Special Operations: A Decade of CIA Operations in Ukraine


March 9, 2024: Even before Russia first seized Ukrainian territory in 2014 by taking possession of Crimea and sought to annex two provinces in eastern Ukraine, the American CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was quietly and unofficially working with Ukraine to monitor an increasingly aggressive Russia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia lost half its population and much of its territory, and the newly liberated from Russian control countries expected Russia to try and rebuild the Russian empire. Russian neighbors did not want that empire reconstituted because the more powerful Russia was the more danger they were to the neighbors. The CIA noted all this, which was what the CIA was supposed to do, and increased its contacts and cooperation with neighbors of Russia who would be prime targets for the revived empire plus Russians who opposed the revival of the Russian Empire. The first target was Ukraine, which imperialist Russians considered a Russian province, not an independent nation.

As the Russian threat to Ukraine increased, CIA activities in the region expanded and increased their activity. In the 1990s the newly independent Ukraine welcomed a CIA presence and assistance in monitoring what the Russians were up to and what their plans for Ukraine were.

Cooperation between the CIA and Ukraine was a mutually beneficial situation that obtained important information on Russian plans and operations while also providing Ukraine’s NATO allies with accurate information about the impact a Russian war in Ukraine might have.

In the 1990s the Russian equivalent of the CIA, the KGB, evolved into the FSB and the SVR. While the FSB handled operations in Russia and against Russian neighbors, the SVR took care of recruiting foreign spies, operatives and supporters and providing a steady stream of information on what Russia’s enemies, and some of its friends, were up to. Both the FSB and SVR regularly bump into CIA operations inside and outside Russia.

CIA operations inside Ukraine and Russia increased after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. This was particularly the case with joint Ukrainian-CIA operations which became more extensive and intense. The CIA had helped Ukraine prepare for this in several ways. For example, in 2016 the CIA assisted Ukraine in forming Unit 2245, an intelligence gathering team that went out and captured Russian military equipment and weapons for examination to discover how they operated and what vulnerabilities could be exploited.

By the time Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022 there were a dozen CIA/Ukraine monitoring stations along the Russian border. Once the Russians invaded and regularly bombarded Ukraine, especially military bases, with missiles and guided bombs, the CIA aided Ukraine in establishing an underground bunker where Ukrainian specialists could monitor Russian military communications and track the location of a Russian photo and electronic surveillance space satellite used to monitor Ukrainian operations. The Russian satellite orbits earth every 90 minutes which means it is over Ukraine, to some extent, only a third of the time. By tracking when the Russian satellite could observe Ukraine and monitor electronic transmissions, Ukrainian forces could be aware when they should take precautions.

The Russian invasion also brought in members of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA. Unlike the CIA, the DIA is a military operation with a staff composed mostly of intelligence specialists from the army, navy, air force, marines, and coast guard. While the CIA was founded on September 18, 1947, the DIA arrived fourteen years later on October 1st, 1961. The CIA consists of civilian personnel, though most of the analysts and nearly all the field operatives are military veterans. Most DIA personnel are active duty members of the military and most of them work in the United States collecting and analyzing relevant military operations worldwide. When there is a crisis overseas, DIA has information ready to use in aiding government decision makers in America and foreign countries.

The CIA looks for civilians, including military veterans, with special skills, like the ability to speak Ukrainian and knowledge of the situation in Ukraine because of family and friends living there. Unlike the DIA, the CIA seeks to hire foreign contacts to provide information. These are not spies because the spies are CIA personnel, many of them working out of Americans embassies overseas as diplomatic personnel. This gives them diplomatic immunity as long as they don’t get caught recruiting locals as informants. When CIA personnel are caught recruiting, all the local government can do is expel them and cancel their diplomatic immunity. The Americans can, and often do retaliate by expelling embassy personnel working for the country that initially expelled American personnel. DIA personnel don’t get embassy jobs because the DIA collects information from facilities in the United States provided to Americans forces in the United States and worldwide. That information is available to the CIA, but the CIA rarely shares information with the DIA. That’s because the CIA operatives overseas are often violating local laws by spying and recruiting locals to provide information.

Ukrainian cooperation with the CIA, which already had a network of informants and operatives inside Russia, enabled the Ukrainians to eliminate pro-Russia elements from Ukrainian intelligence agencies. The CIA also helped Ukraine to train espionage agents who could operate from inside Russia and the Russian military. This gave Ukraine advance warning that the Russians were going to invade and how the Russians planned to do it. This enabled Ukraine to inflict heavy losses on the initial invasion force. The Russian invasion force took such heavy losses that they withdrew from northern Ukraine and concentrated their forces in eastern Ukraine. The Russian soon had several hundred thousand troops inside Ukraine and after two years they had half a million soldiers in Ukraine or portions of Ukraine in the east and Crimea that Russia seized a decade ago. The Russians have lost over 300,000 troops and most of their modern tanks.

The Russians plan to keep fighting in Ukraine until Ukraine is conquered or the Ukrainians surrender and accept being absorbed into the new Russian Empire. The CIA continues to aid Ukraine and HUR, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency by providing them with information the CIA has obtained on Russian operations as well as real-time video of Russian military operations in Ukraine. The videos are provided by low-earth orbit photo and electronic intelligence satellites. The Ukrainians later discovered that the CIA assistance gave them Ukrainians a better view of Russian military operations than the Russian high command. Roscosmos, the Russian space program, was in economic and equipment trouble before the invasion and those problems increased as sanctions cut off the supply of electronic components Russia needed to build their own space satellites.

The CIA also helped Ukraine find and expel Russian spies or turn them into double-agents. The Ukrainians helped the United States catch Russian spies operating in America. Having predicted the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which many American and European officials believed was unlikely, the CIA/Ukraine intelligence operation had to move their operations to the Polish border area. When it was clear that the Russian invasion was not going to get very far, the CIA operations moved back to the Ukrainian capital and areas near the combat zone. There were still Russian secrets to be found and Russian operations to be hobbled or foiled. The CIA/HUR cooperation continues to supply current information on Russian operations and plans.


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