Pressure on Biden to let Ukraine attack Russia with American weapons

Laura Gozzi and Tom Bateman,BBC News, London and Washington

BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen explains why this was a pivotal moment in the war

US President Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure from allies to allow Ukraine to attack targets inside Russia with Western weapons.

Several European countries, including France, Germany and Britain, have signaled that they are willing to relax restrictions on how Ukraine can use Western-supplied weapons.

They believe Ukraine could launch offensive attacks on Russian military targets across the border to better repel the country’s advance.

But Washington, which has supplied most of the weapons to Ukraine, has opposed easing these restrictions because of fears of escalation. They affirmed that they did not encourage or allow Ukraine to attack on Russian soil.

Pressure on the US to relax the ban on Ukraine attacking Russian territory has increased in recent days, with French President Emmanuel Macron speaking directly in support of this move. He said Ukraine should be “allowed” to use Western-supplied weapons to attack military sites on Russian territory – although not at all against civilian targets.

That pressure is compounded by Russia’s recent advances on the battlefield. Moscow has achieved significant victories in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine and the Kharkov region in northeastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s losses were exacerbated by partisan paralysis in Washington, which caused long delays in the delivery of missiles and artillery shells.

While Mr. Macron has for some time favored more direct intervention in the war in Ukraine, other Western leaders also appear to be softer on the idea.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz remained cautious in public but a spokesman in Berlin said that “defensive action is not limited to its own territory but also includes the territory of the aggressor”.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said earlier this month that it was up to Ukraine to use British weapons, while this week Poland’s deputy defense minister said Ukrainians could use Polish weapons. “as they see fit”.

Debate on this issue is taking place within the US administration, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken said to be among those trying to persuade President Biden to relax restrictions.

Blinken became the first senior administration official to suggest the US might change its stance during a visit to Moldova on Wednesday, telling reporters that Washington’s stance on the issue would be “accommodative and adjustments” based on changing battlefield conditions.

“[Ukraine] must make their own decisions about the best way to defend themselves effectively. We will ensure that they have the necessary equipment to do that,” he said.

“As what Russia has done has changed in terms of how they pursue aggression and escalation, we have also adapted and adjusted and I am confident that we will continue to do that,” Blinken added.

Getty ImagesUkraine launches missiles from HIMARSbeautiful images

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) is one of the Ukrainian weapons supplied by the US

But there are significant risks involved in any decision by Mr. Biden to ease restrictions on Ukraine’s use of US-supplied weapons.

Ukraine’s drone attacks are said to have targeted Russia’s nuclear early warning radar systems located deep within the country’s territory.

US government, according to a report in the Washington Postconveyed its concerns to Kiev about two attempted attacks on radar stations providing conventional air defense systems as well as warnings of Western nuclear launches.

The report quoted an unnamed US official describing these as sensitive locations “because Russia could perceive that its strategic deterrent is being targeted, which could weaken its ability to of Russia in maintaining nuclear deterrence against the United States”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also warned this week that Ukraine’s attacks on Russia with Western missiles risked triggering a wider war. “Continuous escalation could lead to serious consequences,” he said. “Do they want a global conflict?”

He added that responsibility for any attacks inside his country would lie with Western arms suppliers, even if Ukrainian forces carried out the attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously said that it was “unfair” for Western countries to impose limits on the use of weapons, and admitted that Ukraine could not risk receiving support from partners.

Earlier this month, Mr. Blinken met with President Zelensky in Kiev. Mr. Zelensky cited “security guarantees” related to a long-term bilateral defense treaty about to be signed between the United States and Ukraine.

Any question about whether Washington would allow Ukraine to use American weapons to attack Russian territory would likely come up in their own negotiations.

Some NATO countries are still worried about that scenario. On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she did not think it was necessary to attack Russian military bases and instead called on the West to provide more air defense systems to Ukraine.

The US has provided Ukraine with thousands of defensive weapons, tanks and air defense systems. Since April, they have also sent Ukraine the longest-range version of the ATACMS missile, which can fly up to 190 miles (300km).


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