US says Ukraine can hit inside Russia ‘anywhere’ its forces attack across the border

POLITICO:   The U.S. has told Ukraine it can use American-supplied weapons to hit any Russian forces attacking from across the border — not just those in the region near Kharkiv, according to U.S. officials.

The subtle shift in messaging — which officials insist is not a change in policy — comes just weeks after the U.S. quietly gave Kyiv the green light to strike inside Russia in response to a cross-border assault on the city of Kharkiv. At the time, U.S. officials stressed that the policy was limited to the Kharkiv region, among other restrictions.

Ukrainian forces have since used American weapons to strike into Russia at least once, destroying targets in the city of Belgorod, and managed to hold back the Russian assault. But Ukrainian and other European officials have pressed the U.S. to loosen its restrictions even further, allowing Ukraine to strike anywhere inside Russia.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told PBS on Tuesday that the agreement with Ukraine about firing American weapons into Russia extends to “anywhere that Russian forces are coming across the border from the Russian side to the Ukrainian side to try to take additional Ukrainian territory.”

Russia has in recent days indicated it may soon move on the northeastern city of Sumy, which is also near the Russian border. If that happens, the policy would apply there as well, Sullivan said.

“This is not about geography. It's about common sense. If Russia is attacking or about to attack from its territory into Ukraine, it only makes sense to allow Ukraine to hit back against the forces that are hitting it from across the border,” Sullivan said.

Two U.S. officials, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about the discussions, maintained that allowing Ukraine to hit inside Russia in response to counterfire from anywhere across the border is not a shift in policy since the Kharkiv decision was made. Originally, the move was characterized only in the context of the ongoing Kharkiv assault, but that did not exclude the possibility of hitting back against other cross-border attacks, said one of the officials.

Still, Sullivan’s language is markedly different from what U.S. officials said in May when the new policy was detailed. At the time a senior U.S. official said: “The president recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use U.S. weapons for counter-fire purposes in Kharkiv so Ukraine can hit back at Russian forces hitting them or preparing to hit them.”

The policy of not allowing long-range strikes inside Russia “has not changed,” the official stressed.

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