Americans have tried to help Ukraine defend against Russian aggression ever since Vladimir Putin’s invasion began last year, from offers to fight on the battlefield to raising funds for the embattled nation.
At one point, that appeared to include Bob Baer—a former CIA agent who previously worked in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, working jobs around the globe from Lebanon to Iraq.
Baer—whose 2003 memoir inspired the movie Syriana, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon—registered as a foreign agent for Ukraine in March, according to filings with the Department of Justice obtained by The Daily Beast. The work was intended to “help Ukraine navigate through arms purchases,” one of the filings states.
In an early April interview with The Daily Beast about the registration, Baer said that: “What I’m trying to do right now is help the Air Force with various [equipment], with drones, with MiGs, aviation, things like that,” adding that some of the specifics for his work, which he said would be done pro bono, were still getting sorted out. “I think the Russians need to be stopped before they go any farther.”
That’s when things started getting a little murky.
The plan started to spiral this month, according to Baer’s telling. He told The Daily Beast he wanted more specifics from the Ukrainian government about what his duties would be, and he wanted it in writing. He said his intermediaries, who he claims roped him into the scheme in the first place and whom he has refused to name, started to go silent on him. Then, on April 10, Baer informed The Daily Beast he had decided to pull out of the plan entirely.
Nevertheless, Baer’s registration as a foreign agent remains active more than two weeks later, according to Department of Justice records reviewed Tuesday. The Ukrainian Air Force acknowledged a request for comment, but ultimately did not respond to The Daily Beast to confirm the alleged arrangement.
In his latest comments to The Daily Beast, the former CIA agent said he has plans to deregister this week.
In the days leading up to Baer’s apparent decision to deregister with the Justice Department, he had told The Daily Beast that his plans with the Ukrainians were still in flux. He said the arrangement would have him working with congressional staffers and members of Congress, where he intended to engage in political lobbying in both the House and the Senate, according to a filing.
The documents Baer submitted to the Justice Department reflect some confusion in the early development of the plan. The former CIA agent was originally set to work with Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s top military intelligence official, according to some filings retained at the Department of Justice. Baer later told The Daily Beast that the arrangement had changed, and that he was set to work under the Air Force more specifically. According to the most recent filing, he was set to work under the commander of the Air Force, Mykola Oleschuk.
Budanov’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“We are currently trying to alarm the world that there is a huge problem and threat for us.”
The apparent plan comes as Ukraine is growing increasingly desperate for certain weapons aid from the United States and other Western nations to try to win the war against Russia. Ukrainian officials have been pleading with the Biden administration for fighter jets and other weapons for months. The need for more Air Force resources is currently dire, according to Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat, who said early this month that Russia is five or six times more powerful than Ukraine in the air.
“Technologically, they are several times better,” Ihnat added. “They carried out deep modernization of the Su-27 aircraft, today it is the Su-30, and there is also a Su-35 variant, as well as a Su-34 fighter-bomber, and what these aircraft fire off is a new threat.”
Ukraine has recently begun receiving MiG-29 fighter jets from Slovakia and Poland. Other military packages have included Su-25s from Bulgaria and Su-25s from North Macedonia, according to Oryx and the Associated Press. Foreign aid shipments have also included attack, transport, and utility helicopters, as well as unmanned combat aerial vehicles and intelligence UAVs, Oryx reported.
But Ukrainian officials say they still need modern fighter jets like the F-16s.
The F-16s have “an on-board radar that can see far and a wide range of weapons—cruise missiles, guided air missiles capable of hitting air, ground, and water surface targets—everything is there in the F-16 aircraft. That is why we need such a multi-purpose warplane,” Ihnat said. “The MiG-29, which is handed over to us by our partners, doesn’t have this.”
Although the Biden administration has held off on sending F-16s to Ukraine, Ukrainian pilots have been completing training on F-16s in the United States in recent weeks, in a sign that Ukraine may be getting just what it needs soon.
Currently, Ukraine’s Air Force is working on ramping up the pressure on the United States to give F-16s to Ukraine.
“We are trying to explain that while it’s great that the MiGs came from Slovakia and Poland, they are not actually helping a lot. They are basically quantity but not quality. And they are not changing the situation at all for us,” said Yulia Marushevska, who spoke with The Daily Beast on behalf of Ukraine’s Air Force. “It’s a big threat for us right now due to the absence of the modern jets, the problem of the F-16s. We are currently trying to alarm the world that there is a huge problem and threat for us.”
Marushevska, however, did not respond to multiple comment requests about addressing this threat with the help of an alleged arrangement with Baer, the details of which remain shrouded in mystery.