Leaked, highly-sensitive US intelligence documents reveal much about the war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky learned about the leak in April of highly-sensitive, classified intelligence about the war in his country from the news, not a call from the White House.
“I did not receive information from the White House or the Pentagon beforehand,” Zelensky told The Washington Post. “We did not have that information. I personally did not. It’s definitely a bad story.”
“It is not beneficial to the reputation of the White House, and I believe it is not beneficial to the reputation of the United States,” he added.
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Last month, officials became aware of several sets of top secret United States intelligence documents that had been leaked on Discord—a gaming community forum—over the preceding months after they spread to Twitter and Telegram. The suspected leaker, a 21-year-old National Guardsman, has since been arrested. Journalists continue to sift through the salacious documents, which cover everything from North Korea’s nuclear programme to Mossad’s revolt against contentious judicial overhaul in Israel.
The contents of the leaked documents reveal new information about how the US gathers its intelligence, its spying on both friends and foes, and assessments about the future of the war in Ukraine. By making public what many close allies have fought hard to keep private, it could damage trust in the US, prompt allies to share less intel with Washington, and complicate Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive.
Here are some of the leak’s biggest revelations about the war in Ukraine:
Russia says China agreed to provide arms
The US apparently intercepted a report from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), dated to February 23, that stated China’s Central Military Commission had “approved the incremental provision” of weapons to Moscow, which were supposed to be disguised as civilian equipment and kept secret. Senior US officials told The Washington Post said they do not have evidence that China has already transferred weapons but are concerned by the possibility.
China has sought to position itself as a neutral peacemaker even as it continues its ‘no limits’ friendship with Russia. Beijing has denounced US “finger pointing” and accused it of hypocrisy, when it is actively arming Ukraine.
Actual casualty numbers are similar to estimates
In order to keep Ukrainian morale high, Kyiv has not publicly released its casualty numbers. However, a leaked document labelled “top secret” dated to February 21 suggests US intelligence estimates between 15,500 and 17,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and an additional 106,500 to 110,500 wounded since the war began. That document also estimated “between 35,000 and 42,500 Russian soldiers had been killed and 150,500 to 177,000 had been wounded”.
Zelensky has denied the authenticity of the documents. Western officials have recently estimated that at least 200,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured—in line with what the leaks indicate.
On social media, another version of this document has also begun to circulate which shows the Ukrainian casualty numbers dramatically exceeding the Russian numbers. This suggests the leaks are already being weaponised as part of a disinformation campaign to weaken Western support for Ukraine.
While Ukraine is about to launch a much-anticipated counteroffensive to retake Russian-held territory, US intelligence are sceptical that it will yield major territorial gains. A document from early February says, “enduring Ukrainian deficiencies in training and munitions supplies probably will strain progress and exacerbate casualties during the offensive”. Even if the counteroffensive recaptures significant areas and Russian forces suffer major losses, a leaked Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment does not believe negotiations to end the war are likely in 2023.
These assessments vary starkly from the optimistic rhetoric with which US officials have lauded Ukrainian military victories and re-emphasised that they unconditionally support Ukraine and trust it to end the war on its own terms.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on May 3 that he now believes Ukraine is better positioned to have success in the counteroffensive than the leaked documents suggest, saying, “Where Ukraine might have been a month ago, two months ago, three months ago, is not where it is now in terms of its ability, for example, to prosecute a counteroffensive and to deal with the ongoing Russian aggression”.
Other leaked documents reveal Ukraine planned to strike deep within Russian territory on the one-year anniversary of the invasion and request Kurdish help striking Russian targets inside Syria. Neither mission happened—the former at Washington’s request and the latter at Zelensky’s.
Wagner might be getting arms from Turkey
The United States appears to have access the internal planning documents of the Wagner Group, a private Russian mercenary contractor that deploys forces in Ukraine and the Sahel. The documents show Wagner representatives “met with Turkish contacts to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey” in February. The plan would include the government of Mali acquiring arms from Turkey on Wagner’s behalf.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), but it has increasingly drifted away from other members of the alliance on key security issues. While it allowed Finland to join NATO in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has blocked Sweden’s accession. It is unclear from the leaks whether the government of Turkey is aware of the arrangement between Mali and the Wagner Group.
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