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Pentagon treads carefully around U.S. role in Moskva sinking

A new phase of Russia’s war against Ukraine opened up last week when U.S. officials acknowledged that American forces helped identify the location of the Moskva, the Russian flagship that sank to the bottom of the Black Sea after a Ukrainian missile strike.

That event, in addition to President Biden’s new push for push for $40 billion in new funding for U.S. weapons systems to Ukraine, led to describe the last few weeks as “the Pentagon's slow, steady march to deeper involvement in the European war.” These events have also prompted more questions from reporters about whether Ukraine is now the site of a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia.

In the last few days, the Pentagon has made an effort to downplay the role it played in the sinking of the Moskva. NBC reported that U.S. officials only helped Ukraine’s forces identify and confirm the location of the ship.

“The attack happened after Ukrainian forces asked the Americans about a ship sailing in the Black Sea south of Odesa,” NBC reported. “The U.S. identified it as the Moskva, officials said, and helped confirm its location, after which the Ukrainians targeted the ship.”

“The U.S. did not know in advance that Ukraine was going to target the Moskva, officials said, and was not involved in the decision to strike,” NBC added.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby responded to that report by stressing that the U.S. “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 added. “We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship. The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian naval vessels, as they did in this case."

And on Friday, Kirby offered a measured response about the extent to which U.S. intelligence is aiding Ukraine in its war against Russia, and noted that the U.S. is not the only source of intelligence for Ukraine:

“On the intelligence, I think you can understand I'm going to be careful here in what we talk about, in terms of the parameters of intelligence that we provide them, but we provide them what we believe to be relevant and timely information about Russian units that will allow them to adjust and execute their self defense to the best of their ability.

“The kind of intelligence that we provide them, it's legitimate, it's lawful and it's limited, and I would rather not get into the degree to which there's limitations on there, but we try to be as timely and as relevant as we can.

“And I would also add -- and this is not an unimportant point -- we are not the only sole source of intelligence and information to the Ukrainians. They get intelligence from other nations, as well, and they have a pretty robust intelligence collection capability of their own. I mean, they've been fighting this war against Russia for eight years. It's not like they are completely blind to the way Russia organizes itself and the way that Russia conducts itself on the battlefield.

“So as you would expect any nation to do, they form a mosaic here, they collate the information that they're getting, and then they make their own decisions about what they're going to do with that. And if they do decide to do something with that intelligence, then they make the decisions about acting on it.”

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