Day 827: Ukraine hits Russian vessels in Kerch with missiles, naval drones

Ukrainian missile, naval drone strikes on Kerch likely hit seven Russian vessels. Biden weighs letting Ukraine strike with U.S. weapons into Russia. France could send military trainers to Ukraine soon, according to Reuters.

Biden weighs letting Ukraine strike with U.S. weapons into Russia

U.S. President Biden is edging toward what may prove to be one of his most consequential decisions in the Ukraine war: whether to reverse his ban on shooting American weapons into Russian territory, The New York Times said.

Now, after months of complaints about the restrictions from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House has begun a formal — and apparently rapid — reassessment of whether to take the risk.

Some of his advisers — refusing to speak on the record about a debate inside the White House — say they believe a reversal of his position is inevitable. But if the president does change his view, it will most likely come with severe restrictions on how the Ukrainians could use American-provided arms, limiting them to military targets, just inside Russia’s borders, that are involved in attacks on Ukraine.

Mr. Biden would likely retain the ban on using U.S. weapons to strike deep inside Russian territory, or at critical infrastructure.

But if Mr. Biden reverses course, officials concede he most likely will never announce it: Instead, American artillery shells and missiles will just start landing on Russian military targets.

On Wednesday, in Moldova, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken became the first administration official to publicly leave open the possibility that the Biden administration might “adapt and adjust” its stance about attacking inside Russia with American weapons, based on changing battlefield conditions.

The outgoing leader of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, told The Economist in an interview published late last week that Ukraine’s losses of territory near Kharkiv could only be countered if Ukraine was free to take out artillery and missile launchers and command posts on the Russian side of the border.

France could send military trainers to Ukraine soon, according to Reuters

France could soon send military trainers to Ukraine despite the concerns of some allies and criticism by Russia, and may announce its decision next week during a visit by the Ukrainian president, three diplomatic sources told Reuters.

The diplomats said Paris hoped to forge and lead a coalition of countries offering such assistance to Kyiv’s war effort even though some of its European Union partners fear it could make a direct conflict with Russia more likely.

France would initially send a limited number of personnel to assess the modalities of a mission before dispatching several hundred trainers, two of the diplomats said.

“The arrangements are very advanced and we could expect something next week,” said one of the sources.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due in France on June 6, the 80th anniversary of D-day, when Allied soldiers landed in Normandy to drive out Nazi German forces during World War Two.

Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Monday he had signed paperwork allowing French military instructors to visit Ukrainian training centers soon. “I am pleased to welcome France’s initiative to send instructors to Ukraine to train Ukrainian servicemen,” Oleksandr Syrskyi said on the Telegram messaging app after talks via video link with French defence minister Sebastien Lecornu. Syrskyi gave no further details but said he believed that France’s determination would encourage other partners to join this “ambitious project.”

Ukrainian missile, naval drone strikes on Kerch likely hit seven Russian vessels

Overnight on Thursday, several explosions were heard in the eastern Crimean city of Kerch, near the Kerch Bridge. Crimea’s Russian-installed local authorities said debris from downed Ukrainian missiles damaged a car ferry and a railway ferry. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that its air defenses brought down eight ATACMS missiles and that eight drones and two unmanned surface vessels were intercepted over the Black Sea near the Crimean coast.  

There have also been reports of four KS-701 Tunets class patrol boats having been destroyed or damaged in Kerch. The Main Intelligence Department of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry was behind the attack on the Tunets class boats in Crimea, The New Voice of Ukraine said, citing sources. Later, Ukraine’s defense intelligence claimed the destruction of two KS-701 Tunets patrol boats, and damage to two more, using Magura V5 Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels.

Russian Telegram channel Astra said five patrol boats and two ferries were damaged in the attack. The two ferries have been named in unconfirmed reports as the Conroe Trader and the Avangard. The latter ran aground, Astra said.

A crew member of the Conroe Trader ferry was injured. He was operated on. Four people, including two trainees, were injured on the Avangard ferry.

Astra claimed that a pilot boat — named by some sources as Mechta — was also sunk during the attack on Kerch.