Ukraine: Russia won’t escalate, US will

9:20 01.06.2024 •

Are Biden and Blinken up to something? Anyway the ball is in Biden’s court.
Photo: AP

The Biden administration has quietly given Ukraine permission to strike inside Russia — solely near the area of Kharkiv — using U.S.-provided weapons, POLITICO writes, a major reversal that will help Ukraine to better defend its second-largest city.

“The president recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use U.S. weapons for counter-fire purposes in Kharkiv so Ukraine can hit back at Russian forces hitting them or preparing to hit them,” one of the U.S. officials said, adding that the policy of not allowing long-range strikes inside Russia “has not changed.”

It’s a stunning shift the administration initially said would escalate the war by more directly involving the U.S. in the fight.

The Biden administration hinted that a decision had either been secretly made or forthcoming in recent days.

Those messages came after top U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom and France, said Ukraine should have the right to attack inside Russia using Western weapons. Lawmakers from both parties also supported the move publicly and privately, while top U.S. military officials briefed Congress behind closed doors that relaxing the restriction had “military value,” POLITICO first reported.

The United States’ proxy war with Russia is at another inflection point. The battleground is shifting dramatically to Russian territory — something without precedent even in the Cold War. How this pans out will be a momentous event in 21st century politics, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.

There are three defining issues here. One, the NATO strategy going forward, given the realisation in the West that there is no question of Russia being defeated in Ukraine; two, the constitutional crisis in Kiev with the presidential term of Vladimir Zelensky having run out on May 21; and, three, germane to all this, Russia’s intentions. 

To be sure, the NATO and the EU are revamping their strategy while Russia hopes to remain “one foot ahead” of the West, as President Vladimir Putin put it.

Russia is not interested in an escalation as it is doing well in the war of attrition with Ukraine. Russia has effectively countered the US’ Mission Creep so far to push through all of its self-imposed limitations on aid to Ukraine and eventually breach those limits.

The big question today is how one could take the Biden Administration’s affirmation — stated by the White House National Security Council, the state department and the Pentagon — that it disfavours the use of western weaponry by Kiev to attack pre-war Russian territory.

An established pattern has set in whereby when Washington says some advanced weapon system is off limits for Ukraine, it actually turns out that Kiev just has to sit out for a few months so that Biden can cross the self-imposed red line.

Therefore, Russia will not take this as Washington’s final word. Curiously, the ground is being prepared to jettison the taboo, with both congressional Republicans and Secretary of State Blinken urging the White House to give the green light and both New York Times and Washington Post reporting that it is only a matter of time before the administration yields to formal American blessing to accelerate strikes on prewar Russia.  

The New York Times and Guardian reported, in fact, a shift already in the US position that now allows Ukrainian US-supplied artillery to fire back at Russian batteries over the Russian border from Kharkov region and also to target concentrations of Russian forces massing on the border in Russia’s Belgorod region.

Russians have openly stated that repeated raids into Belgorod city and its environs from the Kharkov Region needed to be countered with the creation of a “security zone”. Putin himself had spoken about this as early as in March.

Putin has strongly reacted to the recent proxy attacks on Russia’s strategic assets with western weaponry inside its territory. Putin warned that “this unending escalation can lead to serious consequences.”

As he put it, “long-range precision weapons cannot be used without space-based reconnaissance… the final target selection and what is known as launch mission can only be made by highly skilled specialists who rely on this reconnaissance data, technical reconnaissance data.

“For some attack systems, such as Storm Shadow, these launch missions can be put in automatically, without the need to use Ukrainian military… Launching other systems, such as ATACMS, for example, also relies on space reconnaissance data, targets are identified and automatically communicated to the relevant crews that may not even realise what exactly they are putting in. A crew, maybe even a Ukrainian crew, then puts in the corresponding launch mission. However, the mission is put together by representatives of NATO countries, not the Ukrainian military.

“So, these officials from NATO countries, especially the ones based in Europe, particularly in small European countries, should… keep in mind that theirs are small and densely populated countries, which is a factor to reckon with before they start talking about striking deep into the Russian territory. It is a serious matter and, without a doubt, we are watching this very carefully.” 

Importantly, Putin underscored, “If Europe were to face those serious consequences, what will the United States do, considering our strategic arms parity? It is hard to tell. Are they looking for a global conflict? I think they wanted to agree upon strategic arms… We will wait and see what happens next.”

However, there are growing signs that the Biden administration may have simply mothballed the idea of western long-range weaponry being used to destroy Russia’s strategic assets deep inside its territory until the NATO summit gets over in Washington (9-11 July) so as to keep the flock together.

There is a remarkable consistency in the Russian words that the depth of its proposed buffer security zone along the western borders will entirely depend on security considerations. The deputy chairman of Russia’s security council Dmitry Medvedev had explicitly stated recently that the security zone may not only include Kiev but also extend as far as the Polish border if the West sends Kiev long-range weapons. Significantly, on Tuesday, Putin called into question the legitimacy of Zelensky remaining in power in Kiev after his presidential term ended on May 21.

The ball is in Biden’s court. But the signs are not good.


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