The United States provided intelligence to Ukraine to help sink the Russian flagship Moskva, according to U.S. officials, drawing a direct link between the Biden administration and one of the biggest blows to the Russian military since its invasion began in late February.
The U.S. identified the vessel and provided its location after Ukrainian officials inquired about a ship sailing in the Black Sea in mid-April, U.S. officials told NBC News. Ukrainian forces then hit the ship with two Neptune missiles, and it sank the next day, April 14.
The Moskva, a missile cruiser that led the famous attack on Snake Island at the start of the war, received damage to its hull from a munitions explosion, prompting a mass evacuation of the crew of roughly 510. The vessel sunk after catching fire as it was being towed away for repairs, Russian officials said. Russian state media later announced that one person was killed and 27 others were missing after the Moskva sank.
PENTAGON AFFIRMS RUSSIAN FLAGSHIP BLASTED BY UKRAINIAN MISSILES BEFORE SINKING
According to the NBC News report, U.S. officials said the Biden administration did not know in advance that Ukrainian forces were going to target the ship and insisted they were not involved in the decision to launch the attack.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby later released a statement indicating as much.
"We did not provide Ukraine with specific targeting information for the Moskva. We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out,” Kirby said. "We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship. The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian naval vessels, as they did in this case."
The Moskva is the largest Russian warship to be sunk in combat since World War II. After the losses of the Moskva and the Saratov, Russia had approximately 20 ships in the Black Sea, a British Defense Ministry's intelligence update said last month. Russia continues to have capabilities to hit targets on Ukraine's mainland from the sea, but replacing its sunken ships is not possible with a key Turkish-controlled strait closed to most warship traffic, the bulletin added.
"Moskva" translates to Moscow, the capital of Russia.
The U.S. role in assisting Ukraine in one of its most successful attacks against Russia had not been previously reported, but the Pentagon did confirm that the Moskva was blasted by Ukrainian missiles before it sank. The new disclosure is an example of the trend of U.S. intelligence-sharing throughout the monthslong war that has boosted the Ukrainian defense. Some intelligence-sharing to the war-torn country assisted Ukraine in killing top Russian military generals, according to the New York Times. The Pentagon has since denied that report.
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U.S. officials have expressed concerns that reporting on U.S. intelligence-sharing with Ukraine could anger Russian President Vladimir Putin and escalate the situation, the NBC News report said.
Although the U.S. has shared general intelligence with Ukraine, officials have not given instructions on when and where to attack Russian troops, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday. U.S. policy prohibits the transfer of intelligence intended for lethal attacks, officials told NBC News.
The Washington Examiner reached out to the Department of Defense for comment, which directed questions to the National Security Council. The NSC has not responded.