Biden allows Ukraine to use US weapons to hit targets in Russia

Joe Biden has approved Kyiv’s use of American-made weapons to strike within Russia as long as the targets relate to Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, a US official said on Thursday. 

The decision marks an important shift from Washington’s previous position that Ukraine should not use US weapons to strike targets in Russia — and follows growing pressure on Biden from Kyiv and its allies. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office did not immediately confirm or comment on the US decision. He and Ukrainian government officials had for weeks urged Washington to lift the restrictions, arguing that it was “unfair” that they were prohibited from striking military targets while Moscow’s forces pounded civilian targets in Ukraine.

“The most important and immediate effect is that Ukraine will be able to strike targets at greater depths with Himars GMLRS munitions, including Russian artillery, electronic warfare, air defences and command posts,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program.

“Before now, Ukraine has been forced to move artillery too close to the front to engage targets at greater depth, which put them at greater risk.”

But the US president’s move on Thursday falls short of a sweeping greenlight for Ukraine to use US weapons to strike everywhere inside Russia. 

“The president recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use US-supplied weapons for counter-fire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them,” a US official said on Thursday. “Our policy with respect to prohibiting the use of Atacms or long-range strikes inside of Russia has not changed,” the official added, referring to a US ballistic missile system.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Biden has opposed the use of US weapons to strike inside Russian territory for fear of escalating the conflict and drawing the US and Nato directly into war with Moscow.

But in recent weeks the president has been weighing a partial change to that policy in light of the Russian offensive in Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s north-east.

Moscow opened a new front in the region earlier this month, sending more than 30,000 ground forces into Ukraine from Russia’s Belgorod region, according to Oleksandr Lytvynenko, Ukrainian national security and defence council secretary.

Russia seized roughly a dozen Ukrainian villages and laid waste to the town of Vovchansk as it moved to create a so-called buffer zone that Lytvynenko said is meant to keep Kyiv’s forces from launching attacks across the border.

Russia has used warplanes and ground launchers to fire powerful glide bombs, missiles and heavy artillery at Kharkiv city and surrounding areas, killing dozens of civilians as it pounds targets just across the border.

Biden’s move comes as he prepares to travel to Europe next week for the 80th commemoration of D-Day in Normandy, and a state visit to Paris hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has backed Ukraine’s ability to strike targets inside Russia with western weapons.

The Financial Times has also reported that Biden and Zelenskyy will sign a bilateral security deal at a G7 summit in Italy next later in June, cementing long-term defence ties between the US and Ukraine.


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