Zelenskiy seeks to cross another of the allies’ red lines: Attack even further into Russian territory

Guided missiles and glide bombs, which are launched beyond the reach of Ukrainian artillery, are taking a heavy toll on Ukraine’s provinces along the border with Russia

Ukrainian emergency teams remove a man injured by a Russian attack from a car in Dnipro, central Ukraine, on June 28.
Ukrainian emergency teams remove a man injured by a Russian attack from a car in Dnipro, central Ukraine, on June 28.STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE OF UKRAI (via REUTERS)
Óscar Gutiérrez (special correspondent)

Just over a month after obtaining the green light from France, Germany and the United States to use their ammunition against Russian territory close to the border with Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is on a new diplomatic effort to cross another new red line of the West, especially of Washington. The Ukrainian leader has reiterated, in messages through social media, that decisions must be “made” to be able to reach, at whatever distance, the launch point of Russian projectiles. “Our cities and communities suffer daily from such Russian strikes,” the president said on June 29, after a bombing that left seven dead in the Zaporizhzhia region. “There are ways to overcome this — by destroying the terrorists where they are, eliminating Russian missile launchers, hitting them with long-range weapons, and increasing the number of modern air defense systems in Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said. This new campaign by Zelenskiy would currently have the support of several Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress.

The political perseverance shown by the Ukrainian president’s cabinet since Russia began the full-scale invasion in February 2022 has worked. Messages made openly to the public, and privately to allied governments, have managed to convince Western foreign ministries to shore up Ukraine’s defense. And it has had an effect: since Paris, Berlin — which provided the Franco-British Storm Shadow missiles — and, shortly after, Washington — which sent HIMARS and ATACMS —supported Ukraine’s attacks on Russian territory to stop the Kharkiv offensive a month ago, the number of bombs and civilian deaths in this province has fallen.

Whether due to the deterrence of this move — Ukraine has been able to hit S-300 and S-400 batteries in the Russian region of Belgorod — or due to the work of the head of the army, Oleksandr Syrskyi, Kyiv has been able to contain Moscow’s onslaught, which began in early May. “Strikes on the Russian border areas helped protect lives,” Zelenskiy said in a recorded on June 30. “So will further decisions — the bold decisions that must be made, that we need and that we are discussing with our partners.”

In other words, the decisions made so far do not go far enough. Despite the progress, on June 29, a new Russian attack with guided bombs caused the death of seven people in Vilniansk, a small town in the province of Zaporizhia, in the southeast of the country. Three of the victims were children.

Kyiv is largely addressing its call to Washington. Although U.S. President Joe Biden gave the green light for its ammunition to be used against Russian territory along the border, he did not include the ATACMS missiles, which have a longer range, in this new scope. The executive director of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center, Dmytro Zhmailo, explains in an email exchange the importance of these projectiles: “They have a range of up to 300 kilometers [186 miles]. This zone of destruction includes more than 100 military units and, most importantly, some 18 air bases from where Russian planes bomb Ukraine.”

The exact limit imposed by the U.S. for the use of its missiles against Russian territory is not known. On June 21, The Washington Post reported Ukrainian sources who said that the range is less than 62 miles from the Ukrainian border. The newspaper also quoted the statements — very open to interpretation — made by U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan in an interview with the PBS network: “This is not about geography. It’s about common sense. If Russia is attacking or about to attack from its territory into Ukraine, it only makes sense to allow Ukraine to hit back against the forces that are hitting it from across the border.”

Guerra en Ucrania
Ukrainian agents inspected the crater and destruction caused by a Russian attack in Vilniansk, in the province of Zaporizhzhia, on June 29.KATERYNA KLOCHKO (EFE)

Russia launched around 800 guided missiles — the same that struck Vilniansk — in the last week of June. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov recently reported that, from the beginning of this year until May, 10,000 projectiles of this type had fallen on Ukrainian soil. These weapons — short-range and cheaper than other ammunition — are a real nightmare for soldiers and civilians in the border provinces of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Sumi. According to United Nations data, 174 civilians died in May, while 690 were injured — the highest figure recorded since June 2023. Guided missions can be launched from Russian territory, at a distance that, at the moment, is not within the reach of Ukrainian artillery.

The other nightmare for Ukrainians is glide bombs, which are able to evade anti-aircraft defense systems because they do not carry the propulsion and heat that radars usually capture before launching rockets to intercept. According to Ukrainian government data, more than 3,000 of these projectiles hit targets in March alone. Like guided missiles, glide bombs can be launched from areas far from the range of the Ukrainian missiles. Even if it is fired by a Russian air fighter near the border, its port of departure is usually at a greater distance.

That’s where Kyiv wants to target now. “Attacks on military air bases,” continues Zhmailo, a military and political expert, “will force the Russian command to withdraw aircraft from the potential damage zone to points farther away from the Ukrainian border. This will affect the effectiveness of the use of Russian combat aircraft: it will increase the time it takes for them to fly to the bomb drop site.” The defense will also have more time to respond, making cities safer.

Ukrainian police were working in the shopping center hit by a Russian missile and drone attack on Dnipro on July 3.
Ukrainian police were working in the shopping center hit by a Russian missile and drone attack on Dnipro on July 3.Mykola Synelnykov (REUTERS)

Last Wednesday, on July 3, a new Russian missile and drone attack killed eight people in Dnipro, a city located in the center of the country. The bombing also damaged a shopping center, schools and daycare centers. Zelenskiy repeated his call for more ammunition for anti-aircraft defense — Germany reported on Friday through its ambassador in Ukraine, Martin Jaeger, of the arrival of its third shipment of Patriot systems — and more long-range attacks against Russian bases. “We are actively communicating about all this with our partners — at all levels,” the Ukrainian president said on his Telegram profile.

Last Monday, a delegation of Democrats and Republicans from U.S. Congress traveled to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskiy. After the meeting, Republican Mike Turner, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Ukraine should be allowed to strike “valid military targets” in Russian territory. This issue was previously discussed at a June 26 meeting of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where both Republican Congressman Joe Wilson and Democrat Gregory Meeks showed their support for lifting the restrictions on Ukraine against targeting military targets inside Russia.

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