Image ID 2HJC81E Ukrainian soldier walks with NLAW ATGM at International Center for Peacekeeping and Security of the National Academy of Land Forces 280122 CREDIT MYKOLA TYS, SOPA IMAGES, SIPA USA, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO cover image.jpg
The NLAW – next-generation light anti-armour weapon – has a reach of up to 1km and has been supplied to Ukraine by the UK (Picture: Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Alamy).
Ukraine

What is the difference between offensive and defensive weapons?

Image ID 2HJC81E Ukrainian soldier walks with NLAW ATGM at International Center for Peacekeeping and Security of the National Academy of Land Forces 280122 CREDIT MYKOLA TYS, SOPA IMAGES, SIPA USA, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO cover image.jpg
The NLAW – next-generation light anti-armour weapon – has a reach of up to 1km and has been supplied to Ukraine by the UK (Picture: Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Alamy).

After Ukraine declared independence in 1991, it began to make security and defence links with NATO members and other Western countries – this took the form of training and the provision of non-lethal equipment.

But, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many countries have begun supplying Ukraine with lethal aid for the first time.

These have so far been weapons classed as 'defensive' rather than 'offensive' – but what is the difference?

Defensive weapons

Weapons can be classed as defensive if they are used by a country to defend itself from attack, but this would apply to most in Ukraine's case, so it might be more useful to define them as those that can only be used for defence – in other words, not capable of offensive action against another country.

For example, the UK and US have provided NLAW and Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

The NLAW can destroy a tank but is only effective at short range – between 20 and 800 metres.

The Javelin has a range of 2,000m.

Offensive weapons

But contrast this with the ability of Mig jets to fly hundreds of kilometres into enemy territory – giving Ukraine the capability to attack across its borders.

This is why Poland has been cautious in its attempts to supply Ukraine's air force with Soviet-era Mig 29s – there is a danger that this could be seen as crossing the line into an aggressive act.

This could provoke Russia to respond, extending the invasion to include NATO countries, which could trigger Article 5 – NATO's principle that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all – and lead to all-out war.

Watch: The Prime Minister warned against direct UK-Russia confrontation

Putin has already described the crippling sanctions on his country as 'akin to an act of war' and since the war in Ukraine is not going as well as he had hoped, may be looking for an excuse to escalate the conflict.

The UK government says UK and NATO forces will not provide active military support in Ukraine, including putting troops on the ground, or creating a no-fly zone, as this could amount to a declaration of war with Russia.

But some politicians in Ukraine are saying the Third World War has already begun, and it is not a case of whether the West should join the fight, but when.