By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Spoiler: Readers, you’ll get a throw a flag on the Betteridge’s Law violation. But I’m not completely sure that my chain of logic has no weak links. Please follow me into the wonderful world but minutely detailed world of media critique during wartime.
Let’s begin with President Biden’s policy on “rockets,” by which I mean High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), a
wunderwaffe light multiple rocket launcher, four of which we are sending to Ukraine. Biden took the unusual step of writing a New York Times Op-Ed to make his policy clear:
[W]e will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.
That is, not outside Ukraine’s borders. (Ukraine does consider Donbas and Crimea within its borders, but most importantly, Biden rules out firing these rockets into Russia or Belarus.) Biden underlines the point:
We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.
Ukraine is not thus enabled because the HIMARS platform supports rockets with several ranges, and we’re only giving them short-range ones:
The officials said the HIMARS will be equipped with munitions that will allow Ukraine to launch rockets about 80 kilometers (49 miles).
Some context: That is far less than the maximum range of the systems, which is around 300 kilometers (186 miles), but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date. The M777 Howitzers the US sent to Ukraine last month, for example, marked a significant increase in range and power over previous systems, but even those top out at around 25 kilometers (18 miles) in range.
(OK, Ukraine could fire a rocket 50 miles into Russian territory, causing a diplomatic incident, but not (say) 101 miles from Sumy to Kursk, which would be a full-fledged provocation. One does wonder how many Russian logistics centers are within 50 miles of the border, however.) Nevertheless, the United States seems to be enforcing its policy through technical means, not by relying on Ukrainian assurances, so we haven’t completely lost our minds. 
Now we turn Bridget Brink’s ambassadorial imbroglio, if imbroglio it was. Ukraine had been without a US Ambassador for three years. Brink was confirmed by the Senate on May 18, 2022. She presented her credentials to the Ukraine Foreign Ministry on May 30; not, as it would appear from this tweet, on June 2, when she met with Zelensky and seems to have presented her credentials a second time. She held a press conference immediately afterwards, also on June 2.
At the June 2 presser, Brink is reported in some sources to have made the following statement:
“President Biden yesterday signed a $700 million military aid package that includes HIMARS long-range artillery. This will help Ukrainian forces to deliver more accurate strikes and [shoot] to a greater distance. ,” she said.
You will see at once that “Ukrainian troops will decide what distance to shoot” directly contradicts Biden’s policy that “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.” So this is a diplomatic gaffe of the first water, but only if it was made, and only if it was not intended to be made.
There is no transcript of the presser on the US Embassy in Ukraine’s site. (Oddly, there’s not even a press release on Brink presenting her credentials. Or anything on Brink at all after April 25, the day her nomination was announced.) I can find no larger transcript that includes the quote. AP reported briefly on the presser on June 2, but doesn’t include or mention the quote. The Canada-funded Kyiv Independent covered the presser but doesn’t include the quote either. Normally, I would regard that as near dispositive, but we’re living under wartime censorship, and a major diplomatic gaffe is just the sort of thing they’d censor.
So where does the quote appear? First, in a number of bot-like venues with sketchy About pages and no visible means of support: Here, here, and here. The quote also appears, complete with “[shoot]” in Al Mayadeen. None of these sources link to an original. More importantly, the story — but not the exact quote — appears on June 3 in Russia Today, “Ukraine to decide range of Washington’s rockets – US ambassador” (the deck: “The new envoy to Kiev has shrugged off Biden and Blinken guarantees”):
Brink held a press conference on Thursday, after presenting her credentials to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky…. Asked about the HIMARS multiple rocket launch systems (MLRS) that the US is supplying to Kiev as part of a $700 million military aid package, she volunteered the details about their command and control. The remark, translated into Ukrainian and re-translated into English, quickly made the rounds on social media, to the effect that the US would not “regulate” the range of the HIMARS.
It occurs to me that the translation/retranslation is an additional reason this quote is so difficult to run down. (Other sources pulled the RT story off the wire, but did not advance it in any way.)
Next, and even more interestingly, we have this story on June 2 from Ukrainian News, “Ukraine Itself Will Decide At What Distance To Use HIMARS – U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine“:
U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Bridget Brink has commented on the new U.S. package of military assistance to Ukraine during a briefing in Kyiv on Thursday, June 2.
“President Biden yesterday signed a USD 700 million military aid package that includes HIMARS long-range artillery. This will help Ukrainian forces to deliver more accurate strikes and [shoot] to a greater distance. ,” she said.
I think Ukrainian News is the origin of the story, because Ukrainian News is actually located in Kyiv (About Page). Moreover, the story has a byline: Таня Герасимова (Tanya Gerasimova). So who or what is Ukrainian News?
WikiPedia says that Ukrainian News, which has been around since 1993, is owned by Inter Media Group, a subsidiary of the Russian-based GDF Media Ltd. Even under new ownership, I can’t imagine why they are allowed to continue to operate, unless they serve some useful purpose to Ukraine’s government. However, the editor, Dmytro Kuzmin, doesn’t seem cut out to be a lacky. Even more interestingly, Ukrainian News’ building at 20 Esplanadna Street in Kyiv also houses the American Councils for International Education in Ukraine, which has “has administered numerous programs sponsored by the US Government [and] developed projects in civil society building.”
Summarizing: A Ukrainian wire service, funded at least at one time by Russia yet spunky enough to have one of its reporters badger Putin, still in business under Zelensky, oddly close to a major American NGO, is the source for a diplomatic gaffe picked up by Russian and Russia-adjacent venues but not reported and/or suppressed by American sources.
Finally, and most interestingly, we have this tweet, which gives us a second source, with different wording. From Radio Svoboda (Google translation) on June 2, “The firing range of the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) depends on the Ukrainian military who will use it, new US Ambassador Bridget Brink said at a briefing on June 2”
The firing range of the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) depends on the Ukrainian military who will use it, new US Ambassador Bridget Brink said at a briefing on June 2.
Thus, she answered the journalist’s question about how the range of HIMARS impressions will be regulated.
“As President Biden said the day before, he has just signed a $ 700 million package of defense aid, which includes HIMARS, which is the artillery of long-range destruction. This will help the Ukrainian army to aim more accurately at longer distances. Therefore, .” Brink said.
(This is the version RT picked up.) Radio Svoboda is Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian Service, funded by the United States government. Note that Radio Svoboda is not reporting from the press conference; there’s no byline. They, like so many, are simply repeating words with no sourcing.
So, did Bridget Brink
manship say the words of the gaffe, and was it a gaffe? Jake, it’s Ukraine.
I think Brink said the words. I find the existence of Ukrainian News as a firm inexplicable, but — or rather, and so — I believe the reporting.
But were the words a gaffe? I think not. First, here’s one fact about Bridget Brink that I haven’t mentioned:
Current and former government officials I have spoken to identify her as , perhaps the State Department’s premier Russia expert, and among the most forceful and skilled advocates for U.S. global hegemony.
If Nuland is Brink’s mentor, that automatically removes any presumption of good faith. So let’s review the sequence of events, and then we can speculate:
1) I presume Nuland’s involvement, because Radio Svoboda is not in Brink’s scope, and Radio Svoboda wouldn’t have picked up the story from Western sources, because it wasn’t there to be picked up. So Nuland planted the “gaffe” with them.
2) The “gaffe” was not reported in the Western Press;
3) The gaffe was reported to Ukraine, and to any subscribers to Ukrainian News (for example, Al Mayadeen);
4) The gaffe was megaphoned to Russia via Radio Svoboda, a Russian-language station.
So why would Nuland set this little operation in motion, and on Brink’s very first day? These people are as twisty as corkscrews, so it’s not possible to say. It feels rather like an arbitrage opportunity; Nuland and Brink would be among the few who understood what the West heard and what Russia heard. So, again speculating:
1) The “gaffe” undercuts Biden with Putin as an interlocutor. If Brink remains in office after undercutting Biden, that means Biden isn’t running the show.
2) The “gaffe” encourages Ukraine to “poke the bear,” hence leading to more war or even escalation (both good in Nuland’s mind). However, since the Western press did not report the “gaffe,” our hands are clean.
3) The “gaffe” may encourage Russia to believe that Biden was lying when he said that the missiles had limited range; afer all, 50 miles is not a lot of range to “regulate.” This again raises the possibility of escalation, good in Nuland’s mind.
I’m not Machiavellian enough to work out all the convolutions that Nuland’s arbitrage entails; perhaps readers have thoughts!
Finally, if Biden genuinely doesn’t want a hot war with Russia — or simply wishes to avoid appearing to be a cuck — he should fire Brinlk and stuff Nuland back in her box. From The Department of Fat Chance, I know, but a man can dream.
 Of course, we could promote the HIMARS from a 50-mile pawn to a 186-mile queen by sending Ukraine more rockets, but even so, Moscow would be out of range.
 Sadly, I don’t know Russian or Ukrainian.
 They play for high stakes in the Ukrainian media: “On 18 November 2002 the body of founder Mykhailo Kolomiets was found dead hanging from a tree near Molodechno, Belarus, after being missing for four weeks. He met with Volodymyr Hranovskiy just before he deleted all files on his computer and left for Minsk on 22 October 2001. On 30 October 2001, his body was found and he was buried two weeks later as unidentified.”
 I think Biden is less nutty than the Ukrainian irredentists, among them Nuland, running State (since we don’t have “boots on the ground,” at least not officially). So I don’t see a reason for him to lie. And he can always send longer-range missiles later.