It was a message in English that Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Verechtchouk published and then deleted on Monday, June 3. “It burns beautifully. It’s a Russian S-300. On Russian territory. The first days after permission to use Western weapons on enemy territory,” she wrote before erasing the post. In her message, which included an image and was reproduced and commented on by CNN, Verechtchouk did not mention the date or location of the strike.

Three days earlier, President Joe Biden had given Ukraine the green light to strike targets on Russian soil with US weapons, subject to certain conditions. Was the destroyed Russian S-300 the first of these targets? If the The New York Times is to be believed, the answer is yes. On Tuesday, the American daily quoted Yehor Chernev, deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence, as confirming that Kyiv had destroyed Russian missile launchers in the Belgorod region, bordering northeastern Ukraine. According to the lawmaker, who is also chairman of Ukraine’s permanent delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Kyiv’s forces used American-made M142 Himars multiple rocket launchers, capable of hitting targets 80 kilometers away.

However, neither the Ukrainian army, the Russian Defense Ministry nor the US administration have confirmed the strike. Among Kyiv’s Western allies, only an anonymous source quoted by the Associated Press (AP) acknowledged the use of American weapons on Russian soil on Wednesday, June 5, without providing any further details.

Evidence from the Belgorod region

To trace this strike, we must rely on specialized accounts and observers who analyze the conflict daily. In its June 3 report, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote that Ukraine had indeed struck a Russian S-300/400 air defense battery in the Belgorod oblast on June 1 or 2, using Himars, and listed the available sources.

Images published on June 3 by Dossie Chpiona (literally “Spy File”), a Russian Telegram account, show two launchers destroyed and a command post damaged in a field east of Kiselevo, north of the city of Belgorod. The image posted by Verechtchouk matches the one published by this Russian account. For its part, Radio Svoboda, the Russian subsidiary of US media Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, published a high-resolution satellite image showing destroyed launchers and a damaged S-300/400 system command post.

ISW also reported that several Russian Telegram channels speculated about the use of Himars: The S-300/400 system was indeed located some 60 kilometers from the current front line. Too far for the multiple rocket launchers like the RM-70 Vampire that Ukrainian forces use regularly to strike the Belgorod oblast, but within range of the Himars.

Influential pro-Russian military Telegram channels such as Rybar (1.2 million subscribers) or Epoddubny (721.000 subscribers) have also unveiled what they believe to be evidence of this Ukrainian strike on Russian soil: “fragments of M142 Himars ammunition” recovered in the Belgorod region. Analysis of the images by accounts unlikely to be suspected of pro-Russian bias seems to confirm that these are submunition rockets and a projectile manufactured in 2007.

Moscow threatens, Washington reminds

On Tuesday, elected representative from the Kharkiv region Oleksandr Skoryk said on Ukrainian television that “for the past two days, no S-300 missiles have flown over Kharkiv territory.” “This is due to the fact that our partners have authorized strikes on the territory of our neighbors,” he added, adding that the Russians continue to target the region, notably with guided aerial bombs.

While the Kremlin has yet to react officially to the presumed destruction of this missile battery, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergueï Riabkov reiterated Vladimir Putin’s warning on Monday, threatening Kyiv’s allies with “serious consequences” in the event of Western weapons being used against Russian territory.

The following day, spokesman for the White House National Security Council John Kirby merely repeated the broad outlines of the US position on the use of weapons delivered to Ukraine. “I can’t confirm [the strike on Russian territory]. As I said, we’re just not in a position on a day-to-day basis of knowing exactly what the Ukrainians are firing at I can tell you that they understand the guidance that they’ve been given,” he said during a briefing devoted to the American president’s visit to France. Fearing escalation, Washington remains opposed to deep Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory, with ATACMS – army tactical missile system, long-range missiles supplied by the US to Ukraine – in particular.

Translation of an original article published in French on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.