US struggles with intelligence blind spot as Russia builds up forces near Ukraine

“The work of the intelligence community in Russia is becoming increasingly difficult,” said a congressional source who regularly reports on intelligence. “It’s moving towards what you would call the rejected area.”

In recent days, US officials have publicly said they do not yet know what Russia’s intentions are – privately, they say largely due to a lack of intelligence about discussions between Putin, who will deciding whether or not to try to invade Ukraine, and his inner circle

“We don’t know Moscow’s intentions, but we know their books,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken told a joint press conference at the Foreign Ministry with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday. Blinken added that Russia’s recent moves are reminiscent of the 2014 invasion of Crimea.

The Department of Defense is also trying to understand Russia’s ultimate goal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said last week. “What we continue to see is unusual military activity inside Russia but near the Ukrainian border, and we are still concerned about that and it’s not clear exactly what Russia’s intentions are, we clearly want to better understand that,” Kirby said.

It remains unclear whether Russia intends to launch an invasion of Ukraine, sources familiar with the matter said. But they note that the trend lines are worrisome. Officials said the presence of Spetsnaz special forces and GRU and SVR intelligence forces on the ground raised concerns about the seriousness of Russia’s actions and expanded its capabilities. them for a variety of mixed warfare tactics.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment.

American officials briefed senior Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of these concerns while they were in Washington on Wednesday, a person familiar with the meeting said. Part of the information sharing revolved around Russia being able to use such hybrid tactics first, trying to capture the oligarchs and security forces in Ukraine essentially to push them to have a major Russian incursion.

“What we heard and saw today in Washington, DC, corresponds to our findings and analysis, adding a number of new elements that allow us to get a picture,” said Kuleba. comprehensive and better”.

Ukraine’s new Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, is expected to travel to Washington this week for an “introduction” meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Kirby confirmed to CNN. The two will discuss the regional security situation, he said.

A tight knit circle

The US has been struggling to infiltrate the highest levels of the Kremlin since 2017, when one of the highest-ranking US sources undercover in the Russian government has been extracted on safety concerns.

Putin is known to keep a close circle of advisers, so the number of potential sources with access to important information is small.

And the proliferation of digital surveillance tools in Moscow makes traditional human tracking extremely difficult.

The CIA director had a rare conversation with Putin while in Moscow last week

“You have two opposing trends here,” said former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “One is the sheer difficulty of recruiting in any given event, and the other is the openness and transparency available today, and everyone leaving an electronic mark.”

Human intelligence, he added, has “become difficult – doesn’t mean we don’t do it.” But in Putin’s case, accessing a close-knit workforce may not be feasible, Clapper and others say.

“The decision-maker in Russia is one person: It’s Putin,” Clapper said. “That’s my impression, he really keeps his own advice.”

This left the US intelligence community to rely on clues gathered largely from satellites, as well as intelligence on intercepted signals, to piece together Russian plans. While officials can see Russia’s troops and weapons moving, it’s not clear how far Putin is willing to go.

Without reliable insight into Putin’s motivations and decision-making processes, “the best we can do is signal as best we can to try to stop an invasion,” a another source familiar with the information said.

However, the risk of miscalculation is higher when reliable intelligence is scarce. General Nick Carter, Britain’s most senior military officer, said on Saturday that the risk of accidental war with Russia was greater now than it was during the Cold War.

“Many of the traditional diplomatic tools and mechanisms that you and I grew up with during the Cold War; these diplomatic tools and mechanisms are no longer there.” Carter said in an interview with Times Radio. “And without those tools and mechanisms, there’s more risk that these escalations or these escalations could lead to miscalculations.”
The commander-in-chief of the British army warned that the risk of an accidental war with Russia was greater than during the Cold War

For his part, Putin has suggested that any use of force by Russia is in response to Western encroachment in the region and efforts to admit Ukraine to NATO.

“Full membership (of Ukraine) in NATO may not have taken place, but the military development of the territory is already underway,” Putin told the Valdai Discussion Club last month. “And this really poses a threat to Russia. We’re aware of that.”

Blinken warned on Wednesday that part of Russia’s “play” is the “false claim that they were provoked” to justify a military response.

“Our concern is that Russia could make a serious mistake in trying to replicate what they did in 2014, when they concentrated their forces along the border, into Ukrainian territory where it was located,” he said. sovereignty and falsely claim that they have been provoked”. “So the book that we’ve looked at before is asserting some provocation as a reason to do what it does, what it’s intended and intended to do. All of that is why. We’re looking at this very carefully.”


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