The UK’s armed forces minister has suggested it is “completely legitimate” for Ukraine to carry out strikes on military targets in Russian territory, including ammunition depots and fuel supplies.
James Heappey said it was “not necessarily a problem” if British-donated weapons are used to hit sites, insisting that if logistics aren’t disrupted they would “directly contribute to the death and carnage on Ukrainian soil”.
The defence minister’s comments came as he dismissed Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s claims that Western allies are “pouring oil on the fire” by providing the government in Kyiv with firepower.
Mr Heappey said “of course” the UK backs reported strikes on fuel depots in Russia.
He told Times Radio it is “completely legitimate for Ukraine to be targeting in Russia’s depth in order to disrupt the logistics that if they weren’t disrupted would directly contribute to death and carnage on Ukrainian soil”.
And the minister said it is “not necessarily a problem” if British-donated weapons are used to hit sites on Russian soil after accepting that weapons now being supplied by allies to Ukraine have the range to be used over borders.
“There are lots of countries around the world that operate kit that they have imported from other countries; when those bits of kit are used we tend not to blame the country that manufactured it, you blame the country that fired it,” he added.
The comments mark a further strengthening of the UK’s position, as allies shift from caution against antagonising President Vladimir Putin to supplying more and more lethal aid.
Russian foreign minister Mr Lavrov has warned that the threat of nuclear conflict “should not be under-estimated”.
He accused Nato forces of “pouring oil on the fire” by providing weapons, as he warned against provoking “World War Three”.
But Mr Heappey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the chances of nuclear warfare are “vanishingly small”.
He told Mr Lavrov to “reflect” on the reason there is a war in Ukraine being that Russia invaded, telling Sky News: “All of this noise from Moscow about somehow their attack on Ukraine being a response to Nato aggression is just utter, utter nonsense.”
Mr Heappey has said there is “every chance” that the Ukrainians will see off the Russians in the invasion, arguing that Moscow’s victory in the east of Ukraine is not inevitable.
“We’ll see a conflict between two forces that are much more evenly balanced, where the Ukrainians have the advantage of defensive positions that have been dug in and prepared over the last eight years, and that’s going to make it an extraordinarily difficult nut for the Russians to crack,” he told Sky.
“And with all the support that the Ukrainians are getting from around the world, there’s every chance the Ukrainians can see them off.”