The question of “how far can you go with existing covert action authorities?” is extremely relevant in the current geopolitical situation. Investigating the extend of how the secret CIA program could have led to Russian invasion of Ukraine becomes essential now.
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According to Yahoo News, CIA paramilitaries have been training Ukrainian troops on the forefront of the Donbas battle against Russian-backed separatists throughout 2014 and were only withdrawn out under the Biden administration last month.
When the war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the CIA sent a limited number of paramilitary forces to the region, which was prompted by a US-backed coup in Kyiv and Donbas separatists proclaiming independence from the post-coup administration.
CIA paramilitaries taught Ukrainian soldiers sniper tactics, how to operate US-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as how to evade being monitored on the battlefield using secret communications and other ways as part of the course. According to former officials, the CIA was first astonished by Russia’s and separatists’ capabilities when contrasted to US opponents in the Middle East.
Comparable training operations for Ukrainian forces in western Ukraine have already been officially recognized by the US military. Yahoo News reported in January that the CIA was also running a US-based training course for Ukrainian military. The US-based operation, according to a former CIA official, was training “an insurgency” and teaching Ukrainians how to “kill Russians.”
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The CIA’s secret training operation in eastern Ukraine was far more inflammatory than the previous training programs since it effectively implicated the US in a proxy battle on Russia’s border. National Security Officials evaluated the program, which began under the Obama administration, during the first year of the Trump administration, according to former officials.
The CIA paramilitaries were instructed to provide advice and training but not to engage in combat. Officials in the Trump administration were concerned that the authority were just too broad and the objective was too unclear. According to one former official, questions such as “How far can you go with existing covert action authorities? If, God forbid, they’ve shot some Russians, is that a problem? Do you need special authorities for that?” were raised.
The Trump administration reviewed what Russia’s redlines would be, according to the former official, and judged that US backing for Ukrainian military remained within historically permissible parameters. The official stated, “There was a school of thought that the Russians spoke the good old language of proxy war.”
Despite the worries, the secret initiative was kept hidden for several years, until February. Former sources claimed that when the threat of a Russian special operation grew “increasingly acute,” the Biden administration evacuated all CIA operatives, including paramilitaries, from Ukraine. The Biden administration was “terrified of even clandestine folks being on the frontline,” as per a former official.
Although it’s difficult to tell exactly how the military situation in Ukraine is, the US thinks Ukraine is putting up a far stronger fight than Russia anticipated. Former officials who talked with Yahoo News stated that the CIA training program played a role in the opposition. President Biden has already offered over $1 billion in fresh military funding for Ukraine since the operation began, indicating that the US is continuing to fuel the battle.