UK hasn’t allowed Ukraine to use Storm Shadow missiles inside Russia, MoD clarifies

Keir Starmer meets Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington for the Nato summit
Keir Starmer meets Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington during his visit to Nato summit - X

Britain has been forced to clarify it has not given permission for Ukraine to use Storm Shadows to strike inside Russia in an awkward diplomatic moment for Sir Keir Starmer.

Downing Street said on Thursday, government policy “had not changed” regarding the deployment of the long-range missiles, despite comments from the Prime Minister that suggested he was loosening restrictions on how the missiles are used.

The British Government has allowed Kyiv to fire the missiles against targets in Crimea and mainland Ukraine since they were delivered last year, but has banned the country from using them to hit targets inside Russia.

Officials are concerned such a move would escalate the war, and could draw the UK into a conflict with Russia.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president – who has been meeting world leaders at Nato’s 75th anniversary in Washington – announced on Wednesday evening that he had been granted permission to use strategic cruise missiles in Russia.

Posting on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Zelensky shared a photograph of himself and Sir Keir, with the caption: “This morning, I learnt about the permission to use Storm Shadow missiles against military targets in Russian territory. Today, we had the opportunity to discuss the practical implementation of this decision.”

Sources confirmed the missile has not been used this year and stressed that Mr Zelensky would have to “seek assurances elsewhere” before Ukraine could fire the cruise missiles into Russian territory.

They added that these assurances were not a done deal.

A senior defence source said the situation was “more nuanced” than Ukraine’s president had suggested.

They added that permission to launch the strategic missile into Russia would require a sign off from three countries, one of which is the United Kingdom. France manufactures the Storm Shadow alongside the UK.

“It’s not going to happen,” the source added when asked if Ukraine will fire Storm Shadow into Russia.

On Thursday night Sir Keir told the Nato summit that he had “reaffirmed our unshakeable support for Ukraine’s ultimate victory.”

He said the alternative was “unthinkable” as he described Russia using “some of the deadliest weapons in its arsenal on innocent children”, when it struck a children’s cancer hospital in Kyiv earlier this week.

Sir Keir said Britain would provide £3 billion per year to Ukraine and speed up the delivery of military aid.

As the “generational threat” from Russia demands a “generational response”, he confirmed plans to boost British defence spending to 2. 5 per cent of gross per cent of their GDP on defence,” he said. “But in light of the grave threats to our security, we must go further.”

Earlier this year Lord Cameron, the former foreign secretary, met president Zelensky in Kyiv, where he made comments about Ukraine’s right to defend itself which were interpreted by Russia as a “dangerous” threat to use British-gifted missiles on Russian territory.

Adml Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defence Staff, later clarified that the cruise missile could only be used inside Crimea and the mainland of Ukraine.

Jamie Shea, a former Nato official, on Wednesday responded to Sir Keir’s statements on the Storm Shadow as giving Mr Zelensky a “shot in the arm”.

The Ukrainians “have to be able to strike back against those significant military targets”, he said.

But on Thursday, Mr Zelensky appeared to recognise that full permission for cross-border strikes had not been granted.

“We have got very good messages from the UK leader,” he told a Nato press conference, but said no decision had been made yet.

Meanwhile, Britain’s strategic defence review will be launched next week, setting out how Sir Keir intends to meet his spending target.

Closer defence ties

Announcing the review, John Healey, the Defence Secretary, insisted that seeking closer defence ties with Brussels would not bind the UK into a European defence force.

The Defence Secretary said, however, that Britain would seek to join more EU military programmes.

He suggested that Britain could seek to join more areas of the EU’s permanent structured co-operation (Pesco) programme.

The UK is already part of one Pesco scheme on moving military equipment across the EU.

Mr Healey said: “So we’ve proved we can do it. There are one or two other programmes which may well be programmes in which we have a unique contribution to make and we can get a great deal out of being part of a programme like that.

“That does not require any new formal agreement, it does not require a EU-UK security pact in order to do that.”

Mr Healey acknowledged that talks on the formal security pact with the EU sought by the Government were unlikely to start this year.

“In a way the declaration in week one from the new Government is seen as significant by the European Union and its members,” he said.

“You’ll know that the European Union, European Commission takes a good few months to get itself sorted out and so it won’t be until the end of the year that it’s really in a position to start doing any sort of detailed discussion with us.”

However, Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, told The Telegraph: “It is not a new assertion that the UK supports international law of a state defending itself from an aggressor. Part of that law has been the ability for the defender to use weapons to target military facilities engaged in aggression in another state, in this case Russia.

It’s just a restatement of the Government’s permission.”

Dan Jarvis, the new Labour security minister, said on Thursday morning that Britain must be “incredibly careful” to avoid retaliation from the Kremlin.

He said that “we’ve got to guard against” the risk of reaction from Moscow, but suggested the deployment of weapons “ultimately will be a matter” for Kyiv as long as international law is upheld.

Storm Shadows are precision-guided cruise missiles with a firing range in excess of 155 miles.

Ukraine has said it needs to strike military targets inside Russia to defend itself and repel Russian attacks, and it is one of the main issues that will be discussed at the Nato summit.

Ruben Brekelmans, the Dutch defence minister, said the discussions were focused on extending the distance weapons can be used and whether Kyiv has permission to use them to strike Russian aircraft before they mount attacks on Ukrainian territory.

Keir Starmer and Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington DC
Volodymyr Zelensky urged his Western allies to put an end to 'all limitations' placed on donated weapon systems - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

Mr Zelensky urged his Western allies to put an end to “all limitations” placed on donated weapon systems in a speech on the fringes of the Nato summit in Washington.

A host of Western governments recently dropped restrictions on their munitions to allow Kyiv to use them in counter-strikes inside Russia to halt its offensive into the Kharkiv border region.

But this has not stopped Moscow’s air force from freely dropping glide bombs on Ukrainian cities from the relative safety of distances around 50 miles behind the frontier.

“Imagine how much we can achieve when all limitations are lifted,” Mr Zelensky said. “Similarly, we can protect our cities from Russian glide bombs if American leadership makes a step forward and allows us to destroy Russian military aircraft on their bases. This will yield an instant result, and we are waiting for this step.”

There are hopes that the introduction of US-made F-16 fighter jets, armed with Amraam missiles, will be able to play a major role in limiting Russia’s aerial dominance, if granted permission to engage with Russian aircraft near the border.

The American missiles are said to have a range of about 75 miles, depending on the conditions during which they are fired.

“The F-16s will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said on Wednesday. The jets “are on their way, the transfers happen as we speak”, he added.

Dick Schoof, the Dutch prime minister, told Mr Zelensky he would not “put any limitations” on use of F-16s donated by his government, in a meeting at the summit.

His defence minister later told The Telegraph that there were discussions between members of the F-16 coalition to ensure the aircraft can be used to its full potential.

“The discussions now are about the range that those munitions can be used in Russia,” said Mr Brekelmans. “I think that we should also have a discussion about... maybe we should, you know, not extend the range and that we should say Russian fighter jets – when they are operational from a longer distance – that it’s legitimate for Ukraine to target those aircraft.”

While Britain pledged any F-16s to Ukraine, its air-launched Storm Shadow missile will feature as part of the talks.

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