Confidential US-NATO planning documents related to the war in Ukraine have surfaced on social media, prompting Washington officials to rush to have them removed from Twitter and other online platforms.
Meanwhile, officials in kyiv warned that the documents were altered by the Russianspartly to hide the true extent of the casualties suffered by the Moscow forces and inflate the number of Ukrainians they killed.
Photos of documents labeled “top secret” and “secret,” including some showing folds and wrinkles, officials said, and media reports, have been posted on Twitter and Telegram in recent days. The files include charts and maps indicating the location of military forces and weaponry in Ukraine as of March 1 and appear to have been posted online as early as that day.
“We are aware of the reports of social media posts and the Department is reviewing the matter,” the US Defense Ministry said in a statement.
A Pentagon official insisted to the voice of america that no formal investigation was taking place, despite news reports to the contrary.
The disclosure was the first public intelligence breakthrough for Russia since invaded Ukraine at the end of February 2022, according to The New York Timeswhich initially reported the leak on Thursday.
The documents also contain specific information on training programs for Ukrainian combat brigades and spending rates for the HIMARS rocket launch system that the United States has provided ahead of Kiev’s expected spring counteroffensive, according to news reports.
“I do not see any risk in the publication of this information, including distorted information about the plans that the General Staff of Ukraine is developing,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told the Ukrainian Service of the VOA. “They are irrelevant to what will work in a month or at a certain time when these scenarios will be implemented on the battlefield.”
Podolyak added that if the intercepted documents were completely authentic, the Russians “certainly wouldn’t divulge them.” “You would pretend you don’t know the plans,” he said.
A doctored chart puts Russian deaths at between 16,000 and 17,500, well below many analysts’ plausible estimates of up to 200,000 dead, wounded or missing and down to 35,500 from the 43,500 listed in an earlier leaked version. The doctored chart also lists the estimate of Ukrainian soldiers killed at 61,000 to 71,500, down from 16,000 to 17,500 in an earlier photograph of the document posted online.
“Altered numbers expose them [a los servicios de inteligencia rusos] completely. And it shows that the main reason for this was to convince the Russian public that only 17,000 soldiers died. [rusos]said Andrey Piontkovsky, a senior fellow at the New York-based Institute of Modern Russia.
“This is a propaganda operation designed primarily for Russian public opinion,” Piontkovsky told the Russian Information Service. VOA on Friday, adding that what has been released does not contain “any detailed damaging military information.”
Some Russian military bloggers point in another direction, claiming that the documents were leaked by Western intelligence to mislead Russian commanders ahead of the Ukrainians’ next counter-offensive.
Such a warning was posted on Telegram by the Gray Zone account, which is associated with the Russian private paramilitary force, known as the Wagner Group.
More than 30 of the documents initially appeared on a Discord server on March 1 and 2, according to Aric Toler, a researcher at Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence and fact-checking group based in the Netherlands. Discord is a popular voice, video, and text communication service based in San Francisco.
“They were all photographed from printouts,” as you can see a person’s hand in the images, Toler told the VOA on Friday.
By March 5, after they spread to other Discord servers and the anonymous 4chan online bulletin board, one altered document and other apparently unaltered ones were posted on Russian Telegram channels, according to Toler.
US government officials have been asking messaging and social media companies to remove the posts, though it is unknown when they first learned of the leak.
A consultation of VOA sent by email on Friday to the Twitter platform generated an automatic response with a scatological emoji: 💩; the standard response that Twitter has recently sent to in response to any query from a media outlet.
Several of the documents were still viewable on Twitter as of Friday afternoon, with some racking up hundreds of thousands of views.
[Tatiana Vorozhko y Rafael Saakyan contribuyeron a este despacho]