Ukraine can use US, German weapons over Kharkiv border

Illia Novikov, Matthew Lee and Karel Janicek |

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg suggested lifting restrictions on Ukraine’s arms.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg suggested lifting restrictions on Ukraine’s arms.

Germany has joined the United States in allowing Ukraine to hit some targets on Russian soil with the long-range weapons they are supplying, a significant policy change that comes as depleted Ukrainian troops are losing ground in the war.

Ukrainian officials have expressed frustration over restrictions on the use of Western weapons, especially as the border region of Kharkiv has endured a Russian onslaught in May that has stretched Kyiv’s forces.

Germany and the US specifically authorised defence of Kharkiv, whose capital city of the same name lies only 20km from Russia. 

Beyond offering Ukraine a chance of better protecting Kharkiv, it is not clear what easing restrictions might do to the direction of the conflict in what is proving to be a critical period.

Germany said Ukraine could use weapons it supplied against positions just over the border, from where Russia launched its attacks on Kharkiv. 

A day earlier, US President Joe Biden gave Kyiv a green light to strike back with American weapons at Russian military assets targeting the region, according to US officials.

The German announcement brought a furious response from Moscow, where Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said “Ukraine and its NATO allies will receive such a devastating response that the alliance won’t be able to avoid entering the conflict” – an eventuality that Western governments have ruled out.

Western leaders have hesitated to ease the restrictions on their weapons because of the risk it would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has warned the West’s direct involvement could put the world on a path to nuclear conflict.

But as Russia has gained the battlefield initiative in parts of the 1000km front line, some Western leaders have pushed for a policy change allowing Kyiv to strike bases inside Russia with sophisticated long-range weapons provided by its Western partners.

The Kremlin’s bigger and better-equipped army is exploiting Ukrainian shortages in troops and ammunition after a lengthy delay in US military aid.

Western Europe’s inadequate military production has also slowed crucial deliveries to Ukraine.

The German government noted that, in recent weeks, Russia had prepared, co-ordinated and carried out attacks on the Kharkiv region, in particular from areas just over the border in Russia.

An apartment building damaged in a Russian missile attack in Kharkiv
Russia launched five missiles at Kharkiv overnight, one of them hitting a residential building. (AP PHOTO)

Berlin said Ukraine had the right under international law to defend itself and it could use weapons delivered by Germany for that purpose “in accordance with its international legal commitments”.

Biden’s decision allows for US-supplied weapons to be used 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”, one official told the Associated Press.

But the officials stressed the US policy calling on Ukraine not to use American-provided ATACMS or long-range missiles and other munitions to strike offensively inside Russia had not changed.

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 invasion on February 24, 2022.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday he supported lifting the limits on Ukraine’s use of Western weaponry, saying it’s “a matter of upholding international law – Ukraine’s right to self-defence”.

In Moscow, Medvedev repeated Russian warnings the steps being taken could set NATO and Russia on the path to a nuclear conflict. 

“It’s not an attempt to scare or any sort of a nuclear bluff”, he said.

Russia’s newly appointed defence minister, Andrei Belousov, claimed on Friday that Russian troops were “advancing in all tactical directions”, including in the Kharkiv region where he said they had pushed Ukrainian forces back by as much as 9km.

Russian forces captured 28 towns and villages in the past month, he said.

Five Russian ballistic missiles slammed into an apartment building in the city overnight, killing at least four people, Ukraine’s air force said..

One of them struck a residential building and was followed by another missile 25 minutes later that hit first responders, according to regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov. 

At least 25 people were injured, he said.

AP and Reuters