When Ukraine successfully targeted Russia’s prized warship last month with anti-ship cruise missiles, they had some help from the United States.
Ukrainian forces, having spotted a Russian warship in the Black Sea, called their American contacts for confirmation that it was in fact the Moskva, sources familiar with the events told CNN. The US responded that it was, and provided intelligence about its location.
It is not clear whether the US knew Ukraine would move to strike the ship, however, and the US was not involved in that decision, the sources said.
The ship sank after it was struck by two Ukrainian cruise missiles on April 14, dealing a huge blow to the Russian military.
The episode, first reported by NBC News, reflects the Biden administration’s increasingly forward-leaning posture when it comes to sharing intelligence with Ukraine, part of a broader policy shift toward helping Ukraine defeat Russia decisively on the battlefield and significantly weaken its military.
But it also raises questions about what both the US and Russia’s red lines are when it comes to US military support to Ukraine.
The US has for months been providing Ukrainian forces with intelligence about Russian troop movements inside Ukraine, including intercepted communications about Russian military planning. It also provides Ukraine with maritime awareness information to allow them to better understand the threat posed by Russian ships in the Black Sea, many of which are firing missiles onto Ukrainian territory.
There are also clear limits, however, to what the US will share, multiple sources told CNN.
For example, the US has so far declined to provide information to Ukraine about potential targets inside Russia itself. And while the intelligence the US shares about Russian troop movements inside Ukraine can include details like vehicles and types of personnel at a particular location, the US has not provided Ukraine with intelligence about specific Russian military leaders’ whereabouts, officials have said.
“We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Thursday. Kirby added that “Ukraine combines information that we and other partners provide with the intelligence that they themselves are gathering on the battlefield, and then they make their own decisions, and they take their own actions.”