US operations to destabilise Ukraine and distance it from Moscow began in the early stages of the Cold War, at least in the planning phase. According to the Americans, an anti-Soviet uprising would have been widely supported in different parts of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the line ‘for’ and ‘against’ Moscow would have roughly followed the border that now separates the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and Crimea from the rest of Ukraine.
This is what emerges from a study entitled “Resistance Factors and Areas of Special Forces Operations in Ukraine – 1957”, commissioned by the US military from the Georgetown University Research Project. The study is reminiscent in its themes and analytical approach of those that emerged after the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, which assessed the potential for agent infiltration and instigation of uprisings in European NATO member countries.
The CIA declassified this study in 2014 (the year the Coup led to the overthrow of the Moscow-friendly government in Kiev), which was quoted in detail by the BBC in a 2017 article traceable today in its Russian version.
Under Truman’s presidency, the US confronted the Cold War by pursuing a policy of “turning” defeated enemies (Germany and Japan) into friends and World War II allies (the USSR) into enemies.
In response to Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the USSR, it was Truman himself, a senator in 1941, who declared that “if we saw Germany winning, we should support Russia, but if Russia was close to victory, we should help Germany and thereby let them kill each other as much as possible”.
The CIA, created by Truman himself in 1947, became the main instrument of the clandestine operations that characterised Washington’s foreign policy.
The 1957 study divided Ukraine into 12 demarcated zones on the basis of loyalty to the USSR or support for a possible uprising against the Soviet government, taking into account the fact that from 1945 to the mid-1950s, anti-Soviet resistance organisations remained active both in Ukraine and in the Baltic republics annexed to the USSR. The report recalled that only one pocket of active resistance was recorded after 1955, in the Carpathian region.
The western part of Ukraine – in particular the Volyn and Lutsk regions, which include cities such as Kovel, Lutsk, Kostopol and Vladimirovets – was considered by US analysts to be the most promising area for launching an insurgency and infiltrating special forces.
The report attributed anti-Soviet sentiments mainly to Galicia (Lvov, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankovsk), in the area comprising the Kiev, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr and Khmelnytsk regions, where the local population could provide “significant support to US Special Forces”, as this area had a strong Ukrainian movement in 1917-1921 and strong armed resistance during collectivisation.
The areas of Ukraine bordering Hungary and Romania also seemed interesting for Special Forces infiltration. According to US data, in Transcarpathia, Ukrainian anti-Soviet resistance formations operated after World War II north of Uzhgorod and in the mountainous areas. A similar situation occurred in the Chernovtsyi region, where Ukrainian rebels operated in the mountainous areas.
In contrast, Crimea and Donbass were defined as “unpromising” because the majority of the local population was pro-government and, in fact, considered themselves Russian rather than Ukrainian (zones I and II).
Conflict between Zones III-XII and Zones I-II is described in the 1957 report as “very likely” and potentially “feasible”, indicating the possibility of growing opposition within the USSR in preparation for its collapse. In the same report, the CIA estimated that Zones 3, 4 and 5 (Odessa, Kharkov, Zaporiya) would also side with the Donbas if such a conflict broke out.
It is therefore interesting to analyse the mapping of Ukraine created by the CIA in 1957 in the context of the idea of deploying US special forces units in support of the insurgency. Some 60 years later, there are a number of similarities with the situation today.
From the decidedly pro-Russian regions of Donbas to the “tendentially” pro-Russian regions of Odessa, Kharkov, Zaporiya (and Kherson), via the central-western regions inhabited by a population that is now largely hostile to Moscow as it was during the Cold War towards the USSR.
After analysing geography, population sentiment and strategic targets for sabotage, the report highlighted five areas where Special Forces could carry out effective attacks, mainly in the northern and western regions, but also along the southern coast of Crimea, an area rich in military targets and infrastructure where, according to the report, US Special Forces would be supported by the Crimean Tatars, who are considered anti-Soviet.
In this context, the most important economic region, the Donbas, was described as totally unsuitable due to a lack of hiding places, high population density and ‘large numbers of Russians and Ukrainians’.
The report contains no indication of when or under what conditions US Special Forces operations might have been triggered in Soviet Ukraine, but appears primarily as an analytical contribution to the planning of operations to be implemented rapidly in the event of conflict and confirms how, already in the early years of the Cold War, Ukraine was seen by the US as the “hinge” linking Russia to Europe, on which to focus and prepare to strike at Moscow’s weak points.
In 1997, forty years after the study commissioned by the US military, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Polish-born American political scientist and former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, theorised in his book The Grand Chessboard that without control of Ukraine, Russia would lose its power role in Europe.
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