The United States Pentagon has denied reports that it helped Ukraine sink the Russian Moskva missile cruiser last month, in a high-profile embarrassment for Russia’s military.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement on Friday that the US “did not provide Ukraine with specific targeting information for the Moskva”.
“We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out,” he said. “We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship.”
An American official said Thursday that Ukraine alone decided to target and sink the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet using its own anti-ship missiles.
But given Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian coastline from the sea, the US has provided “a range of intelligence” that includes locations of those ships, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press.
NBC News had reported Thursday that American intelligence aided in the sinking of the ship. A day earlier the New York Times reported US intelligence on Russian troop movements allowed Ukraine’s “to target and kill” Russian generals.
Kirby told reporters on Thursday that American agencies “do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military”.
“Ukraine combines information that we and other partners provide with the intel that they themselves are gathering and then they make their own decisions and they take their own actions,” Kirby said.
The White House is under pressure from Republicans to do more to support Ukraine’s resistance, and as recent polls suggest some Americans question whether President Joe Biden is being tough enough on Russia.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Ukraine in February, the White House has tried to balance supporting Ukraine, a democratic ally, against not doing anything that would seem to provoke a direct war between Putin and the US and NATO allies.
But as the war has gone on, the White House has ramped up its military and intelligence support, removing some time and geographic limits on what it will tell Ukraine about potential Russian targets. Last week Biden requested $33bn in additional aid to Ukraine.
The Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet sank on April 14 after a fire sparked an ammunition blast a day earlier. Ukraine said it hit the vessel with two anti-ship missiles.
Russia’s RIA news agency reported a week later that one sailor had died and 27 more went missing after the ship sank, while 396 other crew members were rescued. It blamed the loss on a fire onboard and the sinking due to bad weather, rather than an attack by the Ukrainians.
Parents and family members of the sailors who served on the warship which can hold up to 680 crew members, have gone on social media to demand answers on the whereabouts of their relatives.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Friday, Kirby said: “The kind of intelligence we provide to them [Ukrainians] It’s legitimate. It’s lawful, and it’s limited.” He acknowledged that the US is always concerned about the potential for escalation in the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.