Biden partially lifts ban on Ukraine using US weapons to strike Russia

The Biden administration has partially lifted a ban on Ukrainian forces using U.S. arms to strike within Russian territory in a bid to defend Kharkiv, a U.S. official confirmed Thursday.

President Biden “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,” a U.S. official told The Hill.

But they stressed that the administration’s policy to not allow the use of ATACMS or long-range strikes inside of Russia “has not changed.”

The move, first reported by Politico, is a major roll back of the staunch U.S. policy to prohibit American-provided weapons from being used by Kyiv’s forces to hit targets over the border with Russia, a position that Washington kept to prevent an escalation of the conflict.

Ukraine has recently ramped up pressure on U.S. officials to change their position, while Russia has warned of ‘serious consequences’ if western weapons strike its soil.

Kyiv reportedly asked the U.S. to make the policy change after Russia’s offensive on Kharkiv began earlier this month, with the administration in the last few days granting Ukraine wiggle room in defending itself from attacks on the border near the city, Politico reported.

But in the hour leading up to when news of the changes broke, the Defense Department firmly denied any policy change.

“There’s been no change in our policy,” deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters at the Pentagon. “The security assistance that we provide Ukraine is to be used within Ukraine and we don’t encourage attacks or enable attacks inside of Russia. We believe that Ukraine can be effective by focusing on tactical and operational targets that directly influence the conflict within its boundaries rather than going after larger geopolitical targets within Russia.”

Asked again about any modification to the U.S. policy after reports emerged of the administration’s caveat to Ukraine, a DOD spokesman said they had “no new announcements regarding this,” referring questions to the NSC.

While Kyiv can now use U.S. rockets and rocket launchers to shoot down Russian missiles or bombers firing toward Kharkiv, as well as at troops gathering just over the border near the city, they cannot hit at civilian infrastructure or launch long-range missiles to hit military targets far inside the other country, officials told Politico.

The administration first hinted Wednesday that the U.S. could change its stance on allowing Russian assets to be hit inside Kremlin borders, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken noting that Washington has “adapted and adjusted, too, and we’ll continue to do that.”

That was followed by comments from White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, who said that while there was no change in policy, U.S. “support to Ukraine has evolved appropriately.”

Alex Gangitano contributed reporting

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

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