Ukraine has said that the US has made clear its “iron-clad” support for the country’s fight against Russia’s invasion, in the wake of a damaging leak of documents from the Pentagon.
Washington has been attempting to limit the diplomatic fallout from the incident, with the documents appearing to highlight information about Ukraine’s military capability as well as intelligence relating to Washington’s allies, including South Korea and Israel.
The US Department of Justice and US security agencies are investigating the release of the documents while they assess the damage to national security, with analysts saying that the documents appear to have been shared initially on the video-game chat platform Discord in an effort to win an argument about the war in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had assured him in a phone call that Washington still backed Kyiv’s effort to win the war with Russia, and had rejected any notion of doubt in Ukraine’s military capacity.
“During our call today, [Blinken] reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. support and vehemently rejected any attempts to cast doubt on Ukraine’s capacity to win on the battlefield,” he tweeted. “The US remains Ukraine’s trustworthy partner, focused on advancing our victory and securing a just peace.”
The US secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, held phone talks with his South Korean counterpart, according to the office of Yoon Suk Yeol, the South Korean president. One of the documents included in the leak appears to give details of internal discussions among South Korean officials regarding pressure from the US to help supply weapons to Ukraine, suggesting that the US could have been spying on one of its most important allies.
The suggestion brought condemnation from South Korean legislators. However, Mr Yoon’s office said in a statement that suspicions that his office in Seoul had been monitored were “utterly false” and that any attempt to shake South Korea’s alliance with the US was “compromising [the] national interest”. The statement added that, on the call with Mr Austin, both sides had agreed that much of the document relating to South Korea had been fabricated. It did not elaborate on which parts were considered to be inaccurate.
With the knowledge that Moscow could use the leak to sow discontent among Ukraine’s allies, there appeared to be a concerted effort to downplay the importance of the documents. A statement from Britain’s Ministry of Defence, published on Twitter, cast doubt on the validity of the information revealed, saying: “The widely reported leak of alleged classified U.S. information has demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy. Readers should be cautious about taking at face value allegations that have the potential to spread disinformation.”
US officials had previously said that some of the documents circulating online, giving battlefield casualty estimates from Ukraine, appeared to have been altered to understate Russian losses. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the leak, but said: “There is in fact a tendency to always blame everything on Russia. It is, in general, a disease.”
One of the latest leaks claimed that Egypt was planning to supply Russia covertly with rockets and other munitions, although the US was said to believe that the plan had never been carried out, according to The Washington Post, which reported having seen the document. A spokesperson for Egypt’s foreign ministry, Ahmed Abu Zeid, told the Post: “Egypt’s position from the beginning is based on non-involvement in this crisis, and committing to maintain equal distance with both sides, while affirming Egypt’s support to the UN charter and international law.” An unnamed Egyptian official, quoted in state media, called the report an “informational absurdity” and said that Egypt follows a “balanced policy” with all international parties.
As for Kyiv’s response, Mykhailo Podolyak – an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky – said Ukraine needs more long-range weapons and “less contemplation on leaks”.
On the ground, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed in a video posted on Tuesday that his forces now control more than 80 per cent of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the capture of which Moscow believes will be a stepping stone to taking other, larger cities in the area. Bakhmut is in the Donbas, which contains the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, the control of which is one of Moscow’s aims in the war.
Bakhmut has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the invasion so far. In a video published by a Russian military blogger on the Telegram messaging app, Mr Prigozhin is seen showing on a map of the area how his forces are continuing their encirclement of the now devastated city, which before Russia’s invasion had been home to around 70,000 people.
“In Bakhmut, the larger part, more than 80 per cent, is now under our control, including the whole administrative centre, factories, warehouses, the administration of the city,” Mr Prigozhin said.
The claim was immediately denied by Kyiv. Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian armed forces, told CNN: “I’ve just been in touch with the commander of one of the brigades that are defending the city. I can confidently state that the Ukrainian defence forces control a much larger percentage of the territory of Bakhmut.”