Ukraine is embroiled in a fight for its very survival as an independent state. Although Moscow is able to strike Ukrainian territory with impunity, the West will not allow Ukraine to use Western-supplied weapons to strike Russia across the border for fear of an escalation.
But is this limitation preventing Ukraine from striking a potentially decisive blow and therefore actually helping Russia?
At the start of the war, the West was nervous about providing “offensive” weapons to Ukraine due to Mr Putin’s regular sabre-rattling about the risks of escalation.
However, the Russian military has failed to dominate Ukrainian forces, and now finds itself on the backfoot in the conflict.
The last thing the Kremlin needs now is for the conflict to escalate, as Russian military vulnerability would be further exposed.
And over the past 16 months, as Western confidence has increased in Ukraine’s ability to push back the Russian invaders, Western aid has expanded to include modern tanks, air defence systems, and long-range missiles.
Despite the Russian rhetoric, it is increasingly evident that the Kremlin has failed in its strategic ambitions, and Russia will need a long period of post-conflict recuperation before it considers any further expansionist ambitions.
Ukraine has displayed incredible courage and tenacity in repelling the Russian occupation; however, the odds remain stacked against a Ukrainian battlefield victory.
Ukraine is the David to Russia’s Goliath and is having to mount a ground offensive without the benefit of air superiority. In addition, Russia has had time to prepare formidable, layered ground defences, and has a greater tolerance than Ukraine for an attritional battle.
Despite the critical nature of Ukraine’s current military offensive, the West continues to prohibit Ukraine using Western-supplied weapons to attack Russian territory for fear that this will be the final step to provoke the Russian bear.
Although Russia is a nuclear power and has consistently used this to intimidate the West to curtail their involvement, from an objective perspective Russia is extremely unlikely to resort to nuclear escalation unless Russia’s territorial integrity is compromised.
Perhaps understandably, the West has not (to date) been prepared to commit combatants to this conflict as this would directly embroil the West in the war with Russia.
But by restricting how the weapons provided can be used, the West is directly limiting Ukraine’s offensive options at a crucial moment in the offensive.
Although Ukraine has mounted a series of drone attacks on targets across the border, including on the capital Moscow, President Zelenskyy will struggle to “take the war to Russia” without Western weapons.
Why is this important? Russia’s centre of gravity, its main strength and thus vulnerability, is arguably Mr Putin’s support base. So if Ukraine is to prevail, it is vital that it finds a way to take the war to Russia, beyond the battlefields of Ukraine.
President Zelenskyy needs to undermine Mr Putin’s assertion that the war in Ukraine is simply a “special military operation” with limited implications for the Russian population.
Russian media consistently refers to Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil as “terrorist acts”, thus framing Ukraine as using unlawful violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims, rather than the acts of a nation that has been invaded by Russia and is fighting for its survival.
Ukraine has become embroiled in a costly war of attrition, which Western support was designed to avoid.
Battlefield success is usually associated with bold tactics, surprise, deception and momentum. Instead, Ukraine is fighting a war of national survival, but in a predictable, attritional and ponderous manner.
By restricting Ukraine’s ability to take the war to Russia, the West risks emboldening Mr Putin and tipping the balance of the war in Russia’s favour.