The U.S. has made it clear to Kyiv it opposes the use of U.S. military equipment to conduct attacks behind Russia’s borders, a top military official said Thursday, amid reports that American armored vehicles showed up during a raid on a Russian region.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley reiterated that the U.S. has repeatedly requested that Ukraine not use U.S. equipment to strike Russia, as the Biden administration seeks to avoid the appearance of enabling an offensive campaign against Moscow. He declined to confirm reports that a pro-Ukrainian partisan militia operated U.S.-donated armored vehicles when it crossed into Russia’s Belgorod region and fought against Russian army units on Monday, The Financial Times first reported, citing videos posted online.
On Tuesday, the State Department acknowledged the videos but said it remained “skeptical” that the self-described Freedom of Russia Legion, an organization of Russian nationals fighting with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, used U.S.-made Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, in the incursion.
“We’ve seen a lot of reports on social media and fuzzy pictures on social media and a lot of armchair intelligence analysts making claims. We’re skeptical that they’re accurate,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
However, Milley on Thursday said the Department of Defense is still investigating the reports.
“I can’t say with definitive accuracy right this minute to you whether that — and I saw the same video — whether that’s U.S. supplied equipment or not, what was the nature of the attack, who did what to whom,” Milley told a press conference at the Pentagon. “I can’t say that with definitiveness right this minute, but I can say that we have asked the Ukrainians not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia.”
Outlets like the FT and The New York Times verified the identity of the MRAPs through markings that appear in footage.
Russian forces appeared to capture some of the U.S. equipment used in the raid, according to an FT analysis of the photos and videos of the attack posted on social media. The Russian Defense Ministry also posted footage of shelled-out and damaged U.S.-made vehicles, apparently abandoned.
While many countries operate MRAPs and the specific variant called International MaxxPros, the U.S. is the only country to have publicly delivered the vehicles to Ukraine, according to the Times.
Reuters also identified Humvee trucks among the damaged vehicles.
A part of today’s press-conference of “Russian Volunteer Corps” and “Freedom for Russia Legion”.
They consider their operation successful as they were able to cross the border into Russia and back, and locals showed them a lot of support. pic.twitter.com/bnlXpEQ63N
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 24, 2023
Kyiv has denied involvement in the Belgorod raid, saying although the Freedom of Russia Legion operated under Ukraine’s army while in the country, the anti-Putin militants did not act on Ukraine’s behalf while inside Russia’s borders.
The Biden administration has maintained that U.S. military support is intended to enable Kyiv to push Russia’s forces out of Ukraine in self defense, not to mount offensive operations within Russian territory, Reuters reported. In turn, Kyiv vowed it would not use long-range systems provided by the U.S. to target Russian units not in Ukraine.
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