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U.S. intelligence didn't stop the invasion of Ukraine, but it had positive effects

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukraine needs its people to fight. No need for military training - if you have a passport, they'll give you a gun. And officials say Ukrainians should use Molotov cocktails if need be. But does Ukraine have the military strength to prevent Russian forces from taking over the country, specifically the capital city of Kyiv? U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about that possibility on CBS Evening News yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS EVENING NEWS WITH NORAH O'DONNELL")

ANTONY BLINKEN: It's certainly under threat. And it could well be under siege. This is the opening salvo of a massive invasion. And we see this continuing and threatening Kyiv and threatening other major cities in Ukraine.

MARTIN: President Biden said yesterday this invasion is unfolding largely as the U.S. had predicted. But accurate U.S. intelligence, some of it shared publicly, did not prevent the Russian attack. So what good did it do? For the next few minutes, we're going to talk about the primary tools the U.S. has at its disposal to help stop Russia's war on Ukraine. We're going to start with NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Before we talk about big American strategy in this, just get us up to speed on what is happening on the ground right now.

MYRE: Sure. Russian missiles are pounding the capital, Kyiv. It's clear Russian troops are getting close to the city. They've been coming down from Belarus, which is less than 100 miles to the north. The capital is clearly a Russian priority. And in fact, Rachel, in just in the last hour or so, we're seeing multiple media reports and social media reports of gun battles breaking out on the edge of the city. Earlier today, President Zelenskyy posted a video. He was unshaven and in an olive T-shirt. He said 137 Ukrainians have been killed. He said he's target No. 1 for the Russians. And the big question is, how long can Zelenskyy and his government hold out? And I just want to drive home how extraordinary this is. Zelenskyy is a democratically elected leader of one of Europe's biggest countries. And he's at risk of capture or being killed by an invading Russian army.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the intelligence. As I said earlier, the U.S. has been pretty spot-on about how this was going to all go down, which stands in sharp contrast, we should say, to the - say, the lead up to the Iraq War or the exodus from Afghanistan. But how significant is this since the intelligence didn't stop Vladimir Putin from going ahead?

MYRE: Yeah. I mean, that's a good point, Rachel. Now, the backstory is CIA Director William Burns went to Russia last November to tell the Russians what the U.S. was already seeing about a potential invasion. The hope, of course, was that it would deter Vladimir Putin. It obviously didn't. Still, it probably was not in Putin's expectations that his plans would be broadcast to the world. And that certainly had to factor into his thinking. Now, I spoke about this with John Sipher, an ex-CIA officer who served in Russia. He supports this effort to share intelligence publicly, says that opinion is pretty widely shared with other ex-intelligence officials. And while it didn't stop Putin, it did counter the Russian disinformation narrative, this notion that Ukraine was somehow threatening Russia. He says that sharing the intelligence did help establish a factual narrative that Western governments and their publics could work with.

JOHN SIPHER: It's trying to get information out on what they know the Russians are up to, to try to tell both publics in Europe and the United States, here is the kind of stuff we can expect from Russia. Here's their game plan. They try to create sort of false stories. They try to create false narratives.

MYRE: And as a result, he says, the NATO countries have been unified. We've seen a largely unified response politically and on issues like sanctions.

MARTIN: So the U.S. and NATO have been clear - they're not going to send troops on the ground into Ukraine. So I mean, we know about the sanctions. But what else are they doing in this moment?

MYRE: Well, there's an emergency NATO summit today in Brussels. Biden said he's sending 7,000 more U.S. troops to Europe as part of an effort to reassure NATO allies. He - Biden has also told Zelenskyy that the U.S. could provide humanitarian aid. U.S. troops are ready to help if refugees do come out. And also, if Russia does take over and occupy Ukraine, the CIA could certainly play a role in assisting a Ukrainian insurgency, the kind of thing the agency has done many times in the past.

MARTIN: Although, to varying degrees of success, we should note. NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you so much.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.