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Biden decides to send longer-range missiles to Ukraine as Russia begins nuclear manoeuvres

Amid new Russian advances in the Donbas, NATO faces internal division over arms shipments to Ukraine and the threat posed by Moscow to the West
REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN - Joe Biden, anuncia ayuda militar y humanitaria adicional para Ucrania, así como nuevas sanciones contra Rusia, en la Sala Roosevelt de la Casa Blanca en Washington, Estados Unidos, el 28 de abril de 2022

REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN  -   President Joe Biden has announced in an article in The New York Times that he will send longer-range missiles to Ukraine.

The United States has become Ukraine's main arms supplier. Before the Russian invasion began, Washington sent tons of weapons to Kiev to deal with possible aggression. Since the Russian invasion began on 24 February, the Biden Administration has approved several military assistance packages to enable Ukraine to halt the advance of Russian troops on its national territory. 

The White House has stressed that the aid is intended to defend Ukraine, not directly attack Russia. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stressed the need to avoid a conflict between NATO and Russia, which would lead to World War III. For this reason, Washington has decided not to send troops to Ukraine. In this sense, and with the aim of preventing a larger military conflict, Biden has also recently assured that he will not send missile systems that could reach Russian territory, despite requests from the Ukrainian authorities. 

REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO - Miembros del servicio ucraniano desempaquetan misiles antitanque Javelin, entregados por avión como parte del paquete de apoyo militar de Estados Unidos a Ucrania, en el aeropuerto internacional de Boryspil, a las afueras de Kiev, Ucrania, el 10 de febrero de 2022
REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO - Ukrainian service members unpack Javelin anti-tank missiles, delivered by air as part of the U.S. military support package to Ukraine, at Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine, February 10, 2022.

What the US leader has approved, however, is the delivery of longer-range missiles, as he himself announced in an article in The New York Times. According to Biden, this system will allow the Ukrainians to "more accurately engage key targets on the battlefield".

In addition to this new system, the US military assistance package will also include other weaponry that the US has previously sent to Ukraine, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, the Ukrainian army's flagship weapon that has become a symbol of resistance against Russia, and air surveillance radars. 

In the article, Biden also refers to sanctions against Moscow and cooperation among NATO members to counter Russian threats. He also reiterated that he does not seek to start a war between NATO and Russia, nor will he "seek to bring about the removal" of President Vladimir Putin.

"As long as the United States and our allies are attacked, we are not directly involved in this conflict," Biden stressed. "Nor will we encourage Ukraine or allow it to attack outside its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia," he adds.

Regarding Russia's possible use of nuclear weapons, Biden wrote that so far there is "no indication that Moscow intends" to use them in Ukraine. "Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, on any scale, would be totally unacceptable to us and to the rest of the world, and would have dire consequences," Biden said.

Nuclear exercises in Ivanovo

These statements come shortly before Russia's Defence Ministry announced nuclear exercises in the Ivanovo region northeast of Moscow. As reported by the Russian news agency Interfax, "around 1,000 military personnel are taking part in the exercise using more than 100 vehicles, including Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers", which are capable of striking targets at a distance of up to 11,000 kilometres.

AP/MINISTERIO DE DEFENSA RUSO  -   Cohete lanzado desde un sistema de misiles como parte de una prueba de misiles balísticos intercontinentales con base en tierra lanzados desde las instalaciones de Plesetsk, en el noroeste de Rusia
AP/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY - Rocket launched from a missile system as part of a test of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from the Plesetsk facility in northwestern Russia.

The "intensive" exercises involve the Strategic Missile Forces, one of the branches of the Russian Armed Forces and the main component of the strategic nuclear forces. The aim of these forces is nuclear deterrence of possible aggression against the country.

Division in NATO: Western Europe versus the US and UK-backed nations east of the Iron Curtain 

The new US military assistance package and the announcement of Russian nuclear exercises come at a time of division within NATO and the European Union over arms deliveries to Ukraine, its chances of victory and the threat posed by Russia.

According to a report in the US-based The Wall Street Journal, Western allies are increasingly divided over the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine. Some countries believe that continued arms deliveries could prolong the conflict, which would undoubtedly have global economic repercussions, particularly affecting European countries. 

This situation within NATO gives rise to two internal fronts with different perceptions and opinions about the long-term threat posed by Russia and the likelihood of Ukraine winning the war, explain WSJ journalists Drew Hinshaw and Bojan Pancevski.

On the one side are those countries that advocate continued arms supplies to Ukraine and portend further Russian expansion, while another group questions the perceived threat Russia poses to NATO. 

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   Una mujer cerca de un bloque de pisos, que fue destruido durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la sitiada ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariúpol, Ucrania 17 de marzo de 2022
REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - Western allies are increasingly divided over the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine. Some countries believe that continuing to send weapons could prolong the conflict.

On the first front are the United States, the United Kingdom and countries in Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, some of which were part of the Soviet Union. This group believes that Moscow will not stop in Ukraine and will try to push forward and take over countries, making Russia a threat to the West. For this reason, nations such as Poland and the Baltic republics support sending heavy weapons to Ukraine, as they will be able to contain Russian troops and deter Putin from invading another country nearby.

As noted above, some of these countries share a common past under Moscow's rule, so their perceptions are different from those of other nations that were not part of the great Soviet empire. This is reflected in statements by the leaders of these countries, such as Polish President Andrzej Duda, who said that Warsaw would send everything it could.

"Why? Because we believe that this is a war against civilisation. This is a war for the defence of Europe," Duda said, according to the WSJ. Poland, though not part of the USSR, was considered a satellite state of Moscow. 

The Defence Minister of Latvia, which was part of the Soviet regime, has expressed a similar view. "Our understanding, which is based on a long history of interactions with Russia, is that we cannot rely on Russian mercy and we see the Russian attack on Ukraine simply as a prelude to further Russian imperial expansionism," reflected Artis Pabriks, quoted by the WSJ. 

Warsaw has sent more than 240 Soviet-designed T72 tanks, drones, rocket launchers, dozens of infantry fighting vehicles and truckloads of ammunition to Kiev. The Czech Republic, for example, has provided helicopters, tanks and parts needed by the Ukrainian air force. 

But the commitment to Ukraine goes beyond the authorities. Citizens in Lithuania and the Czech Republic have donated millions of euros through crowdfunding campaigns to buy Turkish Bayraktar drones and other weapons for Ukraine.

Western Europe: different approach to war

By contrast, on the other side of the Iron Curtain are the countries of Western Europe, nations that, according to Hinshaw and Pancevski, "are losing interest in sustaining a war they believe is unwinnable and has reached a bloody stalemate that is draining European resources and exacerbating a looming recession".

These countries are part of the second bloc, led by Germany and France, which is increasingly reluctant to send long-range heavy weapons to Ukraine for fear of prolonging the war and worsening the economic situation. This group also doubts that Russia is directly threatening NATO, unlike the countries to the east. 

PHOTO/AP - Los grandes programas de armamento entre Alemania y Francia no atraviesan por su mejor momento. Emmanuel Macron ha dejado para después del 24 de abril su reactivación, que él o Marie Le Pen deben acordar con el canciller Olaf Scholz
PHOTO/AP -Berlin and Paris reject accusations that they are doing too little to help Ukraine in the war.

They also question whether Ukraine can win the war, which is why they have called for a ceasefire and have asked Kiev for territorial concessions, something that has been criticised by both the Ukrainian authorities and Ukrainian society.

Countries such as Austria, Italy and France are not experiencing this conflict in the same way as others such as Poland and Estonia. While for Eastern European countries the Russian invasion is just a preamble to bigger plans for the continent, for Western countries the main problem of the war is rising energy prices.

AP/MICHAEL SOHN  -   Tuberías de las instalaciones de aterrizaje del gasoducto "Nord Stream 2" en Lubmin, en el norte de Alemania
AP/MICHAEL SOHN - Pipelines at the Nord Stream 2 pipeline landing facility in Lubmin, northern Germany.

Yet despite the criticism, Berlin and Paris reject accusations that they are doing too little to help Ukraine in the war. But the fact is that Germany has not yet sent any tanks to Ukraine, while France has only sent 12 howitzer guns.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz's commitment to offer military assistance to Kiev, only two packages have been sent in the past two months, one with spare parts for machine guns and the other with anti-tank mines. Europe's largest economy has sent less military aid to Ukraine than smaller countries such as Estonia.

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   El canciller alemán, Olaf Scholz
PHOTO/FILE - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

For years Berlin has developed a friendly relationship with Moscow, especially in trade and energy. Germany is a major customer of the Russian gas company Gazprom, and together with Moscow developed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, although due to the situation in Ukraine it has not yet been put into operation.

Scholz has warned on several occasions that the current conflict could lead to a third world war with nuclear weapons, which is why he advocates a cautious policy towards war. This policy is supported by 70 percent of Germans, according to a survey by the Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis. Polls have also revealed that 46% of respondents fear that arms deliveries will increase the likelihood of the war spreading beyond Ukraine. As the WSJ points out, other polls have shown similar misgivings in Italy and France. 

Also, unlike other international leaders, neither French President Emmanuel Macron nor Scholz has yet visited Kiev. Similarly, both leaders are in contact with both the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky, and the Russian leader. "With every phone call, ministers from northern and central Europe are getting angrier and angrier," a senior Czech official revealed to WSJ. "This is destroying unity, which is preciously what Putin wants and what the French and Germans are offering," he added.

Even the Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, has told the US newspaper of his disappointment that "neither the federal government nor the chancellor personally has the courage to talk about a victory for Ukraine and act accordingly to support Ukraine with heavy, modern weapons". 

However, Wolfgang Schmidt, head of the German Chancellery and Federal Minister, has stressed to WSJ that Germany's position is in line with that of the United States and Canada, although he acknowledges "some differences in approach between Berlin and other Central and Eastern European nations". As Schmidt asserts, these differences are not related to "Putin's threat assessment".

"If we do not confront Putin's ambitions in a decisive and united manner, the conflict will spread to the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, but also to the Western Balkans," he warned. On the other hand, he explained that Scholz's talks with Putin are aimed at telling him "what is really happening".  

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -  Imagen de militar ruso
REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - In the last few hours Russian troops have seized most of the town of Sievierodonetsk in Lugansk.

As the rift between NATO countries deepens, Russian troops continue to advance into Donbas. In the last few hours they have seized most of the town of Sievierodonetsk in Lugansk oblast. The Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, have announced advances in Kharkov and Kherson, occupied by the Russians in early March.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra