Britain on Thursday became the first country to start supplying Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, which will allow Ukrainian forces to hit Russian troops and supply dumps deep behind the front lines.
Ukraine has been asking for months for long-range missiles, but support provided by Britain and other allies such as the United States has previously been limited to shorter range weapons.
“We will simply not stand by as Russia kills civilians,” Defence Minister Ben Wallace told parliament. “Russia must recognise that its actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine.”
Wallace said Britain was supplying the Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine so they could be used within its territory, implying he has received assurances from Ukraine that they will not be used to target inside Russia.
The missiles “are now going into, or are in, the country itself,” he said.
The Kremlin earlier said that if Britain provided these missiles it would require “an adequate response from our military”.
Britain and other Western countries have increased their military aid for Ukraine this year.
Kyiv is expected to unleash a counteroffensive soon after six months of keeping its forces on the defensive. Russia mounted a huge winter offensive that failed to capture significant territory.
TANKS AND PILOT TRAINING
After the United States, Britain has been the second-largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine contributing 2.3 billion pounds ($2.9 billion) worth of support last year.
Although this is well below what the United States has provided, Britain has in the past been the first country to supply more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine.
Britain sent the first shoulder-launched anti-air and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in the run up to the invasion and in February announced it would be the first country to begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO fighter jets.
In January, Britain said it would send 14 of its main Challenger 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, a pledge that was followed by other nations including the United States and Germany.
Storm Shadow, manufactured by European missile maker MBDA, is an air-launched long-range missile, designed for attacks against high value targets such as hardened bunkers and key infrastructure, according to the company’s website.
They have a range of more than 250 km (155 miles), according to the manufacturer.
Wallace said the British supply would be enough to meet Ukraine’s current demand.
He also referred to a possible second wave of missile supplies by a British-led group of European countries, which last week asked companies for expressions of interest to supply Ukraine with missiles with a range of up to 300 km (190 miles).
Asked in parliament about delays in providing the missiles, Wallace said one of the reasons was the challenge of incorporating a British-French designed weapon onto the Russian-designed aircraft used by Ukraine forces.
To date, the longest range weapons that the United States has said it would provide is the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), which has a range of about 151 km.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has been reluctant to supply the 297-km range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles fearing the move would be viewed by Russia as an escalation.
Britain said it always assessed the risk of provocation or escalation when deciding what to send to Ukraine.