Images Claiming To Show U.S. Vehicles Used In Raid Into Russia Spur Questions

Security assistance to Ukraine is for use inside its borders “to defend their country,” the Pentagon’s top spokesman said.

byHoward Altman|
The Pentagon says it did not authorize the use of U.S. vehicles by anyone outside the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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Asked about imagery emerging on social media purporting to show U.S.-made armored vehicles captured in Russia during this week's cross-border incursion, the Pentagon said it did not authorize the transfer of equipment to "paramilitary organizations outside the Ukrainian Armed Forces" by Kyiv and received no requests to do so.

Images appeared on social media claiming to show that two pro-Ukrainian Russian partisan groups - the Freedom For Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps - used several U.S.-donated vehicles during a cross-border attack on Russia. While we cannot independently confirm the use of those vehicles in that attack, the Oryx open-source weapons tracking group - which only reports on equipment it has visual confirmation of - says that the Russians captured two International M1224 MaxxPro MRAPs, two 2 M1151 HMMWVs and that one M1152 HMMWV was damaged and captured. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker open-source investigations group concurred with that assessment.

“We've seen those reports that we obviously continue to monitor very closely,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, told reporters Tuesday. “I will say that we can confirm that the U.S. government has not approved any third-party transfers of equipment to paramilitary organizations outside the Ukrainian Armed Forces, nor has the Ukrainian government requested any such transfer. So again, that’s something we will keep a close eye on.”

Andriy Chernyak, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), told The Financial Times on Tuesday that Ukraine did not supply the militias with any equipment. 

All Western weaponry obtained by the Ukrainian Armed Forces remains “under . . . the toughest control,” he told the newspaper.

The use of such equipment in Russia would counter the intent for which it was provided to Ukraine. By way of context, the U.S. has provided or promised Ukraine more than 2,000 HMMWVs and more than 500 MRAPs among the $38 billion in security assistance given to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration.

“The United States has communicated regularly with Ukraine that the security assistance that we're providing is for them to use inside Ukraine, as part of their efforts to defend their country and their sovereignty,” said Ryder.

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed a similar sentiment to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a recent conversation about the provision of F-16s to Kyiv.

“The United States together with our allies and partners are going to begin training Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s,” Biden recently told reporters, “to strengthen Ukraine’s Air Force as part of a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.” Biden added that he had received “a flat assurance from Zelensky that they will not use it to go on and move into Russian geographic territory.”

Ryder meanwhile said he could not immediately verify the veracity of the imagery purporting to show the U.S. donated vehicles in Russia.

“I will tell you that when you see imagery like that, you know - again something we'll look into. I don't know if it's true or not, in terms of the veracity of that imagery,” he said. “You recall yesterday, there were some bogus images of reported alleged explosions at the Pentagon.”

While skeptical of reports that U.S.-donated equipment was used to attack inside Russia, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the U.S. “does not encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia, and we’ve made that clear. But as we’ve also said, it is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war.”

Given how images of U.S. equipment captured or destroyed in Russia would fit into Moscow's narrative - that it is fighting not just Ukraine, but America and the NATO alliance - such skepticism about the images is quite understandable in a conflict that involves tremendous information operations by all parties.

In addition to his skepticism about the images, Miller said the State Department does not yet know who was behind the incursion despite claims by the two partisan groups.

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On Tuesday, Chernyak acknowledged the first indication of Kyiv’s cooperation with these groups.

“Of course, we communicate with them,” he told FT. “Of course, we share some information. And, one might say, we even cooperate.” 

However, Chernyak said that Ukraine’s military was not directly involved in the attack, suggesting that it was the Russians’ own initiative. 

“They are rebelling,” he told FT, something the groups have said themselves recently on social media.

Whether questions about the use of this equipment spark an official Pentagon investigation or any tightening in Ukraine of cooperation with groups like the Freedom For Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps remains to be seen.

But given the fluidity of combat and the sheer amount of U.S. provided equipment on the battlefield, it is an issue that is likely to come up again before this conflict is over.

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