U.S. intelligence agencies are stepping up their spying on Russia’s military amid concerns that Moscow is preparing to use force against Ukraine in the wake of the pro-democracy revolution in Kiev.
Earlier this week, intelligence agencies reported that two Ural-4320 trucks full of armed Russian troops were observed arriving in the Black Sea port of Yalta. Photographs made by a Ukrainian civilian were posted online as the troop transports entered a Russian military facility in Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine.
Other activities in recent days have included the movement of armored personnel carriers observed at Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in nearby Sevastopol.
U.S. officials said the purpose of the troops is not known, but speculation centers on the possibility of the troops being used as part of an advance force for a future Russian military operation.
U.S. intelligence agencies also are tracking possible covert infiltration of Russian Spetsnaz commandos. One concern is that Moscow will provoke a conflict by using the undercover commandos to attack ethnic Russians and then launch an invasion under the guise of protecting those Russians.
Some 8 million Russians reside in Ukraine, making up about 17 percent of the population.
Tensions remain high between Moscow and Kiev over the recent ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych, who now is being sought on murder charges.
In a sign of Moscow’s concern over losing what it regards as a strategic neighbor, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces on a higher state of alert Tuesday. The mobilization includes forces some 200 miles from Russia’s southern border with Ukraine.
The mobilization could indicate a future military operation, although Moscow’s Defense Ministry said the troop movements are not related to the unrest in Ukraine.
The Obama administration has issued indirect warnings to Russia not to intervene militarily, the latest signal made by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns during a visit Tuesday to Kiev.
“We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its unity,” Mr. Burns told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.
Asked about the Russian military activities in the Crimea, and how far the United States is prepared to go to prevent military intervention, Mr. Burns said: “All that I would stress is what I said before, and that is that the United States strongly supports the unity and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Mr. Burns said speculation over splitting Ukraine into pro-Russian and pro-European regions “is not in Ukraine’s interest.”
“And the United States will continue to reinforce that very firm position,” he said.
GATES ON OBAMA VS. MILITARY
Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reveals in his new memoir that many in the Obama White House harbor deep suspicions and antagonism toward the U.S. military.
In “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Mr. Gates discloses details of the differences between the White House and senior military leaders, mainly over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, he notes, framed the issue with public comments in 2009 that he would not let the military “bully” the White House on decisions about how many troops to add to forces in Afghanistan.
Mr. Gates said he suspected the anti-military feelings were “stoked” by Mr. Biden, Senior Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and others who were distrustful of the military because of their lack of military experience.
Mr. Gates also disclosed that U.S. Pacific commander Adm. Tim Keating was nearly fired by President Obama, who was upset that the admiral told reporters the U.S. military was ready to shoot down any threatening North Korean long-range missile. Adm. Keating was reprimanded but not fired, Mr. Gates noted.
Retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, Mr. Obama’s first director of national intelligence, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also piqued Mr. Obama’s ire.
“All too early in the administration, suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders,” Mr. Gates wrote.
After a secret plan for troops in Afghanistan was leaked to the press, Mr. Obama became “infuriated” at what he saw as a conspiracy by military leaders to “box me in.”
“What is wrong?” Mr. Obama asked Mr. Gates, according to the memoir. “Are they suspicious of my politics? Do they resent that I never served in the military?”
The divisions over how many troops to send to Afghanistan in 2009 created a “wall” between the military and the White House that Mr. Gates said was “bad for the country, even dangerous.”
“We heard regularly from members of the press that Biden, [National Security Adviser James L.] Jones, Donilon, [White House communications adviser Denis] McDonough, [National Security Council staff member Douglas] Lute, Emanuel, and [senior adviser David] Axelrod were ‘spilling their guts’ regularly — and disparagingly — to reporters about senior military leaders, Afghanistan and the decision-making process,” Mr. Gates said, adding that at one point the atmosphere in the White House toward the military was “poisonous.”
Mr. Gates says many White House staffers regarded him as a “geezer” and “Yoda,” and that the younger corps of staffers, mostly former congressional aides, took up senior positions, but lacked “firsthand knowledge of real-world governing.”
He noted that in the beginning of the administration, all White House staffers brought their cellphones to classified meetings in the Situation Room “potentially broadcasting everything that was said to foreign intelligence electronic eavesdroppers.”
HOW’D THAT GET THERE?
U.S. officials confirmed this week that North Korea’s long-range missile program benefited from parts made in China, Europe and America.
The discovery occurred after the rocket booster and other components of a Taepodong-2 missile were fished out of the Sea of Japan following a North Korean test launch in December 2012.
Discovery of foreign components represents a setback for the Obama administration’s non-proliferation policies. The administration has sought to use economic sanctions and financial controls to prevent North Korea from getting long-range missiles. But the North’s missile program has advanced steadily over the past decade, creating more lethal road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Additionally, Pyongyang’s use of foreign missile parts in the Taepodong-2 is expected to complicate the administration’s push to loosen exports controls on high-technology goods. President Obama has been seeking looser controls to boost U.S. economic competitiveness.
Covert weapons procurement networks by rogue states like North Korea and Iran, however, raise questions about whether loosening high-tech controls will increase national security threats to the U.S. and its allies.
Officials confirmed the foreign parts in the North Korean missile after the discovery was first reported last week by Japan’s NHK television.
U.S. and South Korean technicians discovered that the missile debris contained U.S.-made electronic circuits, British transmitters and a Swiss-made electrical component. Other parts were made in China and states of the former Soviet Union.
The parts were manufactured during the past several years, indicating they were procured covertly by the North Koreans despite multiple U.N. sanctions against such trade. The parts were described as dual-use components not covered directly by U.N. sanctions that North Korean procurement agents imported by circumventing international controls.
The discovery could result in future U.N. sanctions aimed at closing the loophole on dual-use components.
State Department spokeswoman Sandra Postell declined to comment. “We do not comment on intelligence matters,” she told Inside the Ring.
Thomas Moore, a former professional staff members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations involved in export control issues, said the discovery is “not particularly shocking to me.”
“You can expect to see many more of these items appearing in the missile programs of U.S. adversaries, given the relaxed posture evident in the Obama administration’s treatment of space technology export controls combined with the oft-stated but usual phrase of the era: ‘When it doubt, ship it out,’” Mr. Moore said.
“It’d be one thing if they were also working the threat by providing for better defense of the homeland from long-range attack, but they’ve gutted that, too,” he said. “I suppose their crass view might be that this makes lawyers and shifty businessmen more profitable, but really does show how far down we have come in the last decade.”
U.S. intelligence agencies estimate North Korea will be capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead within the next two years.
• Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.