Russia warns US to stop arming Ukraine

Russia this week sent a formal diplomatic note to the United States, warning that US and NATO shipments of the “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine “add fuel” to the conflict there and could bring “unpredictable consequences.”

The diplomatic inquiry, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, came as President Biden approved a dramatic expansion of the range of weapons supplied to Ukraine, a $ 800 million package including 155 mm howitzers – a serious upgrade of long-range artillery to match Russian systems – coastal defense drones and armored vehicles, as well as additional portable air and anti-tank weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition.

The Pentagon will strengthen military aid, weapons training for Ukrainians

The United States has also facilitated the shipment to Ukraine of long-range air defense systems, including Slovakia’s shipment of Russian-made Soviet S-300 launchers, on which Ukrainian forces have already been trained. In return, the administration announced last week that the United States is deploying a Patriot missile system to Slovakia and is consulting with Slovakia on a long-term replacement.

The shipment of weapons, the first wave that US officials said would arrive in Ukraine within days, follows an urgent call to Biden from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as Russian forces are said to be mobilizing for a major attack on eastern Ukraine Donbas region and along the coastal strip connecting it with Russian-occupied Crimea in the south. Russian troops have largely withdrawn from large parts of the northern part of the country, including around the capital Kiev, following humiliating defeats by the Ukrainian military and local resistance forces.

“What the Russians are telling us privately is exactly what we have publicly told the world – that the enormous amount of assistance we have provided to our Ukrainian partners is proving to be extraordinarily effective,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition. on anonymity on the sensitive diplomatic document.

The State Department declined to comment on the contents of the two-page diplomatic note or any U.S. response.

Russian experts suggested that Moscow, which has branded weapons convoys entering the country as legitimate military targets but have not yet attacked them, might be preparing to do so.

“They have targeted supply depots in Ukraine itself, where some of these supplies have been stored,” said George Beebe, former director of Russia’s analysis at the CIA and Russia’s adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “The real question is whether they go beyond trying to target [the weapons] on Ukrainian territory, try to hit the supply convoys themselves and perhaps the NATO countries on the Ukrainian periphery ”, which serve as transfer points for US supplies.

If Russian forces stumble into the next phase of the war, as they did in the first, “then I think the chances of Russia targeting NATO supplies on NATO territory increase significantly,” Beebe said. “There has been an assumption from many of us in the West that we could really supply the Ukrainians without borders and not bear significant risk of retaliation from Russia,” he said. “I think the Russians will send a message here that this is not true.”

The diplomatic note was dated Tuesday when news first leaked about the new arms package that brought the total amount of U.S. military aid to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion to $ 3.2 billion, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. In a public statement Wednesday, Biden said it would include “new capabilities tailored to the broader attack we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine.”

The document, entitled “On Russia’s Concerns Over Massive Supplies of Weapons and Military Equipment to the Kiev Regime,” written in Russian with a translation, was forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the Russian Embassy in Washington.

The Russian embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Among the items Russia identified as “most sensitive” were “multiple launch missile systems,” although the United States and its NATO allies are not believed to have supplied these weapons to Ukraine. Russia accused the Allies of violating “strict principles” for the transfer of weapons to conflict zones and of being unaware of the “threat of high-precision weapons falling into the hands of radical nationalists, extremists and bandit forces in Ukraine.”

It accused NATO of trying to pressure Ukraine to “give up” sputtering and so far failed negotiations with Russia “to continue the bloodshed.” Washington, it said, pressured other countries to stop any military and technical cooperation with Russia and those with Soviet-era weapons to transfer them to Ukraine.

“We call on the United States and its allies to stop the irresponsible militarization of Ukraine, which has unpredictable consequences for regional and international security,” the memo said.

Putin says peace talks with Ukraine are in a stalemate

Andrew Weiss, former director of the National Security Council for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs and now vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recalled that Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a speech on February morning, began the invasion , warned that Western nations would face “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” if they became involved in the conflict.

Attention at the time focused on Putin’s reminder that Russia possesses a strong nuclear arsenal, Weiss said, but it was also “a very explicit warning not to send weapons into a conflict zone.” After drawing a red line, he asked, are the Russians “now inclined to back it up?”

Such an attack would be “a very important escalating move, primarily because it represents a threat to the West if they are unable to keep supplies flowing into Ukraine, which in turn could diminish Ukraine’s capacity for self-defense.” That risk “should not be underestimated,” he said, noting the added risk that an attempt to attack a convoy inside Ukraine could go awry across the border into NATO territory.

Senior U.S. defense officials remain concerned about the possibility of such attacks. “We do not take any movement of weapons and systems entering Ukraine for granted,” Kirby said Thursday. “Not on a given day.”

Kirby said Ukrainian troops are bringing the weapons into Ukraine after the United States brings them into the region, and “the less we say about it, the better.”

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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