The Recent Risk of Escalation in Ukraine

When a solution to a problem has not worked, throwing more of the same solution at the problem is folly. That’s what the U.S. seems to have done with the recent signing into law of another $61 billion in aid for Ukraine.

Sometimes that folly is inflated. A series of recent hints and revelations suggests that the U.S. and its partners are not only throwing more of the same solution at the problem but also escalating it.

The new aid package contains not only more lethal weapons, but also weapons with a longer range than those in earlier aid packages.

In March 2023, the Biden administration secretly sent “a number of Army Tactical Missile Systems with a range of nearly 200 miles” to Ukraine. National security adviser Jake Sullivan called it a “significant number.” More long-range ATACMS will be included in a new $1 billion military aid package announced after Congress approved the $61 billion in aid, and the aid bill approved by the House of Representatives calls on the White House to send more ATACMS to Ukraine “as soon as practicable.” From the Ukrainian Armed Forces current position on the battlefield, that range puts Crimea in its sights. From Russia’s perspective, Crimea is Russia, and that could cross Moscow’s red line.

But there have been hints that the West may be providing Ukraine with the long-range missiles with the permission to go after Crimea. That would be a risky and significant escalation.

In a recent interview, Latvia’s Foreign Minister Baiba Braže emphasized that Ukraine needs the capability to make precision strikes on Russian territory. She insisted that Ukraine has the right to attack the locations that Russia is attacking Ukraine from. And when her interviewer reminded her that Ukraine’s partners put limits on long-range missiles, to prevent them from being fired outside Ukrainian territory, she corrected him, saying that “There are countries that have provided those weapons without conditions to Ukraine.”

One of those countries is Britain. On May 2, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron suggested that Ukraine will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia. “Ukraine has that right. Just as Russia is striking inside Ukraine, you can quite understand why Ukraine feels the need to make sure it’s defending itself,” Cameron said.  Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Cameron’s statement “very dangerous.”

The risk of escalation comes not only from sending long-range missiles with no limits on launching them into what Russia perceives to be its territory, but also from sending troops into Ukrainian territory.

On February 26, French President Emmanuel Macron French President Emmanuel Macron suggested putting Western “troops on the ground” in Ukraine “to counter the Russian forces.” In an April 29 interview with The Economist, Macron was asked whether, two months later, he still stood by what he said. “Absolutely,” Macron answered. “As I said, I’m not ruling anything out, because we are facing someone who is not ruling anything out.” Macron stated that he has “a clear strategic objective: Russia cannot win in Ukraine” and that the West has “been too hesitant by defining the limits of our action.”

Following a March 7 meeting with parliamentary parties, Fabien Roussel, national secretary of the French Communist Party, reportedly said that “Macron referenced a scenario that could lead to intervention [of French troops]: the advancement of the front towards Odessa or Kiev.” Macron seemed to confirm that general criterion, telling his interviewer that, as to the question of deploying troops to Ukraine, “If the Russians were to break through the front lines, if there were a Ukrainian request – which is not the case today – we would legitimately have to ask ourselves this question.”

Peskov called Macron’s statement “very important and very dangerous.” The Russian Foreign Ministry went further. On May 6, when Moscow announced drills to rehearse the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, the Foreign Ministry explained that the “event should be considered in the context of recent bellicose statements by Western officials.” Among other examples, the ministry specifically referenced Macron’s statements about “the possibility of sending French and other NATO contingents to Ukraine” and Cameron’s statement “that Ukraine has the right to attack Russian territory with weapons supplied to it.”

And it is not just France that is asking about the idea of sending more troops to Ukraine. On April 20, Pentagon spokesperson General Pat Ryder said that “Currently, we are considering sending several additional advisers to augment the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) at the Embassy.” Two U.S. officials have said that the number of additional advisers would be up to sixty.

Ryder insists that, though they would perform “a variety of advisory and support missions,” their role would be “non-combat.” Since he went on to say that the new American troops would be in Ukraine to “support logistics and oversight efforts for the weapons the U.S. is sending Ukraine” and to “help the Ukrainian military with weapons maintenance,” though, Russia may not so clearly perceive their role as “non-combat.”

Since the “complex equipment” and “weapons the U.S. is sending Ukraine” include the new long-range ATACMS, that suggests the possibility that the escalatory sending of long-range missiles and of troops may be connected. An intercepted transcript between senior German air force officials suggests that long-range missiles can be operated in Ukraine only with highly trained Western personnel on site and that that is “how the English do it.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has confirmed that the missiles require the presence of Western boots on the ground and maintained that he was unwilling to do that.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Admiral Christopher Grady may also have inadvertently confirmed the blurry “non-combat” role Western officials in Ukraine are playing in a recent discussion of the Ukrainian decision to remove American Abrams M1A1 tanks from the battlefield because five of them have already been destroyed by Russia. Grady said that tactics need to be “reset” and that “there is a way to do it.” Then he said, “We’ll work with our Ukrainian partners, and other partners on the ground, to help them think through how they might use” the American tanks. It’s too bad that the interviewer apparently didn’t ask who those non-Ukrainian “partners on the ground” were.

That several countries have begun to send long-range missiles capable of striking inside Russian territory, and that some of them are relaxing the condition that they not be used to strike inside Russian territory is a significant escalation. At first ,such missiles were not sent at all. Then they were sent with conditions. That countries, including the U.S. and France, are considering putting more troops on the ground – the U.S. in a blurry non-combat role and France in a clearly unblurry combat role – is, perhaps, even more escalatory still.

Such escalations risk crossing Russia’s red lines and provoking Russia to undertake escalations of its own. That scenario risks a Russia-NATO war that would be even more catastrophic than the current Russia-Ukraine war. Committing to actions that have little chance of changing the long-term outcome of the war in Ukraine’s favour but have a significant chance of changing the regional war to a world war is folly.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at