Going to war with Russia: The West considers Ukraine’s use of weapons

With Ukraine’s second largest city bracing for a crisis New Russian attackincreasing number of NATO allies is backing Kiev’s plea to allow its forces to launch attacks on Russian territory using Western weapons. This week, Canada became the latest of at least 12 countries to declare that weapons they supplied to Ukraine could be used to attack military targets on Russia’s borders.

However, the most important arms supplier to Ukraine, the United States, is still reluctant to take this step for fear of provoking Russia to escalate, possibly drawing NATO in and causing a broader war. Without consent from Washington, the product is made in the US Long-range military tactical missile systemor ATACMS, can only attack Russian targets inside Ukraine.

However, many Western leaders and military analysts say that with Russia massing thousands of troops along the border – less than 20 miles from the northeastern city of Kharkiv – Ukraine desperately needs the authority to attack inside Russia with Western weapons.

“Russian commanders are well aware of Ukraine’s inability to strike back,” said Peter Dickinson, a Ukraine analyst at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Officials and experts say that launching long-range missiles at Russia, striking its troops, bases, airports and supply lines, could bring immediate benefits. Indeed, the Ukrainian military appears to be preparing to launch some initial attacks, “to test Russia’s response,” said Rafael Loss, a weapons expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. in an interview Thursday.

But Ukraine and its NATO allies do not want to risk changing policy without US approval, Mr. Loss said. “Ultimately, the United States will bear a lot of the burden of having to respond if there is a significant Russian escalation, such as against NATO territory.”

The following is a list of countries that have allowed Ukraine to use their weapons on Russian territory and those that have not, as well as the possible impact if Ukraine is given the freedom to fight Russia.

Every country supplying weapons to Ukraine has the right to regulate how they are used, and so far EnglandCanada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, FranceGermany, Latvia, Lithuaniathe NetherlandsSweden and Poland declared its support for Ukraine attacking military targets on Russian territory.

Some countries are more cautious than others. For example, Germany and Sweden only conditioned their approval “within the framework of international law,” as German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz put it on Tuesday. He made a request that other countries have also maintained over the past two years to arm Ukraine, even if not voiced as prominently.

Britain was one of the first countries to argue for easing restrictions. “Ukraine has that right,” Foreign Secretary David Cameron said during a visit to Kiev on May 3. “As Russia is attacking inside Ukraine, you can understand quite well why Ukraine feels the need to ensure that they can defend themselves.”

The movement accelerated as strong support from President Emmanuel Macron of France helped persuade a more hesitant Germany to reconsider its position this week. “It is as if we are saying to them: ‘We give you weapons but you cannot use them to defend yourself,’” Mr. Macron said in Berlin this week, with Mr. Scholz by his side.

Several countries – the US, Belgium and Italy – said they were not ready to allow Ukraine to use its weapons to attack targets inside Russia, citing unpredictable risks. For example, Ukraine’s recent attacks by its drones on Russia’s nuclear early warning radar system, a potentially destabilizing step, have raised concerns. deeply in Washington.

On Monday, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy speak NATO allies “must be extremely cautious” before Western weapons are used on Russian territory. A day later, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo of Belgium announced the donation of 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine – but only “for use by the Ukrainian Defense Forces on Ukrainian territory.”

In Washington, a White House spokesman insisted on Tuesday that the Biden administration would not “encourage or authorize” the use of American weapons on Russian soil. But that resistance appeared to ease in the face of growing pressure from allies, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken suggesting the next day that the US could “adapt and adjust” its stance based on on battlefield conditions.

The Biden administration has a long history of resisting Ukraine’s demands for more powerful weapons, only giving in under pressure and when Ukraine’s prospects appeared dim. This happened with the ATACM long-range missile system, the Abrams tank and the F-16 fighter jet, among many other weapons.

However, in a small number of cases, the US has allowed the Ukrainian military to use Patriot air defense missiles to shoot down Russian warplanes operating in Russian airspace, a senior Biden administration official said. .

With permission granted, Ukraine could immediately attack Russia with long-range Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK and SCALP missiles from France. These missiles have a range of about 250 km and are fired from Ukraine’s fleet of aging Soviet-designed fighter jets.

Several countries – Britain, Germany, Norway and the United States – have provided Ukraine with ground-based launchers that can fire long-range missiles. These systems are called HIMARS and MLRS launchers, and they can also fire American ATACMS missiles with a range of up to 290 miles.

“If they give the green light to the use of ATACMS, it could degrade Russia’s ability to use its territory as a haven for ground operations,” Mr. Loss said.

(Germany has so far refused to donate the long-range Taurus missile, with its 310-mile range, partly out of concern that it would be fired deep into Russian territory and escalate the war. Now, Germany is even offering less likely to do so, Mr. Loss said.)

In addition, Britain, Canada and the United States have provided Ukraine with medium-range missiles or small diameter ground-launched bombs that can reach Russia from a distance of 50 to 90 miles.

But the new authorizations could have the biggest impact in the fight for air superiority — especially if allies allow their sponsored jets and drones to attack in Russian airspace. .

It is unclear whether Denmark or the Netherlands would allow the F-16s they sent Ukraine to fly over Russian territory, where they could be shot down. In comments this week, Dutch Defense Minister Kaija Ollongren appeared to place no specific limit on the number of weapons supplied by the Netherlands. “Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil are something I have never ruled out,” she said.

At least four other countries – Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and North Macedonia – have supplied Soviet-era fighter jets. Britain and Türkiye have sent long-range attack drones that can also fly directly into Russia.

Mr. Loss said at least the upcoming F-16 fleet will be equipped with long-range missiles that can target Russian jets “from behind their borders,” which has implications for future air power of Ukraine.

“We are not yet at that point,” he said, noting that Ukrainian pilots have not yet mastered fighter jets with enough skill to counter Russia’s advantage. “However, there is a possibility that Ukraine’s future F-16 fleet will attack Russian territory.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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