Hitting Russian soil with Western weapons, “a new explicit balance of power” with Moscow

Back from the front in Ukraine, the red line imposed by the West seems to be gradually receding. An investigation of New York Times published Wednesday assures that within the White House, discussions aimed at authorizing kyiv to strike Russian territory with American weapons are well underway. Worried, the Kremlin responded on Thursday that such a decision would constitute an “escalation”. Its spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, accused the West of being “irresponsible”.

Because the British Foreign Minister, David Cameron, had already estimated at the beginning of May that Ukraine had “the right” to strike Russian territory with British weapons. Incensed, Russia then threatened to strike British military targets “on the territory of Ukraine and beyond”.

A “great reserve” that is crumbling

Until now, “the use of weapons of Western origin against targets on Russian territory was considered to fall outside the framework of Ukraine’s self-defense” but “nothing, in international law, prohibits striking military targets on the territory of the invader which places you in a state of self-defense,” notes Cyrille Bret, researcher at the Jacques-Delors Institute.

A principle that Ukraine’s allies seem to remember while “American President Joe Biden had always expressed great reservations on this subject”, recalls Carole Grimaud, expert at the Geneva Geostrategic Observatory and founder of the Center for Research on Russia and Eastern Europe (Create).

A “disadvantage” for kyiv from the start

kyiv has stepped up its calls for more flexibility in its strikes on Russia in recent weeks, as Russian forces launched a major offensive on the Kharkiv region. This rule constitutes “a disadvantage for Ukraine since the start of the war but as long as it did not result in a dangerous advance by the Russians, we would not go back on it”, analyzes Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of the Institute of international and strategic relations (Iris).

“If the Americans gave the green light, the Ukrainians would have much more room to maneuver,” analyzes Carole Grimaud. Because the front actually extends beyond Ukrainian territory alone. “A large part of the logistics of the Russian armed forces is located on the other side of the border,” adds Cyrille Bret. However, while kyiv seems to be in a bad position, even if the Russian advance does not constitute a breakthrough of the front either, striking the rear of the front “where all the reinforcement capacities are located such as the stocks of ammunition, weapons and fuel could help,” says Jean-Pierre Maulny.

An authorization that will not be done “without moderation”

While it is “difficult to know how Russia will react,” Moscow’s response “will depend a lot on the targets that the Ukrainians will target with these weapons. If they continue to hit border regions like Belgorod, it may not have any dramatic repercussions,” underlines Carole Grimaud. And, in fact, the Ukrainians will have “constraints on the type of strike they can carry out”, says Jean-Pierre Maulny.

“It will not be done without moderation. In qualitative terms, I suppose that we are not going to strike too far to communicate that we are not striking Russia but the front in depth and, in quantitative terms, I think that we are not going to authorize a deluge of strikes on Russian territory,” explains the deputy director of Iris. As with every sign of Western support for Ukraine, “Moscow’s reaction will be to further bombard the missile and drone launch pads in Ukraine,” assures Cyrille Bret, who however thinks that “the escalation will be mainly verbal.”

The nuclear strike, a “political Pandora’s box”

Russia risks asserting “that this is a declaration of war on the part of the United States,” continues Carole Grimaud, who concedes that this could remain at the declarative stage. But “we unfortunately cannot rule out a nuclear strike on Ukraine,” slips the researcher as Moscow began military exercises this week involving tactical nuclear weapons near Volodymyr Zelensky’s country. However, it is difficult to imagine the Kremlin carrying out nuclear strikes in Ukraine without this completely disrupting the contours of the conflict.

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“Even if they used tactical nuclear weapons, the damage would be enormous” and this would amount to “opening a political Pandora’s box”, warns Jean-Pierre Maulny who believes more in the hypothesis of an increase in cyberattacks and campaigns of disinformation. The fact remains that between the British green light and Emmanuel Macron’s declarations on a possible sending of troops to Ukraine, “more and more Europeans are willing to establish an explicit balance of power with Russia”, notes Cyrille Bret. And the Americans could well follow.

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