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U.S. Expands Intelligence Sharing With Ukraine on Russian Forces in Donbas Region

todayApril 13, 2022

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The United States has increased the flow of intelligence to Ukraine about Russian forces in the Donbas and Crimea, as Kyiv’s military forces prepare to defend against a renewed offensive by Moscow in the country’s east, American officials said Wednesday.

The information could allow the Ukrainians to conduct more effective counterattacks against Russian forces in the Donbas or Crimea, or better predict the movement of Russian troops from those areas against Ukrainian forces.

After several weeks of failing to take Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Russian forces retreated from around the city and have been regrouping in Ukraine’s east, including the Donbas region. Western officials say they expect the Kremlin to mount a major offensive there.

As the conflict in Ukraine has evolved, intelligence agencies have adjusted their approach to ensure officials have flexibility “to share detailed timely intelligence with the Ukrainians,” a U.S. intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the handling of classified material.

The United States has adjusted its flow of intelligence since the war began, and administration officials have said they have been giving Ukraine the most relevant information at any given moment. Still, the Biden administration has been reluctant to help the Ukrainians target Russian forces in Russia, and Republican lawmakers said that concern has extended to Russian forces in Crimea and the Donbas.

The stepped-up intelligence sharing was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. officials have defended the intelligence sharing with Ukraine. On Tuesday, Kathleen H. Hicks, the deputy secretary of defense, said that “the intelligence support that we have provided has been vital.” And she said the information given to Ukraine had been “high end.”

Other officials said that as the Russian military shifted its strategy away from their attack on Kyiv to reinforcing operations in the Donbas, U.S. intelligence agencies began to look at whether their guidance on what information could be shared needed to be expanded, and changed that guidance earlier in April.

Republicans have been critical of the Pentagon and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, saying they have failed to provide enough information to Ukraine about Russian forces stationed in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that those forces and Russian-backed separatist groups have occupied since 2014 and 2015.

In a letter released on Monday, Senate Republicans said they were concerned that not enough was being done to share critical intelligence with Ukrainians. The letter, from Senator Marco Rubio and others, specifically made reference to providing intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them “retake every inch of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, which includes Crimea and the Donbas.”

Russia seized the Black Sea territory of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and armed Russian-backed separatists began claiming parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas.

Last week, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, questioned Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary of defense, about whether the United States was providing enough intelligence to the Ukrainians to help them retake territory in the Donbas occupied in 2015, before the current invasion.

“Part of what you’ve heard from both parties in this committee is that as much as we have done, we’re still engaged in too many half measures,” Mr. Cotton said. “There’s still too much hesitancy and tentativeness in our posture toward this war.”

Mr. Austin said that the government was updating its intelligence-sharing guidance to make sure intelligence on the Russian-occupied Donbas areas could be provided. “The current guidance was not clear in that regard, so we’ll make sure it’s clear,” Mr. Austin said.

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