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NATO gives Ukraine a chance to repel Russian bomb attacks

A handful of NATO countries have lifted restrictions on Ukraine’s use of its weapons to strike military targets in Russia, giving Kiev’s forces new battlefield options that could help them defeat the highly destructive hover bombs that they have so far struggled to stop.

Ukraine has long been barred from using Western-supplied weapons to strike beyond its borders because many of its partners – including the United States – feared that allowing kyiv to do so would incite Russian President Vladimir Putin to further aggravate the conflict.

Western positions on this issue have softened following the ongoing Russian offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, which began last month. Ukrainian officials argued that the restrictions essentially prevented kyiv from stopping the assault by giving Moscow space from which it could mass troops and launch glide bombs with impunity.

Several NATO countries have now partially or completely lifted their restrictions. Faced with growing pressure from Ukraine and its European partners, the United States finally changed its long-standing position last week, authorizing kyiv to strike inside Russia – but only in the area near Russia. the Kharkiv region.


Ukrainian gunners fire on Russian positions in the Kharkiv region.

Ukrainian gunners fire on Russian positions in the Kharkiv region.

Anatoly Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images



Conflict analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank said that “the provision of Western air defense systems and the lifting of Western restrictions on Ukraine’s ability to strike military targets on Russian territory with “Western-supplied weapons remain crucial for Ukraine to repel the Russians.” Glide bomb and missile strikes against the city of Kharkiv.

“These policy changes will allow Ukrainian forces to use Western-supplied systems to strike Russian firing and staging areas in Russian border areas and airspace,” the analysts wrote in an assessment of the June 2.

They said Ukraine’s demonstrated ability to shoot down Moscow’s warplanes in front-line areas in past battles suggests that kyiv can likely return to success and protect the city of Kharkiv and the wider region from airstrikes. glide bombs launched from Russian airspace.

Glide bombs posed a threat to Ukrainian forces for much of the war, but they proved to be a significant problem in recent weeks when Russia used them to shell the city of Kharkiv and its surrounding areas. Russian planes can remotely launch these weapons from the safety of their own airspace and beyond the range of Ukrainian air defense systems.


Law enforcement officers stand in front of a supermarket after it was hit by two Russian hover bombs in Kharkiv on May 25, 2024.

Law enforcement officers stand outside a supermarket after it was hit by two Russian hover bombs in Kharkiv on May 25.

Photo by Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images



The only way for Ukraine to defend its troops and civilians against these bombs is to intercept the Russian planes before they launch or to hit them on the ground. kyiv has largely been unable to achieve this, but policy changes – and additional air defense capabilities from the West – could help give the country more reach and resources to deal with the threat.

“Ideally, the launch aircraft would be grounded, but as a fallback, a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system like Patriot – with a range of around 100 miles (depending on the target) – could be brought closer “on the front lines to shoot down Russian planes before their release,” wrote Matthew Savill, director of military science at RUSI, in a new commentary.

He said these “so-called ‘SAMBushes’ involve removing launchers around infrastructure and putting them at greater risk of attack, but pose a challenge to Russian aircraft currently firing from the airspace where they think they are safe.”

Experts like Savill have cautioned, however, that policy changes are not necessarily a silver bullet for Ukraine and that deep strike capabilities alone will not be enough to win the war.


Gunners of the 43rd separate mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fire on a Russian position in the Kharkiv region on April 21, 2024.

Gunners of Ukraine’s 43rd Separate Mechanized Brigade fire on a Russian position in the Kharkiv region in April.

Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images



The Biden administration’s policy easing also has its limits. Ukraine can only carry out cross-border strikes on Russian territory around the Kharkiv region, and it is still prohibited from carrying out longer-range strikes with its most powerful U.S.-supplied missiles. kyiv must instead rely on U.S.-supplied rockets and artillery.

Washington’s guidance is “specifically focused on defending Ukraine against military targets just across the border and against targets that Russia uses to physically launch offensives against Ukraine proper.” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.

The US policy prohibiting Ukraine from using its MGM-140 military tactical missile systems, also known as ATACMS, or carrying out long-range strikes in Russia “has not changed”, added Kirby.

U.S. officials stressed that Washington could still make further policy adjustments, but that ultimately would depend on developments on the battlefield. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will become even more lenient with its restrictions – following in the footsteps of some of its European allies.


The M142 HIMARS launches a rocket at a Russian position on December 29, 2023 in Ukraine.

An M142 HIMARS launches a rocket at a Russian position in December.

Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images



Speaking in Prague on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the “hallmark” of U.S. support for Ukraine has been to “adapt and adjust as necessary to respond to what’s really happening.” on the battlefield, to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs when it needs it, to do it deliberately and effectively. »

“This is exactly what we are doing in response to what we have seen in and around the Kharkiv region,” Blinken told reporters. “In the future, we will continue to do what we have been doing.”

Ukraine has already benefited from the new policy. On Monday, for example, kyiv reportedly used rockets fired from its U.S.-supplied M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, to strike Russian air defense assets in the Belgorod region, just across the border with Kharkiv.

According to media and open source intelligence, Ukraine struck Russian S-300/S-400 air defense systems that were repurposed for ground-to-ground applications and were used in attacks around Kharkiv.

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