Pressure mounting on US to let Ukraine strike military targets in Russia

Kyiv plays down threat to Kharkiv despite continuing Russian troop build-up

Ukraine said more Russian troops were massing near its eastern Kharkiv region but not in big enough numbers to breach defences there, as Washington came under growing pressure to let Kyiv use US-supplied arms to hit military targets inside Russia.

“The enemy continues to build up the grouping of his troops ... by transferring additional regiments and brigades from other areas and training grounds. However, these forces are not enough for a full-scale offensive and to break through our defence,” Ukraine’s top military commander, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Thursday.

“Furthermore, the enemy’s efforts are complicated by the strengthening of our defence thanks to timely decisions to transfer reserves to areas that are under threat. The creation of a reserve of ammunition has also ensured the effective defeat of the enemy and a reduction of his offensive capacities,” he added.

Russia quickly occupied about 12 abandoned or sparsely populated villages near the border of Kharkiv region this month, in a new ground incursion that coincided with intense artillery fire on the area and on Kharkiv city, which is 35km from the frontier.

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Ukraine says it has stabilised the situation but fighting continues for the border town of Vovchansk and near the village of Lyptsi. Russia has not reported making progress in the area in recent days, but claimed to have gained ground further south in Kharkiv region and in the neighbouring province of Donetsk.

Arms and ammunition are flowing to Ukraine again after a halt of several months due to political wrangling in Washington, but the US faces mounting calls to let Kyiv use weapons that it has supplied to hit military targets in Russia – something that Ukraine says would have helped it to prevent the latest attack on Kharkiv region.

“Allies are delivering many different types of military support to Ukraine and some of them have imposed some restrictions on the use of these weapons ... These are national decisions,” Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

“But I think that in light of how this war has evolved ... the time has come to consider some of these restrictions, to enable the Ukrainians to really to defend themselves,” he added, at the start of a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting in Prague.

After talks with German chancellor Olaf Scholz this week, French president Emmanuel Macron said that “we think that we should allow them to neutralise military sites where missiles are fired, from where ... Ukraine is attacked,” adding that “we should not allow them to touch other targets in Russia, and obviously civilian capacities.”

Mr Scholz said: “Ukraine has every possibility under international law for what it is doing ... I find it strange when some people argue that it should not be allowed to defend itself and take measures that are suitable for this.”

France hopes to send military trainers to Ukraine soon, possibly as part of a multinational effort with allies, Reuters quoted unnamed diplomats as saying.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned the West against allowing Kyiv to launch strikes on his country and said any foreign troops in Ukraine could be targeted by his military.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe