Under pressure, Biden allows Ukraine to use US weapons to strike inside Russia

President Biden, under pressure from his top national security aides and European allies, authorized Ukraine to conduct limited attacks inside Russia with U.S.-made weapons, opening what could be a new chapter in the war for Ukraine, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Biden's decision appears to mark the first time an American president has authorized limited military strikes against artillery, missile bases and command centers within the borders of a nuclear-armed adversary. White House officials, however, insisted that the authorization extended only to what they called acts of self-defense, so that Ukraine could protect Kharkiv, its second-largest city, and surrounding areas in the north -east from the relentless fire of missiles, bombs and artillery shells just across the border.

“The president recently instructed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use US-supplied weapons for counterfire purposes in the Kharkiv region so that Ukraine can respond to Russian forces that are attacking it or they are preparing to attack them,” a US official said. This was stated in a statement released by the administration. “Our policy regarding the ban on the use of ATACMS or long-range strikes inside Russia has not changed,” the statement continues, referring to an artillery system, supplied to Ukraine, which has the capability of reach the depths of Russian territory.

Inside the White House, Biden's deliberations were closely held, known only to a very small group of aides. But the New York Times revealed last week that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had returned from a sobering trip to Kiev and privately told the president that his 27-month ban against launching American weapons into Russian territory was now placing parts of Ukraine in danger. The Russians, he said, are exploiting the president's ban and launching constant attacks from a safe haven just inside the Russian border.

By then, Jake Sullivan, the president's national security adviser, had also begun to change his view, senior officials said. So have America's allies: Britain weeks ago allowed Ukraine to use its long-range Storm Shadow missile systems for strikes anywhere in Russia, and France and Germany have recently taken the same stance. So did Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO.

The decision follows weeks of discussions with the Ukrainians after Russia began a major assault on Kharkiv.

Because Kharkiv is so close to Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly pressured Biden and his aides to have the right to fight back inside Russia. Biden has deflected those requests for months, worried that using American weapons could escalate the conflict — and put the United States in direct confrontation with Russia.

When he yielded, he did so in the most strictly prescribed manner. Biden's permit is intended solely for Ukraine to strike military sites in Russia used to attack the Kharkiv area, US officials said. Attacks coming from Russia in other regions – even near Kiev, the capital – cannot be responded to with the use of American weapons.

Biden's decision was reported Thursday by Politico.

The Pentagon is tasked with providing Ukraine with exact guidelines on what it can strike in Russia, US officials said. These have already been conveyed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to General Christopher G. Cavoli, four-star commander of the United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. It was General Cavoli who conveyed the decision to Ukraine, the officials said.

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