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Ukraine Strikes Russian Air Defense Using US HIMARS: A New Milestone

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For the first time, the Ukrainian Army has utilized HIMARS, supplied by the US, to strike a Russian air defense system in Belgorod. This significant policy shift, allowing Western weaponry in defense of Kharkiv, marks a new milestone in the ongoing conflict.

For the first time, the Ukrainian Army has utilized weapons provided by Western allies against military objectives within Russia. This unprecedented action involved the destruction of a Russian S-300/400 air defense system in the Belgorod Oblast, using a US-made HIMARS (high mobility artillery rocket system). This event was reported by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington, based on geolocated open-source information.

The ISW disclosed that the partially destroyed air defense system was stationed north of the city of Belgorod, around 60 kilometers from the front lines in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. The range was within the capabilities of HIMARS but beyond other rocket systems available to Ukraine. The confirmation of this attack came from Irina Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Reintegration of the Occupied Territories, who mentioned it in a Facebook post, albeit without specifying the weaponry used.

Recently, Ukraine received authorization from a coalition of over a dozen allied countries to target specific Russian military objectives within the Russian Federation. Previously, Ukraine was restricted from using Western-supplied weapons to attack Russian territory, primarily due to fears of potential retaliation from Moscow. One of the latest countries to lift this restriction was the United States, albeit with limitations: only certain military targets in Russia deemed as threats to the Kharkiv region can be attacked.

This shift in policy followed a cross-border Russian offensive against the Kharkiv region, which triggered significant concern among both Ukrainian and Western leaders. Kyiv advocated intensively for the ability to strike from within Russia, aiming to target troop concentrations, missile launchers, artillery systems, and other military assets used against Kharkiv.

The US approval marked a significant, yet highly conditional, development. Ukraine is permitted to utilize shorter-range missiles such as the GMLRS, which have a range of around 70 kilometers. This contrasts with long-range ATACMS missiles, which can hit targets up to 300 kilometers away. Analysts have noted that while this approval will enable Ukraine to disrupt Russian operations, it is unlikely to drastically change the scenario in favor of Ukrainian forces.

Historically, Russia has faced Ukrainian strikes using Western weapons in other disputed regions, including Crimea and Kherson. Despite Ukraine's successful use of these weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials have frequently issued nuclear threats, attempting to dissuade Western support. Following the recent US decision, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky commended the move as a 'step forward' that will aid in the defense of the Kharkiv region.

  • Military analysts are cautiously optimistic about the change in policy. Franz-Stefan Gady from the International Institute for Strategic Studies commented that cross-border attacks with systems like GMLRS will enable Ukraine to target Russian concentration areas, command and control centers, as well as supply depots, complicating Russian military operations against Kharkiv.
  • Mathieu Boulegue from Chatham House remarked that while this policy shift does not drastically change the rules of engagement, it does enhance Ukraine's defensive capabilities. The United States' decision to align with European allies such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany in lifting this restriction, underscores a unified stance in support of Ukraine's defense strategy.
Clam Reports
Refs: | CNNEE | Clarin |

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