Stung by war casualties and massing troops for a new battle in eastern Ukraine, Russia has warned the Biden administration to stop supplying advanced weapons to Ukrainian forces or face “unforeseeable consequences.” “, U.S. officials said on Friday.
The Russian message – one of a series of warnings punctuated by an official protest note, delivered on Tuesday – suggested growing concerns in Moscow that the weapons were seriously hampering Russia’s combat capabilities.
The existence of the message was revealed as the Kremlin was funneling weaponry, including attack helicopters, to Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine for the next phase of its two-month-old invasion of the country. .
Over the course of the war, the US administration provided Ukrainians with increasingly heavy weapons – including 155mm howitzers – as the conflict escalated, and it announced a new package this week. $800 million weapons.
In February, as the war began, the administration feared that such weapons would unnecessarily provoke Russia. But after coming under pressure from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and members of Congress from both parties, the administration decided to supply some of the types of heavy weapons Ukraine will need in the next phase of the war.
The Russian warnings came as the invasion met surprisingly strong Ukrainian resistance and exposed the weaknesses of Russia’s conventional armed forces.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has installed a new command to oversee the war in Ukraine and last week publicly suggested for the first time that Russia’s goals are limited to securing Donbass, the eastern part of the country. Ukraine bordering Russia where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years.
Russia’s goals when its army invaded on February 24 seemed far more ambitious, with plans to besiege and capture the capital, kyiv, in the north, cutting off Mr Zelensky’s government from the rest of the former Soviet republic, that Mr. Putin said he doesn’t even consider a country.
This strategy failed and Russian forces withdrew last month. They also failed to completely capture the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol despite the relentless bombardment that turned this once bustling city of 450,000 into a wasteland of death and the destructive horrors of war. .
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, told CNN on Friday that Ukrainian troops still controlled Mariupol, but the city had been “wiped off the face of the earth by the Federation of Russia, by those who want can never restore it.
In what appeared to be another military embarrassment for Russia that it has sought to cover up, a senior US defense official said on Friday that Russia’s Black Sea flagship Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser that sank on Thursday , had been hit by two Ukrainian Neptune missiles, and not crippled by accidental fire and explosion during a storm, as claimed by the Kremlin.
It was the first American corroboration of Ukraine’s claims that its Neptune missiles – a newly deployed weapon with a range of 190 miles – had hit the ship, which was hit 65 miles south of the port of Odessa .
The loss of the Moskva was more than just a humiliation, as it could now seriously jeopardize any Kremlin plan for an amphibious assault on the southern coast of Ukraine. The loss also raised questions about Russian dominance of Ukrainian airspace and the apparent inability of the Moskva, a sophisticated warship, to evade or intercept the Neptunes with its own defense systems.
The US official said US intelligence assessments had indicated an unknown number of casualties, contradicting Russian claims that all crew members had been safely evacuated.
The Russian warship, the Moskva, was hit by missiles
in regards to 65 nautical miles south of Odessa,
according to a defense official.
A vessel of similar dimensions
and features have been seen on
75 nautical miles from Odessa.
near the harbor
Seen at the port
The Russian warship, the Moskva, was hit
by missiles on 65 nautical miles
south of Odessa, according to a defense official.
near the harbor
A vessel with similar
features was seen
about 75 nautical miles
kilometers from Odessa.
Seen at the port
The Russian diplomatic protest note, called a demarche, was sent through normal channels, two administration officials said, and was not signed by Mr. Putin or other senior Russian officials. But it was an indicator, an administration official said, that the weapons sent by the United States were having an effect.
US officials said the tone of the memo was consistent with a series of Russian public threats, including targeting arms shipments as they moved through Ukrainian territory.
Officials said the memo caused no particular concern inside the White House. But it sparked a wider discussion within the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about whether the ‘unforeseen consequences’ could include trying to target or sabotage some of the weapons shipments while they were still there. on NATO territory, before they were transferred to the Ukrainians for the final trip in the hands of Ukrainian troops. The delivery of the protest note was first reported by The Washington Post.
The weapons President Biden authorized this week for transfer to the Ukrainians include long-range artillery that suits what US officials believe is a different style of battle in the open areas of Donbass, where Russian forces appear to be massage for an attack in the next few days.
Pentagon officials insisted as war approached that the United States provide only defensive weapons that would prevent escalation.
Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, described in an interview with the Washington Economic Club on Thursday how he and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reviewed weapons requests. They went over each item with their Ukrainian counterparts, talking about what the United States had in stock and what they could deliver quickly.
Pro-Kremlin media reports have highlighted anti-tank systems and other Western weapons used by Ukrainian forces, promoting the idea that Russia is not at war with Ukraine but with an alliance led by the United States seeking to destroy Russia. Mr Biden and his aides denied this, saying they wanted to avoid direct conflict with Russia and had no interest in US-organized regime change.
In Moscow, commentators have increasingly called for Russia to hit Ukrainian roads and railways to prevent arms transfers. While Russia has targeted many Ukrainian airports, the country’s ground transportation network remains largely intact.
“Now is not the time to talk, but to attack,” Viktor Baranets, military columnist for Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s biggest tabloid, mentioned Friday. “Train rungs must be destroyed along with the railroads.”
Russia’s concern may be partly related to the precision Ukraine has shown in striking the Moskva, one of its most sophisticated warships.
The Russian move echoes public rhetoric from officials in Moscow, who have been warning for weeks that Western arms supplies to Ukraine would prolong the war and be met with a harsh response.
It came as the level of concern among Russian officials about the impact of Western weapons has risen, said Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian Council for International Affairs, a research organization close to the Kremlin.
“It seems that the United States and the West in general are now testing the limits of Russian tolerance for arms deliveries,” Kortunov said. “It is clear that these volumes are already so large that they can affect the course of hostilities, which raises concerns.”
A Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, said on Friday that Russia was “making it clear to Americans and other Westerners” that attempts to obstruct what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine and to increase Russian losses would be “harshly restrained.”
He added that NATO vehicles carrying weapons on Ukrainian territory would be “considered by us to be legitimate military targets”. His comments came in a interview with Tass, the public news agency.
NATO is handing over weapons to the Ukrainians in order to prevent alliance vehicles from crossing Ukrainian soil. But Mr Ryabkov’s comments raised concerns about whether Russia would take the risk of striking inside NATO territory.
When Mr Putin announced his ‘special military operation’ on February 24, he said those ‘who might be tempted to interfere’ in Ukraine would face consequences as severe ‘as you have never seen in your entire history. “.
“No matter how events unfold, we are ready,” Putin said at the time. “All the necessary decisions in this regard have been taken.”
But Russia has so far seemed cautious not to escalate the conflict in ways that could draw NATO countries more directly — for example, by not hitting arms convoys crossing Ukraine from Poland.
“There are still fears about strikes that could hit the territory of NATO member countries,” Kortunov said. “We certainly don’t want to create a pretext for further escalation.”
David E. Sanger and Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul. Reporting was provided by Marc Santora of Krakow, Poland; Michael Schwirtz from Lviv, Ukraine; and Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt of Washington.