Britain gives Ukraine new missiles in boost for Zelensky’s counteroffensive

Storm Shadow stealth cruise missiles (AFP via Getty)
Storm Shadow stealth cruise missiles (AFP via Getty)

Britain has supplied Ukraine with Storm Shadow stealth cruise missiles, giving Volodymyr Zelensky’s government the capability to carry out long-range strikes against Russian forces.

The missiles, with a range of 155 miles, will provide a vital boost to Ukrainian forces when they launch their much-publicised spring offensive. They have a shorter reach than the 185-mile American Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which President Zelensky has asked for repeatedly, but they will enable Ukrainian forces to carry out strikes not just in occupied territories but inside Russia.

Leaked Pentagon papers revealed, based on electronic eavesdropping, that Ukraine’s president complained in late February to the head of the country’s military, General Valeriy Zaluzhny, that Ukraine “does not have long-range missiles capable of reaching Russian troop deployments in Russia”.

The Ukrainian government has assured Britain, the US and Nato allies that the Storm Shadow will not be used outside “Ukrainian sovereign territory”. However, Crimea, which was annexed by the Kremlin in 2013, is considered to fall within the term of “sovereign territory” by the UK.

Storm Shadows, if deployed against targets in Crimea and offshore seas, will place Russia’s Black Sea Fleet under threat and also significantly limit the capabilities of Moscow to supply its forces around the peninsula by sea.

General Ben Hodges, a former commander of the US army in Europe, said recently he believed Russia’s “Black Sea fleet would already have departed Sevastopol if Ukraine had Storm Shadow”. He held that President Zelensky “would not want to lose the trust of the West” by using long-range missiles beyond agreed limits

The US has been extremely cautious about providing weapons to Ukraine that could help them strike within Russian territory. Colin Kahl, under secretary of defence for policy, said in August that it is the assessment of the US that Ukraine does not “currently require ATACMS to service targets that are directly relevant to the current fight”.

Even with the arrival of the missiles, the offensive may be delayed. President Zelensky said on Thursday that Western military supplies, including armoured vehicles, are coming through in batches and needed to be integrated into Ukrainian forces.

Going too early would lead to needless loss of lives, said the president. He added: “With what we already have we can go forward and, I think, be successful. But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.”

US president Joe Biden met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in February (AFP/Getty)
US president Joe Biden met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in February (AFP/Getty)

Mr Zelensky dismissed fears about losing US support if president Joe Biden, who has vowed to support Ukraine as long as it takes, is not re-elected in 2024. Ukraine, he said, still enjoyed bipartisan support in the US Congress. “Who knows where we’ll be [when the election happens]?” he said. “I believe we’ll win by then.”

Donald Trump, who may well get the Republican nomination, has said in the past that he would recognise Russian ownership of Crimea. He refused at a CNN town hall on Wednesday to say whether he would continue supporting Ukraine until victory is achieved. “I don’t think of winning or losing, I think in terms of getting it settled. I want everybody to stop dying,” said the former president.