France's Macron urges a green light for Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia with Western weapons

France’s president has joined the head of NATO in pushing for a policy shift that could change the complexion of the Ukraine war: allowing Kyiv to strike military bases inside Russia with sophisticated long-range weapons provided by its Western partners

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

France's president has joined the head of NATO in pushing for a policy shift that could change the complexion of the war in Ukraine — allowing Kyiv to strike military bases inside Russia with sophisticated long-range weapons provided by Western partners.

The question of whether to allow Ukraine to hit targets on Russian soil with Western-supplied weaponry has been a delicate issue since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

Western leaders have mostly shrunk from taking the step because it runs the risk of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly warned that the West's direct involvement could put the world on a path to nuclear conflict.

But the war has been going Russia's way recently as the Kremlin's forces have exploited Ukrainian shortages in troops and ammunition after a lengthy delay in U.S. military aid, and Western Europe's inadequate military production slowed crucial deliveries to the battlefield.

Russian missiles and bombs have pummeled Ukrainian military positions and civilian areas, including the power grid. Ukraine is facing its hardest test of the war, and untying its hands on long-range weapons could spur a fightback and upset the Kremlin.

Macron said that France's position is that “we think we must allow (Ukraine) to neutralize the (Russian) military sites from which the missiles are fired."

“If we tell (the Ukrainians) you do not have the right to reach the point from which the missiles are fired, we are in fact telling them that we are delivering weapons to you, but you cannot defend yourself,” Macron said late Tuesday on an official visit to Germany.

His remarks came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged the alliance's members to lift some of the restrictions on Ukraine's use of Western weapons.

“The right to self-defense includes hitting legitimate targets outside Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said at a NATO meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria on Monday.

Already, at the start of May, Moscow interpreted as a threat U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s comment that Ukraine could use British long-range weapons, such as the Storm Shadow cruise missile, to hit back at Russia.

That, and Macron's comments that he doesn't exclude sending troops to Ukraine, prompted Russia to announce it would hold drills involving tactical nuclear weapons. Russia also warned the U.K. government that its decision could bring retaliatory strikes on British military facilities and equipment on Ukrainian soil or elsewhere.

The leaders are choosing their words carefully. Macron underlined that only Russian bases used to launch missiles against Ukraine should be regarded as legitimate targets — not other Russian bases or civilian infrastructure.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking alongside Macron, was as usual more guarded and noncommittal, noting that Ukraine “is allowed to defend itself” under international law.

Scholz’s spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, clarified Wednesday that the chancellor meant that Ukraine’s defense “isn’t limited to its territory.” He declined to say what agreements with Ukraine on weapons supplied by Germany stipulate, insisting they are confidential.

Scholz has insisted on avoiding steps that could end up drawing NATO into a battlefield confrontation with Russia. Other Western leaders have expressed similar fears of a creeping, high-stakes escalation.

His concerns are shared in Washington. Over the past two years, the U.S. has gradually ceded to Ukrainian requests for support, sending tanks and long-range missile systems that it initially hesitated to provide, but with a caveat on aiming at Russian soil.

Speaking Wednesday on a visit to Moldova, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underlined that while Washington hasn’t given the green light to Kyiv for using American weapons in cross-border strikes it will continue providing Ukraine with means to effectively defend itself.

“We haven’t encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine,” Blinken said at a news conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu. “Ukraine, as I’ve said before, has to make its own decisions about the best way to effectively defend itself. We’re going to make sure that it has the equipment it needs to do that.”

Blinken noted that Ukraine's Western allies have adapted to the changing combat situation to offer more effective support. “We’re always learning and we’re always making determinations about what’s necessary to make sure that Ukraine can effectively continue to defend itself,” he said.

Western leaders are keen to put pressure on Putin, whose forces have recently been pushing hard against Ukrainian defenses in eastern and northeastern Ukraine.

This week has brought a cascade of new European aid, with Belgium and Spain each pledging around 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in new military support to Ukraine. Sweden announced Wednesday it will donate aid worth 13 billion kronor ($1.23 billion) — the largest package Sweden has donated so far. It will include air defense systems, artillery ammunition and armored vehicles.

Ukraine has recently been under intense pressure from Russian attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region and in the partially occupied eastern Donetsk region.

Putin has said he wants to establish a “buffer zone” in Kharkiv to halt cross-border Ukrainian assaults. Analysts say the Kharkiv push also draws depleted Ukrainian forces away from Donetsk.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said late Tuesday that Russia’s Kharkiv push has slowed in recent days and the Kremlin’s forces are probing the front line in Donetsk for weaknesses.

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