The presence of American armored vehicles in the cross-border raid that anti-Putin militias carried out in the Russian region of Belgorod has given rise to talk. The White House says it is investigating the matter while insisting to Ukraine that it does not support attacks on Russian soil using its equipment. Kyiv, for its part, ignores it; while pro-Ukrainian Russian commandos claim they bought them on the open market from the war industry.
The spokesman for the White House National Security Council, John Kirby, reiterated several times this week that President Joe Biden's Administration is not satisfied that Kyiv uses the weapons that the US sends it for attacks on Russian soil. If so, Russia could interpret Washington (or NATO) as directly entering the war and escalate the conflict.
"We have once again made it very clear to the Ukrainians what our expectations are about attacking Russia: We do not want any US-made equipment used to attack Russian soil," Kirby told CNN on Thursday. “I will not go into the private discussions we are having with them. But I think we have been more than consistent with our concerns in that regard," the spokesman said a day earlier at a press conference at the White House.
Kirby explained that in his conversation with Ukraine this week they did not discuss the "consequences" he would face if he ignored his warning.
The use of US weapons on Russian soil could be interpreted by Russia as a direct attack by NATO and escalate the conflict. Hence, the Biden administration is investigating how their vehicles ended up at the hands of pro-Russian militias. Ukraine, meanwhile, assures that it maintains a rigorous control of the weapons that arrive from the West.
“Each bullet is tracked not only by us, but also by our Western allies,” Ukrainian Military Intelligence representative Andri Cherniak stressed to Politico. He also said that although he had been in contact with the paramilitary groups he did not know where they had obtained the US-made vehicles.
As for the militias involved in the raid, Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) leader Denis Kapustin, also known as "White Rex" (the same name as his clothing brand associated with neo-Nazism), assured the media that the vehicles could have been purchased from military stores. A statement repeated by a deputy commander of the Russian Freedom Legion (LLR), to CNN: "Anyone who has money can buy them."
The explanation has been interpreted as a possible nod to the clarification given by Russian President Vladimir Putin when asked about the Russian weapons being used by pro-Russian forces in the Donbass conflict in 2014. Kapustin also stated that his group had recovered stolen Ukrainian military vehicles.