MARCH 31, 2022 BY JOSEPH FITSANAKIS
AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ASSESSED Russia’s intentions in Ukraine with remarkable precision. Moreover, Washington’s picture of the Russian military’s physical strength has proven highly accurate.
On the other hand, American intelligence agencies appear to have over-estimated Russia’s conceptual military power —that is, Moscow’s ability to utilize its physical military strength efficiently. This, combined with a tendency to underrate the willingness of the Ukrainian population to resist the Russian invasion, appears to have led Washington to over-estimate Russia’s chances of a swift military victory in Ukraine.
American estimates of Russia’s military power potential before the invasion of Ukraine were largely accurate. United States intelligence agencies —primarily the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency— had formed a relatively precise picture of the Russian military power potential, in terms of its physical power. This means that, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Washington was well-versed on the strength of the Russian military in terms of its size, hardware and firepower. Moreover, American intelligence interpreted Russian intentions on Ukraine with remarkable accuracy. It should be noted that, with the help of its intelligence advisors, the White House was able to estimate the precise date and time of the invasion of Ukraine.
However, America’s understanding of Russian conceptual power —namely the ability of the Russian military to utilize its physical resources effectively— was far more limited. Washington over-estimated the logistical and organizational capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces. In other words, American intelligence had a largely accurate picture of the material capabilities of the Russian military. It had a far less accurate picture of the Russian military’s ability to use these capabilities effectively. It follows that the unimpressive performance of the Russian military in Ukraine has surprised American observers, and has prompted a re-evaluation of Russian military capability estimates in the American intelligence community.
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In terms of the Ukrainian military, the United States has had a very accurate understanding of Kyiv’s capabilities for quite some time, given that American forces have been training core elements of the Ukrainian military for nearly a decade. American intelligence understood well that the correlation of military forces overwhelmingly favors Russia. However, American intelligence estimates undervalued the ability of Ukrainians to coalesce against a common enemy. It is notable that, in the hours following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Washington offered political asylum to senior members of the Volodymyr Zelenskyy administration. This illustrates the degree to which the United States underestimated the collective will of the Ukrainian population to fight against the invader.
Since the invasion, American intelligence agencies have focused on the situation in Ukraine with an intensity that can only be compared to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This intensity has been paying off, as American intelligence continues to play an increasingly central role in the war. It should be noted that the Ukrainian Spetsnaz —i.e. the special forces of Ukraine— are primarily responsible for the setbacks suffered by the Russian military during the past several weeks. It was these special forces units that managed to beat back a large-scale Russian heliborne assault on the Antonov Airport in Hostomel, northwest of Kyiv, which took place during the opening hours of the invasion. Facing fierce Ukrainian resistance, the Russians sent in their 11th and 31st Guards Air Assault Brigades —roughly equivalent to the United States’ 82nd Airborne Division— but still failed to secure the airfield. The latter continues to be contested, as the Ukrainians launch regular counter-offensives in the wider vicinity. The failure to secure the Antonov Airport in Hostomel was nothing short of disastrous for Russian war planners. It meant that Russian forces were unable to quickly fly in troops and vehicles, which in turn prevented them from realizing their original goal —namely having their forces in downtown Kyiv by the afternoon of February 25. That crucial delay gave the Ukrainians time to prepare their defenses and barricade themselves around numerous zones in Kyiv. The Ukrainian special forces units that practically stopped Russia from winning the war before it had even begun, had been trained by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense for the past decade.
Additionally, the deep knowledge by American intelligence of the military capabilities of the Russian forces has allowed Washington and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to supply the Ukrainians with the precise types of weapons needed to combat advancing Russian armored units, especially in an urban/suburban warfare setting. Versatile weaponry, such as Javelin man-portable surface-to-air missiles, or NLAW anti-tank weapons, have proven instrumental in preventing Russian troops from encircling most of Ukraine’s large cities. The intelligence operation to supply the Ukrainians with such weapons has been so successful, that the country’s territorial forces have practically used them all, and now need reinforcements, //prompting// Western allies to ramp up production of such weaponry.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 March 2022