Blinken Hints U.S. May Allow Ukraine Greater Latitude to Strike in Russia

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken left open the possibility on Friday that President Biden could allow Ukraine to use U.S.-made weapons to strike at a broader array of targets inside Russia, going beyond attacks he has approved on launch sites the Russians are using for their current assault on the Kharkiv area.

“Going forward, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, which is: As necessary, adapt and adjust,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference in Prague at the end of a two-day meeting of top diplomats from member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Mr. Blinken was responding to a reporter’s question on whether the United States might give permission for Ukraine to use U.S.-made weapons to strike deeper into Russia. The phrase “adapt and adjust” is one that Mr. Blinken used in a news conference on Wednesday in Chisinau, Moldova, to suggest that Mr. Biden was about to make a major policy shift and grant Ukraine permission to use the weapons to strike in Russia, as Ukrainian and European leaders had been urging for weeks.

American officials then said on Thursday that Mr. Biden had made that decision in recent days and told the Ukrainians, but that the permission to strike in Russia was limited to sites the Russians were using for the assault on Kharkiv. U.S. officials said the ban on Ukraine using weapons for “long range” attacks in Russia had not changed.

But Mr. Blinken’s remarks on Friday suggested the ban could change, depending on shifts in battlefield conditions and the direction of the war. He did say, though, that the United States was “proceeding deliberately as well as effectively.” That included ensuring Ukrainian soldiers had the necessary training to use new weapons systems and the capacity to maintain them, he said.

American officials say the policy shift means Ukrainian attacks with U.S. weapons in Russia can be pre-emptive, but can only take place within Russian areas near Kharkiv that the Pentagon has designated and that U.S. military officials have communicated to their Ukrainian counterparts.

The secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at a separate news conference in Prague on Friday, said he welcomed the loosening of restrictions on Ukraine, and that the top diplomats of allied governments had made some progress in discussions on Ukraine over the past two days.

They agreed that NATO should play a greater coordinating role in all military aid to Ukraine, he said, and that member nations should strive to provide at least 40 billion euros in total of such annual aid, about $43 billion, “for as long as necessary.” That would give Ukraine predictability in planning a long-term defense, he added.

The diplomats also agreed to try to shorten Ukraine’s path to NATO membership, he said, without giving further details.

Mr. Biden’s decision to allow Ukraine to strike narrowly defined targets in Russia followed weeks of discussions with the Ukrainians and came at the urging of major European allies. In closely held meetings in Washington this month, his top aides debated the benefits and potential consequences of giving Ukraine more leeway with U.S.-made weapons.

Mr. Blinken pressed the case for giving permission to the Ukrainians, and other top officials agreed — notably Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, Lloyd J. Austin III, the defense secretary, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They presented their recommendations to Mr. Biden, who understood the need, U.S. officials said.

Three days after his May 14 visit to Kyiv, Mr. Blinken met with Mr. Biden and Mr. Sullivan in the White House. He underscored the need to loosen the restrictions on Ukrainian use of U.S.-made weapons to better defend the Kharkiv area.

The Russians have pressed a campaign in that area since early May, using launch sites within their border for strikes in Ukraine. The Ukrainians have argued they need to be able to use powerful weapons to hit back at artillery, missile launchers and air bases. Some Russian aircraft are releasing glide bombs from within Russia’s airspace to hit targets around Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine.

On May 20, Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, told The New York Times in an interview in Kyiv that Russia’s ability to carry out cross-border attacks gave it a “huge advantage” in the war. Ukraine has struck inside Russia with drones and other non-U.S.-made weapons, but the Americans are by far the largest supplier of the more powerful arms that Ukrainian commanders say could make a difference.

Mr. Biden had refrained from loosening the restrictions in large part because of fears among American officials that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could use a tactical nuclear warhead in Ukraine. That anxiety reached its peak in October 2022 because of intelligence assessments of Russian military actions around the nation’s nuclear arsenal, then receded. For months, European officials have said their intelligence assessments indicate the potential for Mr. Putin to use a nuclear weapon is not as great as the Americans believe.

The leaders of China and India — both large buyers of Russian oil — have warned Mr. Putin against crossing the line with nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said, and that has factored into the recent calculus of the Americans. While India has maintained a neutral position in the war, China is by far Russia’s most important partner and, according to U.S. officials, has helped Russia rebuild its military-industrial base with exports of machinery, production tools and chips and other microelectronics. (Mr. Blinken noted on Friday that the United States had imposed sanctions on more than 100 Chinese entities for aiding Russia, and said that he expected “to see actions taken by Europeans.”)

There is also a sense among U.S. officials that the Russians have thought for a while that the Americans are already giving the Ukrainians great leeway in the use of the weapons. So making that a reality would not be as provocative as American officials had previously believed.

The NATO meeting in Prague was a planning session for a leaders’ summit to take place in July in Washington, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the alliance. Officials said they would have more substantial announcements then on the defense of Ukraine.

Mr. Blinken said that Mr. Biden and other leaders at the summit would reveal details of a “robust package of support” for Ukraine.

“Our purpose now is to put in place the bridge to bring Ukraine closer to and then ultimately into NATO,” he said. “As I said, it’s a bridge that I think you’ll see emerge at the summit.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *