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NATO allies ease military restrictions on Ukraine

Several NATO countries have publicly announced that Ukraine could use their military assistance to hit targets on Russian territory, despite continued hesitation from others.

Ukraine’s allies have provided them with several billion dollars in military aid, but those countries’ leaders are concerned about the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin will escalate the conflict. But the war has increasingly tilted in Russia’s favor as they have exploited Ukraine’s ammunition and troop shortages after several months without US military support.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said the U.S. does not “encourage or enable” Ukraine to hit targets inside Russia, but they often challenge the sentiment by noting that they let Ukrainian leaders make their own decisions. On Tuesday, John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said there is “no change” in U.S. policy that “we do not encourage or enable the use of U.S.-supplied weapons for attacks in Russia.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly are among Western politicians who have publicly said in recent days that Ukraine could use their weapons to hit targets in Russia.

“How can we explain to Ukraine that they have to protect their cities… but they have no right to attack where the missiles come from? It’s like we’re telling them that we’re giving you weapons, but you can’t use them to defend yourself,” Macron said late Tuesday at a press conference in Germany.

“We believe that we should lean into this question. Why? Because Russia has no red line,” Joly explained. “That is why we must ensure that when it comes to the defense of Ukraine, we are there to help them and that we show that, despite what is happening, we are with them. In Canada, there are no conditions attached to the shipment of weapons by end users to Ukraine.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg argued earlier this week that “the right to self-defense includes hitting legitimate targets outside Ukraine,” while British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in early May that Ukraine could use British long-range weapons such as the Storm Shadow Cruise Missile, to hit back at Russia.

Some European allies have not been as open to using their weapons to hit targets in Russia and potentially risk escalation.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a longer-term security agreement on Tuesday. The agreement calls for Belgium to supply Ukraine with 30 F-16 fighter jets by 2028, although De Croo specified that the aid “will be used on Ukrainian territory.”

Calling it “unfair,” Zelensky added: “But, and this is a fact, we cannot risk the support of our partners. That is why we do not use the weapons of our partners to attack Russian territory. Therefore, we ask that you please give us permission to do so.”

Despite the Biden administration’s hesitation, there is a group of US lawmakers, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, who want the US to greenlight the Ukrainian use of US weapons against targets on Russian territory.

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“Our Ukrainian allies are requesting authorization to use certain United States-supplied weapons for operations against strategic targets within Russian and Russian-controlled territory,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this month. “The current policy of the Biden administration is to limit Ukraine’s ability to push back Russian forces near Kharkiv with US-origin weapons.”

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the US and NATO have tried to avoid escalating tensions with Putin, who has repeatedly threatened nuclear escalation.

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