Nato dismisses Russia’s warnings after lifting of arms restrictions

Russian president Vladimir Putin said allowing Ukraine to fire Nato weapons into Russia would risk nuclear war. (Sputnik/AP pic)

PRAGUE: Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg today dismissed warnings by Russian president Vladimir Putin that allowing Kyiv to use Western weapons for strikes inside Russian territory might lead to an escalation.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting in Prague, Stoltenberg said the alliance had heard such warnings many times before.

“This is nothing new. It has … been the case for a long time that every time Nato allies are providing support to Ukraine, President Putin is trying to threaten us to not do that,” he told reporters.

“And an escalation – well, Russia has escalated by invading another country.”

Putin on Tuesday warned Nato members against allowing Ukraine to fire their weapons into Russia and raised anew a risk of nuclear war after several allies lifted restrictions imposed on the use of weapons donated to Kyiv.

In a marked policy shift, US president Joe Biden has also authorised Kyiv the limited use of US-supplied weapons inside Russia, four officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday.

Biden’s decision applies only to targets inside Russia near the border with the Kharkiv region, where an offensive launched by Moscow on May 10 has overrun some villages, they explained. The US is by far the largest arms donor to Kyiv.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, is 30km from the border with Russia.

Kharkiv offensive

Russian jetfighters flying inside Russia out of reach of Ukrainian air defences have been supporting the offensive by losing highly precise glide bombs at Ukrainian defence lines and into Kharkiv, where they have caused numerous civilian casualties.

Stoltenberg said Ukraine had the right to strike legitimate military targets inside Russia, especially since the borderline and the frontline near Kharkiv were more or less the same, and it was not reasonable to assume Kyiv should not hit back.

“Ukraine has the right for self-defence, we have the right to help Ukraine uphold the right for self-defence, and that does not make Nato allies a party to the conflict,” he added. “That was the case back in February 2022, that was the case last year, that remains the case.”

In Berlin on Friday, a German government spokesman said Ukraine could use weapons supplied by Berlin to defend itself against attacks launched from just inside Russia against the Kharkiv border region, in accordance with international law.

In Prague, Dutch foreign minister Hanke Bruins Slot stressed Ukraine’s right to self-defence without imposing geographical borders on the use of weapons.

But other allies such as Italy refuse to go this far, with its foreign minister arguing that his country was banned by the constitution from allowing Kyiv to use donated weapons outside Ukraine.

Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called on these allies to change their stance since “the time is coming when it will be determined whether we as an alliance are serious … about assisting Ukraine to win this war”.

“I have always been of an opinion that Ukrainians are absolutely capable of defining the targets. I have full confidence that they know and understand what is needed, where the threat comes from,” Landsbergis told reporters.

His comments were echoed by his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski who stressed that Warsaw had never imposed such restrictions.

“We wish Ukraine victory, we wish them the recovery of all the occupied territories … Ukraine has the right to defend itself according to the rules of humanitarian law.”


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