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SECDEF Austin Urges Ukraine To Focus on ‘Close Fight,’ Not Cross-Border Strikes on Russia

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
May 21, 2024

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is urging Ukrainian forces to focus their attacks within their own borders, rather than conducting cross-border strikes into Russia.

Addressing the Pentagon press briefing on Monday, May 20, Austin took questions about the course of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and Russia’s strategy of launching long-range munitions from within its borders to strike Ukrainian targets.

“We spent a lot of time today on lifesaving air defense systems which are helping Ukraine stave off waves of Russian missiles, Iranian UAVs and North Korean munitions, and we’ll continue to push to ensure that Ukraine owns its skies and can defend its citizens and its civilian infrastructure far from the front lines,” the U.S. defense secretary said.

While Austin insisted the U.S. is taking steps to help Ukraine control its airspace, former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland has urged further steps to deter Russian long-range strikes.

In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Nuland said the U.S. should help Ukraine strike military bases within Russia’s borders.

Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin asked Austin about the former State Department official’s comments during the Monday press briefing.

“[Nuland] said, quote, ‘I think if the attacks are coming directly from over the line in Russia, that those bases ought to be fair game. I think it’s time to give the Ukrainians more help hitting these bases inside Russia.’ Do you agree with her assessment?” Griffin asked.

Austin replied that the Ukrainian focus “ought to be on the close fight and making sure that they’re servicing those targets that will enable success in the close fight.” The defense secretary said the Biden administration has been consistent with this view throughout the Russia-Ukraine war.

Austin’s comments could come as a mixed signal to the Ukrainians, when put alongside comments U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made last week. Speaking at a May 15 press conference in Ukraine, Blinken said the U.S. hasn’t enabled Ukrainian strikes within Russia’s borders, but said the Ukrainian side could “make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war” and insisted U.S. aid would continue to flow.

While Austin did appear to discourage Ukrainian strikes on bases inside Russia, he said the dynamics may be a little different when considering whether to attack Russian bombers launching glide-bomb weapons from within Russian airspace that then fly into Ukrainian territory. Still, he appeared to discourage Ukrainian forces from utilizing U.S.-provided weapons beyond their borders.

“The dynamics of a — of an aerial engagement, you know, I — I’d leave it up to the experts, but — but — but certainly, you know, our expectation is that they — they continue to use the weapons that we’ve provided in — on targets inside of Ukraine,” Austin said.

The recent U.S. comments about Ukrainian cross-border strikes highlight the Biden administration’s attempts to enable Ukrainian forces to the furthest extent possible without escalating the conflict too far beyond its current dynamic.

Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry claimed Russian forces had intercepted dozens of Ukrainian attacks utilizing U.S. and Western long-range weapons, including attacks targeting the Russian border region of Belgorod. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it lodged warnings with the governments of the U.S., the U.K., Belgium and other Western nations, that they are “playing with fire” and that “Russia will not leave unanswered these acts of aggression against its territory.”

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