WASHINGTON — The United States provided intelligence on Russian units that enabled the Ukrainians to target and kill numerous Russian generals who died in action during the war in Ukraine, according to senior American officials.
Ukrainian officials said they killed about 12 generals on the front lines, a number that stunned military analysts.
The targeting assistance is part of a classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine. The intelligence also includes planned Russian troop movements drawn from recent US assessments of Moscow’s secret battle plan for fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, the officials said. Officials declined to say how many generals had been killed with US aid.
The United States focused on providing the location and other details of the Russian military’s mobile headquarters, which moves frequently. Ukrainian officials combined this geographic information with their own intelligence — including intercepted communications that alert the Ukrainian military to the presence of senior Russian officers — to carry out artillery strikes and other attacks that killed officers. Russians.
The intelligence sharing is part of an increased flow of US aid that includes heavier weapons and tens of billions in aid, demonstrating how quickly early US restrictions on support for Ukraine changed as the war enters a new stage which could take place over months.
US intelligence support to the Ukrainians had a decisive effect on the battlefield, confirming targets identified by the Ukrainian military and pointing them to new targets. The flow of actionable intelligence on the movement of Russian troops that America has given Ukraine has little precedent.
Since failing to advance on Kyiv, the capital, at the start of the war, Russia has tried to regroup, with a more concentrated push into eastern Ukraine which, so far , moved slowly and unevenly.
Officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the classified intelligence shared with Ukraine.
The administration has sought to keep much of the battlefield intelligence secret lest it be seen as an escalation and provoke Russian President Vladimir V. Putin into a wider war. US officials would not describe how they obtained information on Russian troop headquarters for fear of jeopardizing their collection methods. But throughout the war, US intelligence agencies used a variety of sources, including classified 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 to see Russia weakened to the point that it cannot do the kinds of things it did by invading the ‘Ukraine”.
Asked about the intelligence provided to the Ukrainians, John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that “we will not discuss the details of this information.” But he acknowledged that the United States provides “Ukraine with information and intelligence that they can use to defend themselves.”
After the article was published, Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said in a statement that battlefield intelligence was not provided to Ukrainians “with the intention of killing Russian generals. “.
Not all strikes were carried out with US intelligence. A strike over the weekend at a location in eastern Ukraine where General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, had visited was not helped by the services US intelligence, according to several US officials. The United States refrains from providing intelligence on Russia’s top leaders, officials said.
But US intelligence played a crucial role in the deaths of other generals, officials have acknowledged.
The United States regularly 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 supplying new weapons that should improve Ukraine’s ability to target senior Russian officers. The smaller version of the Switchblade drone, now hitting the battlefield, can be used to identify and kill individual soldiers, and could take out a general sitting in a vehicle or giving orders on a front line.
US officials have publicly acknowledged that the United States began providing Ukraine with actionable intelligence in the run-up to the February 24 Russian invasion. Prior to the invasion, for example, US intelligence agencies warned of an impending attack on Hostomel airport north of Kyiv. . This allowed Ukraine to strengthen its defenses. The Russian Airborne Forces were ultimately unable to hold the airfield.
While information provided by the United States to Ukraine has proven valuable, Russian generals have often exposed themselves to wiretapping by talking on unsecured phones and radios, current and former U.S. military officials said. .
“It shows a lack of discipline, a lack of experience, arrogance and an inability to appreciate Ukrainian capabilities,” said Frederick B. Hodges, the former commander in chief of the US Army in Europe, who currently works at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “It is not difficult to geolocate someone on the phone who speaks in the clear.”
Russian military tactics also made senior generals vulnerable. A centralized, top-down hierarchy of command gives decision-making power only to the highest levels—compared to the more decentralized American structure that pushes many battlefield decisions down to senior enlisted personnel and junior officers—forcing Russian generals to make risky trips to the front lines to solve logistical and operational problems.
“When there are problems, the general officers have to go and fix the problem,” said General Hodges.
Although the administration remains cautious about inflaming Mr Putin to the point that he further escalates his attacks – President Biden has said he will not send US troops to Ukraine or establish any “no-fly zone” – current and former officials said the White House finds some value in warning Russia that Ukraine has the clout 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 dissuaded from starting 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 had its own calculations to weigh, including whether it could handle a larger war, particularly one that would allow NATO to invoke its mutual defense charter or enter more directly into the war.
“Obviously we want the Russians to know on some level that we are helping the Ukrainians to that extent, and we will continue to do so,” said Evelyn Farkas, former senior defense ministry official for Russia and the United States. Ukraine in the Obama administration and currently executive director of the McCain Institute. “We will give them everything they need to win, and we are not afraid of Vladimir Putin’s reaction to that. We will not be discouraged.”
But sharing information is considered a safe form of aid because it is invisible, or at least undeniable. US intelligence services have provided secret information to Ukraine in a wide range of areas, from Russian troop movements to targeting data, officials said.
Last month, the United States increased the flow of intelligence to Ukraine on Russian forces in the Donbass and Crimea, as military forces in kyiv prepared to defend against a new offensive by Moscow in the eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials said.
“There is a significant amount of intelligence coming from the United States to Ukraine,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel on Tuesday. “We opened the pipes.”
Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Ukraine.