how the taboo of using Western weapons against targets on Russian soil is falling among kyiv’s allies

This principled position is called into question by the change in strategy of Moscow, which attacks the Kharkiv region from its own soil.


Reading time: 5 min

French and Ukrainian soldiers train at an undisclosed location in Poland, April 4, 2024. (JAAP ARRIENS / NURPHOTO / AFP)

“This continued escalation can have serious consequences.” Vladimir Putin set the tone on Tuesday, May 28, as a debate agitated Ukraine’s allies on the use of Western weapons delivered to kyiv against Russian territory. “In Europe, especially in small countries, they have to think about what they are playing with. They have to remember that they are often states with a small territory and a very dense population”warned the Russian president, half-heartedly raising the nuclear threat.

These comments, made during a press conference from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, responded to those of Emmanuel Macron. During a trip to Germany, the French president took a step on Tuesday by recommending “neutralize” military bases in Russia, from which missiles are fired at Ukraine. “If we tell them, ‘You don’t have the right to reach the point from which the missiles are fired,’ we’re actually saying, ‘We’re giving you weapons, but you can’t defend yourself.'”, added the French head of state. Among the French weapons delivered to Ukraine are Mistral and Scalp surface-to-air missiles.

While refraining from seeking the“escalation”Emmanuel Macron justified this positioning by the evolution of the situation on the war front. “What has changed is that Russia has adapted its practices a little” and attacks Ukraine from bases in Russia. Since May 10, Moscow carries out a major assault in the Kharkiv region, by shelling cities from its own soil. As the analysis New York TimesRussian forces have placed weapons from across the border in northeastern Ukraine and aimed them at Kharkiv knowing that kyiv could only respond with Ukrainian-made drones and missiles. “The Russian Air Force can strike approximately 42,400 square kilometers of Ukrainian-controlled territory in Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv oblasts without ever leaving Russian airspace“, analyzes the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In this context, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg estimated on Monday that the current restrictions on Ukraine’s use of Western weapons – limited to its territory, Crimea and Donbass included – “li[aient] hands behind the backs of Ukrainians”.

The United Kingdom is one of the first European countries to have broken this taboo in early May. During a visit to kyiv, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that British long-range Storm Shadow missiles could be used by Ukraine to strike Russian territory. This is a decision that belongs to Ukraine and Ukraine has this right.”he underlined, marking a change of heart in his country on this subject.

Ukraine has been demanding for several months to be able to use weapons delivered by the West to target military targets on Russian soil. “They can hit us from their territory, that’s the biggest advantage Russia has, and we can’t do anything to their (weapons) systems located on Russian territory with Western weapons. We don’t have any not allowed”regretted Volodymyr Zelensky in an interview with AFP on May 18.

The subject still divides Ukraine’s Western allies. Like the United Kingdom, Estonia and the Netherlands were favorable to this option. “I have never excluded it (…) and I hope that other countries which have a different position will change”, said Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren. But Italy remains hostile to what it presents as a risk of widening the conflict. Lhe head of government, Giorgia Meloni, reiterated on Sunday her opposition to this scenario. “I think we have to be very careful”she notably declared on Rai 3.

Germany, which usually sides with Italy on this line, was more nuanced. While Berlin refuses to deliver long-range missiles to Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has opened the door for German tanks to target Russian territory. “Ukraine has every possibility to do so, under international law. It must be made clear, it is attacked and can defend itself”he noted during the joint press conference with Emmanuel Macron.

The head of European diplomacy urged the Twenty-Seven to find a balance “between the risk of escalation and the need of Ukrainians to defend themselves”. Josep Borrell judged on Tuesday, during a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels, that kyiv should be able to strike Russian soil with Western weapons. “According to the laws of war, it is perfectly possible”he estimated.

On the side of the United States, kyiv’s primary military supporter, a White House spokesperson reiterated opposition in principle on Tuesday: “Our position has not changed at this point. We do not encourage or permit the use of US-supplied weapons to strike on Russian soil.” But as reported in New York Times, Joe Biden’s administration is also in the grip of a lively debate on the issue. The American Secretary of State himself considered, during a trip to kyiv in mid-May, that this decision was up to Ukraine. American elected officials, such as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, or Republican Michael McCaul, have also been in favor of it.

If the United States gave the green light to kyiv to use its weapons on Russian soil, and in particular its long-range ATACMS missiles, Ukrainian forces could target hundreds of military targets that are currently inaccessible, observes Le Figaro. If this red line is crossed, Vladimir Putin has warned the West. The strikes would then not be considered “prepared” by the Ukrainian army but “by representatives of NATO countries”insisted the Russian president, reproaching the West for wanting “a global conflict”.

source site-25