Military expert: The use of HIMARS stabilizes the situation in Kharkiv region, reducing the risk of nuclear escalation — interview

June 05, 2024

In an interview with military expert Oleksiy Melnyk we discussed the US-authorized use of HIMARS against Russian positions near Belgorod. Melnyk notes the turn in the Western support, which can stabilize the situation in the Kharkiv direction. Despite the Russian threats, the probability of using nuclear weapons remains low. Further strikes on Kurskaya and Rostovskaya oblasts may follow.

— Observers confirmed the use of HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems on the territory of Russian Belgorodskaya oblast, which was authorized by the US. Thanks to this, we managed to stabilize the situation in the Kharkiv direction, the 92nd Separate Assault Brigade reports. We also learned that Germany, too, allowed its Patriot systems to be used on the enemy territory adjacent to Kharkiv region. How do you think the enemy will act in this situation? Can it, for example, change its location, move to the regions bordering Sumy or Chernihiv regions?

— First of all, it should be noted that this is one of the key decisions and the most important steps taken by our Western partners recently. This is not about certain technical points, saying where you can hit and where you can't. The significance of this decision is in the evolution of the stand of our partners. Another step has been made across their fears, their self-limitations. Currently, partial. The restriction is not lifted completely. There is a whole list of what they think is acceptable and what is not. But the main thing is that this step has been made.

It is also worth noting that despite the inert and overly cautious position of the White House, almost a dozen US allies have done so, so the Biden administration was forced to join the mainstream. The good news is that the United States can, under certain conditions, change its position, and the not-so-good news is that, after all, the United States was expected to take the lead, it should have led such somewhat risky decisions.

What will happen next, will these conditions be met? This precedent has now arisen in the Kharkiv direction. And the rhetoric that goes on in the public sphere also sends a signal to the Kremlin. After all, the red light that was there did not disappear — prevent escalation, don’t provoke Russia to some actions.

And now with this permission to hit the positions from which the Kharkiv region and city are being shelled, the Western capitals seem to say hello to Putin: they say, we are forced to do this because you are shelling Kharkiv, because you have opened a new section of the front in the east, where there were no active hostilities — this is an escalation of the conflict.

Therefore, it is possible to predict with a high degree of probability that since the process has started, Kurskaya and Rostovskaya oblasts will follow. This is definitely a good start.

— You said that it is a signal to the Kremlin and "hello to Putin." In this context, I would like to cite the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry that "the West is following the path of escalation", and "Russia will take all measures to neutralize threats." What do you think this "neutralization of threats" may look like?

— In fact, many domestic and Western experts have paid attention to this. Russia has one tool left, which it has not yet put into action: nuclear weapon — but only in practice, since from the very first day, and even before the invasion, Russia used nuclear weapons as they should be used — as a threat. And nuclear blackmail really works. But if you use it too often, people get used to it and moreover, reassess risks. As we can see, it works less and less now.

Apart from the risk of practical use of tactical nuclear weapons, Russia has used actually everything it could use. Therefore, it is only rhetoric. It becomes more aggressive with time. If you listen to Medvedev, he has resorted to all possible intimidations. He has already become a laughingstock in Russia proper.

In conclusion, there is only one threat that Russia has not used yet. All the rest, unfortunately, we have already seen over the past more than two years.

— Germany's permission to use Patriot over the Russian territory probably means the neutralization of enemy aircraft. Are these the aircraft that attack our settlements with smart bombs? If so, how will this change the situation with guided air bombs, in particular?

— "Permission" may not be the right term. We speak about lifting restrictions. They seem to be synonymous, but there are important nuances here.

Regarding the Patriots, as well as the related F-16 issue that is currently being discussed: what really matters is not just whether the restrictions on use have been lifted, but the availability of these weapons. A number of successful operations that were carried out kind of hint that certain elements of the Patriot system were already used, including to shoot down Russian Su-34s that drop smart bombs, or to destroy helicopters. There were reports in foreign press that the Ukrainians did it without permission.

But there is also a technical issue, because these Patriots or other systems are highly important for protection of big cities and key facilities. So, every time we talk about authorization, we should also assess Ukraine's right to put these Patriots at risk. After all, it is about the fact that they should be relocated to places with an increased risk of their destruction, exposing or reducing the degree of protection, for example, of the capital, another large city or an energy facility. Therefore, the question of quantity arises here.

And finally, about political statements and real steps. What is said in public does not necessarily have a direct impact on reality. The main thing is that there should be understanding between Ukraine and its partners so that Russia cannot blame them directly. Well, the Ukrainians didn't listen. And the main thing is that there are no additional restrictions on the part of partners.

Mutual trust and solidarity between Ukraine and its allies is the main thing.

— We see how the enemy systematically destroys our energy infrastructure. In particular, after the enemy attack, the Dnipro HPP is in a critical condition. Do you think that the lifting of the restrictions on the use of Western weapons, which we are talking about, will allow better protection of these sites as well?

— Judging by what exactly they use to attack power plants, there is hardly any direct connection here. If you ask me whether additional supplies of Patriots or other modern systems that can shoot down ballistic missiles will improve security, I would say: they certainly will.

But the permission to use HIMARS or even ATACMS at launch positions on the Russian territory... Maybe to some extent, if we are talking about front-line zones. But I think they have already destroyed everything they could in Kharkiv. If we talk about energy facilities deeper inside the country, then it is not a question of restrictions in application, but of quantitative restrictions. We do not have enough modern systems to shot down ballistic missiles, and the Russians use this factor.

Oleksiy Melnyk

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes, Coordinator of International Projects

Born in 1962 in Khmelnytsty Rgn


Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007)

Air Field Operations Officer School, Biloxy, MS, US (2001)

Squadron Officer School, Montgomery, AL, US (1994)

Defence Language Institute, San Antonio, TX, US (1994)

Chernihiv Higher Military Air Force Academy, Ukraine (1984)


1980 – 2001 — Air Force Active Service (Cadet, Instructor Pilot, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Air Force Base Commander, Participant of two UN peacekeeping operations, Lt.Colonel (Ret)

2001 – 2004 — Razumkov Centre

2004 – 2005 — State Company Ukroboronservice

2005 – 2008 — Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Head Organisational and Analytical Division — First Assistant to Minister of Defence

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