War of words heats up over help for Kyiv
The Russian military yesterday accused the US of being “directly involved” in the war in Ukraine by providing Kyiv with real-time information that allowed it to launch assaults on Russian targets using US-supplied systems.
The accusation marks a major escalation of rhetoric. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry, yesterday quoted an interview with a top Ukrainian intelligence official who said Britain and the US had helped Kyiv with “minute-to-minute, real-time information of all kinds”.
Mr Konashenkov said the Russian military “has marked it and will keep in mind an official confession” by Maj Gen Vadym Skibitsky, acting deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence.
“This is the ultimate proof that Washington, despite the White House and the Pentagon’s claims, is directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine,” he said.
Maj Gen Skibitsky said in the interview that the US did not provide direct targeting information, which would undermine their case for not being direct participants in the war.
But he did suggest there was a level of consultation between the two countries that would allow the US to stop any potential attack if it were unhappy with the intended target.
Russia said it amounted to an admission that Washington co-ordinates Himars missile strikes.
US-supplied Himars, a long-range artillery rocket system, have been a major irritant for Russia as Ukraine finally seems to be in possession of a weapon that allows it to strike targets deep behind the front lines with high precision.
The Ukrainian military last month launched several Himars missiles on a key bridge near Russia-occupied Kherson, paralysing supplies and reinforcements for Russian troops without destroying the major piece of infrastructure.
Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, yesterday claimed that Russia had destroyed six Himars systems since the start of the war as he accused the US of “out-of-control weapons supplies to Ukraine that pose a grave threat to the security of the region”.
Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson, yesterday chimed in to lash out at America’s role in the war. She said: “No other confirmation of the direct involvement of the US in the hostilities in Ukraine is required. The supplied weapons come not only with manuals on how to use them but in this case (the US) plays the role of gunners in its purest form.”
Earlier yesterday, Margarita Simonyan, the influential editor-in-chief of state-owned RT, also latched on to the interview with the Ukrainian general to blame the US for killing civilians in Ukraine.
In a tweet, she listed recent shelling in Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine as well as last week’s missile strike on a prison near Russia-held Donetsk and pointed the finger at the US president: “[Joe] Biden personally is responsible for all of that.”
US officials told media this week that no traces of Himars were found at the site of the prison attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, instead blaming Moscow.
Moscow’s accusations come at a time when Ukraine is heavily lobbying the US to declare Russia a sponsor of terrorism over its invasion.
Ms Zakharova also threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Washington if the motion to blacklist Russia is adopted, something she said would be a “point of no return” in relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, it has emerged Russia is building “phantom bridges” in the hope of evading the devastating Himars systems.
Kyiv’s forces have used the missiles to destroy bridges across the Dnipro river in Kremlin-controlled Kherson ahead of what is anticipated to be a major counter-offensive to retake the region.
Radar imagery published in the wake of a strike on the 1,000m Antonivskyi Bridge, which Western intelligence sources said rendered the crossing unusable, suggested Russian forces had begun constructing a temporary pontoon to ferry supplies and civilians across the river.
A subsequent analysis of satellite and video footage by The War Zone online magazine revealed Moscow had instead deployed radar reflectors alongside the damaged bridge to make a new parallel crossing appear on satellite-based radar systems while repairs are being carried out on the actual bridge.
Experts at the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, said the pyramid-shaped reflectors had been set up to “prevent Ukrainian missile strikes”.
In recent footage shared online of Russian efforts to ferry supplies, troops and civilians across the Dnipro, the metallic objects can be seen floating in the water beside the Antonivskyi Bridge.
The same counter-measure was seemingly used last month when the Kremlin’s forces were spotted moving barges covered in radar reflectors alongside the Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Crimea and Russia, to protect it from aerial attacks.
Telegraph Media Group Limited