Joe Biden Allows Ukraine to Strike Inside Russia with Restrictions

Joe Biden Eases Restrictions on Ukrainian Strikes Inside Russia

by Faruk Imamovic
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Joe Biden Allows Ukraine to Strike Inside Russia with Restrictions
© Getty Images/Alex Wong

In a significant policy shift, President Joe Biden has authorized Ukraine to strike targets within Russian territory using American munitions. However, this permission comes with stringent restrictions. The directive permits Ukraine to target only specific areas near the border close to Kharkiv. This decision follows Russia's substantial advances around the northeastern city near the Russian border, according to two U.S. officials who disclosed the information to CNN.

“The president recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use U.S.-supplied weapons for counterfire purposes in Kharkiv so Ukraine can hit back at Russian forces hitting them or preparing to hit them,” one official stated.

This move marks a departure from the previous U.S. policy of prohibiting Ukrainian strikes inside Russia and comes amid increasing international pressure from close U.S. allies. Nonetheless, the authorization remains confined to the vicinity around Kharkiv, with no current requests from Ukraine to expand the strike zone, the official added.

Pressure from Allies and a Changing Battlefield

The request from Kyiv for a policy change came within the past few weeks, following Russian forces' advances. This policy adjustment allows Ukraine to target Russian forces, ammunition depots, and logistical hubs across the border from Kharkiv in western Russia using U.S.-provided artillery and rockets.

Despite this change, the Biden administration maintains its stance against allowing Ukraine to use the most powerful munition in its arsenal for strikes into Russia: the long-range missiles known as ATACMS, which can hit targets up to 200 miles away.

Ukraine has successfully utilized U.S. anti-aircraft weapons to intercept imminent threats from Russian aircraft operating in both Ukrainian and Russian airspace. However, the existing prohibition prevents Ukraine from targeting Russian aircraft on the ground within Russia.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled a potential shift in the administration’s position, noting that the U.S. could “adapt and adjust” its stance based on changing conditions.

“A hallmark of U.S. support for Ukraine has been to adapt as the conditions have changed, battlefields change, as what Russia does has changed in terms of how it is pursuing its aggression escalation, we’ve adapted and adjusted too,” Blinken said during a visit to Moldova.

Joe Biden Allows Ukraine to Strike Inside Russia with Restrictions
Joe Biden Allows Ukraine to Strike Inside Russia with Restrictions© Getty Images/Alex Wong
 

European Leaders Shift Their Stance

The U.S. policy shift follows a similar change among key European leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently signaled their support for allowing Ukraine to target bases inside Russia.

Speaking alongside Scholz, Macron stated, “Ukrainian soil is being attacked from bases in Russia. So how do we explain to the Ukrainians that we’re going to have to protect these towns and basically everything we’re seeing around Kharkiv at the moment if we tell them you are not allowed to hit the point from which the missiles are fired?”

Scholz echoed Macron’s sentiments, emphasizing that Ukraine is permitted to defend itself as long as it respects the conditions set by the supplying countries, including the United States, and adheres to international law.

Responding to Escalation: A Coordinated Decision

The initial restrictions on Ukrainian strikes into Russia were based on the Biden administration’s concerns about escalating the conflict. While these concerns remain, the U.S. decided to alter its position after Ukraine highlighted the need to defend Kharkiv. European allies’ changing perspectives and NATO leadership’s discreet urgings also played a role in this decision.

During a recent visit to Ukraine, Blinken heard directly from Ukrainian officials about their need to target sites within Russia’s border. On returning to Washington, Blinken endorsed a recommendation from national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff C.Q. Brown to amend the policy.

On May 13, the trio, along with Gen. Christopher Cavoli, head of U.S. European Command, discussed lifting the restrictions to enable Ukrainian forces to strike Russian staging areas launching attacks on Kharkiv. Despite these discussions, it took until Thursday for the decision to be officially implemented.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also played a crucial role, quietly advocating for the U.S. and other nations to provide Ukraine with the necessary capabilities to strike inside Russia. Stoltenberg emphasized that denying Ukraine the ability to use these weapons against legitimate military targets in Russia would severely hamper their defense efforts.

A New Phase in the Conflict

The U.S. decision to permit limited Ukrainian strikes inside Russia marks a new phase in the ongoing conflict. While the policy remains cautious, it represents a strategic shift in response to the evolving battlefield dynamics and increasing pressures from international allies. As the situation continues to develop, the world watches closely how these changes will impact the broader conflict and the efforts to secure peace in the region.

The international community has responded with a mix of support and concern. While allies praise the move as necessary for Ukraine's defense, there is apprehension about the potential for further escalation. Diplomatic efforts continue to manage the delicate balance between supporting Ukraine and preventing a wider conflict.

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