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26 May, 2022 23:02

US warns Ukraine of escalation risk – Reuters

If Kiev uses NATO weapons to strike inside Russia, it could divide the alliance and escalate the conflict, the report warns
US warns Ukraine of escalation risk – Reuters

The US and its allies have communicated to Ukraine the danger of escalation should weapons provided by the West be used to attack targets inside Russia, according to a report from Reuters, citing anonymous officials, on Thursday. However, Washington has apparently not explicitly banned Kiev from taking such action.

The highly sensitive, behind-the-scenes discussions have “sought to reach a shared understanding of the risk of escalation,” according to the agency’s sources. 

“We have concerns about escalation and yet still do not want to put geographic limits or tie their hands too much with the stuff we're giving them,” said one of the three US officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Only two officials were quoted by name, and it wasn’t clear what their relation to these discussions might be. Douglas Lute, a retired US Army lieutenant-general and Washington’s former ambassador to NATO, said that if Ukrainian troops struck deep inside Russia, “it would spark a divisive debate inside the alliance. And, of course, the alliance doesn't want that. And neither does Ukraine.”

Reuters also confirmed that the Biden administration was considering supplying Ukraine with multiple rocket launchers such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which could theoretically be used to strike deep into Russian territory.

Less than an hour after the story was published, one Ukrainian official was on Twitter begging for HIMARS.

“We urgently need M270 MLRS or M142 HIMARS to save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers,” wrote Anton Geraschenko, adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. “USA has 2,000 MLRS in the army and in warehouses. If they give us just 200 of those, we will stop [the Russian] attack on [Donbass] and will throw them outside of Ukraine!” he added.

Geraschenko echoed the sentiments of Congressman Jason Crow (D-Colorado), who met with the Ukrainian leadership over the past month. Crow, a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said the US had told Kiev that its weapons “should be used responsibly,” but that he was “less concerned about the issue of escalation than making sure that Ukrainians can win now and push back the Russian forces.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have retreated from the key town of Liman in northern Donbass, bringing the Russian troops a step closer to Slavyansk. Fighting continued in the Severodonetsk and Lisichansk salient, while Russian troops approached the major supply hub of Bakhmut. 

Ukrainian artillery has struck several villages on the Russian side of the border over the past month, killing civilians. Kiev has not admitted responsibility for the attacks. When two helicopters attacked a fuel depot in the Belgorod Region in early April, Ukrainian officials first claimed credit, then disavowed all knowledge of the operation. 

The newly reported US concerns about escalation are at odds with previous public comments by US and other NATO officials. On April 27, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate it was up to Ukraine to decide whether to attack Russia. The day earlier, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said it was “completely legitimate for Ukraine to be targeting in Russia's depth,” prompting Moscow to warn that such an action would “immediately lead to our proportional response.”

Reuters chose to end its article with a quote from one anonymous US official, who warned that there “could be scenarios where the Ukrainians are backed into such a corner that they feel they have to escalate further,” but noted that “we haven't seen that yet.”