Pentagon looks to restart top-secret programs in Ukraine

The Pentagon is urging Congress to resume funding a pair of top-secret programs in Ukraine suspended ahead of Russia’s invasion last year, according to current and former U.S. officials. If approved, the move would allow American Special Operations troops to employ Ukrainian operatives to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation.

A determination is unlikely before the fall. Defense officials are preparing a proposal for lawmakers’ consideration in the coming months, when work begins on next year’s Pentagon policy and funding bill. If successful, these programs could resume as soon as 2024, though it remains unclear if the Biden administration would allow U.S. commandos back into Ukraine to oversee them or if the military would seek to do that from a neighboring country. No American military personnel are known to have operated there since the war began, beyond a small number tasked to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

Congressional officials said it is difficult to predict the outcome, particularly with Republicans split over the vast sums being spent on Ukraine. Others argue that the programs’ relatively small expense — $15 million annually for such activities worldwide — is a bargain compared with the tens of billions of dollars being committed to train and arm Ukrainian forces, and replenish U.S. stockpiles.

Military officials are eager to restart these activities in Ukraine to ensure that hard-gained relationships are not lost as the war wears on, said Mark Schwartz, a retired three-star general who led U.S. Special Operations in Europe when the programs began in 2018.