Ukraine could soon fire Western-supplied missiles at targets in Russia. But don’t expect that to tilt the war in its favor.

"Никогда не позволяйте морали удерживать вас от правильных поступков." Айзек Азимов

""Дерево виновато в том, что привлекло удар молнии, так же, как молния виновата в том, что выбрала это дерево для попадания." Книга Мирдада"


A service member of Ukraine's National Guard firing a D-20 howitzer on the front line in the Kharkiv region
A service member of Ukraine’s National Guard firing a D-20 howitzer on the front line in the Kharkiv region on May 21, 2024.

  • Ukraine’s allies look set to approve its use of their weapons on targets inside Russia.
  • A growing number of NATO allies have backed the move, prompting the US to also reconsider.
  • Ukraine could attack Russia’s border forces, experts told BI, but it’s no silver bullet.

As more of Ukraine’s allies say it can use weapons they’ve supplied to hit targets in Russia, under certain conditions, experts say the move will open up new targets, but may not be the silver bullet Ukraine hopes.

Lifting the restrictions will help Ukraine repel Russian attacks, especially at its borders, but comes late, with Ukraine facing major ammunition and manpower shortages, war analysts and experts told BI. For these missions, Ukraine is also likely to lack the Western intelligence support useful to locate high-value targets far beyond the front lines.

“It is so late,” Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Programme, told BI. “It is more than two years after a decision like that should’ve been taken,” he said, blaming delays from the US and slow decision-making.

The ability to strike within Russia would strengthen Ukraine’s hand, but it was unclear if it would fundamentally alter the course of the war, Alexander Libman, a professor of Russian and East European politics at the Free University of Berlin, said.

“The military logic of allowing Ukraine to use weapons against targets in Russia is straightforward,” he said, but “there are structural limits, which Ukraine is now facing.”

An overdue shift

Ukraine’s allies have sent it billions of dollars in military aid since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, but with the caveat that it wasn’t allowed to use the weapons to go after targets on Russian soil.

Many worried that crossing that line would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin and escalate the conflict. That’s meant that Ukraine has had few ways to strike attack aircraft or troop build-ups that threaten it from Russian territory.

But this calculation seems to have changed with the launch of a border offensive near Kharkiv in Ukraine’s northeast.

On Tuesday, France said Ukraine should be allowed to use Western weapons to hit targets in Russia — but only sites that Russia is using to launch attacks on Ukraine.

A day earlier, lawmakers from all 32 NATO states adopted a declaration urging alliance members to allow strikes on military targets inside Russia.

And the US, which has repeatedly stated it won’t allow Ukraine to use weapons it’s supplied to strike Russia, appears to be changing its tune.

Three unnamed officials told Politico on Thursday that Ukraine can now use US-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia.

One of the officials said that Ukraine could use US-provided weapons only to hit back at Russian forces hitting them or preparing to hit them in Kharkiv, where Russia has seized more territory and threatens the country’s second-largest city.

No more ‘sanctuary zones’

In recent weeks, Ukraine has faced renewed Russian offensives, especially in Kharkiv.

One Ukrainian commander told The Times of London that his unit had Russian troops in their sights for weeks as they gathered across the border, but hadn’t been allowed to attack.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, has repeatedly begged the country’s partners to let it use Western weapons to target the Russian soldiers across the border.

According to Giles, lifting the restrictions would be of “huge” assistance to Ukraine in repelling incoming Russian offensives, as well as in targeting Russia’s war-making capabilities.

“This would be a major step forward because Russia would no longer have the sanctuary zones from which it could prepare and launch these attacks,” he said.

He also said that Ukraine could launch the same kind of military campaign it has been conducting against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, where Ukraine has successfully held back Russia’s far superior navy despite having no real navy of its own.

This is a “demonstration of what Ukraine could achieve if it did not have these restrictions for striking into Russian territory itself,” Giles said.

Going after Russia’s air operations

John Hardie, the deputy director of the Russia program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said letting Ukraine use Western-provided tube artillery and rocket systems like the US-supplied HIMARS to hit Russian artillery across the border was a “no-brainer.”

“It’s unfair to make Ukraine sit on its hands until after Russian forces cross the border, or to make Ukrainian guns stay silent when Russian artillery is firing from across the border,” he said.

Western-provided missiles like Storm Shadow and ATACMS could also go after some Russian air bases that launch aircraft for glide bomb attacks.

However, he said that this alone won’t be enough to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favor.

Ukraine could also struggle to develop the intelligence needed to find and quickly strike targets farther inside Russia.

Earlier this month, unnamed Ukrainian officials told The New York Times that they needed more real-time intelligence and information from the US and EU allies about targets in Russia.

It’s far from clear whether the US will reverse its position and offer intel to support these strikes. Without it, Ukraine’s targeting will be limited to satellite imagery, drone surveillance, and what its informants can spot on the ground.

This is not the only pressing issue. Libman, the Free University of Berlin professor, said that if Ukraine’s lack of troops and dwindling artillery shells remain unresolved, it will continue to face “major” problems on the battlefield.

“This does not mean that allowing Ukraine to hit targets in Russia will not help — but it is clearly not a silver bullet to win the war,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider


"Существует право, по которому мы можем отнять у человека жизнь, но нет права, по которому мы могли бы отнять у него смерть. Фридрих Ницше"

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