US vacillates over giving Ukraine permission to strike Russian targets

US vacillates over giving Ukraine permission to strike Russian targets
US vacillates over giving Ukraine permission to strike Russian targets / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 23, 2024

The US continues to vacillate over giving Kyiv permission to use US-made weapons to hit targets inside Russia’s territory, as Ukraine’s military situation deteriorates further.

House Speaker Mike Johnson was the latest to express support for allowing Ukraine to use US-delivered weapons to strike Russian territory on May 22.

Caught by journalists in the Capital and asked for his option, he said Ukraine should be permitted to wage war "in the way they see fit."

"I think we need to allow Ukraine to prosecute the war in the way they see fit. They need to be able to fight back. And I think us trying to micromanage their effort there is not a good policy for us," Johnson said.

His remarks follow on from similar remarks made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a trip to Ukraine last week, when he said Ukraine is free to “make its own choices” on how to use US weapons.

However, the Pentagon and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan remain staunchly opposed to giving this permission, afraid it will lead to an escalation with Russia that could end in direct Russian strikes on Nato assets.

Despite the recent passage of a new $61bn aid package on April 20, Ukraine remains desperately short of arms and ammunition and has been losing ground to an intensified Russian assault around the eastern city of Kharkiv by the better equipped Russian forces. Part of the problem is Russia has been massing forces and weapons on its side of the nearby border with impunity, which Kyiv complains it cannot strike due to the ban on using US weapons inside Russia.

The messaging from the US remains mixed and technically neither Blinken nor Johnson has any authority to make any decisions on military strategy. But there does seem to be a rising momentum for giving this permission as concerns that Ukraine will be forced to make more territorial concessions.

The US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee added their voices to calls for the weapons use ban to be dropped with an appeal from a bipartisan group of congressmen to Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on May 22. The appeal urged for faster delivery of weapons to Ukraine and suggested allowing Ukraine to strike targets within Russia.

"Congress did not put restrictions on the use of these weapons. It's Jake Sullivan and your administration that has put the restrictions on these weapons. I talk to them...they cannot achieve victory with these restrictions that you...have placed on them,” US congressman and foreign committee chairman Michael McCaul said during a hearing on Ukraine with Blinken.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy confirmed in an interview with Reuters that Ukraine is in discussions with international partners regarding the possibility of using their weapons to strike Russian targets.

In a separate confusion, the UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps claimed that it has evidence that China has been supplying Russia with “lethal military aid”.

British defence intelligence shows that "lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine," Shapps said, Reuters reported.

Sullivan contradicted those statements, saying that the US has no such evidence, but has been complaining loudly over Beijing’s supplies of dual-use support for Russia that aids its military machine.

Sullivan said that while he has personally warned about the possibility since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the US has seen no evidence either in the past or "to date."

"I look forward to speaking to the UK to make sure that we have a common operating picture," he added, saying that he "just wants to understand what exactly (Shapps') comment was referring to."