World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 29 MAY 2024

Kyiv must be allowed to respond to Russian missile strikes – Macron; Belgium pledges 30 F-16 jets

Kyiv must be allowed to respond to Russian missile strikes – Macron; Belgium pledges 30 F-16 jets
From left: Danish Deputy Permanent Secretary of State for Defence Kasper Joeg-Jensen, Defence Minister of Lithuania Laurynas Kasciunas, Defence Minister of Estonia Hanno Pevkur, German State Secretary of Defence Nils Hilmer, Latvian Minister of Defence Andris Spruds and Defence Minister of Norway Bjorn Arild Gram attend a press conference after the meeting of Ministers of Defence of the Northern Group at the Palanga Kurhaus (Palanga Cultural Centre) in Palanga, Lithuania, 23 May 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / VALDA KALNINA)

European Union defence ministers were debating whether to allow Ukraine to strike targets deeper inside Russian territory with weapons that had been sent by member states.

Ukraine must be allowed to respond to Russian missile strikes by taking out the sites they are fired from, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Belgium on Tuesday pledged to deliver 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by 2028, with the first expected to arrive this year.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has called on allies to deliver regular shipments of artillery ammunition from the Czech-led initiative starting next month as Kyiv seeks to repel Russia’s onslaught along the frontline.   

EU states mull letting Ukraine hit Russia with their weapons

European Union defence ministers were debating whether to allow Ukraine to strike targets deeper inside Russian territory with weapons that had been sent by member states.

Up to now, the US and Germany in particular have been cautious about delivering military equipment to Kyiv that would have the range to strike targets inside Russia because of the risk of a broader conflict. After months of pleading from Ukraine, the US earlier this year sent long-range Atacms missiles to Ukraine for use inside occupied territory.

“I truly hope that all the countries that have these assets will also give permission to Ukraine,” Estonian Minister of Defence Hanno Pevkur told reporters, adding that Ukraine was already striking targets in Russian territory with its own drones. 

“It cannot be normal that Russians are attacking from very deep into Ukrainian territory and Ukrainians are fighting with one hand behind their back.”

Ukraine is currently struggling to defend the Kharkiv region from Russian air attacks, given its proximity to the border. Kyiv’s allies are shoring up efforts to send Ukraine more air defence assets, but striking targets inside Russia, where its attacks originate from, could help mitigate the cost of defending Ukrainian cities with expensive missiles to counter Russia’s significant supply of cheap bombs.

A Russian strike on a home-improvement superstore in Kharkiv on a busy shopping day last weekend killed at least 18 people and wounded several dozen. Two days earlier, a Russian missile hit Ukraine’s largest publishing house, killing at least seven. Both attacks were launched from Russia’s Belgorod region, the Ukrainian military said.

Belgium on Tuesday pledged to deliver 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by 2028, with the first expected to arrive this year. 

“The weapons we deliver, as clearly stated in the agreement we signed, are meant to be used by the Ukrainian defence forces on Ukrainian territory,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Belgium to sign a security cooperation pact and also signed an agreement in Portugal on Tuesday afternoon. The Portuguese government said it would give Ukraine at least €126-million of military aid in 2024, including financial contributions and equipment. 

Zelensky hailed the deal with Belgium, saying in a post on X that the country was also delivering at least €977-million in military aid this year. 

“We can’t, it’s a fact, risk the support from our partners, so we aren’t using the partners’ weapons against Russian territory,” he said at a news conference in Brussels, adding that he was asking his allies to allow retaliatory strikes in Russia.

On Monday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg doubled down on his push to urge allies to lift restrictions on hitting targets in Russia.

“When we have delivered weapons to Ukraine it’s actually not ours anymore, it’s the Ukrainians’ and they have the right to self-defence, including hitting legitimate military targets outside Ukraine and in Russia,” Stoltenberg told the Nato parliamentary assembly in Bulgaria.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said such a move was acceptable under international law because Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine were originating inside Russian territory. 

“The risk of escalation I’m sure will be put on the table by some, but you have to balance the risk of escalation and the need for Ukraine to defend” itself, he added, saying the current situation was “completely asymmetric”.

Defence ministers from Latvia and the Netherlands also expressed support for the idea. 

Germany, meanwhile, is still holding back its Taurus system, citing concerns about the possibility of escalation and the need for German soldiers to operate the systems on the ground due to its unusually long range of more than 500km.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s chief spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit told reporters on Monday that a state under attack could generally defend itself with strikes against targets also outside its borders because this was in line with international law. 

“And then it is always a question of the proportionality of the attack in question,” Hebestreit added.

Ukraine must be allowed to hit Russian missile sites, Macron says 

Ukraine must be allowed to respond to Russian missile strikes by taking out the sites they are fired from, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

“Ukraine is actually being attacked from bases in Russia,” he said on Tuesday. “We must allow them to take out the military sites the missiles are fired from, essentially the military sites from which Ukraine is attacked.”

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a joint news conference at Schloss Meseberg, north of Berlin, Macron cautioned that Ukraine must not be allowed to hit other targets in Russia, adding that “we don’t want escalation.”

Scholz added that Kyiv “has every option according to international law for what it is doing” and can defend itself. 

Ukraine calls for Czech-led ammo shipments to start in June

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has called on allies to deliver regular shipments of artillery ammunition from the Czech-led initiative starting next month as Kyiv seeks to repel Russia’s onslaught along the frontline.  

“It’s important for us so that the ammunition arrives on time, systematically and according to the schedule starting in June already,” he said in a post on Telegram.

The Ukrainian prime minister arrived in Prague on Tuesday for talks about military support with leaders from countries including Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia, Denmark and the Netherlands as well as a representative of the US administration.

In a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Shmyhal discussed the artillery initiative, which aims to deliver as much as 1.5 million shells within a year and has already raised more than €1.6-billion.

Germany wants EU push to end last 20% of Russia energy imports

Germany is calling for the European Union to do more to curtail the last 20% of Russian energy imports still coming to the bloc’s shores ahead of a meeting of ministers in Brussels this week.

Europe’s top economy, along with the Czech Republic, is asking the bloc to set up a high-level working group to identify ways to phase out the remaining Russian gas supplies — including liquefied natural gas (LNG) — as well as oil and nuclear material still coming to Europe, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg News. 

The bloc’s energy ministers were due to meet on Thursday to take stock of the so-called REPowerEU plan put in place after the invasion of Ukraine to cut back dependence on energy supplies from Moscow. 

“For the sake of our energy sovereignty and security, we must continue to systematically reduce imports of gas, oil, and also radioactive material from Russia,” the letter from German Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Czech Trade Minister Jozef Sikela to Belgium’s Energy Minister Tinne van der Straeten said. Brussels holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

While the EU has managed to cut energy imports from what was once its biggest supplier by 80% since Vladimir Putin’s attack, many countries in the bloc remain reliant on Russian gas as well as radioactive material to fuel nuclear power stations. With piped gas supplies cut off after the war, imports of LNG from Moscow increased to around 18 billion cubic metres in 2023 from less than 14 billion cubic metres before the attack, according to EU data.

The bloc has previously said that it wants to be free of Russian fossil fuels by 2027.

Last week, the EU adopted measures that would enable member states to effectively ban Russian shipments of liquefied natural gas without new energy sanctions. However, countries say they cannot act unilaterally because that would simply shift supplies elsewhere in the bloc. Any measures would also need to consider the impact on energy security. DM

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