February 08 2023
Rishi Sunak is poised to send longer-range missiles to Ukraine in a move that could mark a major escalation in British lethal aid to Kyiv.
The prime minister said that Britain was hoping to lead the world by approving the delivery of weapons that could put Russian territory within range. President Zelensky said the missiles were needed to get Ukraine out of the “stagnation phase” and “make the evil completely retreat from our country by destroying its airbases deep in the occupied territories”.
The missiles under discussion include Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which have a maximum range of 150 miles, and Stormshadow air-to-surface cruise missiles, which have a range of 250 miles.
No 10 confirmed that an offer had been made to supply “longer-range capabilities” that would “disrupt Russia’s ability to continually target Ukraine’s civilian and critical national infrastructure”.
Last month, the US effectively doubled the range of Ukrainian forces with the donation of ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), which can hit targets 93 miles away. Following the donation, Kyiv promised not to use western weapons to strike targets in Russia.
The gift of missiles such as Stormshadow would mark a further step-up in western support and show that allies were no longer reluctant to send weapons capable of hitting Russian territory.
The Kremlin has in the past threatened to retaliate if western weaponry put Russian cities within range of missiles.
But speaking at Lulworth Camp, an army training base in Dorset where Sunak hosted Zelensky, the prime minister said that longer-range missiles were crucial in helping Ukraine to turn the tide of the war.
“Probably the most crucial capability right now is main battle tanks, which we led on, but also those long-range missiles.
“In all the talking we’ve done and the planning for how we can have the sight of victory in the battlefield and make progress, it requires long-range missiles. Currently the range is not there. That’s the conversation we’ve been having and again we hope Britain can lead.”
During the visit to the army base in Dorset, the pair met with soldiers receiving training in Britain on Challenger 2 tanks before Zelensky awarded medals to Ukrainian troops.
Sunak said that Challenger 2 tanks would be on the frontline “in a matter of weeks” in anticipation of a Russian offensive, which is expected to take place in the spring.
“It is a privilege for us to have all of you here. Your courage is inspiring to us and the courage of your families is inspiring to us,” he said. “We will be there until the end and you are victorious.”
Zelensky piled pressure on western countries to send more armoured vehicles to Ukraine, arguing that Ukrainian troops were significantly outnumbered by Russian heavy armour.
In addition to battle tanks, Ukraine will receive Bradley fighting vehicles from the US, French AMX-10 RCs and Marder infantry fighting vehicles. But Zelensky said that despite the recent promises of support, Ukrainian troops were still lacking in equipment compared with the Russian army.
“Nato armoured vehicles are the best and yet there are only a few of them,” he said. “When you only have ten Nato armoured vehicles against 1,000 Soviet armoured vehicles, well what are the chances?”