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Why the Ukraine-US divergence may deepen

As Ukraine moves from defence to attack, splits in the alliance are emerging. Credit: Getty

May 26, 2023 - 10:00am

For Ukraine, perhaps the only challenge equal to waging war against its enemy on the battlefield is managing tensions with its friends away from it. On Monday, the Belgorod region came under attack in one of largest cross-border raids into Russia over the course of the war. Two pro-Ukraine and anti-Kremlin Russian groups, the Russian Volunteers Corps (RDK) and the Liberty of Russia Legion (FRL), have claimed responsibility.

While Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that his nation had “nothing to do with it” and that instead an “armed guerrilla movement” was opposing a “totalitarian country”, the Russian Defence Ministry blamed Kyiv and claimed to have killed over 70 “Ukrainian terrorists” in suppressing the assault. For its part, the RDK commented that Ukraine had not provided direction, only medicine, petrol, food and information.

A great deal remains unconfirmed. However, White House spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged this week that the US is investigating reports of American-made Humvees and mine-resistant vehicles having been used in the assault. Both were supplied by the US to Ukraine last year, yet the American administration was quick to distance itself from the audacious raid. 

US officials told NBC News that Washington has not authorised Ukraine to give the equipment to others and Ukraine never requested the right to do so. Meanwhile, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stressed that “we have made very clear to the Ukrainians that we don’t enable or encourage attacks outside [their] borders”.

Miller’s statement is merely the latest sign of unease within the US government over Ukraine’s incursions into Russian territory and penchant for high-profile attacks. Russia’s reaction to the Belgorod raid will do nothing to calm US fears that it may inflame the conflict further, with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu promising an “extremely harsh” response. 

Meanwhile, the discovery of US equipment in Belgorod is likely to fuel American and Nato fears of being drawn into a broader war. Long-range weapons donated to Ukraine — albeit not used here — come with the proviso that they not be used to hit targets in Russia, lest the Kremlin use this to support its claim that it is under attack by the West with Ukraine merely a proxy.

Reports suggest Belgorod is just the latest assault on Russian soil. While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied his country’s involvement in the drone attack on the Kremlin on 3rd May and speculated that it may have been a Russian false flag operation, US officials this week suggested it was likely orchestrated by a Ukrainian special military or intelligence unit with or without the knowledge of Zelenskyy and his officials.

US government sources also told the New York Times that the Ukrainians may have been responsible for other attacks on Russian border towns and the assassinations of Russian pro-war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky and Darya Dugina, the daughter of nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin. Other US intelligence reports note that, in February, Zelenskyy proposed using unmanned aerial vehicles to hit Russian deployment locations in Rostov, despite American discouragement of cross-border attacks.

While Ukraine strives to make Vladimir Putin appear vulnerable and raise public morale through attention-seeking hits, the US views these hits as a distraction from the actual war being waged in the south and east. Another American concern is the lack of oversight within the Ukrainian system, with officials warning that some Ukrainian covert operatives work without the direct supervision or even knowledge of the Kyiv administration. Yet they are still able to organise operations in Russia, often through partners working under their direction. 

This divergence is only likely to grow. RDK commander Denis Kapustin has threatened more raids and the Liberty of Russia Legion shared footage of smoke emanating from the Russian Defence Ministry on Wednesday night, prompting speculation of a drone attack.

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden reassured Zelenskyy that Washington would “support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country”. Yet, as Ukraine moves from defence to attack, splits are emerging in the alliance with its greatest supporter.


Bethany Elliott is a writer specialising in Russia and Eastern Europe.

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Janos Boris
Janos Boris
1 year ago

Seriously, I don’t for the life of me see why a country that is being bombed, wrought wholescale destruction and murder on, and also being partly occupied, should be expected to fight the aggressor with one hand tied behind its back.

Janos Boris
Janos Boris
1 year ago

Seriously, I don’t for the life of me see why a country that is being bombed, wrought wholescale destruction and murder on, and also being partly occupied, should be expected to fight the aggressor with one hand tied behind its back.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

“The Zanis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them.” With thank to Arthur “Bomber” Harris for the orginal.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

“The Zanis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them.” With thank to Arthur “Bomber” Harris for the orginal.

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
1 year ago

”For Ukraine, perhaps the only challenge equal to waging war against its enemy on the battlefield is managing tensions with its friends away from it”

haha, No

Zelenski’s biggest challenge is keeping people believing this is a war for democracy and freedom.

He does not have to convince the Uniparty Politicians because the ‘Donor Class’ (the name for the ones who pay for the election campaigns – and so own the politicians), MSM, Social Media, Finance, et al – because they mostly cynically know this is 100% a war of corruption to destroy the world economic, political, and industrial, status Quo to usher in the ‘Great Reset’ but must go along to stay in wealth and power.ï»ż

This war is nothing to do with Ukraine – Ukraine had the horrific luck of having this Proxy War play out on its lands. That Ukraine and its people are utterly destroyed in this ‘Great Game’ matters not one iota to out psychopathic Overlords.

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
1 year ago

”For Ukraine, perhaps the only challenge equal to waging war against its enemy on the battlefield is managing tensions with its friends away from it”

haha, No

Zelenski’s biggest challenge is keeping people believing this is a war for democracy and freedom.

He does not have to convince the Uniparty Politicians because the ‘Donor Class’ (the name for the ones who pay for the election campaigns – and so own the politicians), MSM, Social Media, Finance, et al – because they mostly cynically know this is 100% a war of corruption to destroy the world economic, political, and industrial, status Quo to usher in the ‘Great Reset’ but must go along to stay in wealth and power.ï»ż

This war is nothing to do with Ukraine – Ukraine had the horrific luck of having this Proxy War play out on its lands. That Ukraine and its people are utterly destroyed in this ‘Great Game’ matters not one iota to out psychopathic Overlords.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago

The more likely explanation is that the US is using plausible deniability to decrease the danger of any Russian response.
Biden knows anything less than a Ukraine win will start to look like Afghanistan. The Europeans know that Putin will have his revenge if he isn’t comprehensively humiliated. That was his original intention, before the collapse around Kyiv. Neither the US nor the EU is going to abandon Ukraine.
The strategy so far has been to slowly “boil the frog,” so that Putin never has a clear issue to threaten escalation. That’s why F-16s were a no-no–and now they are a yes-yes.
But maybe Putin can still freeze the Ukrainians and Europeans in a few months?
It seems like his only hope now,

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago

The more likely explanation is that the US is using plausible deniability to decrease the danger of any Russian response.
Biden knows anything less than a Ukraine win will start to look like Afghanistan. The Europeans know that Putin will have his revenge if he isn’t comprehensively humiliated. That was his original intention, before the collapse around Kyiv. Neither the US nor the EU is going to abandon Ukraine.
The strategy so far has been to slowly “boil the frog,” so that Putin never has a clear issue to threaten escalation. That’s why F-16s were a no-no–and now they are a yes-yes.
But maybe Putin can still freeze the Ukrainians and Europeans in a few months?
It seems like his only hope now,

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago

I strongly suspect the two assassinations had more to do with Russian dissidents, enemies of Putin, rather than Ukraine. I also cannot see what would be the point of Ukraine sending a drone against the Kremlin, it was clearly ineffective and, again, I suspect this may well have been an “inside job”. Clearly there was some Ukrainian involvement in the Belogrod incident, even if they did not carry it out themselves. Seriously though, barring long range weapons – which have been supplied by us on strict condition they are not used to attack outside Ukraine – I see no reason why Ukraine should not attack Russian territory. What is sauce for the goose, and all that…

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago

I strongly suspect the two assassinations had more to do with Russian dissidents, enemies of Putin, rather than Ukraine. I also cannot see what would be the point of Ukraine sending a drone against the Kremlin, it was clearly ineffective and, again, I suspect this may well have been an “inside job”. Clearly there was some Ukrainian involvement in the Belogrod incident, even if they did not carry it out themselves. Seriously though, barring long range weapons – which have been supplied by us on strict condition they are not used to attack outside Ukraine – I see no reason why Ukraine should not attack Russian territory. What is sauce for the goose, and all that…

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago

While I understand USA unease and question wisdom of some Ukranian responses to Russian aggression, it is difficult to see how Ukraine can win this war without attacking Russian supply line and logistics hubs in Russia.
Let’s consider situation in ww2.
Should Britain just attacked German planes over UK territory without ever attacking targets on enemy territories?
Consider Vietnam war.
USA attacked both North Vietnam and countries hosting, willingly or not, North Vietnamese troops and not just Vietcong in South Vietnam.
So USA expects from Ukraine what it itself would never do.
I guess who pays the piper rtc, but no one conducts military operations that way.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew F

As an American much of what you say is true. Our past is littered with national and cultural intrusions that are less than honorable. But I believe American opinion is changing and we no longer wish to be the “policeman” of the world”. We have no national interest in the Ukraine and see it as one of the more corrupt countries in Europe. Our dumping of national treasure and military equipment in Ukraine is inextricably drawing us into another war. And the corruption is rampant in the US military industrial complex as well. The Biden family is up to its neck in it.

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Yes the whole conflict is a criminal enterprise lead by crook and conman, Zelenskyy.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Stoater D

I contribute to that criminal enterprise, so I hope it continues.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Stoater D

I contribute to that criminal enterprise, so I hope it continues.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

But isn’t the “US military, industrial complex“ precisely why America stays in the war. As early as Eisenhower the danger was recognised and it has never receded. Surely an argument could be made that much of America’s economic might stems from that military industrial complex; it is surely the main purveyor of arms to the world so all the various talk of motives for American involvement seem largely to miss the point.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phil Rees
Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

I don’t disagree. The corruption in the military industrial complex is thinly veiled but those of us who are curious and read/listen to non MSM sources (I include Fox in this category ) know the truth. And I also include Big Pharma in this corrupt pool. Bio labs in the Ukraine ring a bell?

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Wow, they must be there if there is no evidence for them!

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  martin logan

From Reuters in 2022
March 11 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country’s public health laboratories to prevent “any potential spills” that would spread disease among the population, the agency told Reuters.
Like many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans including, most recently, COVID-19. Its labs have received support from the United States, the European Union and the WHO.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

IOW, they are doing the same research on animal diseases as every other significant nation does.
But “western bio-labs” certainly does scare the idiots

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

IOW, they are doing the same research on animal diseases as every other significant nation does.
But “western bio-labs” certainly does scare the idiots

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  martin logan

From Reuters in 2022
March 11 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country’s public health laboratories to prevent “any potential spills” that would spread disease among the population, the agency told Reuters.
Like many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans including, most recently, COVID-19. Its labs have received support from the United States, the European Union and the WHO.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Wow, they must be there if there is no evidence for them!

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

Defense spending is always a drag on every economy. That’s why Russia stagnated after about 2010.
It would be impossible for the relatively small number of US defense firms to somehow bamboozle all the other companies to go against thir best interests.
“US military, industrial complex“ is simply a simple-minded explanation for very complex things like international relations, which reflect the domestic situations of 160+ nations.
Conspiracy theories are fun because you don’t have to think very hard, or do any work to find out from different points of view.
But they tell you squat about the real world.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

I don’t disagree. The corruption in the military industrial complex is thinly veiled but those of us who are curious and read/listen to non MSM sources (I include Fox in this category ) know the truth. And I also include Big Pharma in this corrupt pool. Bio labs in the Ukraine ring a bell?

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

Defense spending is always a drag on every economy. That’s why Russia stagnated after about 2010.
It would be impossible for the relatively small number of US defense firms to somehow bamboozle all the other companies to go against thir best interests.
“US military, industrial complex“ is simply a simple-minded explanation for very complex things like international relations, which reflect the domestic situations of 160+ nations.
Conspiracy theories are fun because you don’t have to think very hard, or do any work to find out from different points of view.
But they tell you squat about the real world.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Since half of the near trillion dollar US dfense budget is focused on Russia, Putin’s disaster will lower the defense budget by 100s of billions. No nation comes back from a debacle like this. It makes the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan miniscule in comparison.
No Russia, no Problem.

sol a
sol a
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

“We have no national interest”
spoken like a true clown. Ukraine is the 3rd biggest corn and wheat exporter in the world. russia is the 4th. together they account for about a 1/3 of the world’s grain.
if we let russia swallow Ukraine we will let russia use food as a weapon. that weapon is far more effective than any nuke Iran or north korea can ever hope to develop.
if you think migration into the US is bad now, just wait until poor people all over asia, africa and south America start starving to death when Russia cuts off their food supply in the developing world. grain is the main food source for 3rd world countries. you’d need 3 US militaries to even try to control what will come
people a lot smarter than you make these decisions. that’s why both republicans and democrats are both passing bills aiming to aid Ukraine without hesitation.
as for “national treasure”, this is not costing you anything. US and EU sized hundreds of billions of dollars of Russia’s foreign reserves, as well as assets of Kremlin linked oligarchs. Russia is paying for Ukrainian aid. find a new fake argument to support your stupidity

Last edited 1 year ago by sol a
stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Americans in general have a very limited view and understanding of the world outside its borders. What you have to understand is that if you wish to maintain and develop US interests, investments and trade then the US has to be active in protecting these assets, otherwise other ambitious states will move in, which is already taking place. The US doesn’t have an awful lot of dependable friends on the planet and to disregard or undervalue Europe’s fate would be a massive failure. Like it or not, Ukraine is tied to Europe’s future thanks to the 120 years of evil to the east.

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen archer

Perhaps those downticking would like to explain why?

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen archer

seems to be US citizens with their heads in a dark place doing the downticking.

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen archer

seems to be US citizens with their heads in a dark place doing the downticking.

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen archer

Perhaps those downticking would like to explain why?

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Mary, I get the feeling that the circus surrounding your upcoming Presidential elections is going to be more vicious than 2020, partly because the future direction of this war will depend on who wins the White House.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

The war will be over long before that.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

The war will be over long before that.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

You speak for a small group of the deluded. The majority of “Americans” are in favor of supporting Ukraine and the resulting crippling of Russia.

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Yes the whole conflict is a criminal enterprise lead by crook and conman, Zelenskyy.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

But isn’t the “US military, industrial complex“ precisely why America stays in the war. As early as Eisenhower the danger was recognised and it has never receded. Surely an argument could be made that much of America’s economic might stems from that military industrial complex; it is surely the main purveyor of arms to the world so all the various talk of motives for American involvement seem largely to miss the point.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phil Rees
martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Since half of the near trillion dollar US dfense budget is focused on Russia, Putin’s disaster will lower the defense budget by 100s of billions. No nation comes back from a debacle like this. It makes the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan miniscule in comparison.
No Russia, no Problem.

sol a
sol a
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

“We have no national interest”
spoken like a true clown. Ukraine is the 3rd biggest corn and wheat exporter in the world. russia is the 4th. together they account for about a 1/3 of the world’s grain.
if we let russia swallow Ukraine we will let russia use food as a weapon. that weapon is far more effective than any nuke Iran or north korea can ever hope to develop.
if you think migration into the US is bad now, just wait until poor people all over asia, africa and south America start starving to death when Russia cuts off their food supply in the developing world. grain is the main food source for 3rd world countries. you’d need 3 US militaries to even try to control what will come
people a lot smarter than you make these decisions. that’s why both republicans and democrats are both passing bills aiming to aid Ukraine without hesitation.
as for “national treasure”, this is not costing you anything. US and EU sized hundreds of billions of dollars of Russia’s foreign reserves, as well as assets of Kremlin linked oligarchs. Russia is paying for Ukrainian aid. find a new fake argument to support your stupidity

Last edited 1 year ago by sol a
stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Americans in general have a very limited view and understanding of the world outside its borders. What you have to understand is that if you wish to maintain and develop US interests, investments and trade then the US has to be active in protecting these assets, otherwise other ambitious states will move in, which is already taking place. The US doesn’t have an awful lot of dependable friends on the planet and to disregard or undervalue Europe’s fate would be a massive failure. Like it or not, Ukraine is tied to Europe’s future thanks to the 120 years of evil to the east.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Mary, I get the feeling that the circus surrounding your upcoming Presidential elections is going to be more vicious than 2020, partly because the future direction of this war will depend on who wins the White House.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

You speak for a small group of the deluded. The majority of “Americans” are in favor of supporting Ukraine and the resulting crippling of Russia.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew F

As an American much of what you say is true. Our past is littered with national and cultural intrusions that are less than honorable. But I believe American opinion is changing and we no longer wish to be the “policeman” of the world”. We have no national interest in the Ukraine and see it as one of the more corrupt countries in Europe. Our dumping of national treasure and military equipment in Ukraine is inextricably drawing us into another war. And the corruption is rampant in the US military industrial complex as well. The Biden family is up to its neck in it.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago

While I understand USA unease and question wisdom of some Ukranian responses to Russian aggression, it is difficult to see how Ukraine can win this war without attacking Russian supply line and logistics hubs in Russia.
Let’s consider situation in ww2.
Should Britain just attacked German planes over UK territory without ever attacking targets on enemy territories?
Consider Vietnam war.
USA attacked both North Vietnam and countries hosting, willingly or not, North Vietnamese troops and not just Vietcong in South Vietnam.
So USA expects from Ukraine what it itself would never do.
I guess who pays the piper rtc, but no one conducts military operations that way.

martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago

It’s simply “slow boil of the Russian frog.”
With the epic failure of the Kinzhal missiles, I doubt there is now any serious fear in Washington of nuclear war with Russia.
Putin didn’t try his 3 scientists for treason because the Kinzhal was so great.
Funny how few are posting now.
Isn’t Prigozhin paying anymore?

Last edited 1 year ago by martin logan
martin logan
martin logan
1 year ago

It’s simply “slow boil of the Russian frog.”
With the epic failure of the Kinzhal missiles, I doubt there is now any serious fear in Washington of nuclear war with Russia.
Putin didn’t try his 3 scientists for treason because the Kinzhal was so great.
Funny how few are posting now.
Isn’t Prigozhin paying anymore?

Last edited 1 year ago by martin logan