I've read news reports that Russia threatens to attack US or NATO vehicles with armaments on Ukrainian territory. This surprised me on two counts, first that NATO vehicles would be making that part of the trip (if they do ...), and second that anyone could possibly think that such vehicles would be immune from attack within Ukrainian territory.

  • When weapons are shipped from NATO countries to Ukraine, are they carried across the border on military or government vehicles from NATO countries? If not, are they carried by commercial shippers or by Ukrainians?

  • What is the status of such a shipment under the laws of war, once it crosses the border? When does it become a military target? (Ignoring, for the question, the illegality of a war of aggression.)

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    After it has become clear that the GRU has poisoned arms dealers and blew up depots on NATO soil in Eastern Europe, during peace, it should be rather obvious that details of the present shipment methods won't be very public. Apr 13, 2022 at 20:53
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    that Russia threatens to attack US or NATO vehicles with armaments on Ukrainian territory. Is there any clear indication that this - NATO transportation systems being used on Ukraine territory - is actually happening? Or could this just be another bit of Russian official communications aimed at getting Western electorates to hesitate at the risks of countering Russian interests? Apr 16, 2022 at 20:13
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, hence my "if they do" remark.
    – o.m.
    Apr 17, 2022 at 5:01
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    On which of your two questions are you looking for a more detailed answer? Apr 18, 2022 at 9:12
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    @o.m.: well, it doesn't. Whether shipped by NATO plane or Ukrainian ox cart, they are valid targets. according to the rules of war. It might be politically less wise to target a NATO plane. See Soviet ships in Haiphong harbor: the US continuously apologized for potentially hitting them, while the Soviets insisted they were carrying flour, while complaining about hits (usually just nearby). Apr 18, 2022 at 18:29

3 Answers 3


Just based on the Geneva conventions they are unambiguously valid military targets.

In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.

A supply convoy (carrying weapons, no less) makes a contribution to the military effort. There are even allowances for civilian infrastructure, such as rail roads and steel factories since these also contribute. There are even allowances for civilian casualties so long as the advantage anticipated (not necessarily gained) is proportional to the casualty. There are exceptions for neutral counties but foreign counties supplying military aid are by definition not neutral so it pretty much disqualifies most of Europe and definitely the US.


This doesn't sound dissimilar to what Germany did in WWI to the US shipments to England.

Before the United States joined the war, it would ship weapons to England. The domestic politics were strongly pro-neutrality in the Great War. But Germany would announce ahead of the time which ships would be bombed so as to avoid civilian casualties.

This worked until the bombing of RMS Luisitania. Sinking of Luisitania, a luxury cruise liner, led to many civilian casualties and served as the casus belli for the United States' entering of WWI. This was despite the fact that Luisitania was carrying weapons in its cargo and the fact the potential for it becoming a military target was announced by Germany in 50 different newspapers.

The takeaways.

Targeting of weapons shipments themselves is not an act of war against the shipping country. This is what allows for the weapons shipments to not be acts of war. One would not be possible without the other. This is consistent with the right of self defense.

During legal acts of war (such as targeting of weapons shipments to one's opponents), civilian casualties must be minimized. Destroying of even a legitimate military target may create a casus belli if it results in too many civilian targets. What is "too many" is not a legal, but a political question. So "your mileage may vary," as the saying goes.

Warning, that shipments maybe targeted, cannot be treated as an ultimatum, but should be treated as an attempt to minimize casualties to the shipping country.


According to CNN today, weapons from the US are handed over to the Ukrainian armed forces in small lots in third countries. So the Ukrainians carry them across the border and within Ukraine in their own trucks, which are then military targets, while the US trucks and aircraft stay outside the war zone.

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