The White House on Friday denied reports that said US officials helped Ukraine sink the Russian warship Moskva last month.
According to reports from NBC News and CNN, Ukraine’s military called US officials to confirm that the Moskva was in their sights and received confirmation of its location before opening fire on April 14.
“To speak to the reports, they’re inaccurate,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One.
“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.”
However, the precise wording of Psaki’s denial and a separate denial from the Pentagon gave an unclear impression of whether the US was disputing the entirety of the NBC and CNN reports or merely that the US knew Ukraine would be attacking the ship.
Psaki said she specifically spoke with President Biden and national security adviser Jake Sullivan about the reporting — a rare invocation by the outgoing press secretary of direct presidential input on a breaking news story.
“I’ve discussed this with both our national security adviser and the president and the view is that one, this is an inaccurate over-claiming of our role and an under-claiming of the role of the Ukrainians, who frankly have a greater level of intelligence and access to intelligence than we do,” Psaki said.
“We do provide a range of intelligence to help them understand the threat posed by Russian ships in the Black Sea and to help them prepare to defend themselves against potential sea-based assaults. But they take our intelligence and they combine that with what they have access to. And so on this specific report, it’s just not an accurate depiction of how this happened.”
The Moskva, the name of which is Russian for Moscow, was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby separately denied the reports, saying, “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.”
Kirby also denied the accuracy of a New York Times report this week that said US intelligence was used by Ukraine to assassinate Russian generals. Kirby said, “We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield.”
US and Ukrainian officials have at points shared conflicting accounts with reporters. For example, in January, a Ukrainian official said that Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to brace for a “sack” of Kyiv. White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne described the report as “completely false.”
The US has pumped more than $4 billion worth of weapons into Ukraine since Biden took office, much of it after Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24. Congress approved a $13.6 billion Ukraine aid package in March, including funds for humanitarian projects, and Biden last month requested another $33 billion package.
But Biden also has sought to portray the US as not directly involved in the conflict. He personally spiked a Polish plan to transfer 28 Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine, saying that US facilitation of the donation could trigger “World War III.”