Britain sends 'game changer' cruise missiles to Ukraine
Britain has delivered multiple Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine, giving the nation a new long-range strike capability in advance of a highly anticipated counter offensive against Russian forces, multiple senior Western officials told CNN.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, calling the donation Ukraine's "best chance to defend themselves against Russia's continued brutality," confirmed the transaction on Thursday after CNN exclusively reported the deal.
The Storm Shadow is a long-range cruise missile with stealth capabilities, jointly developed by the UK and France, which is typically launched from the air. With a firing range in excess of 250km, it is just short of the 300km range capability of the US-made surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, that Ukraine has long asked for.
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Critically, the Storm Shadow has the range to strike deep into Russian-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
A Western official told CNN that the UK has received assurances from the Ukrainian government that these missiles will be used only within Ukrainian sovereign territory and not inside Russia. UK officials have made frequent public statements identifying Crimea as Ukrainian sovereign territory, describing it as "illegally annexed."
The missile is "a real game changer from a range perspective," a senior US military official told CNN and gives Kyiv a capability it has been requesting since the outset of the war. As CNN has reported, Ukraine's current maximum range on US-provided weapons is around 90km.
The deployment of the missiles comes as Ukrainian forces prepare to launch a counteroffensive intended to retake Kremlin-held territory in the eastern and the southern parts of the country.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country still needs "a bit more time" before it launches the counteroffensive, in order to allow some more of the promised Western military aid to arrive in country.
"With [what we have] we can go forward and be successful," Zelenskyy told European public service broadcasters in an interview published on Thursday. "But we'd lose a lot of people. I think that's unacceptable."
"So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time," he added.
Among the supplies Ukraine is still waiting for are armoured vehicles – including tanks – which Zelensky said were "arriving in batches."
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This is not the first time Britain has gone further than the US in the weaponry it has been prepared to send to Ukraine.
It was the first ally to announce it was sending modern Western tanks to Ukraine, in January pledging 14 Challenge 2 tanks before the US announced it would contribute M-1 Abrams tanks shortly after.