Ministers will not respond to a senior Russian politician’s claim that British officials are a “legitimate military target” because they believe it is a deliberate provocation,i understands.
Former Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Vladimir Putin’s security council, claimed the UK’s support for Ukraine amounted to an “undeclared war” against Russia.
His comments came after Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Ukraine had the right to “project force beyond its borders” into Russia to resist Mr Putin’s invasion if it hit “legitimate military targets”.
Ukrainian authorities have denied launching the drone attack which hit Moscow on Tuesday, but there has been an escalation in incidents within Russia either by Kyiv’s military or local groups opposed to the war.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Medvedev responded to Mr Cleverly by saying: “The goofy officials of the UK, our eternal enemy, should remember that within the framework of the universally accepted international law which regulates modern warfare, including the Hague and Geneva Conventions with their additional protocols, their state can also be qualified as being at war.
“Today, the UK acts as Ukraine’s ally, providing it with military aid in the form of equipment and specialists, i.e. de facto is leading an undeclared war against Russia.
“That being the case, any of its public officials (either military, or civil, who facilitate the war) can be considered as a legitimate military target.”
Officials believe the comments follow a pattern of Russian figures wilfully misinterpreting British comments as Mr Cleverly did not justify, legitimise or even back Moscow’s claims about Tuesday’s attack.
Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said the comments were the latest Russian attempt to “spook” the West into withholding military support for Kyiv.
The Commons Defence Committee chairman also said there should be no conditions on how Ukraine uses UK-supplied weapons, although Downing Street has said British equipment was not used in the Moscow drone attack.
Mr Ellwood toldi: “If Russia expands its war effort to include firing missiles at range, from units located behind its own border, then it’s absolutely legitimate for Ukraine to engage those units – with Western-gifted weapon systems.
“Beyond these parameters the West should place no conditions on how gifted military equipment is used.
“Medvedev’s response is consistent with Moscow’s drumbeat of attempts to spook the West against supporting Ukraine militarily.
“Thankfully our political courage is growing as we offer the scale of assistance that grants Ukraine the real opportunity to liberate its mainland.”
The UK believes the incursions into Russia are causing the redeployment of Moscow’s forces.
An intelligence briefing from the Ministry of Defence said: “Since the start of May 2023, Russia has increasingly ceded the initiative in the conflict and is reacting to Ukrainian action rather than actively progressing towards its own war aims.
“During May 2023, Russia has launched 20 nights of one-way-attack uncrewed aerial vehicle and cruise missile attacks deep inside Ukraine.
“Russia has had little success in its likely aims of neutralising Ukraine’s improved air defences and destroying Ukrainian counter-attack forces.
“On the ground, it has redeployed security forces to react to partisan attacks inside western Russia.”