Vladimir Putin’s soft underbelly has been revealed

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin has made much of his red lines. In his state of the union address in 2021, he said, “I hope no one will think of crossing the red line with Russia… And where this line will be, in every particular case, we will determine it ourselves.”

One of those red lines was the use of American weapons to attack inside Russian territory, with Dmitri Medvedev threatening to arm the USA’s opponents in “unnamed regions” in response. In breaching that red line with impunity and US backing, Ukraine has gained a significant tactical advantage.

The area the US has permitted to be targeted is limited, but it has significantly reduced Russia’s ground sanctuary by up to 16 per cent. Ukraine may now strike military targets within range of their US-provided HIMARS in Russia’s Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk oblasts.

Even though most Russian rear areas remain protected from HIMARS fire by President Biden’s own red line, initial reports suggest that Ukraine have already hit Russian air defence systems within these oblasts. Combined with other efforts – a drone strike successfully destroyed a fifth-generation SU-57 fighter jet at Akhtubinsk airfield, 366 miles from the front lines – it has made for a meaningful shift in the balance of power.

One fighter jet might seem a trivial loss, but the SU-57 is the most high tech of Russia’s new developments in the much feted modernisation of their armed forces since the end of the Cold War. Losing one of the heavy fighters is a clear blow to Russia’s combat capability but is also a clear message to Russia: their rear areas are no longer safe areas.

Russia will now have to boost air defences in these oblasts to protect against subsequent strikes, potentially taking vital capability away from the Ukrainian frontlines just as NATO countries announce an uplift in Ukrainian air capability, with the Dutch sending F-16s, France sending Mirage 2000 fighters, and Ukraine angling to obtain the Gripen from Sweden.

In a war where both sides face resource constraints, such chess moves are how breakthroughs are made. The Kremlin cannot afford the further embarrassment of losing more high end assets. They either must be defended, meaning assets will have to be moved from elsewhere; or they will have to be moved further back out of drone or HIMARS range, giving them less time on target over Ukraine, as they burn more fuel just to get there. Advantage Ukraine.

This is further humiliation for Putin after the stalling of the Kharkiv offensive. In spite of thousands of Russian casualties, and a huge cost in materiel, on Friday the White House national security spokesman was confident enough to announce that the offensive had stalled and was unlikely to advance any further.

In allowing this “red line” to be breached without any escalation or retaliation, Putin has shown his weakness. And whilst Ukraine would like to be able to do more, the ability to strike inside Russia gives them a significant tactical advantage that they have shown willingness to exploit to the full.


Andrew Fox is a former company commander in the Parachute Regiment. He completed three operational tours in Afghanistan

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.