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Russia is hit with more airstrikes. Does this point to an escalation in the war?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For well over a year, Russia has carried out long-range airstrikes throughout Ukraine. Now Russia finds itself on the receiving end of strikes, including drones that hit buildings in Moscow on Tuesday. To find out if this points to an escalation in the war, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, let's get this out of the way. Ukraine's military - were they behind the drones that hit those apartment buildings yesterday?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, Ukraine isn't saying, and it's always been intentionally vague about attacks on Russian soil. This really seems to be part of a larger strategy to keep Russia off balance. Now, Russia says it's certain that Ukraine was responsible. It calls them terrorist attacks, even though Russia's been doing this in Ukraine throughout the war. Now, basically, every military analyst I've spoken with believes Ukraine is responsible. No one else has the motive or the resources to carry out such a substantial attack.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, that damage was minimal in that drone attack. So what might Ukraine be hoping to achieve?

MYRE: Yeah, this attack, which had involved at least eight drones and a drone attack on the Kremlin at the beginning of the month, they really had no military impact, but they do appear to have a psychological impact. These strikes certainly got Russia's attention. It drove home to Russian citizens they could be vulnerable. And I think what's really important is the broader context here. Russian areas just across the border from Ukraine are also getting hit with greater regularity, and the land controlled by the Russian military inside Ukraine is getting slammed with longer-range weapons, apparently by missiles recently provided by Britain. This appears to be part of a Ukrainian effort to hit Russia in as many places as possible. Many think this is actually the first stage of a major Ukrainian offensive that, in effect, is already beginning.

MARTÍNEZ: And I know President Biden has always been concerned about the war escalating or maybe even spreading to other parts of Europe. Does the U.S. oppose attacks inside Russia?

MYRE: Well, in general, the Biden administration doesn't really like these cross-border attacks for the reason you've just cited, but it's taken a very clear position that does give the Ukrainians some room to maneuver. Here's General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, restating that position last week at the Pentagon.

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MARK MILLEY: We have asked the Ukrainians not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia. Why is that? This is a Ukrainian war. It is not a war between the United States and Russia. It's not a war between NATO and Russia.

MYRE: So left unsaid is that Ukraine can make its own decisions about attacking Russia as long as it does so with its own weapons. And this does seem to be the case. As far as we can tell, Ukraine has abided by this U.S. request.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Well, that distinction may mean something to the U.S. Does Russia accept it?

MYRE: No, A, they really don't. Russian leader Vladimir Putin likes to say his country is battling all of NATO, and he doesn't care, at least in his public statements, about where a Ukrainian weapon is manufactured. But there is a sense that Russia is already doing what it can with its conventional arsenal and doesn't really have much room to escalate. Russia's ground forces have struggled mightily to take territory. Russian missiles and drones get shot down. There's a much greater expectation that we'll see Ukraine escalate as its long-awaited offensive comes more into focus.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks.

MYRE: Sure thing, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.