LONDON (Reuters) - Russia on Tuesday said that the United States, the world's top military power, was directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine because U.S. spies were approving and coordinating Ukrainian missile strikes on Russian forces.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered the most serious crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many people feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war.
Russia's defence ministry, headed by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine's deputy head of military intelligence, had admitted to the Telegraph newspaper that Washington coordinates HIMARS missile strikes.
"All this undeniably proves that Washington, contrary to White House and Pentagon claims, is directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine," the defence ministry said.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wants Ukraine to defeat Russia and has supplied billions of dollars of arms to Kyiv but U.S. officials do not want a direct confrontation between U.S. and Russian soldiers.
Russia said the Biden administration was responsible for missile attacks on civilian targets in areas controlled by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.
"It is the Biden administration that is directly responsible for all Kiev-approved rocket attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure in populated areas of Donbas and other regions, which have resulted in mass deaths of civilians," the defence ministry said.
Russia and the West frame the conflict in Ukraine very differently.
Putin calls it a "special military operation" aimed at preventing what he says is a Western attempt to use Ukraine to threaten Russia and at protecting Russian speakers from persecution from dangerous nationalists in Ukraine.
The 69-year-old Kremlin chief increasingly casts the conflict as an existential battle with the West whose outcome will reshape the global political order.
Kyiv and its Western backers say Putin's claims are without foundation and that there is no justification for waging an unprovoked war against a sovereign state whose borders Russia recognised.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who sometimes holidays with Putin in the Russian wilderness, said the operation in Ukraine was going to plan with Russian and Russian-backed forces pushing back Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donetsk region.
"After taking control of the territory of the Luhansk People's Republic, the Donetsk People's Republic is being liberated as planned," Shoigu told top generals.
He said the settlements of Hryhorivka, Berestove, Stryapivka, Pokrovske, Semyhirya and Novoluhanske had been taken recently, including the largest thermal power plant in Europe.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine discloses its losses.
U.S. intelligence estimates that some 15,000 Russians have been killed so far in Ukraine - equal to the total Soviet death toll during Moscow's occupation of Afghanistan in 1979-1989.
Ukrainian losses are probably a little less than that, U.S. intelligence believes, according to U.S. estimates. Neither Ukraine nor Russia has given detailed estimates of its own losses.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Nick Macfie)