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Ukraine Strikes Inside Russia Using Western Weapons After Biden's Approval

Photo : Reuters

A senior Ukrainian official hinted on Monday that Kyiv might have already begun using Western weapons to strike targets inside Russia, despite threats from the Kremlin. This development comes after the United States and other allies approved the limited use of these weapons.

Ukraine now has the green light to strike inside Russia using U.S. weapons, and it appears they may have already begun. The hint came from Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, who on Monday posted, then deleted, a photo on the Telegram messaging app showing what looked like a burning military truck. Her message read: “It’s burning well. This is a Russian S-300. On Russian territory. The first days after permission to use Western weapons on the enemy’s territory.”

Vereshchuk did not give details about the location or timing of the strike, nor did she confirm if U.S.-supplied weapons were used. NBC News could not independently verify if the photo indeed showed a Russian S-300 missile system, which is used for air defense.

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On Monday, influential Russian military bloggers were discussing photos circulating online of a damaged Russian S-300 system, allegedly hit in the Belgorod border region. One of these photos matched the one posted by Vereshchuk. The Institute for the Study of War reported that Ukrainian forces likely struck a Russian S-300/400 air defense battery in Belgorod Oblast over the weekend, possibly using a high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS).

The Kremlin had not responded to Vereshchuk’s claim as of Monday, but President Vladimir Putin had warned just last week that NATO countries were playing with fire and risking “global conflict” by allowing Ukraine to strike inside Russia. Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, echoed these threats, warning Washington of potentially “fatal” consequences.

However, military analysts remained skeptical of the Kremlin’s threats. Michael Clarke, a visiting professor of war studies at King’s College London, suggested that Ukraine needed to demonstrate its capability to hit legitimate military targets like the S-300. He predicted that Russia might retaliate against NATO countries through nonmilitary means, such as sabotage, rather than a nuclear response.

After Russia’s significant advance in the northeastern Kharkiv border region last month, Ukraine was keen to strike Russian targets across the border that were supporting the new assault. However, they were initially restrained by the hesitancy of their Western backers. Even now, Washington’s loosening of restrictions applies only to some U.S. weapons and is limited to the Kharkiv region.

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, indicated on Monday that the Biden administration would continue discussions with Kyiv about further easing these restrictions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has argued that the current policy shift is still insufficient.

The approval to use Western weapons could help Ukraine halt further Russian advances around Kharkiv, where the Russian offensive has recently stalled. Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, stated that such strikes on Russian soil would make Ukraine’s defenses more proactive and resilient, aiding in stabilizing the front lines.

Bielieskov also dismissed the Kremlin’s nuclear threats as bluffs, arguing that breaking the nuclear taboo in response to these strikes would be challenging for the Kremlin to justify internationally. He expressed hope that the recent developments would encourage the removal of restrictions on the use of longer-range weapons like ATACMS, which would be beneficial for targeting Russian airfields near the border.

June 5, 2024 10:49 a.m. 369

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