Report: U.S. Intelligence Played a Role in the Sinking of the Moskva
U.S. intelligence was used in the successful Ukrainian attack on the Russian cruiser Moskva last month, government sources have told NBC and The New York Times.
Moskva was the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, and she was the largest surface combatant lost in action since the end of the Second World War. Ukraine claims to have struck the warship with two missiles; officially, the Pentagon has attributed the sinking to Ukrainian action without claiming American involvement.
The Russian Navy has released little information about the circumstances of Moskva's sinking, but official accounts carried by Russian state media claim that she was badly damaged by an accidental fire and a magazine explosion. The official Russian casualty count for the sinking stands at one dead and 27 missing, though anecdotal reports indicate that the numbers may be higher.
On Thursday, NBC reported that it had obtained confirmation from unnamed U.S. officials that American intelligence played a role in the Moskva's sinking.
According to NBC, Ukrainian forces located a vessel sailing south of Odesa and reached out to U.S. intelligence contacts. Their American counterparts confirmed its location and identified it as the Moskva. Without U.S. defense advisers' prior awareness, the officials said, Ukrainian units proceeded to attack the Moskva.
The New York Times confirmed the news, though its reporting indicated some disagreement about the importance of of U.S. assistance in the strike. Two officials told the Times that Ukraine already had its own targeting information for the Moskva and that U.S. defense contacts merely confirmed what Ukrainian forces already knew. Others described the U.S. intelligence as key to the strike.
Previously, U.S. officials have spoken in general terms about the unprecedented degree of intelligence-sharing that they have provided to Ukraine, but they have never before released information on specific operational outcomes. The details are classified, and the steady leak of information about the precise role of U.S. intelligence - particularly a previous New York Times story on the role of U.S. intelligence in the killing of Russian general officers - has drawn criticism from analysts and former officials.
At a press conference Thursday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby emphasized that U.S. assistance was just one factor among many in Ukraine's battlefield success.
"The Ukrainians have, quite frankly, a lot more information than we do. This is their country, their territory, and they have capable intelligence collection abilities of their own. 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," he said.