Tension between US and Ukraine after Russia attacks: arms support at stake

USA isn't happy that Ukrainians are using American weapon to attack Russian territory

It is “not certain” whether Ukraine was behind yesterday’s drone attack on Moscow. But that the number of attacks on Russian territory is on the rise is certain. And that seems to frighten the United States, as Ukraine’s largest arms supplier. Biden does not want to end up in a Cold War with Putin.

Last week, fighting also played out on the other side of the border: military forces invaded the Russian border region of Belgorod. Two radical Russian groups, siding with Ukraine and being a part of its armed forces, claimed the attack. In their attack, they used American armored vehicles.

Yesterday, drones fell on Moscow. This time there was no US artillery involved, but the two attacks in a short time over the border with Russia did make Washington scratch behind its ears.

The White House wrote in a response yesterday not supporting the attacks on Russian territory. Washington insists it will only provide Ukraine “with the equipment and training they need to retake their own territory. Of attacks across the Russian border, particularly with weapons from the West, the U.S. is cringing.

The biggest goal of the U.S. is not to get involved in this fight, says Americas correspondent Erik Mouthaan. “The narrative America wants to stick to is that it is helping Ukraine defend itself. America wants to maintain that it itself is not the aggressive party in the war. That narrative falls away as soon as Ukraine starts carrying out attacks in Russia with American weapons.”

World War III, anybody?

It is “not known” who was behind the drone attack on Moscow. Russia accuses Ukraine, Ukraine denies it. Either way, the attacks so far across the border are causing tensions between Kyiv and Washington.

“President Biden obviously doesn’t want to get into a Cold War with Putin,” says Mouthaan. “Suppose Russia is attacked with American weapons and Putin bombs a NATO base in response, we’ll be sucked into a Third World War in no time. This kind of tension puts global support at risk.”

Fearing such an escalation, the Americans have not yet delivered long-range weapons capable of going deep into Russia. The HIMARS missile systems the US delivered to Kyiv a while back had a modified, shorter range.

This reluctance has another reason: The Americans want to remain somewhat on speaking terms with the Russians. I think the US is well aware of the need to build a workable long-term relationship with Russia. Russia remains an important and powerful country, in part because of Russia’s resources.

Within America, the debate over how long to support the war in Ukraine is alive and well. Joe Biden is very much on the side of Ukraine. There is still broad support in parliament for the billions the U.S. is pumping into the war. But that could change if the position of the Americans becomes more difficult.

That could happen if attacks across the border become a habit. Very unlikely. The Washington Post wrote earlier this month based on internal documents that Ukrainian President Zelensky has been a behind-the-scenes supporter of military action on Russian soil. For example, he allegedly wanted to occupy Russian border villages. This kind of behavior leads to the Americans’ patience running out sooner.

At worst, will Joe Biden stop supplying weapons to Ukraine? The Americans will certainly show their displeasure if their artillery is found in Russian territory more often. Perhaps they will attach stricter conditions to their deliveries to Ukraine or threaten consequences, that is possible. But I don’t expect it to get that far. Zelensky also knows what might be at stake.

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