Ukraine live briefing: U.S. distances itself after Humvees seen in Belgorod

A road sign, riddled by bullets and shrapnel, on the way to the Russian region of Belgorod. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)
8 min

The United States is trying to distance itself from an incident in the Russian region of Belgorod where two heavily damaged U.S.-made Humvees were seen in a video verified by The Washington Post on the Russian side of a border station. Moscow alleged that militias made up of Russians fighting on Ukraine’s side attacked a border post. It is unclear whether militias used the Humvees and whether Ukrainian forces provided them to the group.

The Pentagon on Thursday is set to host a virtual meeting of military leaders from the dozens of nations providing weapons and other support to Ukraine. Such forums are used to discuss sourcing arms and ammunition and deliberating whether additional capabilities are needed to help the government in Kyiv repel Russia’s ground advance and protect its people from aerial bombardment.

An anticipated provision of F-16 fighter aircraft, and the associated training and maintenance requirements, is likely to be one focal point during the meeting. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley are due to brief the media after it concludes.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Belgorod incident

  • The Pentagon said it did not approve any transfers of equipment to paramilitary organizations outside the Ukrainian military, Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a news briefing. The Pentagon has not received any request from the Ukrainian government for such a transfer, he said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that the Belgorod incident showed that the West’s “direct and indirect involvement” in Ukraine is “growing every day.”
  • “Our focus is on providing Ukraine with the equipment and training they need to retake their own sovereign territory — we do not encourage or enable attacks inside of Russia,” said a U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “In terms of the reports and videos circulating online, we continue to look into them.”
  • The strenuousness of Washington’s denials has diminished as officials try to piece through what happened. “We’re skeptical at this time of the veracity of these reports,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Tuesday, of the claims that fighters used U.S. equipment. On Wednesday, White House spokesman John Kirby said: “We’re looking into those reports that U.S. equipments and vehicles could’ve been involved.”
  • The militias that have made unverified claims of responsibility for the raid, the Legion of Free Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps, held a news conference Wednesday, near the Russian border in the north of Ukraine. Russian Volunteer Corps commander Denis Nikitin claimed that his fighters made it some 26 miles into Russia.

Other key updates

  • U.S. officials have privately made a “low confidence” assessment that Ukraine orchestrated the drone attack on the Kremlin earlier in May, according to the New York Times. The assessment is based on intercepted communications in which Ukrainian officials expressed a belief that their side was involved, as well as communications in which Russian officials blamed Ukraine, which led the United States to believe the attack was not a “false flag.” U.S. officials could not identify specific individuals involved in the attack, which lowered confidence internally in the assessment.
  • The Biden administration is “deeply concerned that a senior U.N. diplomat met with a fugitive subject to an ICC arrest warrant for committing war crimes against children,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller told reporters Wednesday. Last week, U.N. official Virginia Gamba reportedly met with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. “Such conduct undermines our shared commitment to protecting children in conflict zones,” Miller said. “As we have said before … Russia is forcibly deporting children from Ukraine, they’re denying parents and legal guardians access to those children. … We continue to call for accountability for war crimes.”
  • The U.S. State Department approved a possible $285 million sale of a NASAMS air defense system to Ukraine Wednesday. NASAMS — which stands for National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems — is the air defense suite used to protect the White House. The U.S. previously sent two NASAMS systems to Ukraine, and planned to send six more, not including the one system approved Thursday.
  • China intends to elevate its cooperation with Russia “to a higher level,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Wednesday during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Beijing, where according to state broadcaster CCTV the two countries agreed to strengthen their economic ties. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Chinese officials have refrained from directly condemning, has brought the two powers closer together in the past year — to the disapproval of Western governments.
  • Russia’s annual trade with China is expected to exceed $200 billion this year, Mishustin said Wednesday in Beijing, according to Interfax. Xi said China will continue to “firmly support” Russia on issues related to the two countries’ “core interests,” while Mishustin said their relations are “at an unprecedented high level,” according to Reuters.
  • F-16 fighter jets sent to Ukraine by its Western allies will become a “legitimate target” for Moscow’s forces, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday. His warning came one day after European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell announced that “several countries” have started training Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft. The training “opens the door for the provision of jets,” Borrell said.
  • The head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, said Moscow’s plan to demilitarize Ukraine is not working. In an interview with a military blogger published Wednesday, Prigozhin — who has publicly feuded with Russia’s military top brass — said Ukraine’s army is now larger than before. “If they had conditional 500 tanks at the beginning of the special operation, they have 5,000 tanks. If they had 20,000 people who can fight, now they have 400,000 people who can fight,” he said.

Battleground updates

  • Battles continue around Bakhmut, Ukrainian officials said, after Russia claimed to have seized the eastern city that has been a focal point of the war for months. Fighting is ongoing on the city’s outskirts, according to Ukraine’s armed forces and its deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar.
  • Russian military courts are hearing more cases of personnel going absent without leave, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, citing “credible research” by independent Russian journalists. The courts handled more than 1,000 such cases between January and May — surpassing the figure for the whole of 2022, according to the ministry’s daily update.
  • Russian forces carried out dozens of airstrikes and rocket attacks over the past 24 hours, according to the Ukrainian military’s early Wednesday update. The report did not give any indication of casualties but said residential buildings and civilian infrastructure were destroyed or damaged. “Heavy fighting continues in the cities of Bakhmut and Marinka,” according to the update.

Global impact

  • Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs warned about the “dangers of canceling Russia” in parliamentary hearings Wednesday, according to Russian state newswire TASS. The diplomat, Mauro Vieira, said that sanctions “narrow down the space for dialogue.” Brazil has attempted to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
  • The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog met with the director of Russia’s state-owned energy corporation to discuss safety at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency tweeted Wednesday that its director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, met with Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachev as part of IAEA efforts to gain support for a proposal “to avoid a nuclear or radiological accident” at the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • Japan has no plans to become a NATO member, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday, Reuters reported. Japan’s foreign minister told CNN this month that Japan plans to open a NATO liaison office, prompted by the war in Ukraine.
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it is “obvious that there is no victory for poor Ukrainians on the battlefield.” Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum, Orban — who often clashes with the rest of the European Union in regard to the war — said the conflict represents a “failure of diplomacy” and “should never have happened.” But, he said, there is “no chance” of victory on either side, and he posited that “the only solution is cease-fire.”

From our correspondents

Despite war, Ukraine allows Russian oil and gas to cross its territory: Ukraine has pushed its Western supporters to impose tougher sanctions and cut virtually all economic ties to Russia.

But when it comes to its own commercial deals, Russian oil and gas present more of a dilemma for Ukraine, David L. Stern reports from Kyiv.

Last year, about 300,000 barrels of oil a day passed through the Druzhba pipeline that crosses Ukraine. Ukrainian officials claim that allowing the transit of Russian oil provides leverage over Moscow and gives Ukraine much-needed revenue — though it’s not clear exactly how much, if anything, Russia is paying for the transit.

John Hudson and Isobel Koshiw contributed to this report.