The possibility NATO and Russia are moving from a proxy war in Ukraine to a shooting war is growing closer thanks to troop build-ups, nuclear escalation, and a bigger and bolder NATO alliance, and now a massive leak of sensitive Pentagon documents could throw fuel on that fire.
Among the leaked documents, which were confirmed by the Pentagon to be genuine and “sensitive” in nature, one of them is a “Daily Update” on NATO troops working on the ground in Ukraine. Those troops come from the United States (14), Great Britain (50), France (15), Latvia (17), and Netherlands (1), numbering 97 in all.
In a breaking news story at Fox News, the Biden administration called those U.S. troops a “small U.S. military presence” and insisted they are working with U.S. Embassy staff in Kyiv that is monitoring the flow of weapons being sent there by the U.S.
Those troops are “not fighting on the battlefield,” spokesman John Kirby told Fox News.
That claim is muddled because those tip-of-the-spear troops are trained to work behind enemy lines, and to train allied soldiers for combat, though they could be tasked with protecting embassy staff in the war-torn country as Kirby claimed.
Ukraine’s war readiness out in open
Kirby, spokesman for the White House Security Council, told reporters Monday the information in the document has “no business” appearing in newspapers or on television.
“It is not intended for public consumption,” Kirby said, “and it should not be out there.”
But it is “out there,” where the leaked secrets have been circulating online for weeks and have been most certainly analyzed and discussed by generals in Moscow by now.
According to a CNN story, some documents describe what CNN calls “key weaknesses” in Ukraine’s weapons, air defense, and military readiness. It is most likely those leaked battle assessment documents that forced Ukraine to alter – or possibly stop – a planned counter-offensive that is weeks away.
Other documents have exposed how the U.S. eavesdrops on allies such as South Korea, Israel, and Ukraine. More documents reveal how the U.S. is picking up intelligence within the Russian Defense Ministry through intercepted communications and human sources.
Asked about the leaked documents, national security analyst Bob Maginnis tells AFN the “consternation” coming from the Pentagon tells him the leaked documents are genuine.
“Now whether or not it was a U.S. leak out of the Pentagon, or a battlefield leak out of Ukrainian hands, or another ally, it’s hard to know,” Maginnis, a retired intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, observes.
The documents mostly concern maps and the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, he adds, but there are no war plans and no “insight” into Ukraine’s supposed plans for a counter-offensive.
Truth a casualty in KIA document
One more document that is causing hot debate is a “Total Assessed Losses” that estimates Russia’s losses in the 14-month war compared to Ukraine’s KIA. The authenticity of the document is being questioned because dueling, different versions of the casualty counts have been published online, which means an original estimate by the Pentagon exists somewhere and someone else posted a fake.
Depending on which version you believe, for example, Russia’s war dead is 17,500 or 43,500 compared to either 71,500 or 17,500 for Ukraine.
In considering what figures to believe, Russia’s fast-moving invasion of Ukraine was famously pushed back after encircling Kyiv in the early weeks of the war. Last fall, six months into the invasion, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin implemented a draft to fill the ranks of his decimated army.
More recently, both sides have described a violent fight over control of Bakhmut, a city that was being held by Ukraine at a terrible cost of lives on both sides. Ukraine had claimed it killed 1,090 Russians, mostly Wagner Group mercenaries, by early March in a 1:7 ratio of troops lost.
Russia said it killed 200-plus Ukrainian defenders in just 24 hours in its push for more ground.
According to a Hill story published Sunday, a spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry said Russia altered the KIA figures and is proving it excels at Photoshop more than combat.
Spies on run, in hiding
Regarding the mention of spying in the documents, those human intelligence sources – or HUMINT in spy lingo – are now in danger because of the leak.
“They’re exposing how we penetrated the Russian Ministry of Defense, how we penetrated the Wagner group (a Russian paramilitary outfit),” Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen said Tuesday on the Fox News program “Special Report w/Bret Baier.” “There are people right now, I would assume, who are in danger of being killed or are in hiding.”
The leaks showed the depths to which the U.S. had worked its way into some of the highest levels of Russian influence. The Russians, knowing who had access to such sensitive information, could quickly determine the source. So the leak will only hurt future efforts to gather intelligence, Thiessen warned, because a potential source can’t trust the U.S. to protect their identity.
“If you see all these oligarchs happening to fall out of buildings,” he sadly predicted, “you might see some U.S. sources falling out of buildings, too.”