Starmer Says Ukraine Can Use UK Missiles to Strike in Russia

Keir Starmer (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe)

(Bloomberg) -- Keir Starmer signaled Ukraine can strike military targets inside Russia with Britain’s Storm Shadow missiles, confirming he would continue the previous UK government’s policy on the use of its long-range weapons in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Starmer agreed it was up to Ukraine how it used the Storm Shadow missiles donated by the UK. He was speaking to journalists while traveling to the NATO summit in Washington late Tuesday.

The missiles must “obviously to be used in accordance with international humanitarian law as you would expect,” the premier added, stating his position that Storm Shadows were to be used “for defensive purposes.”

“But it is for Ukraine to decide how to deploy it for those defensive purposes,” he said. Storm Shadows are precision-guided cruise missiles with a firing range in excess of 250 kilometers (155 miles).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Starmer at a meeting Wednesdya he had seen his comments on Storm Shadow missiles, thanking him for his “permission” to use them and describing them as “very strong and high quality.” Starmer told Zelenskiy that even though there had been a change of government in Britain, there had been “no change in position” on its support for Ukraine.

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

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Some European countries such as the UK have expressed support for Ukraine’s position, but the US government has so far resisted lifting all restrictions on the use of its weapons by Kyiv. The Biden administration says it has not enabled Ukrainian strikes deep within Russia, considering that a red line in order to prevent escalation with Moscow.

The remarks are the first time Starmer has committed his new administration to the policy following his UK election victory last week.

They echo the words used by predecessor Rishi Sunak’s government, which never explicitly said Ukraine could use Storm Shadows to strike inside Russia, but indicated that was the case by saying it was up to Kyiv how to deploy them. At the time, the Kremlin called that a “very dangerous statement.”

“Keir Starmer has given President Zelenskiy a shot in the arm,” Jamie Shea, a former NATO official and now associate fellow at Chatham House, told Bloomberg Radio. The Ukrainians “have to be able to strike back against those significant Russian military targets — but obviously not Russian civilian targets. I think Keir Starmer and other NATO leaders will draw a red line on that, the strikes have to be against the genuine military targets.”

Responding to a Monday strike on a hospital in Ukraine by Russia, Starmer said it was an “absolutely shocking, appalling attack” that provided “a very important if tragic backdrop to this summit.” He added: “It’s the duty of everyone to describe it in those terms.”

“My message to President Putin is this: this NATO summit should be seen as a clear and united resolve by NATO allies and others that are there at the same time to stand with Ukraine and stand up to Russian aggression,” Starmer said.

--With assistance from Isabella Ward.

(Updates with comment from ex-NATO official Shea in ninth paragraph.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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