It is “entirely legitimate” for Ukraine to hit military targets in Russia with Western weapons, a UK defence minister has said.
The blunt comments, by Armed Forces Minister James Heappey, appeared to spell out the reality of Western support for Ukraine’s war effort, but they could also be seized upon by the Kremlin to fuel a false narrative about how NATO poses a threat to Russia’s security.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said NATO is already effectively in a proxy war with Russia, given the flow of Western weapons into Ukraine, enabling the Ukrainian military to fight Russian soldiers.
Asked if it was acceptable for Ukraine to use Western weapons against targets inside Russia, Mr Heappey said the question was whether it is acceptable for the Ukrainian armed forces to use weapons systems gifted by the UK and other allies against “legitimate Russian military targets”.
“Firstly, it’s the Ukrainians who take the targeting decision not the people who manufacture or export the kit in the first place,” Mr Heappey said in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday.
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“And secondly, it is entirely legitimate to go after military targets in the depth of your opponent to disrupt their logistics and supply lines.
“Just as to be frank, providing the Russians’ don’t target civilians, which unfortunately they’ve not taken too much regard for thus far – it is perfectly legitimate for them to be striking targets in western Ukraine to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines.
“That is very much a part of war.”
‘Ukraine needs to strike into opponent’s depth’
Speaking separately to Times Radio, the minister was asked about the UK’s support of Ukrainian attacks in Russian territory.
Mr Heappey replied: ” Of course we do… In war, Ukraine needs to strike into its opponent’s depth to attack its logistics lines, its fuel supplies, its ammunition depots, and that’s part of it.”
Asked specifically if British weapons could be used to launch attacks on Russian soil, the armed forces minister said: “I think it is certainly the case that things that the international community are now providing to Ukraine have the range to be used over the borders. But that’s not necessarily a problem.
“Ukraine is targeting what I would say are completely legitimate military targets to disrupt Russian logistics.
“And you know the fact is that they make those choices just as the Russians make the choices to indiscriminately bomb Ukrainian towns and cities.”
Ministers comments bring NATO and Moscow closer to confrontation
Russia has said it would be legitimate for its forces to target the flow of Western weapons into Ukraine and has launched multiple strikes in the west of the country.
However, this flow enters Ukraine from neighbouring NATO states such as Poland.
Russia knows it would end up in direct conflict with the 30-member alliance – potentially even triggering a third world war – if it chose to attack Ukraine’s weapons supply lines on the soil of a NATO state.
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But apparent confirmation that the UK supports British and other Western weapons being used by Ukraine against targets inside Russia could ratchet up the tensions and maybe even affect Russian calculations, potentially bringing NATO and Moscow even closer to direct confrontation.
Mr Heappey, speaking separately to Sky News, talked about the ongoing effort to ensure Ukraine receives the weapons it needs to withstand Russia’s war, now in its third month.
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He said the UK has been “scouring the earth” for 152mm artillery ammunition, which is the calibre that Ukraine’s armed forces need for their existing guns.
The UK has also been working with allies to source 155mm artillery ammunition, which is the NATO standard, for Ukraine.
“That means 100,000s more artillery rounds are flowing in, from the US particularly, to Ukraine,” he said.