'Pentagon Leak' Exposes NATO Spec Ops in Ukraine, Keeps Mum on Foreign Mercenaries' Dirty Job
The UK and other NATO member states, including Latvia, France, the US, and the Netherlands, have deployed dozens of special forces personnel to Ukraine, as per the alleged Pentagon leak.
"This is actually non-news," Alexey Podberezkin, military expert and director of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Center for Military and Political Studies told Sputnik. "We have already seen this in the public domain and read about it. Such information was provided by the military too. And they talked not only about mercenaries, but also about [foreign] officers of the special services who not only carried out training, education, and preparations, but also participated in combat operations. Therefore, I was not surprised."
Photos of pages of paper documents allegedly originating from the Pentagon started to surface weeks ago on the gaming platform Discord and were later shared on popular social media networks. The US Department of Defense has not verified that the files are authentic, adding that even though some of them look genuine, other ones were obviously altered.
Meanwhile, a document dated March 1, 2023 suggests that, at that time, the following countries had special forces in Ukraine: the UK (50), Latvia (17), France (15), the US (14), and Netherlands (1).
Following the leak, a spokesperson with the British Ministry of Defense tweeted: "The widely reported leak of alleged classified US information has demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy. Readers should be cautious about taking at face value allegations that have the potential to spread disinformation."
The apparent leak has added nothing to the intelligence concerning Western military personnel on the ground in Ukraine already gathered by Russia, according to Podberezkin. Some of these foreign fighters surrender; their chatter is being intercepted by the Russian military, the expert noted, adding one cannot hide the presence of foreign special ops and mercenaries in Ukraine.
"These [foreign] military specialists are highly qualified, tested by time, battles and fire," Podberezkin continued. "It takes at least five to seven years to train such specialists. Therefore, they are unique. These are not just snipers, demolition workers, signalmen, but the people who can perform special tasks with a high degree of professionalism in a limited timeframe."
According to the military expert, the Russian Armed Forces regularly encounter NATO specialists in the Ukraine conflict zone. In contrast to foreign mercenaries, NATO special ops are largely focused on training the Ukrainian personnel.
"They work as instructors," Podberezkin said. "They help Ukrainians to work with the equipment that they bring from Europe, how to repair it. That is, they are keeping a low profile, because, of course, they are cautious. Now there are about a hundred of them. And these are not ordinary soldiers. One hundred sounds like a small number, but as I mentioned they are professionals and there are many Ukrainians under their wing who adopt their experience and best practices."
Foreign Mercenaries Do 'Dirty Work' in Ukraine
At the same time, there are a lot of foreign mercenaries in Ukraine including those who have undergone special training in the UK, Sweden, Germany, and Poland. Obviously, neither mercenaries, nor NATO operatives are wearing their own uniform or military insignia because that would mean "direct participation and direct involvement in a military conflict," the expert remarked.
"In those days when I was on the line of contact in the combat zone, this information had not yet appeared," Algirdas Mikulskis, war correspondent with Tsargrad TV, told Sputnik. "Therefore, it is not special forces that are mainly discussed among the fighters, but rather mercenaries. And I want to say that opinions about their fighting qualities are not very high. Our fighters note that, unlike the fighters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), who are motivated, mercenaries have very low combat stability, and at the slightest danger to their lives, they instantly leave their positions. Therefore, the so-called nationalist battalions and regular units of the UAF pose a much greater threat. Not those that consist of mobilized Ukrainians, but professionals. Everyone says that this is quite a worthy enemy."
Foreign military specialists and their Ukrainian allies are trying to hide NATO's involvement in the standoff. In January 2023, media reported on decapitated bodies with cut off hands found by Russian military fighters in the course of the Artemovsk (Bakhmut) offensive. Telephones and other information obtained during the search helped identify the corpses as foreign mercenaries who apparently fought on the side of the UAF. Allegedly, the Ukrainian military couldn't pull them out of the combat zone and tried to hide their identities by cutting off their heads and hands.
The aforementioned episode and other incidents clearly prove that there are a lot of foreign mercenaries and specialists in Ukraine. However, the problem is to prove their presence and affiliation with foreign governments, as per Podberezkin.
"It's a matter of legal affiliation," the military expert explained. "If one is a tool of the state, one gets a salary from the state, and the state is responsible for him/her. Or one could belong to non-state structures. Sometimes there is some kind of dirty work that should be done in such a way that the state, which ordered it, looks non-involved. For example, [during the US military campaign] in Iraq private military companies were very widely used; there were several thousands of them there. They performed the functions of internal troops and police."
The use of US private military companies in occupied territories in Iraq was accompanied with scandals and legal controversies. Thus, in September 2007, a convoy of Blackwater contractors guarding State Department employees opened fire in a crowded square near the Mansour district in Baghdad. While the military firm employees later claimed they were attacked by gunmen, Iraqi police and witnesses reported that the contractors opened fire first. As a result of the bloodbath, 20 Iraqi civilians were killed, including a child.
Even though then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that he would strip Blackwater of its license to operate in Iraq, it turned out that the group never had any license of that sort and was deemed exempt from Iraqi law due to its murky legal status. The episode shed light on management, oversight, and accountability of the US private military forces in Iraq, which numbers amounted to more than 160,000, as the Brookings Institution wrote at the time.
The apparent Pentagon leak about Western special forces in the combat zone is actually of no military value for Russia's intelligence services, according to Sputnik's interlocutors.
"It would be strange if NATO special forces did not appear there one day," said Mikulskis. "I believe in our army and in our volunteers, in those Russians who are fighting there. We did it before, we can do it now. Therefore, NATO special forces, for example, do not cause me much concern. Every force is broken by another force. We also have special forces, which in many international competitions that were still held in peacetime between special forces troops, always won. So let's see who will win now. I think it will be our [soldiers], I'm just sure."
At the same time, the apparent Pentagon leak can't be used to legally prove the presence of NATO special ops in Ukraine, according to Podberezkin: "This is an organized leak; it is not proof of the direct presence," he noted.
"I am confident that this is an organized leak of disinformation, rigged, cobbled together in such a way that people could buy into it," Podberezkin said. "This is not some really important intelligence information that suddenly came out, as it was in the case with Snowden, for example. Snowden was a professional of the highest class and had access to the most secret information. What he brought to the media was of great importance. And here everything is quite predictable. We already knew [this information]; we saw it on the battlefield. To one degree or another, all this was already known."