The Biden administration recalled Central Intelligence Agency personnel that had been secretly deployed inside Ukraine in the months leading up to the invasion of the country by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The CIA operatives that had been training Ukrainian personnel since 2014 included paramilitary agents with years of experience in war zones.
Although the Russian invasion has gone on for more than a month, Putin’s forces have been unable so far to capture the capital city Kyiv. Conservative U.S. intelligence estimates indicate more than 7,000 Russian troops have been killed in action. Former American intelligence officials believe that the CIA training has been instrumental in strengthening the Ukrainian defense efforts.
The U.S. began a publicly disclosed training program for Ukrainian military personnel after Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. It has been disclosed now that the CIA began covert training programs at the same time in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine very near the Russian border.
The training program was reportedly conducted under existing CIA legal authorizations. The American paramilitaries provided sniper technique training, instruction in the use of Javelin anti-tank missiles, and training in counterintelligence.
One former senior U.S. intelligence official said that the CIA-trained Ukrainian snipers are having a “big impact,” especially as Russian mobility is hampered by supply line disruptions.
Another official confirmed CIA statements that the secret training had been oriented to defensive capabilities, saying that the purpose of the training was aimed at the “collection of intelligence.”
However, it now appears that the training went beyond the stated defensive purposes. Yahoo News reports that the CIA mission had two purposes, to fight Russian military and rebel forces in the Donbas and to determine the “backbone” and willingness of the Ukrainian military to fight.
A former CIA official told the outlet that the secret mission carried “serious risks” and could have escalated tensions if “misinterpreted.” After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration raised concerns that the CIA mission in Ukraine may be “too far-ranging.”
The program was continued throughout the Trump administration and into the Biden presidency. Biden did not begin pulling CIA personnel out of Ukraine until it became clear that a Russian invasion was being planned and was imminent. A former intelligence officer said the Biden administration was “terrified” by the idea of Americans being at or near the front lines in the event of open warfare between Russia and Ukraine.