Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reportedly cautioned Western powers against supplying Ukraine with weapons capable of hitting Russian territory, warning such a move would be a “serious step towards unacceptable escalation”.
Lavrov’s remarks, reported on Thursday by Russia’s TASS news agency, came against the backdrop of the United States and Kyiv’s other Western allies having provided Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated arms as Moscow presses ahead with its offensive in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
He was quoted by RT’s Arabic channel as saying he hoped “sane people” in Western countries would comprehend the danger of moves to further enhance Ukraine’s arsenal.
“There are still a few left there,” Lavrov said.
On Thursday, the Reuters news agency reported that Washington had held discussions with Kyiv about the danger of an escalation in the now more than three-month-long conflict if it were to launch attacks deep inside Russia, citing unnamed US and diplomatic officials.
However, the behind-the-scenes talks have not led to the imposition of explicit geographic restrictions on the use of weapons supplied to Ukrainian forces, the officials told Reuters.
The reports come as Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations to provide Kyiv with heavy weapons. He said in a video posted on Twitter his country needed stronger artillery as it was the “only” area in which they were outmatched by Moscow.
“If you really care for Ukraine, [send] weapons, weapons and weapons again,” Kuleba said.
US intelligence chief warns of ‘potentially escalatory trajectory’
US President Joe Biden’s administration and Washington’s allies have been increasingly willing to give Ukraine longer-range weaponry, including M777 howitzers, a type of artillery weapon, in recent weeks.
US officials told Reuters the White House is even considering supplying Kyiv with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which, depending on the munitions, can have a range of hundreds of kilometers.
But the country’s intelligence services have also warned of growing risks, with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines telling a Senate hearing earlier this month that the coming months could put the war on a “more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory”.
The US, by design, is not directly combating Russian forces but Pentagon commanders are in constant contact with Ukrainian leaders and have provided critical intelligence that has allowed Ukraine to target Russian troops, on land and at sea, officials have said.
Citing an unnamed US official, Reuters reported that Washington and Kyiv have a shared “understanding” about the use of certain Western-provided weapon systems.
“So far, we’ve been on the same page about the thresholds,” the official said.
Russia has attacked Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and other locations far from the front lines of fighting in the country’s east. But Ukraine has not reciprocated with attacks on a major Russian city or carried out raids deep inside Russia, including on military targets such as weapons manufacturers or supply hubs far from the border.
Russian officials have repeatedly accused the Ukrainian military of carrying out cross-border attacks, including on a fuel depot in Russia’s western city of Belgorod.
But in what one diplomatic source told Reuters was a clear indication that Kyiv understood the sensitivities of any cross-border action, Ukraine has declined to confirm any involvement in the alleged incidents.
One of the US officials told Reuters Kyiv’s forces currently had plenty of targets to hit inside Ukraine, and that was the goal of obtaining longer-range weaponry from the country’s supporters.
Douglas Lute, a former US ambassador to NATO and retired Army lieutenant general, agreed Kyiv has enough Russian targets inside Ukraine to be concerned with.
But Lute also acknowledged the risk of escalation and political division inside NATO – the US-led transatlantic military alliance whose members have supplied billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Kyiv during the war – should Ukraine attack 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,” Lute told Reuters.