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WASHINGTON — The United States provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces locate and strike the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last month, another sign that the administration is easing the limits it has. is imposed as to how far it will go to help Ukraine fight Russia, US officials mentioned.
The targeting assistance, which contributed to the eventual sinking of the flagship Moskva, is part of an ongoing classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine. The intelligence also includes sharing of planned Russian troop movements, taken from a recent US assessment of Moscow’s battle plan for fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, the officials said.
The administration has sought to keep much of the battlefield and maritime intelligence it shares with the Ukrainians secret, lest it be seen as an escalation and provoke Russian President Vladimir V. Putin into a larger war. But in recent weeks, the United States has sent heavier weapons to Ukraine and requested an extraordinary $33 billion in additional military, economic and humanitarian aid from Congress, demonstrating how quickly US restrictions on support for Ukraine are evolving.
Two senior US officials said Ukraine had already obtained the Moskva targeting data on its own and the US had only provided confirmations. But other officials said US intelligence was essential to Ukraine’s sinking of the vessel.
US intelligence assistance in striking the Moskva was reported earlier by NBC News.
On April 13, Ukrainian ground forces fired two Neptune missiles, hitting the Moskva and starting a fire that eventually led to the sinking of the warship. Attention also focused on the proper functioning of the aging ship’s radar systems. Ukrainian and US officials said the Moskva may have been distracted by Ukraine’s deployment of a Turkish-made Bayraktar drone nearby.
Immediately after the strike, Biden administration officials remained scrupulously silent, refusing to even confirm that the Moskva had been struck. But in recent days, US officials have confirmed that targeting data from US intelligence sources was provided to Ukraine in the hours before the Neptune missiles were launched.
Officials declined to say what specific information was passed on, but one official said the information went beyond a simple report of the ship’s location in the Black Sea, 65 nautical miles south of Odessa. .
The sinking of the ship was a blow to Russia and the largest loss for a navy in 40 years.
Russia has denied that Ukrainian missiles played a role in the Moskva’s disappearance, saying instead that a fire on board caused an explosion of munitions that doomed the ship. Independent Russian media based outside the country reported that about 40 men died and 100 others were injured when the battleship was damaged and sank.
Biden administration officials have declined to publicly confirm that US intelligence provided the targeting information that allowed Ukraine to strike the Moskva.
Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby asked about a report in the Times of London that a Navy P-8 spy plane from Sigonella Air Base in Italy was tracking the Moskva before it was hit by Ukraine, spoke of air policing missions in the Black Sea in part of a carefully worded response: “There was no provision of targeting information by any US Navy P-8s flying in these air policing missions,” he said.
A US official said the Ukrainians questioned the Americans about a ship sailing in the Black Sea south of Odessa. The United States identified it as the Moskva and confirmed its location. The Ukrainians then targeted the ship. The Ukrainians carried out the strike without the knowledge of the United States. The official said the United States had provided confirmation to the Ukrainian military, but other officials said it was uncertain whether Ukraine could have hit the ship without the help of the United States. United.
After the article was published, Mr. Kirby added in a statement: “The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian Navy ships, as they did in this case.”
US officials have publicly acknowledged that actionable intelligence was provided to the Ukrainians in preparation for the February 24 Russian invasion, and that the practice continued in the weeks that followed. But those officials were hesitant to confirm American involvement in Ukrainian operations that resulted in the deaths of Russian soldiers.
The US assessment of Russia’s war plan for the Donbass region allowed a senior Pentagon official to say last week that Russia appeared to be “several days behind schedule” on its offensive there in due to strong Ukrainian resistance and persistent supply problems.
Russian forces can always deviate from their plans, but U.S. officials said the intelligence allowed Ukrainian forces to evade attacks in some places and position themselves to strike at the Russians in others.
Although the administration remains cautious about provoking Mr. Putin to the point that he further escalates his attacks – President Biden has said he will not send US troops to Ukraine or establish any ” no-fly zone” – current and former officials said the administration found some value in warning Russia that Ukraine had the weight of the United States and NATO behind it.
Officials said Moscow had its own calculations to weigh, including whether it could handle a larger war, particularly one that would allow NATO to invoke its mutual defense charter or enter more directly into the war.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that US intelligence on Russian movements provided to Ukraine allowed kyiv to target and kill a number of Russian generals. On Thursday, Mr. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged sharing intelligence with the Ukrainians but provided few details.
But Mr Kirby said the Ukrainians had their own sources of intelligence, which they combined with others and chose which targets to hit. “They make their own decisions,” Mr. Kirby said. “And they take their own actions.”
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said the Biden administration has shied away from discussing intelligence sharing for fear of saying anything. or “which would aggravate the conflict”.
“We are providing real-time intelligence to Ukraine to help it defend itself,” Schiff said. “I don’t think the administration wants to go into detail about the type of circumstances, but we want to make sure Ukraine does well.”
For decades, the Moskva, a mighty embodiment of Russian naval power in the Black Sea, bristled with missiles and loomed ominously on the horizon, inspiring the admiration of those who saw it.
But US Navy officials who visited Russian cruisers when there was US-Russian military cooperation in the late 1990s and early 2000s said the Moskva had problems. There was little visible damage control equipment aboard the warship to quickly extinguish fires on board.
Officials said they could not see any fire extinguishers or fire hoses in the passages through the ships. On US ships, this equipment is stored close at hand to allow the crew to quickly extinguish fires, which is critical at sea.
Russian media reported that a fire on board had ignited an ammunition store, severely damaging Moskva. US officials say Neptune missiles most likely caused the fire, which the crew could not contain before the aging ship finally sank while being towed to port.
“The Russian military had long debated whether to retire the Moskva,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington County, Virginia. “She was an aging Soviet cruiser in dire need of modernization.”
But with a shortage of cruisers and destroyers, Moscow finally decided to expand its service. It was the cannons of the Moskva, in fact, that fired at Snake Island in Ukraine in the early days of the war.