U.S. Gives Ukraine Permission To Strike Military Targets Inside Russia Near Kharkiv Border, Reports Say | CBC News


There is growing pressure on the US to allow Ukraine to use the weapons it has received to target military sites in Russia.

Policy shift comes amid growing pressure from NATO allies

Briar Stewart · CBC News

· Posted: May 30, 2024 3:02 PM EDT | Last Updated: May 31

A Ukrainian serviceman guards an area near the town of Vovchansk in Kharkiv region, on May 19. (Inna Varenytsia/Reuters)Just hours after Ukraine’s military chief issued a fresh warning that Russia is massing more troops along the border with the Kharkiv region — which has come under deadly attack in recent weeks — it was revealed that the U.S. has reportedly given Ukraine limited permission to use the weapons it supplied to strike military targets inside Russia. 

Various media outlets, including Reuters are quoting anonymous U.S. sources about the decision, which has not been announced publicly, but marks a shift in U.S. policy. 

“The President recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use U.S.-supplied weapons for counter-fire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them,” said one U.S. official to Reuters. 

According to reports, the weapons could only strike Russian military targets on the other side of the border near Kharkiv and comes amid growing pressure from NATO allies. 

In the past few weeks, several NATO members, including the U.K., France, Denmark and Canada, have said Ukraine should be allowed to hit targets in Russia using Western-supplied weapons. This would include the build-up of Russian troops and equipment along Russia’s border near Kharkiv, which is where Ukraine’s Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi warned Moscow is now sending additional regiments and brigades. 

“The time has come to consider some of these restrictions to enable the Ukrainians to really defend themselves,” said Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, on Thursday ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Prague, Czech Republic. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, middle, has called on NATO members to reconsider restrictions on Western weapons supplied to Ukraine. (Gabriel Kuchta/Reuters)Germany on Friday suggested that Ukraine could use Berlin-supplied weapons to defend itself against attacks launched from just inside Russia, after discussing the issue with allies.

“We are jointly convinced that Ukraine has the right, guaranteed under international law, to defend itself against these attacks,” a government spokesperson said. “To do so, it can also use the weapons supplied for this purpose in accordance with its international legal obligations, including those supplied by us.”

Previously,  Washington’s  official position prohibited U.S.-supplied equipment from attacking Russian sites, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signalled on Wednesday that its policy will continue to be “adapted and adjusted” based on battlefield conditions. 

In recent months, Ukraine has stepped up attacks inside Russia, hitting military sites and energy infrastructure with drones. But there are growing calls from Ukrainian officials to be able use Western-supplied weapons, particularly after Russian troops were able to easily break through Ukraine’s defences on May 10, and seized around a dozen small Ukrainian settlements in the Kharkiv region. 

WATCH | Allies say Ukraine should be able to use Western weapons to strike inside Russia:

Allies say Ukraine should be able to use Western weapons to strike inside RussiaFrance and Germany both announced this week that Ukraine is allowed to use the weapons they supplied to strike military targets inside Russia. Canada appears to be siding with its European allies. Power & Politics discusses this shift in position from some NATO countries with retired general and former chief of the defence staff Tom Lawson.

Fears of escalationEven before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, NATO members had been debating about how to give Kyiv the military help it needs without further inflaming tensions with Russia and kicking off a wider global conflict, potentially even a nuclear one. 

In recent days, Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, warned there would be repercussions if the West “embarked on a new round of escalation.”

On Tuesday, Putin said that Europe, especially “its small countries,” should be “aware of what they are playing with.”

Fears of escalating and expanding the conflict are why some NATO countries have been cautious about which weapons systems to supply to Ukraine.

Washington’s position has evolved throughout the war. Weapons that officials were initially reluctant to send — like the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of 300 kilometres — are now in Ukraine. 

“We have to get over this. We have to say no systems are off-limits, no use of weapons is off-limits, as long as it conforms to international law,” said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and currently a distinguished fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Centre for European Policy Analysis.

A police officer and a volunteer help a local resident from Vovchansk, Ukraine, during their evacuation to Kharkiv due to Russian military strikes on May 17. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)Volker, who spoke with CBC News earlier this month during a security conference in Tallinn, Estonia, said many people weigh the risks of escalation, but there are fewer discussions about the risks of not being bold enough. 

“The cost of that is a long war… emboldening Putin by making it clear we don’t have the resolve to actually help Ukraine win.”

In an interview with the Ukrainian outlet European Pravda published four weeks ago, Latvia’s Foreign Minister Baiba Braze said some countries had already provided weapons to Kyiv without any conditions, but that those agreements were not made “aloud.”

Kharkiv offensive Before Russia’s incursion on May 10, Ukraine said it had been aware of a buildup of thousands of troops along the border with the Kharkiv region and the neighbouring region of Sumy. 

In the days that followed, more than 9,000 people were evacuated from the area, most of whom were living in the village of Vovchansk, which lies 45 km from the city of Kharkiv, and is now nearly destroyed, according to the head of the local military administration. 

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Thursday, a commander of a Ukrainian drone unit said they were being forced to defend Ukraine with “one hand tied behind” their backs, because they are unable to use Western munitions to strike Russian troops and equipment positioned 30 to 40 kilometres behind the Russian border. 

An assessment published on May 13 by the Institute for the Study of War argued the U.S.prohibition on the use of its weapons beyond Ukraine’s border had created a “vast sanctuary” for Russia.

It routinely strikes the Kharkiv region, including the city of Kharkiv, with glide bombs that experts say are difficult to defend against if Ukraine can’t intercept Russian planes in Russian airspace with U.S.-provided air defence systems.

The ISW argued the U.S. didn’t need to lift all of its restrictions on the use of its weapons inside Russia, but should allow Ukrainian forces to at least “defend themselves against immediate operational assaults.”

Washington’s new policy appears to reflect that thinking, as it would allow Ukraine to strike Russian aircraft and weapons that are poised to target the Kharkiv region. 

A Ukrainian serviceman operates a drone at his front-line position near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on May 15. (Inna Varenytsia/Reuters)Volker said the guiding principle throughout all of these discussions should be international law. 

“It requires that you have proportionality and that you fire against military targets, not against civilian ones,” he said. “That should be the standard to which Ukraine is held.”

Upcoming summit While several NATO members have spoken publicly about allowing Ukraine to launch Western-supplied weapons into Russia, Italy’s foreign minister told an Italian news outlet on Thursday that weapons given by Italy should only be used in Ukraine. 


Briar Stewart is CBC’s Russia correspondent, currently based in London. During her nearly two decades with CBC, she has reported across Canada and internationally. She can be reached at briar.stewart@cbc.ca or on X @briarstewart

With files from Reuters and David Cochrane

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