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Biden administration faces pressure on US weapons restrictions in Russia
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Biden administration faces pressure on US weapons restrictions in Russia

In recent weeks Ukraine has intensified its appeals to the Biden administration to lift the ban on using U.S.-provided weapons to strike targets inside Russia.

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who recently visited Washington, said Russia is taking advantage of these restrictions.

“Realizing that we do not have the right to use, for instance, HIMARS on the territory of Russia, the Russians display all their equipment along the border and use it to destroy the Kharkiv region,” Ustinova told Voice of America. “And we simply cannot get to them, because there’s a ban on the usage of American weapons on the territory of Russia.”

Last week, Ustinova and some fellow parliament members met with congressional lawmakers to advocate for the cause.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking that Ukraine be allowed to use American weapons on strategic targets in Russian territory.

“It is essential the Biden Administration allows Ukraine’s military leaders an ability to conduct a full spectrum of operations necessary to respond to Russia’s unprovoked attack on their sovereign land,” the letter said.

Following the 22nd Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on Monday, Austin indicated that there’s no change in policy and that the U.S. is expecting Ukrainians to use the provided weapons within Ukrainian territory.

“In my view, their 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,” Austin said.

At the same time, he said “the aerial dynamic is a little bit different,” responding to a question about whether Ukraine can use American air defenses to hit bombers that drop glide bombs on the Kharkiv region from Russian territory.

Voice of America tried to clarify this with Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder.

“We are focused on providing Ukraine with capabilities that it needs to defend itself within Ukrainian sovereign territory,” he said. “I’m not going to get into picking apart a bunch of different scenarios. Again, the strategic intent here is enabling Ukraine to defend itself and defend its sovereign territory.”

Earlier, the former acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said the White House needed to change the policy.

“If the attacks are coming directly from over the line in Russia, those bases ought to be fair game. I think it’s time to give the Ukrainians more help hitting these bases inside Russia,” she said in an interview with ABC News.

At least two former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine agree.

Former ambassador John Herbst, now a senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said the restrictions make it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to defend Kharkiv, which is currently threatened by a renewed Russian offensive.

“If Ukraine could strike at the Russian troops just across the border in Russia that are about to move into Ukraine, Russia would have much greater logistical problems launching this current offensive,” Herbst told VOA. “And if we allow Ukraine to shoot at the Russian jets that are in Russian airspace and are launching the glide bombs, fewer people in Kharkiv would be dying.”
Former ambassador Steven Pifer also shares this view.

“For over two years, Russia has struck military and civilian targets throughout Ukraine. Ukraine should be able to use US/Western weapons to hit Russian military forces inside Russia that support Russian forces operating in Ukraine”, he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder told VOA the Department of Defense will continue to have conversations about Western weapons with Ukrainians, as well as international allies and partners.

He said for now, the policy remains unchanged.

“If and when we have anything else to provide on that, we certainly will,” he said

Tetiana Vorozhko, Kateryna Lisunova, and Maria Ulianovska of the VOA Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.