Britain is to supply long-range rocket artillery to Ukraine, despite a threat on Sunday from Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to bomb fresh targets if similar weapons from the US were delivered to Kyiv.
The UK will send a handful of tracked M270 multiple launch rocket systems, which can hit targets up to 50 miles away, in the hope they can disrupt the concentrated Russian artillery that has been pounding cities in eastern Ukraine.
Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, argued the decision to ship the rocket launchers was justified because as Russia’s tactics change, so must our support to Ukraine”.
The move risks further provoking an already irritated Kremlin.
Before the British announcement, Putin told Rossiya state television that Russia would retaliate further if the US went through with the delivery of Himars rocket artillery that the White House promised last week.
“We will strike at those targets which we have not yet been hitting,” said the Russian leader, who has been closely involved with operational military decisions throughout the three months-plus of the war. He did not specify what those targets were.
In the small hours of Sunday morning, Russian cruise missiles struck a railway depot in the eastern Dniprovsky suburb of Kyiv. Ukraine said the strike hit a rail car repair works; Moscow said it had destroyed tanks sent by eastern European countries to Ukraine.
It was the first time anywhere in the capital has been hit for over five weeks. One person was hospitalised, and a plume of smoke rose and was visible from high points in the capital.
The UK, in conjunction with the US and other western nations, began the war by promising only to supply “defensive weaponry” to help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion.
But as Russia has made gains in the east and the south of the country, western countries have gradually sent more lethal arms.
London said it had been cooperating closely with Washington. The British announcement comes a few days after the US said it would send four similar truck-mounted Himars systems.
The US and UK systems are intended to be complementary. The ranges of both are far greater than any land weapons Ukraine currently has.
Like the US, the UK has sought assurances from Kyiv that the M270s would not be used to strike targets within Russia. A British defence source said the weapons will be used “to defend Ukraine, in Ukraine”. They added: “We have confidence that the weapons will be used appropriately.”
Britain did not say how many M270s it was sending, although the number is small and will be comparable to the US decision to send four Himars.
Ukrainian troops will be trained on how to use the launchers in the UK, the MoD added, and Kyiv’s forces will be supplied with the appropriate rockets “at scale”.
However, Putin said he believed the west’s goal was to prolong the war in Ukraine, which has now gone on for over three months, after the Russian president launched an unprovoked invasion on 24 February.
“All this fuss around additional deliveries of weapons, in my opinion, has only one goal: to drag out the armed conflict as much as possible,” Putin added.
Ukraine’s nuclear energy company, Energoatom, also warned on Sunday that a Russian cruise missile had come dangerously close to the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant, in the south of the country, at about 5.30am, apparently heading for Kyiv.
It said the missile “flew critically low” over the site and that Russian forces “still do not understand that even the smallest fragment of a missile that can hit a working power unit can cause a nuclear catastrophe and radiation leak”.
PAY ATTENTION: Share your Outstanding story with our editors! Please reach us through Editor - click here