A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 13, 2023

Why the Leaked Pentagon Documents Were A Net Positive For Ukraine

We now know that the leak came from a young civilian, US military base employee with a history of racist, antisemitic and 'gun-nut' tendencies who was trying to show off to members of an online chat group. 

That, in itself, is good news because it was not organized Russian or US Republican subversion. But the timing also reveals that rather than a skeptical view of Ukraine's prospects, it was a logical assessment of needs - which were then addressed in successive aid packages in order bolster Ukrainian capabilities. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

The leaked documents are probably an accurate description of what the U.S. thought in February. But these documents weren’t created as the hand-wringing assessment the (press) headlined. They were made to point out problems that could be fixed, signals that (NATO) were noting where Ukraine needed help - and then (NATO) fixed them. A March 3 $400M package includes HIMARS, artillery, and equipment for bridging. The U.S. followed with a $2.6B package dominated by HIMARS rockets, tank ammunition, anti-aircraft ammo, artillery, fuel trucks, bridging and recovery vehicles, and anti-aircraft systems. If those leaks in February were a checklist, the packages in March ticked every box.Daily Kos covered many aspects of the document leak over the weekend and again on Monday, so I’m not going to spend much time on the details of what they include this morning except to say: We still don’t know if this is real, fake, or disinformation created by any one of several potential sources.

But wait, doesn’t the outrage and the warnings from U.S. officials that this information should not be spread mean … nope.

Surely all the statements about anger from allies, concern about lost credibility with Ukraine, and the desperate hunt for the leaker means that … nope.

Well, at least information casting doubt on Ukraine’s abilities proves … nope.

The purpose of disinformation is to look like real information, including treating the release of that disinformation as if it were real information. We don’t know. We won’t know unless the U.S. announces that someone has been arrested and charged with the release of this information. We can’t even be sure then.

That’s a good thing—because Moscow is in exactly the same position.

Do I think it’s real? Yes, sadly enough. It’s quite easy to believe that someone, somewhere, was that big of an idiot. Such an idiot that it’s hard to tell if this information was posted for any reason bigger than showing off and possibly winning an online argument. Because Minecraft servers are where all the real experts gather. Or something. Sorry, that part of the whole story makes my head ache. I’m imagining an argument that goes, “Yeah, well, Ukraine is running out of tank ammo, but look at my sick Minecraft model of Minas Tirith!”

What should we take away from these documents when it comes to the two broad statements that have been widely published: concerns about Ukraine running out of ammunition, and concerns that a Ukrainian counteroffensive might not be effective enough to push Russia out of most of the occupied territory?

HIMARS rocket being fired in Ukraine

Honestly, we should take both these evaluations as hopeful signs. Because they are signals that U.S. analysts were watching closely and noting those places where Ukraine needed help. And it is “needed,” not “needs.” After all, the date on these reports was in February. That was followed by a March 3 announcement of a $400M package that includes more HIMARS, artillery, and equipment for bridging rivers and streams. Just three weeks later, the U.S. followed up with a $2.6B package again dominated by ammunition. HIMARS rockets, tank ammunition, anti-aircraft ammo, and still more artillery. That package also contains fuel trucks, more bridging and recovery vehicles, and more anti-aircraft systems.

If the February analysis (which was likely made even earlier) says that the U.S. believed Ukraine is short of ammunition, the first March package looks tailor-made to address that issue. If the February analysis believed Ukraine lacked everything it needed to liberate and hold territory, the big package announced at the end of March looks as if it was absolutely designed to fill in the gaps in Ukraine’s logistics. If those leaks in February were a checklist, the packages in March ticked every box.

Ammunition. Fuel trucks to keep tanks and armor moving forward. Bridging equipment to prevent either rivers or tank trenches from slowing forward movement. Anti-aircraft gear to prevent Russia from obtaining anything like air superiority. More ammunition.

As kos noted, the number of HIMARS rockets, in particular, has limited the ability of these weapons to act in terms of repressing Russian artillery. Because the rockets are so limited, Ukraine has used HIMARS primarily to strike targets involving ammunition depots or equipment facilities that group many valuable targets. Russia has wised up enough to move most of these facilities beyond the HIMARS range. Ukraine really needs to have enough HIMARS on hand to use them in effective counterbattery fire and for smaller groupings of men and materiel.

What does the March 3 package include?

In this package, the United States will provide additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, additional 105 mm and 155 mm artillery rounds, and additional 25 mm ammunition.

What about that big package at the end of March?

The latest package of aid includes a large amount of various types of ammunition, such as rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and an undisclosed number of fuel tanker trucks and riverine boats.

HIMARS and artillery ammo. HIMARS and logistical support. 

Do I think the leaked documents are probably an accurate description of what the U.S. thought about Ukrainian capability in February? Yes. I do think it’s likely. But these documents weren’t created as the kind of hand-wringing assessment the Washington Post and others are headlining this morning. They were made to point out problems that could be fixed. And then the U.S. military moved to fix them. They’re not the only ones. Ammunition has been a focal point of assistance packages from the U.K., Poland, France, and others. It’s almost as if they watched the same slide show.

Those leaked documents—assuming they were real, assuming they were leaked—don’t show that Ukraine is failing or is doomed to fail. This isn’t a final report on a war that’s over. It’s observations of events in motion that are designed to highlight potential issues expressly so they can be addressed.

You know who else didn’t think Ukraine was prepared for an extended counteroffensive in February? Everyone. Including Ukraine. But then, Ukraine was never going to conduct a counteroffensive in February. Or in March.


On Monday, my changes to the map of the situation in Bakhmut were … actually, there were no changes to the map. Last Friday, it seemed Russia had broken Ukrainian lines at several points and was pressing Ukrainian forces around the railway station. Then on Saturday, Ukraine pushed back and drove Russian forces one to two blocks back from the rail lines. There were also reports that Russia had hurried ahead to the point that they hadn’t actually cleared Ukrainian forces from some buildings that were now in their rear, meaning that Russia again took high casualties and was forced to give up a corridor in the center of the city.

On Sunday, things seemed to quiet, at least in terms of area exchanged. On Monday, fighting was still described as “fierce,” but there appeared to be no measurable movement of lines inside the city. The lines around the city also appear to be momentarily frozen. However, it’s worth noting that Ukraine’s reduced area within the city, and Russia’s solidifying control of areas north and east, will make it possible for Russia to position and direct more intense artillery at the areas Ukraine holds within the city. It’s only getting harder in Bakhmut.

And the cost of holding the city is horrendous. 

LVIV, UKRAINE - APRIL 10: A soldier of the honor guard with a portrait of Yevhen Gulevich during the farewell ceremony in front of the Garrison Church on April 10, 2023 in Lviv, Ukraine. Gulevich was the author of cultural and critical articles in the media, art history articles for the "Angels" exhibition project, and the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian publication "World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti" and the translation of Ray Bradbury's "Something Bad Is Coming". Member of the team of the documentary film project "Vypchyna. Village of one day", consultant of the Pinsel.AR project, participant of the public initiative "Future Heritage" and co-author of the Mapping Future Heritage international project. Died in the battles of Bakhmut on December 31, 2022. He is considered missing until the end of March 2023. (Photo by Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
Ukrainian author, and soldier, Yevhen Gulevich

That ceremony shown in the image at the top of the article is for Ukrainian author Yevhen Gulevich. Gulevich was a critical figure in detailing the history of Ukrainian art, explaining the origins of Ukrainian culture, and in mapping that history onto modern Ukraine. He was the editor of a Ukrainian magazine and frequently in demand for his skill at translating books written in other languages into Ukrainian while preserving the emotion and beauty of language. Among others, he translated Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” so that it can be read by generations of Ukrainians the way it has been read and enjoyed by generations of Americans. 

Gulevich died on Bakhmut. He probably died all the way back at the end of December, but his body could not be found, and his fellow soldiers maintained some level of hope that he was still out there until he was finally declared dead last month. 

This loss is the tiniest sliver of what it means to say “Bakhmut holds.” Every day brings the loss of so many. Award-winning athletes. Brave humanitarian volunteers. Soldiers known for their bravery in the 2014 invasion. The daily toll from Bakhmut includes the famous and the ordinary, all made brothers and sisters in the place they gave up their lives to hold.

Bakhmut holds, at the cost of blood and lives. And every day we can only hope it’s worth it.


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