Chris Lange, FISM News
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday downplayed the possibility that Russia would view the provision of high-tech combat tanks to Ukraine by the U.S. and Germany as a dangerous escalation in the war, insisting that they “pose no offensive threat to Russia.”
Kirby made the remarks during a White House briefing hours after Washington and Berlin announced that they would supply Kyiv with 31 Abrams and 14 Leopard 2 tanks, respectively.
During the briefing, a reporter pointed out that a Russian propagandist reacted to the news by calling for the “annihilation” of Washington and asked whether the Kremlin might use the tank deliveries as a pretext to make good on repeated threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in the conflict.
“Propagandists in the Russian media can say what they will, the president put it very plainly today that these tanks pose no offensive threat to Russia,” Kirby insisted, though he acknowledged that they do “pose a threat to Russian soldiers and units that are in Ukraine.”
The Kremlin had previously warned the West that providing Ukraine with offensive weapons, including tanks, would be seen by Moscow as a dangerous escalation of the conflict.
Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov echoed the red-line threat Thursday during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“If Washington and NATO give Kyiv weapons to strike peaceful cities deep inside Russia and try to seize the territories that constitutionally belong to Russia, it will force Moscow to take harsh retaliatory action,” stated Gavrilov. “Don’t tell us then that we haven’t warned you.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, seemed dismissive of the development, insisting that any advantage the promised tanks might give to Kyiv’s forces “is clearly exaggerated.”
“Those tanks will burn just like any others,” Peskov told reporters.
The decision to send Ukraine the Abrams tanks signals a major shift in Washington’s wartime policy of limiting military assistance to Ukraine to defensive weapons only to avoid direct involvement in the 11-month war. Until this week, the Biden administration had resisted increased pressure to supply Kyiv with the Abrams, citing logistical challenges and the need for extensive training on their use.
Asked Wednesday to explain what prompted the sudden about-face, Kirby replied, “We never ruled tanks out. We have been — from the beginning of this war, now 11 months ago — been evolving the capabilities we’re providing with Ukraine with the conditions on the ground.”
Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the news as a major breakthrough, thanking the U.S. and Germany in his nightly video address. In the next breath, however, he pressed NATO to provide Kyiv’s forces with fighter jets.
“We have to unlock the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine, it is important for us to expand our cooperation in artillery, we have to achieve the supply of aircraft to Ukraine. And this is a dream. And this is a task,” he said.
Kyiv has made no secret that it wants U.S. F-16 fighter jets as well as long-range rockets that can be used with U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, to give its forces the ability to hit targets behind the front lines. Washington has so far only provided mid-range HIMAR artillery for use in shooting down incoming missiles.
KIRBY: NO EVIDENCE KYIV HAS MISUSED FUNDS
During Wednesday’s briefing, Kirby said that he has not seen any evidence that Ukraine has misused U.S. budgetary assistance, despite revelations of widespread government corruption in Kyiv that resulted in multiple resignations and firings of top government officials this week.
“We have not seen any signs that our budgetary assistance [has] fallen prey to any kind of corruption in Ukraine,” Kirby said. “And I would go so far as to say the same on the security assistance side as well — the weapons and the systems that we — we are obviously working in lockstep with the Ukrainians on accountability measures on that, and we’ve seen no indication that anything we’ve sent over has ended up in the wrong hands or has been using — or being used inappropriately,” he added.
RUSSIA RESUMES MISSILE, DRONE STRIKES
Russia on Thursday launched a fresh wave of missile and drone attacks across Ukraine in its continued campaign to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure and energy.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed and two others were injured in the strikes.
It is not clear whether the attacks were made in retaliation for the promised tank deliveries from the West. However, the Associated Press noted that the timing of the strikes is consistent with Moscow’s pattern of launching such attacks every two weeks.
Ukraine’s armed forces commander, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said 47 of the 55 projectiles were intercepted.