- Russia accused Ukrainian militia of using U.S.-made armored vehicles in a cross-border incursion on Monday
- In response, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized Thursday that U.S. is not at war with Russia
- Army General Mark Milley said Washington asked Kyiv not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia
U.S. military leaders were careful Thursday to distinguish between Washington’s continued support for Ukraine's fight against Russia and its insistence that it is not itself at war with Russia.
At a news conference following a virtual meeting of dozens of countries supporting Ukraine militarily, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin responded to concerns that a militia's reported use of U.S. military vehicles in an incursion into Russia on Monday could be used as a pretext by Moscow to bring the United States directly into the war.
“We are not at war with Russia. This is Ukraine’s fight," Austin said. "Our goal is to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure Ukraine is successful.”
The United States has long asked Ukraine not to use U.S. weaponry inside Russian territory, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
"I can say that we have asked the Ukrainians not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia,” Milley said. “This is a Ukrainian war. It is not a war between the United States and Russia. It’s not a war between NATO and Russia.”
Earlier Thursday, Ukraine said its forces shot down 36 Iranian-made Shahed drones that Russia used to attack areas in western Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces “presumably aimed to attack critical infrastructure and military facilities.”
Russia has repeatedly used aerial attacks, including attacks involving crashing drones into targets, to damage infrastructure sites in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on Telegram that it had been an “uneasy night.”
“Continuing to terrorize Ukraine, the enemy used 36 Shaheds. None of them reached their target. Thanks to our air defense forces for the 100% result," Zelenskyy said.
In Crimea, the Russian-appointed governor said Thursday that air defenses shot down six drones overnight.
Sergei Aksyonov said on Telegram no one was killed or injured.
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a video released Thursday that his forces had begun withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Prigozhin said the Russian military was coming in to replace the Wagner forces and that his units would complete their withdrawal by June 1.
The announcement came a day after Prigozhin said the lengthy battle for Bakhmut left 20,000 of his fighters dead.
Prigozhin said about half of those killed were Russian convicts who were promised their freedom from sentences for criminal offenses if they fought in Ukraine for six months. But the mercenaries were often sent to the battle front with scant training and often were killed soon afterward in fierce combat with better-trained Ukrainian troops.
White House officials said Prigozhin’s casualty estimate was in line with their own and that Russian losses have accelerated. Russia claimed in recent days that it had captured Bakhmut, while Ukrainian officials said they had not given up the fight for the city and were trying to surround it.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.