US distances itself from attacks on strategic airbases in Russia

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a video conference that Washington has not ‘facilitated or encouraged’ Ukraine to target military objectives deep in Russian territory

Attacks on airbases in Russia
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the US Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 10, 2022.DENIS BALIBOUSE (REUTERS)
Carlos Torralba

The United States has said that it does not know who is responsible for attacks on airbases deep in Russian territory earlier this week and has denied “facilitating or encouraging” Ukraine to carry them out. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman held a video conference with a group of journalists and analysts in Paris on Thursday during which she reiterated that all armaments supplied to Kyiv by Washington during the course of the Russian invasion are “exclusively for defensive purposes” and that the transatlantic allied remain “deeply committed” to supporting Ukraine.

Last Monday, explosions rocked two Russian airbases housing strategic bombers located in the Saratov and Ryazan regions, hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border. Moscow attributed the attacks to Kyiv and stated they had been carried out with Soviet-made Ukrainian drones. Since the beginning the war NATO members have gone to great lengths to ensure their support for Ukraine cannot be interpreted by the Kremlin as direct intervention in the conflict, and as such the western allies elected not to provide Kyiv with long-range missile systems or to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. “I think all European allies share this position,” said Sherman, despite the fact the several eastern European countries, principally Lithuania, have stressed the need to arm Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government with such weaponry.

The US State Department number two also reiterated the need for the allies to stand firm in their support for Ukraine. “We have to continue to demonstrate that one country cannot invade another with impunity, because then we will all be in danger.” Sherman, who was one of the architects of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015, played down recent tension among some members of the NATO alliance after Hungary blocked $18 billion in EU funds destined for Kyiv. She also refused to be drawn on the criticism leveled at French President Emmanuel Macron from several European capitals after he said Moscow should be offered “security guarantees” in an effort to encourage negotiations to bring the war to an end. “Everyone wants this conflict to end, and Ukraine more than anyone else. Of course, we hear voices calling for the end of the conflict, but everyone, absolutely everyone, agrees that ‘Nothing about Ukraine, without Ukraine’,” Sherman said.

Sherman acknowledged that the war is causing “fatigue among the European population,” not least due to its impact on energy costs and inflation, but reminded Washington’s European allies of the importance of their “sacrifices.”

Asked about US senators who have recently advocated reducing support for Ukraine and the impact Republican control of the House of Representatives will have on the issue, Sherman stated there is “very, very strong bipartisan support” for Ukraine in the Congress, although she acknowledged there are “small pockets” of lawmakers who view the situation differently.

Sherman, who is in Paris ahead of an international conference on Ukraine to be held on December 13, has also visited London, Rome, Berlin and Prague during a tour to bolster support from Washington’s European allies and said she hopes for a “huge multilateral effort” at the meeting, which will discuss how best to back Kyiv during the winter months as Russian air strikes seek to knock out the country’s power grid, depriving civilians of basic necessities such as water, heating and electricity as temperatures plummet. Moscow has been accused of war crimes by Ukraine for targeting essential infrastructure, and Sherman added that Vladimir Putin is using the tactic to achieve “what he has been incapable of winning on the battlefield.”

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