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CIA maintains 12 secret bases in Ukraine, CIA head was in Kyiv last week – NYT

Sunday, 25 February 2024, 23:22
CIA maintains 12 secret bases in Ukraine, CIA head was in Kyiv last week – NYT
William Burns. Stock photo: Getty Images

The US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintains 12 secret bases in Ukraine along the border with Russia, and last Thursday CIA chief William Burns made his 10th secret visit to Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion.

Source: The New York Times, based on more than 200 interviews with current and former officials in Ukraine, the United States and Europe

Details: The NYT reports that before the full-scale war, the Ukrainians proved themselves to the Americans by collecting intercepted data that helped prove Russian involvement in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner in 2014. Ukrainians also helped Americans prosecute the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.


Around 2016, the CIA began training an elite Ukrainian special forces unit known as Unit 2245, which captured Russian drones and communications equipment so that CIA technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow's encryption systems. According to the NYT, one of the officers in this unit was the current head of Defence Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov.

The CIA also helped train a new generation of Ukrainian spies who worked in Russia, throughout Europe, and in Cuba and other places where Russians have a significant presence.

According to The New York Times, the details of the partnership between the Ukrainian and American intelligence agencies have been a closely guarded secret for a decade.

Quote: "Now these intelligence networks are more important than ever, as Russia is on the offensive and Ukraine is more dependent on sabotage and long-range missile strikes that require spies far behind enemy lines. And they are increasingly at risk. If Republicans in Congress end military funding to Kyiv, the CIA may have to scale back.

To try to reassure Ukrainian leaders, William J. Burns, the CIA director, made a secret visit to Ukraine last Thursday, his 10th visit since the invasion."

More details: The NYT reports that the partnership between the CIA and Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU) began in late February 2014, when former president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. This cooperation was proposed by Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who became the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU).

US rules prohibited intelligence agencies from providing Ukraine with any support that could be "reasonably expected" to have lethal consequences. However, the red lines were never precisely clear, creating constant tension in the partnership.

In Kyiv, Nalyvaichenko picked a longtime aide, General Valerii Kondratiuk, to head the DIU, and they created a new paramilitary unit that was deployed behind the Russian aggressor’s lines to conduct operations and gather intelligence that the CIA or MI6 could not provide.

After an incident that occurred when Budanov's group entered Crimea in 2016, the Americans became very angry and threatened to close the programme down.

After that, the then head of the CIA, John Brennan, called General Kondratiuk to re-emphasise the red lines. The general was upset. "It’s our war, and we’ve got to fight," he replied, according to a colleague. According to the NYT, Washington's reaction cost Kondratiuk his post.

The NYT notes that under Donald Trump's presidency, the CIA and DIU's cooperation expanded to include more specialised training programmes and the construction of additional secret bases.

The relationship was so successful that the CIA wanted to replicate it with other European intelligence services that share common interests in countering Russia.

The head of Russia House, the CIA's department that oversees operations against Russia, organised a secret meeting in The Hague. Representatives of the CIA, Britain's MI6, the DIU, the Dutch service and other agencies agreed to pool their intelligence on Russia. The result was a secret coalition against Russia, and the Ukrainians were important members of it.

Starting in November 2021, the CIA and MI6 sent messages to their Ukrainian counterparts that Russia was preparing for a full-scale invasion to decapitate the government and install a puppet in Kyiv who would do the Kremlin's bidding. The intelligence listed the names of Ukrainian officials whom the Russians planned to kill or capture, as well as Ukrainians whom the Kremlin hoped to put in power.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some of his top advisers "appeared unconvinced", even after CIA director William Burns travelled to Kyiv in January 2022 to brief them. As the Russian invasion approached, CIA and MI6 officers made final visits to Kyiv with their Ukrainian counterparts. One of the M16 officers teared up in front of the Ukrainians, fearing that the Russians would kill them, the NYT reports.

At this time, "the old handcuffs were off, and the Biden White House authorised spy agencies to provide intelligence support for lethal operations against Russian forces on Ukrainian soil," the article says.

The article also quotes a senior Ukrainian official as saying that in at least one case, the CIA shared intelligence with Ukraine which helped foil a plot against President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Later, some of the CIA officers were sent to Ukrainian bases. They reviewed lists of potential Russian targets that the Ukrainians were preparing to strike, comparing the information that the Ukrainians had with US intelligence to ensure its accuracy.

Recently, however, with the delay in the approval of the US aid package, Ukrainian intelligence officials have been asking their American colleagues whether the US is about to abandon them.

Speaking about Burns' visit to Kyiv last week, a CIA spokesperson said: "We have demonstrated a clear commitment to Ukraine over many years, and this visit was another strong signal that the US commitment will continue."

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