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US concerned about Ukrainian attacks on Russian nuclear radar stations

The United States fears that recent Ukrainian drone strikes have prematurely targeted Russian nuclear weaponswarning systems could dangerously disrupt Moscow at a time when the Biden administration is considering lifting restrictions on Ukraine’s use of U.S.-supplied weapons in cross-border attacks.

“The United States is concerned about Ukraine’s recent attacks on Russian ballistic missile early warning sites,” a US official said. condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Washington has expressed concerns to Kiev about two attempted attacks last week on radar stations that provide conventional air defense and warn of nuclear launches by the West. At least one attack in Armavir, in Russia’s southeastern region of Krasnodar, appeared to have caused some damage.

“These locations have not been involved in supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine,” the US official said. “But they are sensitive locations because Russia could perceive that its strategic deterrence capabilities are being targeted, which could undermine Russia’s ability to maintain nuclear deterrence against the United States.”

However, a Ukrainian official familiar with the matter said Russia has used the radar sites to monitor the Ukrainian military’s activities, particularly Kiev’s use of air weapons such as drones and missiles. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter, confirmed that Ukraine’s military intelligence service, known by its initials GUR, was responsible for the attacks.

Ukraine faces an ongoing threat to its survival from a Russian enemy forcewhich has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world – which has been gaining ground recently, thanks in part to advanced radar and weapons jamming technology, which has rendered some US-supplied guided missiles and artillery shells virtually useless. This capability has also increased Moscow’s ability to detect British and US-supplied weapons and longer-range drones, which have caused serious damage to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and military installations in Crimea, the southern peninsula that was illegally captured in 2014. was captured from Ukraine.

The Ukrainian official said the aim of the attacks was to reduce Russia’s ability to monitor the activities of the Ukrainian military in southern Ukraine. The drone that targeted the radar station near Orsk, in Russia’s Orenburg region along Kazakhstan’s northern border, traveled a distance of more than 1,800 kilometers, making it one of the deepest attacks on Russian territory. The Ukrainian official declined to say whether the May 26 strike caused any damage.

US officials said they sympathized with Ukraine’s plight. Administration officials are actively considering whether to lift restrictions on the use of US-supplied weapons in attacks in Russia. But if Russia’s early warning ability were blinded, even partially, by Ukrainian attacks, it could damage strategic stability between Washington and Moscow, the U.S. official said.

“Russia may believe it has a reduced ability to detect early nuclear activity against the country, which could then become a problem,” the official said. “It should be clear to everyone that there is no intention (of the United States) to use nuclear weapons against Russia. “But there is certainly concern about how Russia could get the impression that its deterrence capabilities are being targeted and that its early warning systems are under attack.”

The perception problem is likely fueled by “an incorrect belief that Ukraine’s attacks are led by Washington,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a security analyst and chairman of the Silverado think tank. “But that means that attacks by Kiev on Russia’s nuclear deterrent infrastructure could potentially trigger a dangerous escalation with the West. Ultimately, nuclear command and control and early warning sites should be off-limits.”

Some analysts were puzzled by the targets: While Krasnodar is close enough to Ukraine to track missiles and drones, the radar station near Orsk is aimed at the Middle East and China, they said.

When asked why they would target a location so far away, the Ukrainian official claimed that Russia “has converted all its capabilities into war against Ukraine.”

After Ukraine’s disappointing counter-offensive last year, Russia has regained the initiative on the battlefield in recent months, advancing in the eastern region of Donetsk and recently launching a new attack in the northeastern region of Kharkov, along the border. Kyiv, meanwhile, has increasingly targeted locations deep within Russia – a possibility that many doubted was possible without Western support and approval.

About three weeks ago, shortly after Russia began its attack on Kharkov, Ukraine asked the United States to relax long-standing restrictions on the use of US-supplied weapons to attack targets in Russia. Some senior officials are in favor of such a move, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has urged President Biden to agree to lift the restrictions. The White House is considering such a proposal, but no action has yet been taken, officials say.

At a news conference Wednesday in Moldova, Blinken said the United States “has not encouraged or enabled attacks outside Ukraine, but as I have said before, Ukraine must make its own decisions about how best to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken added that the United States has “adapted and adapted” to the changing battlefield conditions and that as Russia pursues new tactics of “aggression” and “escalation,” he is “confident that we will continue to doing’.

There are no restrictions on Ukraine using US-supplied air defenses to shoot down Russian missiles or fighter jets over Russian territory “if they pose a threat to Ukraine,” the US official said.

But U.S. officials have previously expressed concerns to Ukrainian officials about Kiev’s attacks on Russian territory, sometimes even intervening during the planning stages. Prior to the year of the war, the GUR planned attacks on Moscow, according to a leaked secret report from the US National Security Agency that was later confirmed by two senior Ukrainian military officials.

Days before the attack, US officials asked Kiev to scrap their plans, fearing it could provoke an aggressive response from the Kremlin; the Ukrainians complied, according to the leaked US documents and senior Ukrainian officials.

In a more recent example, Washington objected to Ukrainian drones targeting oil refineries in Russia — a request that came directly from Vice President Harris to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference in February, according to officials familiar with the matter . U.S. officials believed the strikes would raise global energy prices and provoke more aggressive Russian retaliation inside Ukraine.

Amid growing concerns about Russian advances on the battlefield, Washington is facing pressure from NATO and some key European allies to let Ukraine use its full power and reach. of US-supplied weapons.

“If you cannot attack the Russian forces on the other side of the front line because they are on the other side of the border, then of course you really reduce the ability of the Ukrainian forces to defend themselves,” said NATO Secretary- General Jens Stoltenberg. the alliance’s top political official said on Monday during a visit to Bulgaria.

Khurshudyan reported from Kiev. Siobhán O’Grady in Kiev and Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

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