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NATO Chief Says Members Should Let Ukraine Strike Russia With Donated Weapons

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (U.S. State Department photo/Released)
May 28, 2024

Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are inching forward their support of Ukrainian strikes within Russia’s internationally recognized borders.

Current and former defense and diplomatic officials within NATO member nations have been deliberating for weeks on whether they should encourage the Ukrainian government to use NATO-donated weapons in cross-border strikes into Russia, particularly as Russian forces have launched a new offensive in the Kharkiv border region in eastern Ukraine.

The idea of encouraging Ukrainian strikes in Russia with Western-donated weapons has led to some concerns about further escalating the existing conflict.

In recent weeks, former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland has said she thinks “it’s time to give the Ukrainians more help hitting these bases inside Russia.” Current U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has denied the U.S. is supplying the types of weapons Ukrainian forces can use to strike inside Russia, but said the Ukrainian government can “make decisions for itself” about whether such cross-border strikes in Russia are prudent.

Like Blinken, United Kingdom Foreign Minister David Cameron said earlier this month that the U.K. would not place caveats on how Ukrainian forces should conduct this war, stating, “Russia has launched an attack into Ukraine and Ukraine absolutely has the right to strike back at Russia.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has distanced himself further from the idea of striking in Russia, urging Ukrainian forces to focus on the “close fight,” albeit with a caveat that aerial engagements within Russian airspace may be an exception.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came out more forcefully in favor of Ukrainian strikes into Russia in a May 24 interview with The Economist.

“The time has come for allies to consider whether they should lift some of the restrictions they have put on the use of weapons they have donated to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “Especially now when a lot of the fighting is going on in Kharkiv, close to the border, to deny Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard for them to defend themselves.”

Stoltenberg reiterated his points again while addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Monday, May 27.

“Self-defense includes the right to also attack legitimate military targets inside Russia,” the NATO chief said. “That’s self-defense and they have the right to self-defense, and we should help them to uphold the right of self-defense. And therefore, some Allies have lifted restrictions, enabling the Ukrainians to better defend themselves.”

Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson also came out in favor of Ukrainian strikes inside Russia this weekend, telling the Swedish newspaper Hallandsposten that “Ukraine has the right to defend itself through combat actions directed at the opponent’s territory as long as the combat actions comply with the laws of war.”

These calls for strikes inside Russia have not gone unnoticed in Moscow.

“NATO is raising the degree of escalation. NATO is going too far in military rhetoric. It is falling into a kind of military ecstasy. This is the reality that we will have to confront further on,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s REN-TV on Monday.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman told the Russian broadcaster Izvetsia that the Russian side is preparing “countermeasures” should Ukrainian forces ratchet up strikes inside Russia.

Not all NATO members are on board with encouraging attacks inside Russia.

In comments to Italy’s Ansa news agency, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni advised Stoltenberg to be “very prudent” in his comments about the war in Ukraine.

Deputy Italian Prime Minister and Transportation Minister Matteo Salvini has also said NATO members toy with the prospect of a Third World War by allowing Ukrainian forces to use their weapons against Russian territory. Salvini told Ansa that Stoltenberg must apologize or resign for his comments encouraging strikes inside Russia.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Ukrainian forces must use Italian-donated weapons inside Ukraine.

“Every single decision has to be carefully considered,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a German citizen’s forum on Sunday.

Scholz said he would support Ukraine, but the conflict mustn’t escalate into a Russia-NATO war.

“It’s, from my point of view, problematic to deliver a precision weapon that can reach 500 km,” Scholz added.

Scholz said a country could only reasonably give Ukraine a weapon with 500 km of range if that country also sets the targeting parameters. Otherwise, he warned the supplying country could risk becoming more directly involved in the war.

This article was originally published by FreeBase News and is reprinted with permission.