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How the U.S. intelligence leaks impact the Ukrainian government and its war strategy


We've been learning more in the last few days about the trove of leaked U.S. intelligence documents, including detailed information about Ukraine's warfighting capabilities as it struggles to resist the Russian invasion. The security breach has come to light as Ukraine is preparing for a counteroffensive sometime this spring. NPR's Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis is following this. I spoke with her earlier this morning and asked how the leak is impacting the Ukrainian government and its war strategy.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, you know, publicly, Ukrainian authorities are downplaying the leak, but these documents provide, you know, specific details on problems facing the Ukrainians, including a lack of air defense missiles. They're also running low on artillery and ammunition, which isn't exactly a secret since Ukraine's defense minister has been asking for more shells for weeks. Some Ukrainian officials insist that some of these leaked documents may have been altered, an attempt at disinformation. We spoke to Roman Svitan. He's a colonel in Ukraine's Armed Forces reserves and a military analyst. And he blames Russia. He says Russia is trying to sow distrust between Ukraine and its most important ally, the U.S.

ROMAN SVITAN: (Through interpreter) We understand it's the Russians who did this because, in some cases, they appear to have doctored information to show large losses of the Ukrainian army and very small losses of the Russian army. But it's not going to affect our friendship with the U.S.

KAKISSIS: And yet it's clear the leak has had an impact. For example, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CNN that Ukraine has already changed some of its military plans because of the leak. Remember, though, the documents did not paint a very flattering picture of Russian capabilities either. Some Russians are also crying disinformation.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so we keep hearing about small, incremental Russian advances around the city of Bakhmut and also about this counteroffensive Ukraine is preparing. What's the latest on all that?

KAKISSIS: Well, so Colonel Svitan said he does not expect the leak to affect the timing of the counteroffensive, which he says could start as early as in a week. Where will the counteroffensive be? The head of Ukraine's security council says that only five people on the planet know the answer to that question, and those five people aren't talking. But Ukrainian forces are widely expected to go south toward Crimea. In the meantime, Ukrainian soldiers are still heading east, as you mentioned, to Bakhmut, which Ukraine has been defending for months. And both sides have taken huge losses there. Russian troops and private mercenaries control most of the city. The Ukrainians are hanging on. However, Colonel Svitan told us the strategy is to exhaust the Russians and protect nearby cities.

SVITAN: (Through interpreter) We have already lost Bakhmut as a city. It's totally destroyed. But we must keep the land. We will have many more losses if we don't.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, Joanna, this might be a moot question to ask you, but any talk at all - at all - of a negotiated settlement...


MARTÍNEZ: ...As a way to maybe stop the fighting?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. Well, you know, Ukraine has refused to publicly engage with the Kremlin since last year. And the Ukrainians have been saying all along that they won't negotiate until all occupied territory is liberated, including Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The Ukrainians are also saying that the Russians are reinforcing military fortifications in Crimea, a sign that they are getting ready for battle there.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR international correspondent Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Joanna, thanks.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
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