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NATO chief wants to let Ukraine use Western-supplied missiles to strike inside Russia

Even before the comments, Western nations were engaged in a fierce debate over whether to let Ukraine use NATO-supplied missiles for strikes inside Russian territory.

(CN) — With Russia advancing on the battlefields of Ukraine, NATO's chief is urging the Western military alliance to allow Kyiv to use Western-supplied missiles for strikes inside Russia.

The United States, Germany and other alliance members have forbidden Kyiv from using their weapons to strike targets inside Russia, such as arms warehouses and command centers. But in the past several days, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stirred controversy by advocating for a change to this posture.

Stoltenberg's call for lifting restrictions adds to a sense that NATO powers are becoming more directly involved in the war as Ukraine struggles with a lack of manpower, ammunition, weapons, air defenses, aircraft and equipment. Russian forces are making slow advances along the front lines, and it appears the Kremlin is preparing to launch a major summer offensive.

The growing involvement of the West came into focus on Monday, when Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces, announced he signed an agreement to allow French military instructors into the country. He urged other Western countries to join the French initiative.

Since February, French President Emmanuel Macron has said he would not exclude sending troops to Ukraine — though the Élysée did not confirm it had entered the agreement on sending instructors, saying discussions were ongoing. Meanwhile, Russia claims that foreign fighters, including French troops, have already been on the ground in Ukraine for months.

Among Western leaders and experts, debate is raging about whether to encourage Ukraine to strike at targets inside Russia with Western long-range missiles and weapons.

“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 in an interview with The Economist on Friday. “Ukraine has the right to defend themselves. And that includes striking targets on Russian territory.”

He said the restrictions were limiting Ukraine's ability to defend itself. He pushed this argument on Monday and Tuesday during NATO meetings in Sofia and Brussels.

Stoltenberg is voicing what appears to be growing pressure on reluctant NATO members to lift restrictions.

In recent days, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and diplomats from the most anti-Russia NATO countries — including the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic nations — have also called for lifting restrictions.

Officially, Washington says it does not allow Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons to attack targets inside Russia's internationally recognized borders. Nonetheless, media reports suggest the White House is also considering shifting posture.

In fact, it is likely that Ukraine has already used Western-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia.

Kyiv has repeatedly launched missiles against Belgorod, a Russian city and region close to Ukraine's northern border. Ukraine has also carried a series of drone attacks inside Russia, hitting oil refineries, oil depots, a drone factory and other infrastructure.

In its most recent attacks over the past week, Ukrainian drones hit two radar stations that are part of Russia's nuclear ballistic missile warning system. Drones caused damage at the Armavir Radar Station in the southern Krasnodar, more than 300 miles from from Ukraine, and at a station near Orsk, a city in the Orenburg region close to the border with Kazakhstan and about 930 miles from Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center is welcomed by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, left and Portuguese Prime Minister Luis Montenegro at the military airport in Lisbon, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Germany, Spain and Italy are among the NATO nations fearful of escalating the war by approving strikes inside Russia.

In response to Stoltenberg's comments, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was against allowing Western weapons to be used on military targets in Russia.

The strongest opposition came from Italy. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, a far-right leader who has been praised for her solid support of NATO and Ukraine, chided Stoltenberg for making his comments, calling them counterproductive.

“I don't know why Stoltenberg says something like that, but we need to be cautious," Meloni said on RAI, an Italian public broadcaster. "NATO must be firm and without uncertainty, but I recommend greater caution."

Matteo Salvini, the far-right leader of Lega and a coalition partner in Meloni's government, went further. In the past, Salvini has had close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Stoltenberg should either retract his statement, apologize, or resign,” Salvini said. “NATO cannot force us to kill in Russia, nor can anyone compel us to send Italian soldiers to fight or die in Ukraine.”

He added: “If they want to go and fight in Ukraine, let Stoltenberg, Emmanuel Macron and all the bombers who want war go there.”

On Monday and Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made stops in Spain and Belgium, where he secured about $1 billion in military aid from each nation and also signed bilateral security deals. France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have already entered similar deals.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, is warning that NATO is fueling the war with its arms supplies to Ukraine and discussions about targeting sites inside Russia.

“NATO is raising the degree of escalation. NATO is going too far in military rhetoric,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said on Russian television. “It is falling into a kind of military ecstasy. This is the reality that we will have to confront further on.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / International, Politics

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