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US shift on targeting Russia gives Ukraine a fighting chance

When missiles fired from Ukraine destroyed an S-300/400 air defense battery on Russian territory over the weekend of June 1 and 2, it immediately gave rise to speculation that the missiles were from US high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS. It was assumed they were part of the large package of military aid that was finally approved by Washington at the end of April.

The reason for this assumption is that Ukrainian missile systems do not have a sufficient range to hit those particular targets, which were situated in a field in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, which borders Ukraine. The site was an estimated 80 kilometers from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which has itself come under heavy bombardment from inside Russia.

The question of whether Ukrainian military units would be allowed to use Western-supplied weapons to attack targets inside Russia has come up many times since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February 2022. For two years, the supply of arms from the US and Kiev’s other Western allies came with a strict prohibition against attacking targets outside Ukraine.

This was because of the very real fear in the West that Putin would use it as an excuse to escalate hostilities – particularly against the NATO member states with which Russia shares a border.

But the lengthy delay while some Republicans in Congress dragged their feet over approving Joe Biden’s US$60 billion aid package had handed Russia a big advantage on the battlefield.

Ukraine’s summer offensive in 2023 had failed to make any significant breakthroughs and during the winter that followed, Russia was able to leverage its numerical superiority and artillery advantage to push Ukraine back at several areas along the