British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced last week that London had given Storm Shadow missiles to Kyiv. Soon after, Ukraine debuted its new weapon in strikes deep inside Russian-occupied territory. These strikes are likely part of a broader effort to create conditions for Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive, which will probably begin in the coming days or weeks.
The Storm Shadow is an air-launched cruise missile developed in the 1990s as a joint Anglo-French project. It is designed to be challenging to detect and carries a powerful tandem warhead capable of penetrating hardened targets. The missile has a range of more than 155 miles, more than triple that of the GMLRS rockets fired by Kyiv’s Western-provided rocket artillery systems. Ukraine can use the Storm Shadow to strike key Russian logistics nodes, command-and-control posts and other high-value military targets, degrading Russia’s ability to resist Ukrainian advances.
In the days after Wallace’s announcement, Kyiv conducted several Storm Shadow strikes in Luhansk, an important Russian military hub in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. According to Russian sources, Ukraine uses modified Su-24 frontline bombers to launch the Storm Shadow, covered by MiG-29 and Su-27 fighter aircraft armed with U.S.-supplied HARM anti-radiation missiles. Ukraine has also used American-made decoys to help clear paths through Russian air defenses.
Biden administration officials reportedly hope Kyiv’s receipt of the Storm Shadow will defuse congressional pressure to send Ukraine the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a ground-based ballistic missile system with a 180-mile range. But the White House should think again. ATACMS would offer Ukraine valuable additional capacity, as the Storm Shadow’s high cost ($1 million per missile) will likely limit the number London can provide. Moreover, ATACMS is more survivable than the Storm Shadow. Whereas Ukrainian aircraft must brave capable Russian air defenses, ATACMS are fired by mobile ground launchers that Russia has proven unable to destroy. The ATACMS rounds themselves are also tougher to intercept.
Most important, ATACMS, with its longer range, would enable Ukraine to strike anywhere in or around Crimea. That includes the Kerch Bridge, on which Russia relies to supply its forces in southern Ukraine. The bridge lies at the ragged edge of the Storm Shadow’s range, meaning Ukrainian aircraft must fly dangerously close to the front line to hit it. By contrast, ATACMS could strike the bridge with minimal risk to Ukrainian troops.
Russia Ramps Up Missile Strikes
Russia launched several missile barrages at targets across Ukraine over the last week. As a U.S. official noted, Moscow is expending more missiles than usual in an apparent effort to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses. The official said Russia may hope its strikes force Kyiv to delay its counter-offensive.
On May 13 and 14, Russia conducted strikes using Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 suicide drones and air- and sea-launched missiles. Although the Ukrainian military said it intercepted most of the munitions, Russia appears to have destroyed an ammunition depot in the western Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi. Moscow also claimed it struck Ukrainian military bases and weapon depots in Ternopil and Petropavlivka, in western and eastern Ukraine, respectively. But Ternopil officials said Russian cruise missiles damaged a commercial vehicle storage facility and warehouses containing humanitarian aid and other unspecified goods. There’s been no evidence of Russian strikes in Petropavlivka.
Moscow launched another barrage Tuesday morning, focused primarily on Kyiv. Ukraine’s Air Force Command said 18 Russian missiles, including six Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles, attacked from the north, south and east, apparently seeking to confuse Ukrainian air defenses. Russia also launched six Iranian-made suicide drones, the Air Force Command added. Kyiv authorities said the barrage “was exceptional in its density,” involving many missiles in a short amount of time.
The strike reportedly aimed to destroy high-value military targets, including command-and-control centers and at least one of Ukraine’s two Western-donated Patriot air defense systems, which Russia had previously targeted during an unsuccessful May 4 Kinzhal strike. While Ukraine initially claimed it downed all the projectiles, Moscow boasted that it hit a Patriot system and Ukrainian military bases and depots. Russian Telegram channels shared footage allegedly showing at least two strikes in Kyiv, including what they claim was a strike against a Patriot. U.S. officials later said a Patriot had been struck but suffered only minor damage and likely wouldn’t need to leave the battlefield for repairs.
The next night, Russia reportedly fired two more Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles at Mykolaiv, a southwestern port city that Moscow had also targeted earlier Tuesday. Russia’s military claimed it struck “a large ammunition depot at a ship-repair facility.” But local authorities and Ukrainian media said the missiles damaged a car dealership, a shopping center and an industrial facility.
Finally, the night of May 17-18, Russia launched 30 more cruise missiles and at least two Shahed drones, according to Ukraine’s Air Force Command. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed the strike destroyed Ukrainian weapon and ammunition stockpiles and prevented Kyiv from deploying reserves to the front. The Ukrainian military said it failed to intercept just one missile, which struck an unspecified infrastructure facility in Khmelnytskyi, according to local authorities. However, footage shared by pro-Russia Telegram channels also shows what appear to be two more missile strikes in the port city of Odesa. A Ukrainian military spokesperson initially said Russia had struck an industrial facility, but authorities later claimed the building was simply damaged by debris from downed missiles.
Ukraine Extends Gains Around Bakhmut
Ukraine has reportedly retaken additional territory around the eastern city of Bakhmut recently, building on localized counterattacks conducted last week. Although Russia continues gaining ground inside Bakhmut, Ukraine has seized advantageous tactical positions on the city’s flanks, apparently forcing Moscow to divert forces from other areas.
After initially denying that Ukraine had achieved breakthroughs around Bakhmut, the Russian Defense Ministry on May 12 admitted its forces had fallen back to the Berkhivs’ke Reservoir northwest of the city. Russian troops thus lost high ground overlooking western Bakhmut and the road running from the city to nearby Chasiv Yar. The Defense Ministry said elements of Russia’s 200th Motor Rifle Brigade and 6th Motor Rifle Division were fighting in the area. They appear to have recently redeployed from other areas to help hold Bakhmut’s flanks, joining several other units that had done the same.
Southwest of Bakhmut, Ukraine has reportedly expanded its gains around the towns of Ivanivske and Klishchiivka, pushing Russian forces farther from the T0504 road connecting Bakhmut to Kostyantynivka. On May 14, the Russian Defense Ministry said the 4th Motor Rifle Brigade’s commander and a 2nd Army Corps deputy commander had died while leading the defense against Ukrainian assaults. Some Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that the 4th Brigade’s chief of staff and senior officers also perished. These commanders had probably sought to stop the bleeding by taking personal control of the situation, putting themselves in harm’s way.
Ukraine’s recent gains have alleviated pressure on its main supply routes into Bakhmut. Russia’s loss of hard-won positions on the heights around Bakhmut both undermines its prospects for future offensives and leaves it vulnerable to further Ukrainian assaults on the city’s flanks. Perhaps most important, by forcing Moscow to redirect forces toward Bakhmut, Ukraine can weaken Russian defenses in other sectors, potentially facilitating its counter-offensive.