U.S. intelligence played a role in Ukraine’s sinking last month of Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship the Moskva, NBC News reported late Thursday, just a day after the New York Times indicated that information provided by the U.S. has been a factor in the Ukrainian military’s vaunted success in taking Russian generals off the battlefield.
Ukraine’s military authorities have staked claim to having killed a dozen Russian generals since the Russian invasion on Feb. 23. U.S. sources, the Times reported, declined to say how many of those reported deaths its intelligence factored in.
The reported targeting assistance is part of a classified effort under which the Biden administration has provided real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine, the Times reported. Information on the movement of Russian troop and Pentagon assessments of Moscow’s attack plans for the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine have also been relayed to the Ukrainian military, the Times reported, citing U.S. officials.
The U.S. has sought in the wake of the Times report to downplay any suggestion of a direct role, characterizing its information sharing as more routine.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, speaking Friday on MSNBC, faulted the unnamed U.S. officials who are reported to have shared with the media information on the use of U.S. intelligence in the Ukraine war, calling it “totally irresponsible” and even “unconscionable” and refusing to confirm specifics about the information sharing beyond denying that intelligence into the locations of key Kremlin military officials had been a component of the information provided.
“When you talk about intelligence, the less said the better,” Kirby said. “It’s hard to see how it’s helpful.”
Maritime U.S. intelligence shared with Ukraine about the Moskva reportedly identified the ship and helped confirm its location. The U.S., according to the sources cited by NBC News, played no part in the Ukrainian decision to strike the Russian flagship, which sank while being towed to port in Russian-occupied Crimea after being struck by, according to the U.S., two missiles.
Russia conceded only that a fire had broken out on the ship and that it sank during transport to dock.
Biden administration officials have expressed concern that public discussion about, and overt confirmation of, roles played by U.S. intelligence in Ukraine’s defense could be perceived as escalatory by Russian President Vladimir Putin, with unknown consequences.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Ukrainians “have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian naval vessels, as they did in this case.”
She said she had discussed the matter with national-security adviser Jake Sullivan and President Joe Biden, “and their view is that one this is an inaccurate overclaiming of our role and an underclaiming of the role of the Ukrainians, who frankly have a greater level of intelligence and access to intelligence than we do.”
Kirby, on MSNBC, confirmed that the Pentagon is concerned that Putin other officials, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, will use U.S.’s sharing of intelligence with Kyiv for propaganda purposes.