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Most allies now support Ukraine striking targets in Russia; Italy and Belgium oppose, Germany, US undecided

While the UK, Poland, and now Germany support the move, Belgium, and Italy remain opposed, and the United States is still undecided
Strikes Russian soil map Ukraine allies
Ukraine’s allies have gradually welcomed the idea of allowing to use western weapons for strikes on Russian soil. Map by Euromaidan Press
Most allies now support Ukraine striking targets in Russia; Italy and Belgium oppose, Germany, US undecided

A key debate has emerged among Ukraine’s allies over whether to lift restrictions on Ukraine using Western-supplied weapons to strike targets inside Russia itself. While many allies have provided Ukraine with longer-range weaponry, it has frequently come with the condition that it only be used on Ukrainian soil.

However, recent Russian actions like the indiscriminate and massive shelling of Kharkiv and a renewed offensive in the north of that region are prompting some partners to reconsider those limitations.

In particular, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg believes Ukraine should have the right to use provided arms against legitimate military targets on Russian territory.

“The time has come for allies to consider whether they should lift some of the restrictions they have put on the use of weapons they have donated to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said in the interview with the Economist.

“Especially now when a lot of the fighting is going on in Kharkiv, close to the border, to deny Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard for them to defend themselves,” he added.

The issue is already being discussed within the European Union and NATO, and based on public statements, a majority of allies now favor removing the restrictions. An increasing number of voices are calling for allowing Ukraine to hit Russian targets with Western arms.

The UK, Poland, Lithuania, Canada, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Czechia, France, and Finland believe Ukraine has a legitimate right to strike Russian territory in self-defense.

Germany has also recently inched towards allowing such strikes.

Meanwhile, Belgium and Italy remain opposed to Ukraine using Western arms to strike inside Russia itself.

In the United States, there is no consensus on whether Ukraine should use American weapons to strike Russia.

United States’ position

The United States is Ukraine’s most influential ally, but until lately, there has been no unified position within the Biden administration on whether Ukraine should be permitted to strike Russia with American weapons.

In what appears to be a shift of this position, President Joe Biden has reportedly given private permission for Ukraine to use American weapons on Russian soil “for counter-fire purposes”, meaning “to hit back at Russian forces hitting them or preparing to hit them.” However, the permission applies only near Kharkiv, a Ukraine’s second-largest city that has been ceaselessly pummeled by Russian cross-border strikes, Politico reported on 30 May.

However, the general policy for long-range strikes is still unchanged, unnamed officials familiar with the policy told Politico.

The issue has been long on the table. A report by Politico from 14 May suggests Ukraine has been pressing the White House to lift the restrictions, prompting active internal debate.

“The main problem right now is the White House policy to limit our capability” to strike military targets inside Russia, David Arakhamia, chair of the ruling Servant of the People party in the Ukrainian parliament, said during a visit to Washington this week.

Ukraine strikes Russian territory with Western arms, most recently against Krasnodar – AFP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken initiated the discussion after what he called a “sobering trip to Kyiv,” arguing that Ukraine needs to be allowed to hit Russian targets. In Kyiv, he said the US is not encouraging such strikes but that the decision is ultimately up to Ukraine.

Similarly, House Speaker Mike Johnson stated Ukraine needs to be able to wage war as it sees fit. Besides, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers has also urged the Pentagon to allow the strikes, saying the current Biden policy handcuffs Ukraine’s ability to resist Russian forces.

European countries’ positions

Among European countries, Belgium and Italy still do not support strikes on Russian territory using Western weapons.

Until lately, Germany was also among the hesitant, but this is now changing.

On 26 May, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz still maintained he sees no reason to expand the zone where Ukraine can employ German military aid, saying the established rules agreed with Kyiv are working well.

“There are clear rules that have been agreed with Ukraine and that apply to the supply of German weapons. At least, that is my position,” he said, adding that his policy toward Ukraine aims to “prevent the conflict from escalating into a major war.”

However, on 28 May, Scholz was reported by Politico as saying that German weapons could be used “within the framework of international law.” The next day, his spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit clarified to reporters that Ukraine’s “defensive action is not limited to one’s own territory, but [can] also be expanded to the territory of the aggressor,” according to Politico.

A person familiar with the position of the German government claimed, speaking with Politico on condition of anonymity, that Scholz supports allowing the use of Western weapons against targets on Russian territory. However, this source did not provide any further details.

On 31 May, Germany’s position was future clarified in a report by Der Spiegiel, which cited government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit as saying that Ukraine has a right “under international law”  to defend itself against attacks on Kharkiv over the Russian border.

So, Germanys’ permission mirrors that of the USA’s: Ukraine can attack Russian facilities directly across the border. However, its policy on delivering long-range Taurus missiles remains unchanged.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni dismissed Stoltenberg’s position as “counterproductive.” “I don’t know why Stoltenberg said that, I think we have to be very careful,” Meloni stated.

Belgian Prime Minister reiterated that Belgium and Ukraine previously agreed that the use of Belgian military assistance outside Ukrainian territory is out of the question. He said this during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels.

“Everything that is stipulated in the agreement, military equipment, military materials, must be used by the Armed Forces on Ukrainian territory, we have signed such an agreement,” said Alexander De Croo.

Finland informed as early as February that it had placed no restrictions on how its weapons could be used, implicitly green-lighting cross-border strikes. Britain’s foreign secretary recently confirmed Ukraine’s right to do so, stating that Russia is attacking Ukrainian territory, and it’s completely understandable that Ukraine feels the need to defend itself.

Poland supports Ukraine striking targets in Russia since, as Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said, Russia is not constraining itself, attacking Ukrainian power grids, grain terminals, gas storage and civilian infrastructure while stopping short of using nuclear weapons.

Lithuania’s foreign minister admitted allies erred originally by limiting Ukraine but now need to grant more freedom to strike Russian targets.

“We made a mistake from the very beginning by restricting the Ukrainians, because it could have been seen as an escalation,” Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

According to him, Ukraine should be able to use the equipment provided to achieve its strategic objectives, including “strikes on Russian territory, supply lines and troops preparing to attack Ukraine. Only one side is subject to the rules. We must abandon these rules that we have created ourselves.”

Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics believes the current Russian offensive results from allies’ indecisiveness, saying,

“What we see is the consequence of our inability to provide Ukraine with weapons and also putting restrictions [on using] those weapons to strike military targets in Russia.”

He saw no rational reason to preserve the ban for Ukraine and dismissed fears Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons as unfounded.

Why it matters

The American Institute for the Study of War believes that Western restrictions on using Western weapons to strike targets in Russia have allowed the Russian military to create a safe foothold from which Russian aircraft can launch guided bombs and missiles at Ukrainian positions. Ground troops and equipment can also move freely along the border before engaging in combat.

Striking Russian territory with Western-supplied weapons would allow Ukraine to hit staging areas, logistics hubs, ammo depots, and other strategic military assets inside Russia that are being used to support and enable the Russian offensives into Ukrainian territory. It would also help counter Russia’s ability to strike Ukrainian cities and infrastructure from its own territory using aircraft, missiles, and long-range artillery while staying out of range of Ukraine’s current weaponry.

Finally, the possibility to strike targets in Russia would disrupt Russia’s offensive capabilities and initiative on the battlefield.

As it stands, the restrictions give Russia an advantage in being able to maneuver and concentrate forces close to the border before attacks. Ukraine would be able to degrade Russia’s air defenses inside Russian territory, making it easier for Ukrainian strikes against Russian forces in occupied Ukrainian areas.

Calls for Ukraine to stop defending itself are immoral, Nobel laureate Matviichuk says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously cited two reasons the West hesitates to allow counterstrikes on Russian soil.

According to him, the West’s primary reason for hesitating – fear of nuclear escalation – was overblown because Putin would refrain from using nuclear weapons out of a sense of self-preservation. In an interview with the New York Times, Zelenskyy also suggested that there was another reason for the West’s hesitation: Some countries were seeking to retain trade and diplomatic ties with Russia. “Everyone keeps the door slightly ajar,” he said.

Another divisive issue allies are grappling with is the potential deployment of troops to Ukraine, with nations similarly split on the prospect.

Editor’s note: the map and text were updated to show Germany as yellow after further clarifications of officials


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