Increase Intelligence Sharing with Ukraine

President Putin, despite his long years as Russia's strongman,has failed to counteract his nation's demographic free-fall, declining life expectancy, rampant vodka addiction, and one-note economy.  Rather than address these problems head-on, Mr. Putin has chosen to distract his countrymen with their ancient salve: Great Russian blood-and-soil chauvinism, sometimes buttressed by Orthodoxy but always hostile to the West.

The president's success has been limited.  Ukraine's February pro-Europe revolution ousted Moscow's compliant kleptocrat in Kiev, and the great mass of Eastern Ukrainians have not clamored to join, in Anschluss, Putin's neo-Russian Empire. Mr. Putin pivoted yet again to salvage some gain from these failures -- this time overtly grabbing the Crimea, and fostering Russian takeovers in other strategically vital areas of the country. Russia has been almost invited to do these things by the habitually feckless and timid initial responses from Europe and the United States. Sanctions against individual persons within Russia's oligarchy are, to Mr. Putin, a laughing matter. Promises made in Geneva by Russian diplomats to pull back troops from the Ukrainian border are meaningless and merely intended to buy time.

It should seem obvious that shoring up Ukraine' sovereignty while checking a revanchist Russia is in the interest of the West: we need only look to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s to see what sort of instability and bloodshed can result when the mystical power of Slavic nationalism is unleashed.  Picture Slobodan Milosevic, only with 1,700 nuclear warheads at his command.  Now you have Vladimir Putin, in perhaps a year’s time.

The pressing goal of U.S. and EU foreign policy ought to be physically supporting the new Ukrainian government; the long-term goal should be economically reviving the country with favorable trade and energy agreements. The boldest course, bringing Ukraine into the NATO alliance, should be pursued slowly but inexorably. Shipping military supplies into the country would give confidence to the fledgling government that the West will not abandon it to president Putin’s designs, and give Moscow pause before destabilizing or annexing more areas of the country.

Events are moving fast. Mr. Putin has moved scores of FSB security officers into key regions of Ukraine to serve as effective fifth columns, which then organize pro- Russian speakers into militias, which then take over government buildings and organize ethnic Russians into secessionist political and military groups.

The vital city of Odessa, for example, lies waiting to be Russified, as Ukraine reports taking plainclothes FSB officers into custody there, but not before the subverters enkindled enough ethnic Russians to hold rallies every day. If the port of Odessa falls, Ukraine would be bisected and unable to assert its sovereignty over half its territory. Odessa is crucial in another way: Russian companies and criminal organizations use it as an embarkation point for weapons and drugs, allegedly including armaments for Syria’s president to deploy against his own people. So far, Ukraine’s military response has been hapless: last week, Russophile militants carjacked the incoming Ukrainian troop carriers and paraded them around with Russian flags. Now there are Russian roadblocks daring the tiny Ukrainian Army to pass through. Ukrainian troops have now fired on some of the Russian roadblocks, killing several. President Putin now threatens to intervene more forcefully.

It is known that CIA Director John Brennan recently traveled to Ukraine and met with its interim leaders. The topic (and the mission, for that matter) was undisclosed but certainly concerned possible avenues of intelligence sharing with the fledgling democracy. This sort of assistance can be accomplished today, unless the timidity of the White House and Foggy Bottom intervenes. Intelligence is vital to any success against a numerically superior foe -- you only need to read Gen. George Washington’s letters to know that.   

But sharing with Kiev satellite images and real-time SIGNIT of Russian troop formations and FSB activity is complicated by the apparent total penetration of Ukraine intelligence services and military by the Russian state. Ousted president Yanukovich synchronized his secrets with Moscow; most of his cronies are still in place.

There is a technological workaround, of sorts, and a human one.  America owns highly advanced secure communications equipment that could in principle deliver real-time intelligence to Kiev’s top leadership, bypassing the compromised Ukrainian intelligence services.  It is rumored that Kiev has asked for this, and also that the U.S. has so far failed to approve delivery. But an American president can cut through red tape when he so desires.

But in the end, there is no substitute for recruiting human sources on the ground to give up their secrets, and when appropriate, sharing them with Kiev.  Keeping this small war from becoming a large one ought to be a priority for John Brennan’s CIA, and his case officers should be armed with ample stores of vodka for the task.

Christopher S. Carson is a lawyer in private practice in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

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