By Nauman Sadiq for VT Islamabad
On Wednesday, March 16, President Biden announced an unprecedented package of $800 million in addition to $200 million previously pledged in military assistance to Ukraine, which includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 anti-armor Javelins, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems and 100 Switchblade kamikaze drones.
Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Politico : “The U.S. was working with allies to send more S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine. The country has had the S-300 for years, so troops should require little-to-no training on how to operate the Soviet-era anti-aircraft equipment. CNN reported that Slovakia had preliminarily agreed to transfer their S-300s to Ukraine.
“A Western diplomat familiar with Ukraine’s requests said Kyiv specifically has asked the U.S. and allies for more Stingers and Starstreak man-portable air-defense systems, Javelins and other anti-tank weapons, ground-based mobile air-defense systems, armed drones, long-range anti-ship missiles, off-the-shelf electronic warfare capabilities, and satellite navigation and communications jamming equipment.
“To further help, there is a push to get Eastern European allies to send new air defense systems to Ukraine that the U.S. doesn’t have. At the top of the list are mobile, Russian-made missile systems such as the SA-8 and S-300. Like the S-300, Ukraine also possesses SA-8s. The SA-8 is a mobile, short-range air defense system still in the warehouses of Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland. The larger, long-range S-300 is still in use by Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovakia.
“Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Europe this week will include not only NATO headquarters in Brussels, but also stops in Bulgaria and Slovakia — countries that own S-300s and SA-8s — before heading back to Washington.”
Slovakia’s defense minister said Thursday, March 17, that the country was willing to give Ukraine its S-300 surface-to-air missile defense systems if it receives a “proper replacement.” At a press conference in Slovakia with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said Slovakia was discussing the S-300s  with the US and Ukraine. “We’re willing to do so immediately when we have a proper replacement. The only strategic air defense system that we have in Slovakia is the S-300 system,” he said.
As with the Slovak defense minister asking for “proper replacement” in return for handing over its S-300 air defense system to Ukraine, Secretary of State Tony Blinken similarly suggested that Poland could hand over its entire fleet of 28 Soviet-era MiG-29s to Ukraine, and in return, the United States government would “backfill” the Polish Air Force with American F-16s.
“We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine, and looking at how we might be able to backfill it should Poland decide to supply those planes,” Blinken told a briefing in Chisinau on March 6.
The transfer might have been possible if the deal was kept under wraps, but that became impossible after Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy chief, declared unequivocally to reporters on Feb. 27 that the bloc would provide Ukraine with fighter jets.
The Ukrainian government heard the proposal and ran with it, producing infographics claiming they were about to receive 70 used Russian fighter jets from Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria. A Ukrainian government official told Politico  that Ukrainian pilots had even traveled to Poland to wrap up the deal and bring the planes back over the border.
Upon getting wind of the shady deal, Russian defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov issued a stark warning that any attempt by an outside power to facilitate a no-fly zone over Ukraine, including providing aircraft to Kyiv, would be considered a belligerent in the war and treated accordingly.
Hours after the Russian warning, the Polish Foreign Ministry issued an emphatic denial, saying providing aircraft to Ukraine was out of the question as the MiG-29 fleet constituted the backbone of the Polish Air Force.
The deal was categorically scuttled on March 3 by Polish President Andrzej Duda: “We are not sending any jets to Ukraine because that would open military inference in the Ukrainian conflict. We are not joining that conflict. NATO is not a party to that conflict,” Duda said .
In a bizarre turn of events overriding its own president’s categorical statement, Poland announced on March 8 that it was ready to transfer the aircraft to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany at the disposal of the United States which could then hand them over to Ukraine.
But the denouement of the diplomatic fiasco came on March 9, after the United States, occupying a high moral ground, unequivocally rejected the “preposterous” Polish offer, initially made on Warsaw’s behalf by the EU’s foreign affairs head and the US secretary of state.
The prospect of flying combat aircraft from NATO territory into the war zone “raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” the Pentagon sanctimoniously revealed on March 9. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby dignifiedly added.
The only conclusion that could be drawn from the reluctant Polish offer of transferring its entire fleet of MiG-29s to Ramstein at the disposal of the United States is that it was simply a humbug designed to provide face-saving to its NATO patron while it was already decided behind the scenes that Washington would spurn Poland’s nominal offer.
The New York Times reported Saturday , March 19: “American officials have floated the idea of Turkey’s government providing Ukraine with the sophisticated S-400 antiaircraft system. It is the very system, made by Russia, that American officials punished Turkey — a NATO ally — for buying from Moscow several years ago. Now American diplomats see a way to pull Turkey away from its dance with Russia and give the Ukrainians one of the most powerful, long-range antiaircraft systems in existence.
“The proposal for Turkey to supply Ukraine with Russian-made S-400 antiaircraft systems would also test what Mr. Putin is willing to accept from NATO — and how far a NATO ally that in recent years often appeared to be building bridges to Moscow is willing to go in reiterating its commitment to the alliance and backing Ukraine.
“The idea came up when Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, visited Turkey two weeks ago. Ms. Sherman declined to talk about her discussions. A different senior American official said the United States knew the proposal would anger Mr. Putin. Ukraine already uses Turkish-made drones, but Turkey is worried that providing the antiaircraft systems could make the country a target of Russia’s wrath.
“At the same time, the upside for Turkey could be substantial: It was suspended by the Trump administration from the F-35 fighter program — in which it was both a buyer and a manufacturer of parts for the advanced aircraft — after its purchase of the Russian S-400s. A deal to send the antiaircraft systems to Ukraine could open the door to re-entry into the F-35 program.”
Notwithstanding, private military contractors in close coordination and consultation with covert operators from CIA and Western intelligence agencies are not only training Ukraine’s conscript military and allied neo-Nazi militias in the use of caches of MANPADS and anti-armor munitions provided by the US, Germany, and the rest of European nations as military assistance to Ukraine but are, in fact, directing the whole defense strategy of Ukraine.
The Intercept reported  Thursday, March 17, the US military had deployed extensive ISR, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, assets to countries neighboring Ukraine to monitor developments within the embattled nation. The aircraft include MQ-9 Reaper drones, Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joints, and Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS, which have been used to eavesdrop on communications and collect imagery intelligence.
“‘The U.S. is using a variety of drone and fixed-wing collection assets to obtain tactical information of the battlefield,’ the official said, adding that the intelligence is then passed on to the Ukrainians through a liaison officer. On Sunday, a Russian drone briefly crossed into Poland, a NATO member, leading to a warning from the alliance that it could respond with force — an alarming threat of direct confrontation with Russia.
“An MQ-9 drone pilot with the U.S. military also told The Intercept that Reapers had been deployed to the region. He said the U.S. was using MQ-9 services leased from private contractors before withdrawing them and replacing them with government assets, which he said have been slower to stand up.
“The U.S. has particular experience with this type of indirect weapons and intelligence assistance against Russia, having previously sent arms to Syrian rebels combating the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad.”
In many ways, the proxy war in Ukraine resembles the CIA’s Operation Timber Sycamore and the Pentagon’s $500 million train-and-equip programs to provide guerrilla warfare training and lethal weaponry to rebels battling the Syrian government in the training camps located at border regions of Turkey and Jordan during Syria’s decades-long conflict.
In fact, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month was only a logical culmination of a long-simmering, eight-year war of attrition initiated by NATO powers against Russia in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after the 2014 Maidan coup toppling Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and consequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia.
In an explosive scoop , Zach Dorfman reported for the Yahoo News on March 16: “As part of the Ukraine-based training program, CIA paramilitaries taught their Ukrainian counterparts sniper techniques; how to operate U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and other equipment; how to evade digital tracking the Russians used to pinpoint the location of Ukrainian troops, which had left them vulnerable to attacks by artillery; how to use covert communications tools; and how to remain undetected in the war zone while also drawing out Russian and insurgent forces from their positions, among other skills, according to former officials.
“When CIA paramilitaries first traveled to eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s initial 2014 incursion, their brief was twofold. First, they were ordered to determine how the agency could best help train Ukrainian special operations personnel fight the Russian military forces, and their separatist allies, waging a grinding war against Ukrainian troops in the Donbas region. But the second part of the mission was to test the mettle of the Ukrainians themselves, according to former officials.”
Besides the CIA’s clandestine program for training neo-Nazi militias in eastern Donbas and the US Special Forces program for training Ukraine’s security forces at Yavoriv Combat Training Center in the western part of the country bordering Poland that was hit by a barrage  of 30 cruise missiles launched from Russian strategic bombers killing at least 35 militants on March 13, Zach Dorfman claims in a separate January report  that the CIA also ran a covert program for training Ukraine’s special forces at an undisclosed facility in the southern United States.
“The CIA is overseeing a secret intensive training program in the U.S. for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel, according to five former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the initiative. The program, which started in 2015, is based at an undisclosed facility in the Southern U.S., according to some of those officials.
“While the covert program, run by paramilitaries working for the CIA’s Ground Branch — now officially known as Ground Department — was established by the Obama administration after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and expanded under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has further augmented it.
“By 2015, as part of this expanded anti-Russia effort, CIA Ground Branch paramilitaries also started traveling to the front in eastern Ukraine to advise their counterparts there. The multiweek, U.S.-based CIA program has included training in firearms, camouflage techniques, land navigation, tactics like cover and move, intelligence, and other areas.
“One person familiar with the program put it more bluntly. ‘The United States is training an insurgency,’ said a former CIA official, adding that the program has taught the Ukrainians how ‘to kill Russians.’ Going back decades, the CIA has provided limited training to Ukrainian intelligence units to try and shore up an independent Kyiv and prevent Russian subversion, but cooperation ramped up after the Crimea invasion, said a former CIA executive.”
After perusing these informative reports, not only the defensive rationale for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on Feb. 24 becomes abundantly clear but it also shines light on the fact that Russia’s intervention in Syria was actually in retaliation for the CIA arming and training mercenaries and neo-Nazi militias in east Ukraine in order to destabilize Russia.
Following the Maidan coup in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and the CIA initiated the covert program to train and arm neo-Nazi militias in order to provoke Russia, the Kremlin’s immediate response to the escalation by Washington was that it jumped into the fray in Syria in September 2015, after a clandestine visit to Moscow by General Qassem Soleimani, the slain commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force who was assassinated in an American airstrike on a tip-off from the Israeli intelligence at the Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
When Russia deployed its forces and military hardware to Syria in September 2015, the militant proxies of Washington and its regional clients were on the verge of driving a wedge between Damascus and the Alawite heartland of coastal Latakia, which could have led to the imminent downfall of the Bashar al-Assad government.
With the help of Russia’s air power and long-range artillery, the Syrian government has since reclaimed most of Syria’s territory from the insurgents, excluding Idlib in the northwest occupied by Turkish-backed militants and Deir al-Zor and the Kurdish-held areas in the east, thus inflicting a humiliating defeat on Washington and its regional allies, Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and the Gulf States.
Karl Marx presciently said: “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce.” Those who don’t learn from traumatic experiences are bound to repeat their calamitous mistakes.
About the author: Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based geopolitical and national security analyst focused on geostrategic affairs and hybrid warfare in the Af-Pak and the Middle East regions. His domains of expertise include neocolonialism, military-industrial complex, and petro-imperialism. He is a regular contributor of diligently researched investigative reports to VT.