No kidding. Eli Lake reported on Thursday that American intelligence rejected the threat of a Russian invasion despite all of the mobilization going on across the border from Ukraine, only to have Russian force seize Crimea the next day. Now the same sources tell the indispensable Lake that they’re still surprised at the aggression, although they’re distinguishing between an invasion and an invasion-invasion:
U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the fast moving situation in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that analytic products from the intelligence community this week did not discount the prospect of Russian provocations and even light incursions in the Russian majority province of Crimea, the home of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea.
Nonetheless, until Friday, no one anticipated a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory.”Nobody thought Putin was going to invade last night,” one Senate aide who works closely on the Ukraine crisis. “He has the G8 summit in Sochi coming up, no one really saw this kind of thing coming.” This source also stressed that events are still moving quickly on the ground. “There is still a question about whether this is Russian troops coming across the border or Russian troops moving around the installations in Crimea.”
I doubt the Ukrainians are making those distinctions. Now that the invasion is under way, though, US intel says it’s a textbook operation. Plus, the Obama administration is making it easy for Putin to act:
“Putin’s aim is to show that he is in the catbird seat, and there is nothing we can do about it,” this former officer said. “He’s like a kid with a can of gasoline and a book of matches, and he laughs as Obama tries to deliver lectures on how fire is dangerous. Indeed, Putin throws banana peels on the ground, and Obama manages to slip on every one of them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Be sure to read it all. And I’d like to clarify one point about Eli’s earlier report: it was the intel community that got this call embarrassingly wrong, not Eli. His reporting is as solid as ever. That’s something to keep in mind when we use the earlier report in other analyses.