WASHINGTON — The United States has provided intelligence on Russian units that allowed Ukrainians to attack and kill many of the Russian generals killed in the war in Ukraine, senior US officials said.
Ukrainian officials said they killed about 12 frontline generals, a number that has astonished military analysts.
The targeting aid is part of a covert effort by the Biden administration to provide Ukraine with real-time information on the battlefield. That information also includes expected Russian troop movements derived from recent US assessments of Moscow’s secret battle plan for the fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, officials said. Officials declined to specify how many generals had been killed as a result of US aid.
The United States has focused on providing the location and other details of the Russian military’s mobile headquarters, which are regularly relocated. Ukrainian officials have combined that geographic information with their own intelligence — including intercepted communications alerting the Ukrainian military to the presence of senior Russian officers — to conduct artillery and other strikes that have killed Russian officers.
Intelligence sharing is part of a ramped up flow of US aid that includes heavier weapons and tens of billions of aid, demonstrating how quickly early US restrictions on aid to Ukraine have shifted as the war enters a new stage that could play out over months.
US intelligence support for the Ukrainians has had a decisive effect on the battlefield, confirming the targets identified by the Ukrainian military and pointing to new targets. The flow of actionable information about the movement of Russian troops that America has given to Ukraine has few precedents.
Since Russia failed to advance towards the capital Kiev early in the war, Russia has attempted to regroup, with more concentrated pressure in eastern Ukraine, which has so far been slow and uneven.
Officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the classified intelligence shared with Ukraine.
The government has sought to keep much of the intelligence on the battlefield secret, fearing it will be seen as an escalation and provoke Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin into a bigger war. US officials declined to describe how they obtained information about Russian troop headquarters for fear of jeopardizing their methods of collection. But throughout the war, US intelligence has used a variety of sources, including secret and commercial satellites, to track Russian troop movements.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III went so far as to say last month that “we want Russia to be so weakened that it can’t do the kinds of things it did by invading Ukraine.”
Asked about the intelligence provided to the Ukrainians, Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby said that “we will not go into the details of that information.” But he acknowledged that the United States is “providing Ukraine with information and intelligence it can use to defend itself.”
Not all attacks have been carried out with US intelligence agencies. A strike over the weekend at a site in eastern Ukraine visited by General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s top uniformed officer, was not aided by US intelligence, according to multiple US officials. The United States is forbidding itself to provide intelligence on top Russian leaders, officials said.
But US intelligence was critical in the deaths of other generals, officials admitted.
The United States routinely provides information on the movement of Russian troops and equipment and helps Ukraine confirm the location of critical targets. Other NATO allies also provide real-time intelligence to the Ukrainian military.
The Biden administration is also providing new weapons to help Ukraine target senior Russian officers. The smaller version of the Switchblade drone, which now arrives on the battlefield, can be used to identify and kill individual soldiers, and can take out a general sitting in a vehicle or giving orders on a front line.
US officials have publicly acknowledged that the United States has begun providing actionable intelligence to Ukraine in the run-up to the Russian invasion on February 24. For example, prior to the invasion, US intelligence agencies warned of an imminent attack on Hostomel airport north of Kiev. This allowed Ukraine to strengthen its defenses. Russian airborne troops were ultimately unable to hold onto the airfield.
While the information the United States has provided to Ukraine has proved valuable, Russian generals have often exposed themselves to electronic wiretapping by speaking through insecure telephones and radios, current and former US military officials said.
“It shows ill-discipline, lack of experience, arrogance and disregard for Ukraine’s capabilities,” said Frederick B. Hodges, the former top commander of the US military in Europe who now works at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “It’s not difficult to locate someone on a phone who is speaking in public.”
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Russian military tactics have also left senior generals vulnerable. A top-down centralized hierarchy gives only the highest levels of decision-making power—compared to the more decentralized U.S. structure that infuses many battlefield decisions to senior enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers—forcing Russian generals to make risky trips to the front lines to solve logistical and operational problems. to solve.
“If there are problems, the generals have to solve them,” General Hodges said.
While the administration remains wary of inciting Mr Putin to further escalate his attacks — President Biden has said he will not send U.S. troops to Ukraine or establish a “no-fly zone” there — current and former officials said the White House believes it is valuable to warn Russia that Ukraine has the weight of the United States and NATO behind it.
Some European officials believe that despite Mr Putin’s rhetoric that Russia is fighting NATO and the West, he has so far been deterred from launching a wider war. US officials are less certain and have been debating for weeks why Mr Putin has not done more to escalate the conflict.
Officials said Moscow must weigh its own calculations, including whether it can handle a bigger war, especially one that would allow NATO to invoke its Mutual Defense Charter or enter the war more directly.
“Obviously we want the Russians to know to some extent that we are helping the Ukrainians to this extent, and we will continue to do so,” said Evelyn Farkas, the former top defense ministry official for Russia and Ukraine in the statement. Obama administration. “We will give them everything they need to win, and we are not afraid of Vladimir Putin’s reaction to that. We are not deterred.”
But intelligence sharing is considered a safe form of aid because it is invisible, or at least deniable. US intelligence has given Ukraine classified intelligence in a wide range of areas, from Russian troop movements to target data, officials said.
Last month, the United States increased the flow of intelligence to Ukraine about Russian forces in the Donbas and Crimea as Kiev’s armed forces prepared to defend against a renewed offensive by Moscow in eastern Ukraine, US officials said.
“A significant amount of intelligence is flowing into Ukraine from the United States,” General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel on Tuesday. “We have opened the pipes.”
Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Ukraine.