Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the US has significantly escalated its support for Kyiv, both militarily and rhetorically, reflecting a growing mission creep that comes with the risk of provoking Moscow.
Early on in the invasion, the US was wary of confirming details of military aid, intelligence sharing, and training of Ukrainian forces. But now, US officials are speaking openly about how Washington is helping Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Last week, anonymous US officials speaking to the media claimed US intelligence had helped Ukrainian forces kill Russian generals and sink the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. While the claims aren’t confirmed, the statements alone are a major provocation toward Russia. It was known that the US expanded intelligence-sharing with Ukraine, but US officials had previously been hesitant to detail the increased cooperation.
On Saturday, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s State Duma, said that the intelligence-sharing amounts to the US directly participating in the war. “Today, Washington is basically coordinating and engineering military operations, thus directly participating in the military actions against our country,” Volodin wrote on Telegram, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
President Biden reportedly told senior US officials that the leaks on intelligence-sharing must stop, which Volodin said means the reports were likely true. “By demanding that leaks about intelligence exchange with Ukraine be plugged, US President Biden admitted that Washington had been declassified,” he said.
Besides the increased intelligence cooperation, the US recently resumed training Ukrainian forces on how to use weapons provided by Washington. After the US-backed ousting of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, the US and NATO began training Ukraine’s military. The US pulled out Florida National Guard troops that were stationed in Ukraine for training shortly before Russia invaded, and they have since restarted their mission outside of Ukraine.
Last week, the Pentagon detailed its training of Ukrainian forces, which is taking place in Germany and two other undisclosed locations outside of Ukraine. The Pentagon had previously downplayed the idea of training after President Biden appeared to reveal that US troops were training Ukrainians in Poland. But now, the Pentagon said US forces are teaching Ukrainians how to use drones, radar systems, armored vehicles, and howitzers.
The howitzers are part of the escalation in US military aid that has come over the past two months. In the early days of the invasion, the US was hesitant to confirm it was sending shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine over fears of Moscow viewing the move as escalatory, but now each new military aid package is detailed by the Pentagon.
President Biden has asked Congress for $33 billion in new assistance for Ukraine, which Democrats in Congress have ramped up to $39.8 billion in a draft plan. On Monday, President Biden signed a bill reviving the World War II-era lend-lease program, which allows the US to send weapons to Ukraine free of charge while technically requiring payment at a later date.
The mission creep shows no sign of slowing down as the US and its allies have made it clear they are digging in to support Ukraine in the long-term, and some NATO countries are discouraging any kind of diplomacy with Moscow. The Biden administration’s rhetoric has reflected this as it has stated one of its goals in Ukraine is to weaken Russia.
As the escalatory spiral continues, the question now is if there is a point where Moscow will respond, and if they do, what that response will look like.