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ISW: Lack of clarity on US weapons restrictions for Kyiv enables Russian military threats along Ukraine’s border

Details ambiguity in US policy authorizing Ukraine to strike Russian military forces concentrated near border with US-provided arms enabling potential new Kremlin offensives, ISW says.
Ukrainian soldier, illustrative image. Photo via
Ukrainian soldier, illustrative image. Photo via
ISW: Lack of clarity on US weapons restrictions for Kyiv enables Russian military threats along Ukraine’s border

The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assesses that the current US policies restricting Ukraine’s ability to strike Russian military targets near the border with US-provided weapons lack necessary clarity, potentially missing a critical opportunity to deter further Russian offensive efforts across the border into northern Ukraine.

ISW cites comments from US National Security Council Director Michael Carpenter stating that US policy allows Ukrainian forces to strike certain Russian military targets in Russia “across the border” to counter Russian attacks and “is meant to enable Ukrainians to defend themselves against what would otherwise be a Russian sanctuary across the border.” However, Carpenter did not definitively confirm if this extended authority beyond areas bordering Kharkiv Oblast.

A Politico report referenced by ISW cited Ukrainian officials expressing frustration that they are “restricted to the border area in Kharkiv Oblast” when using US arms to hit Russian territory, highlighting the ambiguity over the authorized scope of cross-border strikes.

Carpenter’s comments and the Politico report together suggest there is ambiguity on what the US has explicitly authorized regarding these strikes amid signaling that the US is open to expanding these authorizations to other areas in Ukraine should Russian forces launch offensive operations elsewhere along the international border area,” ISW says.

This uncertainty is particularly risky, ISW warns, as Russia has been observed concentrating military forces in its Kursk and Bryansk oblasts near Sumy Oblast, potentially indicating preparations for new offensive operations across the border that Ukrainian strikes could help deter if clearly authorized. Allowing such Russian border buildups to go unchallenged risks forcing Ukraine to reallocate resources defensively elsewhere to counter potential offensives, creating new vulnerabilities.

The ISW analysis ultimately assesses that clear and expansive US authorization for Ukraine to strike all legitimate Russian military targets massing for potential cross-border offensives, not just those near Kharkiv, could significantly alter Russian military calculations by removing the perceived “sanctuary” for buildups and deterring such operations before they can begin.

The increased likelihood of other Russian offensives in northern Ukraine would compel Ukrainian forces to reallocate resources, creating opportunities for Russian exploitation elsewhere in the conflict zone, according to ISW.

US clarity that Ukraine can use US-provided weapons against Russian ground forces concentrations in Russia that appear to be preparing for imminent cross-border operations would likely change Russian commanders’ calculations about the wisdom of making such ostentatious preparations. ISW continues to assess that the US should allow Ukraine to strike all legitimate military targets in Russia’s operational and deep rear with US-provided weapons,” ISW said.

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