Blinken signals US may let Ukraine strike inside Russia with American weapons

Blinken Signals U.S. May Allow Ukraine to Strike Inside Russia with American Weapons
Blinken Signals U.S. May Allow Ukraine to Strike Inside Russia with American Weapons

Summary

It is the first time a top Biden administration official has publicly indicated that the U.S. is considering the policy shift.

CHISINAU, Moldova—U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled on Wednesday that the U.S. is weighing the idea of allowing Kyiv to strike Russian territory with American-provided weapons in light of the evolving battlefield situation in Ukraine.

It was the first time that a top Biden administration official has publicly indicated that the U.S. is considering the policy shift. Previously, the U.S. has said it wouldn’t allow Ukraine to attack targets on Russian territory with ATACMS missiles or other U.S. weapons.

Blinken’s remarks follow statements from a string of European officials who said they favor allowing Ukraine to use Western-supplied weapons against targets on Russian territory that Moscow has been using as a staging ground for its invasion.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said earlier this week that the “time has come to consider whether it will be right to lift some of the restrictions" on Ukraine.

“If they cannot attack military targets on Russian territory, then it ties one hand of the Ukrainians on their back and makes it very hard for them to conduct defense," Stoltenberg said at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Blinken parsed his words at a press conference here after a meeting with Moldova’s president. He repeated earlier assertions that the U.S. has neither encouraged nor enabled strikes on Russian territory. But then he said: “We’re going to make sure that Ukraine has the equipment that it needs to do that."

“Another hallmark of our support for Ukraine over these, now, more than two years has been to adapt as conditions have changed and the battlefield has changed, as what Russia does has changed in terms of how it’s pursuing its aggression and escalation," he added. “We’ve adapted and adjusted, too, and I’m confident we’ll continue to do that."

Biden administration officials acknowledged that a policy switch is under consideration but said that a White House decision hasn’t yet been made.

“We do not encourage nor do we enable attacks using U.S. weapons on Russian soil," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said following Blinken’s comments. “Our support to Ukraine has evolved appropriately as the battlefield conditions have evolved, and that’s not going to change, but right now, there’s also no change to our policy."

As Russia has been making territorial gains in northeast Ukraine, Kyiv has repeatedly asked for permission to strike targets with U.S. weapons on Russian territory. Ukraine already used its own drones to carry out cross-border attacks, but they are less effective than Western systems.

The U.S. has provided the ATACMS surface-to-surface missile and other weapons systems, while stipulating that they not be used to strike targets on Russian territory. That constraint, which Ukraine agreed to as a condition of receiving the weapons, was intended to reduce the risk that the conflict could escalate into a military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in September 2022 that the U.S. would “cross a red line" and would be considered a “direct party to the conflict" in the Kremlin’s eyes if it supplied longer-range missiles to Kyiv.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the use of Western-supplied weapons to strike Russian territory could risk escalation and, he hinted, retaliation.

Earlier this month, the U.K. suggested Ukraine had the right to use British-supplied weapons against targets in Russia. “Just as Russia is striking inside Ukraine, you can quite understand why Ukraine feels the need to make sure it’s defending itself," Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Ukraine should be allowed to strike missile sites in Russia that are being used to attack Ukraine.

“If we tell [the Ukrainians] you do not have the right to reach the point from which the missiles are fired, we are in fact telling them that we are delivering weapons to you, but you cannot defend yourself," Macron said during a visit to Germany.

The U.S. has been under pressure to clarify its position as Blinken heads to Prague for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that begins Thursday.

The longer-range version of the ATACMS missiles that the U.S. has provided can travel more than 180 miles and were used for the first time last month against an airfield in northern Crimea. ATACMS, which stands for the Army’s Tactical Missile System, is a ground-based surface-to-surface missile.

President Biden made the decision to send the longer-range model, which can be armed with cluster munitions or a single warhead, following repeated appeals by Ukraine and U.S. lawmakers. Administration officials said that the decision was made after the Pentagon’s concern about running down its supply of missiles was eased and after Moscow turned to North Korea for ballistic missiles and escalated attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.

The U.S. provided shorter-range versions of the missile, which have a range of about 100 miles, to Ukraine in October.

Gordon Lubold contributed to this article.

 

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