President Joe Biden has described Russia’s war on Ukraine as genocide and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes. His administration, on the other hand, has struggled with how much intelligence it is willing to share with Ukrainian forces attempting to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since the beginning of the war in late February, the Biden administration has made numerous changes to a classified directive that governs what information US agencies are supposed to share with Ukraine. Much of what the US collects is shared; however, some of it is not. Where the line is drawn is determined by the need to protect intelligence sources and methods while also attempting to limit the risk of escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia.
Last week, US intelligence officials lifted some geographic restrictions on the transfer of actionable information, which is the type of data used to make split-second decisions on the battlefield. Officials removed language that had caused delays and meant limits on specific locations of targets in parts of eastern Ukraine, according to several people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
The administration’s shifting calculations of what Putin might consider escalatory are reflected in the changes in intelligence rules. The US is also attempting to boost support for Ukrainian forces, which have surprised much of the world by holding off Russia despite being undermanned and outgunned. This week, the Pentagon announced an additional $800 million in military aid, which could include more powerful weapons and defensive equipment.
The new limits, according to some who are familiar with the directive, are ambiguous. One question is whether the US would withhold or limit information about a possible Russian target in areas recognized internationally as Ukrainian territory but controlled by Moscow or its proxies prior to the war, such as the Crimean Peninsula and parts of the Donbas. Intelligence that US personnel believed Ukrainian forces could use to retake previously lost territory has been limited at times.
The directive continues to restrict information provided to Ukrainians about forces in Russia or neighboring Belarus, where Russian forces have previously staged and attacked from Ukraine’s north.
“We are intensely sharing timely intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them defend themselves throughout their country, including in areas held by Russia before the 2022 invasion,” said one U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified directive. The Wall Street Journal first reported the directive had been changed.
Another US official, who requested anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the administration is “providing detailed, timely intelligence to the Ukrainians on a range of fronts.”
Following the new guidance, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, urging him to “proactively share intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them protect, defend, and retake every inch of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, which includes Crimea and the Donbas.”
“Not enough is being done to share critical intelligence that would assist the Ukrainians as Russian forces move to secure territory in the southern and eastern parts of the country,” the senators said.
Unlike a letter to Biden on Feb. 9 urging intelligence sharing “to the fullest extent possible,” Democrats on the committee did not sign this week’s letter, indicating apparent divisions among members on how the administration’s current guidance is viewed.
The White House maintains that it is sharing information in accordance with Ukraine’s current objectives. According to analysts, the war is shifting from a national conflict to a focus on the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine that Russia has recently seized or attacked. The strategic port city of Mariupol, whose mayor claims that more than 10,000 civilians have died as a result of Russia’s siege, is expected to be a focal point.
Ukraine, in addition to its own intelligence capabilities, enlists the help of the United States and other Western countries to plan and repel attacks. Before and during the war, the US shared intelligence about what it believes are Putin’s battle plans publicly and privately in the hopes of undermining Russia and rallying support for a strong Western response.