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Ukraine strike on Russian nuclear radar: the most serious escalation yet

It's disingenuous to pretend this is a proxy war. Credit: Getty

May 30, 2024 - 6:00pm

Over the past week, another massive red line was crossed in the no-longer-so-proxy war between the West and Russia. On 23 and 28 May, Ukraine conducted long-range drone strikes on two Russian radar stations that are part of the country’s early-warning radar system designed to detect incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) — primarily nuclear-armed ones.

Both of these attacks occurred deep in Russian territory — respectively 300 and almost 1,000 miles of Kiev-controlled territory — and at least one strike appears to have caused some damage. Such an attack on one of the pillars of Russia’s nuclear deterrence infrastructure marks the conflict’s most terrifying escalation yet, bringing the world another step closer to the verge of thermonuclear war.

Ukraine claims that the sites in question are used to monitor Ukrainian military activities, and that the goal of the strikes was to diminish Russia’s ability to track the Ukrainian military’s activities in southern Ukraine. But speaking to the Washington Post, a US official refuted this argument: “These sites have not been involved in supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine”, they said. This means that Russia’s nuclear early-warning system was the target of the attack. It goes without saying that in escalatory terms targeting nuclear command and control and early-warning sites is as dangerous as it gets, short of an actual nuclear attack.

“Unlike the United States, the Russians do not have space-based satellite warning systems that can see ballistic missile attacks globally. This means that the radar coverage lost by the attacks on these radars greatly reduces the warning time against attacks on Moscow from the Mediterranean and Indian oceans”, commented Dr. Theodore Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and National Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “I cannot emphasise enough how frightening and dangerous this development is”, he added. Ralph Bosshard, a retired Lt. Col. in the Swiss Armed Forces, expressed a similar sentiment.

According to the aforementioned US official, the US is very “concerned” about the strikes. However, this good cop-bad cop act — which implies that the US was unaware of the attacks — no longer fools anyone, let alone the Russians. Especially since the attacks come at a time when Nato leaders, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have begun to openly talk about allowing Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia — with weapons provided by Nato, guided by Nato surveillance and targeting systems, and likely operated by Nato personnel. At this point it is dangerously disingenuous to continue to pretend that this is a proxy war — or that Ukraine may have conducted the strikes in question without full support.

The mood in Moscow was probably best captured by Dmitry Rogozin, the former head of Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, who wrote on Telegram that “given Washington’s deep involvement in this armed conflict and the Americans’ total control over Kiev’s military planning, the claim that the United States knew nothing about Ukrainian plans to attack the Russian missile defence system can be dismissed”.

At this point, millions of increasingly terrified Europeans are probably asking themselves the same question: what game is Nato playing at? Do they think they can keep provoking Russia without triggering a reaction? Whatever the case may be, they are playing an incredibly dangerous game — one that could, quite literally, get us all killed.


Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.

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D Walsh
D Walsh
21 days ago

The neocons seem to want nuclear war, they all live in the cities that would be destroyed in the first strike, but they hate Russia so much, they can’t help themselves. Like the Scorpion, its in their nature

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
21 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

It is much more likely that the master’s dogs will get a good kicking, than the master itself. After all the attacks will be from the dog kennels.

In this case the dogs are the European members of NATO, including Britain. There should be no doubt whatsoever…no US President will risk a US city for the sake of another country. Any nuclear war will be fought in Europe; damage will be colossal and deaths on an unimaginable scale.

Arthur G
Arthur G
21 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

What nonsense. No US President will abandon NATO. If the USSR with its massive conventional military superiority didn’t back us down, no idle threats from the decaying husk of Russia will. No one should seriously believe that the Russia military would obey an order to launch nukes unless Russia itself was being invaded, and losing. Heck, that’s what black letter Russian military doctrine says.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
21 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Feel free to bet your family on it…but not mine…

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
21 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

You need to read what Kissinger said about friends and enemies.

Martin Rossol
Martin Rossol
19 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Might have been true […no US POTUS..] before 2021.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

Good thing that there are two European countries with a nuclear deterrent then, eh?

P Branagan
P Branagan
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

The UK has no independent nuclear deterrent. They need approval of the US.
Anyway the wretched missiles are so badly maintained that they’re as much a threat to the UK naval personnel as Russia.

David McKee
David McKee
21 days ago

Both sides are widening the war. The Russians are opening new battlefronts, thinking that sooner or later, the Ukrainians will run out of troops to plug the gaps. The Ukrainians are trying to provoke Russia into making a serious mistake, so that will persuade the West to arm the Ukrainians properly.
The West’s way out is to arm the Ukrainians to the extent they can win their (and our) war. No more p***y-footing around, this war needs to come to a successful conclusion – and sooner rather than later.

Peter B
Peter B
21 days ago

More crazed nonsense from Fazi.
The man has no common sense, sense of proportion or judgement.
Where are these “millions of increasingly terrified Europeans” ?
Perhaps he means the Ukrainians still suffering from Russia’s needless war on them. Or those in the Baltic states Russia keeps threatening with invasion.
The only “red lines” that have been crossed here are Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. Period.
Everything else is just a justified response.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
21 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Correct

El Uro
El Uro
20 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

“millions of increasingly terrified Europeans”? Holly shit, Ukrainians should allow Russians to kill themselves for the sake of peace of mind of Europeans?
My daughter-in-law just yesterday returned from occupied Mariupol, where she was visiting her parents. The poor girl is literally shaking with hatred, from these pictures of the robbery of everything that can still be robbed, hiding what is happening behind the facade of the Potemkin village.
Let moderators ban me, but dear Fazi, you are dirty cowardly animal!

Arthur G
Arthur G
21 days ago

How on earth can you say NATO is provoking Russia? That’s the same as saying China is provoking NATO because they’re arming Russia.
Russia could have peace tomorrow if they were to offer a reasonable deal, or just, you know, go home. The idea that Russia can strike any target they want in Ukraine, but clearly military targets in Russia should be off limits is insane.
Equally as insane as saying the Israelis are responsible for the safety and feeding of the population of an enemy they’re at war with. This is why the West hasn’t won too many wars lately. We care more about our enemies feeling that we do about victory.

John Tyler
John Tyler
21 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Absolutely spot on!

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
20 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

A reasonable deal. You mean like the one that was on the table in April 2022 before the neocons dispatched Boris to Kiev to tell Zelensky NATO wanted him to fight to the last Ukrainian?

El Uro
El Uro
20 days ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Bla-bla-bla

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
19 days ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Yes. Zelensky should have agreed to peace negotiations when Ukraine was having some success against the Russians.
It always pays to quit when you’re ahead.

John Murray
John Murray
21 days ago

Taking out part of the Russian nuclear early warning system is exactly the reason that the US or Germany are not keen on their weapons getting used on targets on Russian soil.
Knocking jets out of the sky because they are about to launch missiles at targets over Russia, or using artillery against troops and armor massing just across the border, even the oil refineries as strategic targets, all seems fair game. However, they have not enhanced their chances of getting authorized by the US to do that with US weapons with this stunt.

Arthur G
Arthur G
21 days ago
Reply to  John Murray

US just authorized Ukraine to strike at cross-border targets on the Kharkov front.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
21 days ago

Both the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Gaza war are complex conflicts with no easy solution. While I don’t know enough to critique the efforts being made in the trenches, I do know enough to critique the efforts being made by the commander-in-chief. Joe Biden is missing in action. He’s absent without leave in two most important conflicts that might easily flare up into broader wars. He needs to do more.
Donald Trump showed what could, and should, be done. In 2018 he reinvigorated NATO by threatening those countries who failed to contribute to the common defense, chastised the Germans for putting their neck in Russia’s noose (and got laughed at for his prescience), and tried to establish a relationship with Russia by a summit with Vladimir Putin and by asking the G7 to readmit Russia.
If Donald Trump were president, you can bet that he would be out there active in trying to resolve both these conflicts. He may not succeed, but at least he would try. Joe Biden is not even trying.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

You seem to be overlooking the fact that Trump is “Putin’s Poodle”.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Why the downticks? Have people failed to notice the irony? Even given the big clue of the quotation marks?

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

You seem to be overlooking the fact that that is what Biden says — and Biden says a lot of things that are completely unmoored from the truth.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
21 days ago

Unherd’s pet tankie not happy with these developments I see!

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
21 days ago

This seems another bizarre take from Thomas Fazi.
Russia is destroying Ukraine infrastructure from the air, and in the process killing many ciivlians
Russia is invading Ukraine and and has occupied vast swathes of their territory.
Ukraine must be allowed to defend itself effectively, and if this means striking the Russia military and its infrastucture in Russia then so be it.
Only the USA can facilitate the Ukrainians ability to strike back at the Russian military infrastructure which must be enabled if Russia is to be driven out of Ukraine and secure the safety of Eastern Europe.

El Uro
El Uro
20 days ago

It looks like Thomas is a pathological coward and that’s sad.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
20 days ago
Reply to  El Uro

Is this the most well-founded, and non-hysterical argument you are capable of?

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
21 days ago

They want war. There’s a sovereign debt crisis to paper over as well as acute resource shortages which Russia has in plenty. The neocons appear to be running the shop. As to the timing of the escalation. War is historically always a time in the US where elections are waived.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
21 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Really? When has that happened?

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
21 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

War is historically always a time in the US where elections are waived.

Name one time when that happened.

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
20 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

That is a crazy statement. The US did not waive any elections during the two world wars. Do you have any example?

James Buchan
James Buchan
21 days ago

Surely ANY Russian military target is legitimate? After all they invaded Ukraine. If the Ukrainians attack an Early warning system it means Russia either uses another or builds another so has less capability. So no I don’t really care if Ivan has his EW system broken. I am not scared about Putin’s threats – if he does go nuclear then nothing we can do about it – just make sure there is not one living Russian in revenge!

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
18 days ago
Reply to  James Buchan

As wrong and brutal as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is, is opposing it worth the increasing risk of ‘limited’ nuclear war? Apparently there a lot of Dr Strangelove types who think so.

John Tyler
John Tyler
21 days ago

Hyperbole

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago

Excellent news! I’d like to see long range missiles hit all Russia’s oil and gas producing facilities! Let’s see how their economy stands up after that happens!

Xaven Taner
Xaven Taner
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

It’ll stand up long enough for Putin to push the big red button and reduce European and US capitals to ash.

Utter
Utter
21 days ago

Anyone noticed that whilst the comments on Fazi articles are generally critical, many votes go in the other direction. This does not tend to happen with other articles – usually the thrust of the comments is echoed by that of the up/down votes. Hmmm….

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
20 days ago
Reply to  Utter

What are you insinuating?

Utter
Utter
20 days ago

I suspect that there are professional and amateur pro-russian influencers about who do not play fair.

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
19 days ago
Reply to  Utter

OK, I agree.

Utter
Utter
19 days ago

and their existence is given more creedence by my comment going unanswered but downticked.

Adrian C
Adrian C
20 days ago

Some facts: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine will loose better weapon’s will not change the outcome only cost more lives on both sides. This war needs to end ASAP. If you disagree you are willing to risk a global war for a lost cause.

Martin Rossol
Martin Rossol
19 days ago

The US [and its NATO hooligans] continue to parade their incompetence to the entire world. The most stupid and dangerous action by the US I have seen in my life time (I am US citizen pushing 70).

John Riordan
John Riordan
18 days ago

Fazi’s final claim about NATO “provoking” Russia is of course absurd in the context of the Ukraine War. Ukrainians have lived for over 2 years under attack becasue of the Russian invasion, which includes bombardment of civilian targets with artillery launched from inside Russian borders.

That doesn’t mean I disagree that this is an escalation or that it may be dangerous and misguided: those arguments are indeed plausible.

But to imply that it’s part of a sequence of NATO provocation against Russia where Russia itself is somehow not a good deal worse in this respect, is not tenable.