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UK delivers cruise missiles to Ukraine ahead of counter-offensive

Britain has delivered multiple Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace has announced, boosting Kyiv’s defensive capability as it prepares to launch a counter-offensive against Russian forces.

Wallace told MPs on Thursday that the decision to donate the “long-range, conventional-only, precision-strike capability” was a “proportionate” response to Moscow’s escalation of its war in Ukraine.

The UK is the first country to send long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine.

Highlighting that Russian air strikes had deliberately targeted civilian and critical national infrastructure in the country, Wallace said: “Russia must recognise that their actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine.”

Kyiv welcomed the UK’s missile delivery. “Our partners know very well why we need them: to be able to reduce the enemy’s offensive potential by destroying their ammunition depots, command and control centres and logistics chains on the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister.

However, Wallace said that while the Storm Shadow missiles would boost Kyiv, the systems were “not even in the same league” as the most deadly weapons that Russia had deployed in the conflict. These include the AS-24 Killjoy hypersonic missiles, Iranian Shahed “Kamikaze” attack drones and Kalibr cruise missiles, which have a range of more than 2,000km, Wallace said.

The defence secretary did not disclose the number of Storm Shadow missiles provided. He appeared to confirm that the air-fired missiles would be launched from Ukrainian jets, saying that “working out if it was technically feasible” to achieve such integration had been a factor in the time taken over the UK’s decision to provide them.

His statement comes as Ukraine gears up for a campaign to recover territory in the southern and eastern regions and as Russian forces increasingly deploy air-launched, guided smart bombs, which have a range of up to 70km, according to Ukraine’s air force.

Ukrainian officials have said that despite recent deliveries of western armoured vehicles, tanks and artillery, their ability to launch a major counter-offensive would be limited without longer-range missiles and fighter jets such as the US F-16.

A Ukrainian fighter pilot known by the call sign “Juice” told the Financial Times that Ukraine needed F-16s as well as long-range missiles to help recover territory. The supply of Storm Shadows, he said, “is a crucial part of a successful counteroffensive . . . this long-range capability will help a lot”.

“But we need air parity and all of these factors to make [the counter-offensive] more effective and safer for our ground troops,” Juice added.

The UK, which has so far supplied more than £2.3bn of military aid to Ukraine, sees itself as being in the vanguard of western allies boosting Kyiv’s capabilities. Britain has donated thousands of short- and long-range missiles to Ukraine, along with battle tanks and vehicles equipped with Starstreak missile launchers.

The export version of the Storm Shadow missile, each of which costs about £2mn to produce, can reach targets about 250km away. By contrast, precision GMLRS missiles fired by US-supplied Himars have a range of about 75km, while ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDBs) can hit targets up to 145km away.

Kyiv has sought longer-range missiles to hit enemy troops, logistics hubs and air force bases deep behind the front line. But the US has baulked at providing tactical systems such as the ATACMS, which have a range of about 300km, out of fears that enabling Ukraine to launch cross-border strikes on Russia could escalate the conflict. Allies have also resisted calls from Kyiv to send fighter jets.

The UK has taken a different position. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged in February that the UK would be the first country to send long-range missiles to Kyiv. James Heappey, the armed forces minister, told MPs in April that military aid was delivered “on the understanding that it will be used in accordance with international humanitarian law”.

It was among the first countries to send anti-tank missiles to Kyiv early last year, while its decision in January to send 14 Challenger 2 battle tanks set a precedent that was followed by a German-US agreement to send their own main battle tanks, the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams.

Defence analysts said it was unclear if the UK’s latest decision to send cruise missiles would similarly unlock deliveries of European long range missiles and US Atacms.

“Although it’s likely that the UK and US had extensive discussions about sending Storm Shadows, there is no indication yet that Washington will send its own long range missiles,” said John Foreman, the UK’s recent defence attaché in Moscow. “If the US was about to, it would have changed its messaging in anticipation of this announcement.”

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