed.

Intelligence-gathering has been complicated by cloudy weather in Ukraine, limiting the effectiveness of satellites for surveilling Ukrainian troops.

“Ukraine’s secrecy has forced US military and intelligence officials to try and learn what they can from other countries operating in Ukraine, training sessions with Ukrainians and Zelensky’s public comments,” the report cited its sources as saying.

Kiev’s secrecy comes with the obvious caveat that any nation engaged in a military conflict is incentivized to project an image of strength regardless of the real situation on the ground. Ukrainian officials “do not want to present information that might encourage the United States and its other Western partners to slow the flow of arms,” the report said.

Beth Sanner, a former senior intelligence official, commented on the conundrum, saying that the U.S. intelligence community was setting a potential trap for itself.

“We do not talk about whether Ukraine might be able to defeat [the Russians]. And to me, I feel that we are setting ourselves up for another intel failure by not talking about that publicly,” she told the newspaper.

The New York Times report said:

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has provided near-daily updates of Russia’s invasion on social media; viral video posts have shown the effectiveness of Western weapons in the hands of Ukrainian forces; and the Pentagon has regularly held briefings on developments in the war.

But despite the flow of all this news to the public, U.S. intelligence agencies have less information than they would like about Ukraine’s operations and possess a far better picture of Russia’s military, its planned operations and its successes and failures, according to current and former officials.

Governments often withhold information from the public for operational security. But these information gaps within the U.S. government could make it more difficult for the Biden administration to decide how to target military aid as it sends billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine.

U.S. officials said the Ukrainian government gave them few classified briefings or details about their operational plans, and Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they did not tell the Americans everything.

The report said:

Of course the U.S. intelligence community collects information about nearly every country, including Ukraine. But U.S. spy agencies, in general, focus their collection efforts on adversarial governments, like Russia, not current friends, like Ukraine. And while Russia has been a top priority for American spies for 75 years, when it came to the Ukrainians, the United States has worked on building up their intelligence service, not spying on their government.

The result, former officials said, has been some blind spots.

“How much do we really know about how Ukraine is doing?” said Beth Sanner, a former senior intelligence official. “Can you find a person who will tell you with confidence how many troops has Ukraine lost, how many pieces of equipment has Ukraine lost?”

The report added:

Even without a complete picture of Ukraine’s military strategy and situation, the Biden administration has pushed forward new capabilities, like the rocket artillery systems President Joe Biden announced last week. Ukraine is awaiting the arrival of more powerful Western weapons systems as both sides in the war suffer heavy losses in the eastern Donbas region of the country.

Pentagon officials say they have a robust process for sending weapons in place, which begins with a request from the Ukrainians and includes a U.S. assessment of what kind of equipment they need and how quickly it can be mastered.

It said:

Some European agencies say it will be difficult if not impossible for Ukraine to reclaim the land that Russia has taken.

Still, there are cracks in Ukraine’s defenses, and questions about the state of Ukraine’s military forces and strategy in the Donbas have created an incomplete picture for the United States.

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, testified at a Senate hearing last month that “it was very hard to tell” how much additional aid Ukraine could absorb.

She added: “We have, in fact, more insight, probably, on the Russian side than we do on the Ukrainian side.”

The report added:

One key question is what measures Zelenskyy intends to call for in Donbas. Ukraine faces a strategic choice there: withdraw its forces or risk having them encircled by Russia.

In recent days, Ukraine has provided more information. On Sunday, Zelenskyy visited the front lines and called the fighting in Sievierodonetsk — a city that is key to controlling Donbas — “extremely difficult.” He has also acknowledged that as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers a day are dying and described how Russia has taken a fifth of the country.

The government’s more candid public statements may be a precursor to a conversation with its population about the strategic choices to be made in Donbas, analysts have said.

“Probably there’s a debate going on about whether to withdraw all the defenses that might be trapped if they stay,” said Stephen Biddle, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University. “If there’s going to be a deliberate withdrawal, Zelenskyy is going to have to explain that in some way that does not seem to cast aspersions on Ukrainian arms. He is going to have to tell some sort of story to the Ukrainian people if they do decide to pull those troops out, and explaining the losses they could suffer if they stayed is a logical way to do that.”

The report said:

The United States provides regular, near real-time intelligence updates to Ukraine about the location of Russian forces, information that the Ukrainians use to plan operations and strikes and strengthen their defenses.

But even in high level conversations with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense, Ukrainian officials share only their strategic goals, not their detailed operational plans. Ukraine’s secrecy has forced U.S. military and intelligence officials to try and learn what they can from other countries operating in Ukraine, training sessions with Ukrainians and Zelenskyy’s public comments, American officials said.

Ukraine, the officials said, wants to present an image of strength, both to the public and to its close partners. The government does not want to share information that could suggest a weakening of resolve, or give the impression that they might not win. In essence, Ukrainian officials do not want to present information that might encourage the United States and its other Western partners to slow the flow of arms.

At the behest of the United States, Ukraine has spent years tightening the protection of its military and intelligence services from Russian spies. Briefing other countries of their plans and operational situation could reveal weaknesses Moscow could exploit if the Russian military learned of them.

(Of course, the Ukrainians are not always as careful with U.S. operational plans. Zelenskyy once announced publicly that Austin and Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, were coming to Kyiv for a visit, a fact U.S. officials had tried to keep secret.)

There are good reasons for Ukraine not to speak candidly about their forces or their military strategy, Biddle said.

“I am not sure it is in the interest of the American public or Ukrainian public to have Ukrainians be upfront about their losses if the result is it strengthens the Russian war effort,” Biddle said. “But that means we don’t really know both sides of the story.”

The United States has better estimates of Russian casualties and equipment losses, a senior U.S. official said. The Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, estimates that the number of Ukraine’s soldiers killed in action is similar to Russia’s, but the agency has a far lower level of confidence in its estimate of Ukrainian losses.

The report said:

The picture American officials have presented of a grinding war, with neither side making decisive progress, appears to be accurate, Biddle said. Nevertheless, the public information about Ukrainian casualties, equipment losses and morale is incomplete.

But there may be a potential cost if the intelligence community cannot present a fuller picture to the public or Congress about Ukraine’s military prospects, Sanner said. If Russia advances further, the failure to understand the state of the Ukrainian military could open the intelligence community to accusations that it failed to deliver a full picture of Ukraine’s prospects in the war to policymakers.

“Everything is about Russia’s goals and Russia’s prospects for meeting their goals,” Sanner said. “We do not talk about whether Ukraine might be able to defeat them. And to me, I feel that we are setting ourselves up for another intel failure by not talking about that publicly.”

Russians Control Most Of Sievierodonetsk And Fighting Continues In The City Luhansk

A report by Ukrayinska Pravda said:

The Head of the Luhansk Oblast Military Administration, Serhii Haidai, said on Facebook

“The orcs control most of Sievierodonetsk. The industrial zone is ours, there are no Ruscists there.

Fighting is taking place only on the streets inside the city.”

Ukrainian nationalists refer Russian soldiers as orcs and Ruscists.

According to Haidai, more than 90% of the region is temporarily under Russian occupation.

The head of the region noted that the Russians are shelling the city powerfully but chaotically: “we have huge destruction of the residential sector, there is no threat of our troops being encircled in the Luhansk region.”

Ukrainian Forces May Have To Pull Back In Sievierodonetsk, Says Governor

A Reuters report from Kiev said on June 8, 2022:

Ukraine’s military may have to pull back to stronger positions in the embattled eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, but they will not give up the city and fierce fighting raged there on Wednesday, the region’s governor said.

Ukraine expects Russia to step up its bombardment of Sievierodonetsk and to mount a huge offensive where Moscow is focusing all its efforts, the governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said on television.

“Fighting is still going and no one is going to give up the city even if our military has to step back to stronger positions. This will not mean someone is giving up the city – no one will give up anything. But it is possible (they) will be forced to pull back,” he said.

The days-long battle for the industrial city has emerged as pivotal, with Russia focusing its offensive might in the hope of achieving one of its stated aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of Russian-speaking separatists.

“We expect the amount of shelling and bombardments of Lyshychansk and Sievierodonetsk to increase many times, huge offensives in the Sievierodonetsk and Popasna direction and attempts to once again cross the Siverskyi Donets River to create a bridgehead and further develop the offensive,” Gaidai said.

He said Russia’s key objective in the coming days is to capture Sievierodonetsk and to completely cut the strategically important road from the cities of Bakhmut and Lysychansk.

“The battles will be very fierce and they will give up everything they have to accomplish this task,” he said.

EU Cashing In On Cheap Russian Oil, Says The Economist

The supply of Russian oil to the EU rose by 14% between January and April, from 750,000 to 857,000 barrels per day, The Economist reported on Wednesday, citing data by Argus Media. This comes as Brussels has been calling to completely stop energy imports from the country.

According to the report, the latest EU embargo on Russian oil applies only to seaborne crude and petroleum products, for now covering just 75% of imports from Moscow. Oil supplied by pipeline to a handful of countries in central and eastern Europe is temporarily exempt, it said. “Refiners in these countries are snapping up cheap Russian crude that most Western buyers are shunning.”

Germany is the only recipient country to have reduced imports via the Russian Druzhba pipeline since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, data showed. Druzhba, which is one of the longest and biggest oil pipeline networks in the world, carries the energy source some 4,000 kilometers from the eastern part of European Russia to refineries in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. In January Berlin received half of the Druzhba oil and, by April, just a third.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia say they back an eventual ban on imports through Druzhba, but want a two- to three-year adjustment period. Meanwhile, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has been opposing a full ban on Russian oil imports, saying this would drop an “atomic bomb” on his country’s economy.

According to the Economist report, there’s “little financial incentive for refiners to ditch Russian supply,” while Urals crude is trading considerably below the international benchmark Brent. Refiners importing through the pipeline bought it at a discount of up to $40 per barrel compared with North Sea oil last month, Argus Media data showed.

“EU leaders insist that the Druzhba exemption will be revisited. In the meantime, the pipeline looks set to test European friendships,” the report said.

Germans Warned Of Further Food Price Hikes

Food prices in Germany will continue to rise, the German Farmers’ Association warned on Wednesday, citing energy costs as a major factor.

The conflict in Ukraine and its economic fallout have had “a massive impact on German agriculture,” Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers’ Association, said in an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse.

“Energy prices have doubled, the price of fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers, has quadrupled on average, and fodder costs more,” he explained, adding that the situation was “disastrous” for pig farmers in particular.

According to Rukwied, food has been sold below value in recent years, and prices have to go up for farmers to be able to continue to farm at all. Inflation in Germany hit 7.9% in May, according to official statistics, reaching its highest level since reunification. The levels are also similar to those seen during the 1970s oil crisis.

The uncertainty over natural gas supplies to Germany is also of great concern for the country’s farmers, Rukwied said, noting that if they do not get enough gas to produce nitrogen – the most essential nutrient in crop production – yields would drop by 30% to 40% in the short term, depending on the crops.

Since Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine in February, the EU has been looking for ways to phase out Russian natural gas imports, despite calls from many EU member states and major industries not to do so. The new gas-for-rubles payment terms introduced by Moscow in late March have already seen the supply cut off to several countries that refused to comply.

Britain Bolsters Food Banks Amid Growing Insecurity

Three out of four UK consumers now have “major future concerns” about the cost of food, the country’s Food Standards Agency confirmed on Tuesday. The body is responding by “urgently” working with charities and donors to bolster supplies to food banks, which have seen a surge in demand.

Newest data from the FSA – which operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – says that 76% of UK consumers are concerned about the rising prices of food. The agency’s research also showed that the number of people using food banks or charities has drastically increased in the span of a year, going from 9% in March 2021 to 15% in March 2022.

The FSA also referred to a March survey showing that one in five Britons were skipping at least one meal or cutting down on portion sizes, because they lacked money to buy food.

“In the face of the immediate pressures on people struggling to buy food, food banks are playing a vital role in our communities,” FSA chair Susan Jebb said in a statement. “We are urgently working with industry and other major donors, and food bank charities, to look at what more we can do together to ensure that food which is safe to eat can be redistributed to people who can benefit from this support.”

While food banks can be a good short-term lifeline, “governments and regulators must also look more widely at other ways to enable people to reliably access safe and healthy food in the long term,” Jebb added.

One of the groups the FSA is working with is WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), a nonprofit focused on “changing the way we use and re-use natural resources” to tackle climate change. They worked together to publish a guide for “surplus food redistribution” back in 2020.

“We estimate that more than 200,000 tonnes of surplus food could still be redistributed each year. So, by working together we can increase the redistribution of this food, which will also reduce the environmental impact of our food and help achieve a thriving UK food system for all,” the group’s CEO, Marcus Gover, said on Tuesday.

Rising inflation and supply problems – exacerbated by anti-Russian sanctions in relation to the conflict in Ukraine – have contributed to a surge in the cost of living in the UK. While wealthier Britons are reportedly looking to expatriate to places where money stretches farther, others have flocked to food banks.


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