- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The U.S. is not actively aiding or encouraging Ukraine to hit targets inside Russia, Biden administration officials said late Tuesday as Washington distanced itself from a series of apparent drone strikes on key Russian military targets over the past several days.

Ukrainian leaders haven’t officially confirmed that their military is behind the strikes, which have hit Russian bases, airports and other facilities this week.

But the strikes have clearly been intended to cripple Russia’s offensive capability and send a message that the Russian homeland is vulnerable to attack — a reality that may change the Kremlin’s wartime calculus moving forward.

The attacks have led to speculation that the U.S. is offering some indirect assistance to Ukraine in carrying out the strikes. But top Biden administration officials tried to end such speculation.

“We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a press conference late Tuesday afternoon. “But the important thing is to understand what Ukrainians are living through every day with the ongoing Russian aggression against their country, and our determination to make sure they have in their hands … the equipment they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom.”

Conversely, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked whether the U.S. is working to prevent Ukraine from developing the long-range strike capabilities needed to hit Russia.

SEE ALSO: British officials: Russia appears to be prepping for invasion by Ukraine

“The short answer is no, we’re absolutely not doing that,” Mr. Austin said at the news conference.

The answers from Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin suggest that the Biden administration is trying to keep its distance from the strikes on Russian targets. Any American assistance with such attacks would surely be seen by Moscow as an act of war, perhaps leading to a direct confrontation between the world’s leading nuclear powers.

Russian officials have vowed to enhance protection at their military facilities in western Russia. Ukrainian leaders, meanwhile, have praised the attacks while not directly claiming responsibility for them.

The Russians “will have less aviation equipment after being damaged due to these mysterious explosions,” said Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “This is undoubtedly excellent news because if one or two aircraft fail, then in the future, some more aircraft may fail in some way. This reduces their capabilities.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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