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Is Starmer risking Ukraine escalation with Storm Shadow missiles?

Keir Starmer meets Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington yesterday. Credit: Getty

July 11, 2024 - 4:00pm

Having served less than a week in office, new Prime Minister Keir Starmer has signalled that he won’t be making any significant policy changes with regards to Russia’s war on Ukraine. He did so by announcing in Washington this week that he will continue his predecessor Rishi Sunak’s policy of allowing Ukraine to use British-provided weapons against military targets inside Russia; particularly pertinent here are the UK’s Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

Thanks to Storm Shadow’s range of over 150 miles, Ukraine has used these highly accurate missiles to evade Russian air defences and cause significant damage to key Russian military positions in the midst of Moscow’s effort to encircle Ukraine’s northeastern bastion city of Kharkiv. Storm Shadow allows Ukraine to force Russia to choose between moving its best military assets away from the Ukrainian border or risk losing them to surprise Ukrainian attack.

Starmer’s decision comes with certain risks. The UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee will, for example, have briefed the Prime Minister on Russia’s broadening brinkmanship strategy against the West.

Responding to what the Kremlin regards as unacceptably aggressive support for Ukraine, Russian intelligence services are stepping up their reprisal attacks. These have included arson attacks on factories in the UK and Germany, and similar sabotage plots against US military bases in Europe. Through his own rhetoric and nuclear exercises, Vladimir Putin is also offering hyperbolic threats relating to nuclear war and undefined escalation. The key balancing consideration here thus centres on Starmer’s assessment of whether Putin is serious about his dangled threat of nuclear holocaust, or whether he is performing mostly for political effect.

Regardless, Putin and his inner circle are no idiots. They recognise that for all the pomp and circumstance of Nato’s Washington summit, the alliance does not constitute a uniformed bloc of opinion. States such as Germany, Belgium and Spain obsess that taking certain actions to support Ukraine might lead to catastrophic Russian retaliation.

Yet these assessments are misplaced. Ultimately, the superiority of Nato’s conventional and nuclear strategic force structure means that Putin cannot and will not attempt a direct confrontation with the alliance. To do so would invite China’s abandonment of Russia — thanks to Beijing’s fear of losing EU trade relations — and regime-endangering military defeat.

What Putin can do, however, is dangle the perception of his uncertain rationality alongside his increasingly emotive frustration. Put simply, the Russian President wants Starmer, Joe Biden and other Nato leaders to believe that he is willing to tolerate ever-growing escalation in order to extract reduced Western support for Ukraine. This concern underlines the growing threat to US drones operating over the Black Sea.

Ultimately, Russia remains highly unlikely to enjoin war with Nato. But Putin’s fury will only grow as Nato continues to provide greater support to Ukraine.


Tom Rogan is a national security writer at the Washington Examiner

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
7 days ago

Meanwhile, Ed Miliband has ordered an immediate ban on new drilling in the North Sea. The downhill spiral begins. Good luck with these guys Britain.

Adrian C
Adrian C
6 days ago

The MOD has just (thankfully) publicly contradicted Starmer’s statement – Ukraine cannot use UK supplied missiles to target Russia. The Ukraine war needs to end ASAP in a negotiated settlement, with the most likely outcome being a frozen conflict. The only other realistic option is escalation which is the stuff of nightmares…..Our politicians need to read some history instead of following the collective war until victory in Ukraine narrative.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 days ago

Complete misdirection. The only effect of the British “policy” is to remove any remaining shreds of the fig-leaf that Britain is not a belligerent.

Kolya Wolf
Kolya Wolf
7 days ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

Excuse my asking, but is English your first language?

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
7 days ago
Reply to  Kolya Wolf

You wouldn’t happen to be a refugee from ‘The Spectator’, would you?

Kolya Wolf
Kolya Wolf
6 days ago
Reply to  Mark Phillips

Verily it is so.

A D Kent
A D Kent
7 days ago

“Ultimately, the superiority of Nato’s conventional and nuclear strategic force structure means that Putin cannot and will not attempt a direct confrontation with the alliance.”

This is staggeringly wrong. In a week when a consortium of agencies showed how the EU had provided less than half the shells it said it had, and wasn’t going to get close to what it promised NATO has shown itself to be superior in little other than BS. NATO’s ‘force structure’ sees the Challengers & Abrahms tanks removed from frontline service because they’re crap and their F-35 fighters manage (in peace time) a full mission readiness rate of just a third. Russia now has tens of thousands of battle tested and hardened troops and many more in reserve. All NATO can offer is a rapid escalation to nuclear weapons now – and that’s what’s really terrifying. That and the fact that we’ve got a cynical, posing PoS like Sir Starmer in charge.

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0 0
6 days ago

Readers of UnHerd need to move out of the Western news bubble and try some well informed geopolitical research. Dances with Bears is a good place to go. On the reason for all these wars as the US dollar starts its slow decline – 10-20 years?- Michael Hudson is an excellent resource.
It’s not difficult to understand why Starmer has gone the route he has. He’s not a geopolitician, nor does he seem to have many resources to choose ethical decision-making with regard to NATO. He is obliged at the moment to agree that the UK act as the US bulkhead into Europe. The script has been written for him.
The question is, does he realise? If he does and if he believes in this as the UK’s destiny, then that is deeply worrying and a sign the the TC and TBI, not to say the US are holding some of the reins. Having said the latter, it is true that Tony Blair only this week suggested that a move to reconciliation with Putin was the way forward.
Whatever, it is not in the interests of the UK people to be implicated in this ‘forever war’ that the US is promoting. Only look at Germany’s industrial demise. Populations do not grow wealthy on war. Only the armaments manufacturers and their investors. There’s a great deal of literature available on the subject. Some great graphs!
Finally, Starmer is quite comfortable flinging insults at Putin. I don’t think he has ever met him, or even studied him. However, I do know that Starmer has become the leader of a broken country just as Putin did in 2007. Putin has rebuilt much of his country, particularly since 2014: its economy and its people’s self-confidence. He has some lessons to offer Starmer, I think.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 days ago

He has give Russia all the justification they need for a third party attack using Russian supplied arms. What would be the difference?

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
6 days ago

Rogan has it the wrong way round. NATO wants Western public opinion to believe that Putin will tolerate more and more escalation by the Alliance. That is a hell of a gamble.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
2 days ago

‘Putin and his inner circle are no idiots.’ Indeed. I’d suggest the idiots are to be found in Washington and Brussels.
As for Putin’s ‘uncertain rationality’ I’d take his rationality over Biden’s any day.

Will K
Will K
4 days ago

The danger of all-out war to Russia and the West is equal. Just as Russia would be suicidal to escalate, the same is true for the West.

John Tyler
John Tyler
7 days ago

Thank goodness Starmer is continuing the policy, making it clear to Putin that he’s not a walkover. He now needs to announce that defence spending will rise to 3%GDP by the end of this year.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Yes indeed…Putin must be really scared now…lol

Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago

It seems Russia has no problems with missile attacks on hospitals in Ukraine. Why should there be a problem with Ukraine mounting missile attacks on military targets in Russia?

j watson
j watson
7 days ago

Nothing new here. Does anyone think removing Storm Shadows from Ukraine arsenal going to help anyone but Putin?
Just to add to the political reasons Putin won’t escalate with tactical Nukes military analysts also know the threat to escalate a tactical hollow threat, Their limited range would force them to come within range of counter measures and they’d be destroyed before they could be used. It’s a paper threat and designed to scare the public.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
7 days ago
Reply to  j watson

To date, NATO nations have emptied their armies’ warehouses of weapons and ammo to send to Ukraine. The UK has next to no conventional weapons left and the still-to-be-ramped-up manufacturing of replacements won’t even meet forward orders from Ukraine.

We are now sending Storm Shadows because they’re the next tier of weaponary we have left to give. Should the war escalate, or war breakout elsewhere, NATO now lacks the basic materiel to sustain a conventional defence for more than a week.

Russia is not the only threat and yet we are behaving like it is. Strategically, we have sent materiel into an unwinnable battle and left our wider war defences dangerously weakened.

Last edited 7 days ago by Nell Clover
Robbie K
Robbie K
7 days ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

What complete and utter garbage.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

That was a devastating response. I have completely changed my mind

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 days ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Correct.
Just on the Storm Shadows – Britain sent the missiles months ago, it’s not a new policy. What is “new” is that Britain is saying Ukraine can use them for attacks on territory that has been Russian since before 2014.
Until now, Ukraine was only “allowed” to use them to attack targets in territory that was Ukrainian before 2014, so pretending that Britain was only supporting a Ukrainian special military operation on Ukrainian territory, and was not participating in an international war. That pretence is now gone. Britain is can no longer argue she is not a belligerent. Russia is fully within its rights under international law to attack Britain or British interests anywhere in the world.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

And of course Ukraine’s assurances as to how it will use weapons sent to it are entirely trustworthy, especially if it was losing heavily.
The release of weapons to others is always “problematic” to say the least which is why the USA has effective control of Britain’s nuclear weapons, and why, despite scaremongering to the contrary, no nuclear power, new or old, would ever give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups over which it has no control.
Starmer has just given a large hostage to fortune without any benefit whatsoever to Britain.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

So Russia is allowed to fire missiles into a childrens hospital because they didn’t want Ukraine to join the EU and NATO, but Ukraine isn’t allowed to strike military targets across the border of a country that has invaded them?
Top logic!

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Again, complete misdirection, even if we assume you have your facts straight (which is not a given).
This has nothing to do with Ukraine. Ukraine is in a war, and by the laws of war can do what is legal within in the laws of war.
This is about whether Britain is a belligerent. By all objective standards, Britain has been a belligerent since the start of the war, but she pretended not to be. The last vestiges of that pretence are gone. Britain is a belligerent now.
Under the laws of war and article 51 of the UN Charter, that is fine – Ukraine is free to enlist allies for collective self-defence. But there is now no bar to Russia attacking Britain or British interests anywhere, anyhow.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 days ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

That would be a rather flimsy pretext for an attack wouldn’t you agree? Attacking a country because it sold weapons to another?
Is Ukraine justified in bombing Iran or North Korea then seeing as they’ve sold weapons to the Russians?

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Feeling lucky?

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

There’s more than 400 years of law on this. No, it’s not a “flimsy pretext”. It’s solid international law.

A D Kent
A D Kent
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

A flimsy pretext for a direct war, but not such a flimsy one for providing missiles to another beligerent currently duelling with the Royal Navy in the Red Sea perhaps. Sauce for the goose and all that.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Indeed, I’ve no issue with that. However I wouldn’t expect to see the RAF bombing Tehran because the Houthis are using Iranian weapons

Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You are of course correct (uplifting thought though the bombing of Tehran would be). The fact is that sometimes wars are fought within self imposed guidelines. During the Falklands War, I often wondered why Britain didn’t bomb Buenos Aires (the V-bombers would have had the range), although in hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Not just in hindsight. Killing the civilian population of a dictatorship in answer to the occupation of islands far from the owning nation is abhorrent.
However it seems you favour doing so to a civilised people who currently have the misfortune to suffer under a religious dictatorship…unless you were making a tasteless quip.

El Uro
El Uro
7 days ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

Last edited 7 days ago by El Uro
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 days ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

They already have poisoned people with nerve agents on British soil (murdering a British woman in the process). I think Britain is entirely justified in arming Ukraine in response.
Also I find your justification rather puzzling. Is Britain responsible for how weapons are used once we’ve sold/donated them? Would Britain have been within their rights to carpet bomb Tel Aviv due to Israel arming the Argentinians during the Falklands? Was Britains air strikes in Libya the right thing to do seeing as many British citizens lost their lives as a result of Gaddafi arming the IRA?

Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Russia may not be the only threat, but it is by far and away the biggest threat.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Threat of what?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 days ago
Reply to  j watson

How long does this pointless war have to go on and how many young people have to die before you’re satisfied?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

So Ukraine should simply surrender?

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Ukraine had a peace agreement which it should have accepted. Instead its leaders chose to throw away the lives of its young men at tge behest of the West.
It will eventually have to agree peace but probably on much less favourable terms, and after further death and destruction.
Do you believe Ukraine should just keep fighting until “it wins”? What do you consider “a win” will be?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

If those young men didn’t want to fight they wouldn’t. Stop trying to remove the agency of those brave young men who are fighting and dying trying to prevent their homeland becoming another Belarus

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Ever heard of conscription?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

That is the most naive thing I have heard in a while

Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

Ukraine knew Putin would never stick to any peace agreement (it would have been up there with the Munich Agreement in longevity).

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Possibly you don’t know of Merkel’s admission that there was no intention by the West that the Minsk Agreements be fulfilled.

Utter
Utter
6 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

Ukraine had a peace agreement which it should have accepted

Just in from Dmitry Medvedev:

“What if they take [the deal] and accept it?
“This will not be the end of Russia’s military operation. Even after signing the papers and accepting defeat, the remaining part of the radicals, after a regrouping of forces, will sooner or later return to power, inspired by Russia’s Western enemies. 
“And then the time will come to finally crush the reptile. Drive a long steel nail into the coffin of Bandera’s quasi-state,” he said, making reference to the Second World War-era, far-right Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera.
“Destroy the remnants of his bloody legacy and return the remaining lands to the bosom of the Russian land.”

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Crimea was taken from the Turks by Catherine the Great in 1780 or thereabouts and resettled with Russians by Stalin who deported the Turks, Greeks and Tatars. Khruschev revoked its quasi-autonomous status and made it part of the Ukraine Oblast in order to buy the support of Malenkov for his bid to become First Secretary. There is no historical reason at all why Crimea should be considered an integral part of Ukraine.
Putin made it clear a couple of years ago that he was willing to negotiate a peace deal whereby Russia is left with Crimea and a land corridor. Boris Johnson talked Zelensky out of accepting this deal because NATO wants to exhaust the Russian army and military industrial complex, not because we care about Ukrainians. That strategy is not working. Time to make peace.

Utter
Utter
6 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

So then what do you make of Medvedev’s comments above.

You say that there is no historical reason at all why Crimea should be considered an integral part of Ukraine – this seems to ignore several points;
The Crimea was and is considered an integral part of Ukraine – by the UN and just about everyone else – after WWII, everyone pretty much agreed that borders should be respected and wars of acquisition should not happenuntil recently, Russia herself agreed the above (and as you noted a grateful Kruschev gave it to the Ukraine)no player on this world stage is perfect, reliable, always truthful – but surely Putin represents much of the very worst that a leader can be

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
6 days ago
Reply to  Utter

Khruschev didn’t ‘give it to the Ukraine’. He gave it to Malenkov. The Ukraine wasn’t a country in 1956. Read some history FFS.

Utter
Utter
5 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

He gave it to Malenkov not to Ukraine – absurd statement.

Here’s some history on Crimea-

“Crimea was always independent from Russia although Russia made various attempts to invade it and ethnically cleanse the indigenous Tartar (and some Greek and Ukrainian) population. It was inhabited by Turkic people for centuries before it was invaded and occupied both under Catharine The Great and under the Soviets. The history of Crimea is that is was never Russian but invaded several times by Russia who each time deported the locals and attempted to forcibly “Russify” the remaining inhabitants. Despite Russia’s attempts to seize Crimea over the centuries it was frequently successfully defended and always remained a legally independent separate state (because throughout history there was never a time when any other states considered Crimea to be legally part of Russia. In fact the first time Crimea was legally annexed by Russia was in 1945 after WW2 when various world powers accepted various changes in sovereign borders (the spoils of war). Crimea was legally annexed into the Soviet Union (for the the first time in it’s history) in 1945. This was totally unacceptable to the Crimean people (Tartars and Unrainian speakers) who had been independent for centuries despite periods of foreign occupation by invading Moscovite Rus. Crimea was only part of the Soviet Union (Russia) for 9 years in all of its centuries of history. Krushchev was compelled to return it to Ukraine. It was not a gift. It was the healing of an growing and dangerous rift between Ukrainians and Moscvite Russian invaders.

and upon the notion that Ukraine isnot an independent country:

“The conviction that the Kremlin has history on its side; that Ukraine has never been a ‘real’ country in its own right and that its south-eastern territories in particular are primordial Russian lands. Russia’s political top brass, including Vladimir Putin himself, appear to subscribe to this belief as well, and by all appearances it has directly informed their policy towards Ukraine. But as much as these assumptions may resonate with ordinary Russians, as well as some foreign leaders, a glance into Ukrainian history reveals that they are based on a dangerously distorted reading of the past. Ultimately, by redrawing borders and rewriting history the Kremlin is unlikely to have done itself a favour. Through its intervention in Ukraine it has galvanised most Ukrainians in their aversion to Russia and has thereby done a great deal to demarcate the perceived differences between Ukrainians and Russians more clearly than ever before.”

As ever there is more than one version of history – I take the Kremlin’s version with a mountain of salt.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 days ago
Reply to  Utter

Crimea was only part of the Soviet Union (Russia) for 9 years in all of its centuries of history. Krushchev was compelled to return it to Ukraine.
Ukraine was also part of the Soviet Union in 1956. You are seriously out of your depth here, I think.

Utter
Utter
3 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Well it wouldn’t be me out of my depth but a Professor of Russian at UCL – as that is where the quote originates. It is fairly clear that he is distinguishing between being part of Russia proper, as opposed to being a USSR member.

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0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Unfortunately after the incident on the Sebastopol beach – whatever actually happened- I understand US defence stood down Storm Shadows and these are being replaced by RAF pilots for reconnaissance. Not great for the pilots.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
7 days ago

Each NATO country should spend 5% of GDP on defense. Anything less in service of safety is neither acceptable nor survivable.

Last edited 7 days ago by Samuel Ross
Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Fair enough. More would be good, but these are tough times.