“This is insane.” Davyd Arakhamiya, a member of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, forcefully said out loud what most military experts and analysts have long thought – and we have argued repeatedly here in Kyiv Post and in Washington.

Arakhamiya, leading a Ukrainian delegation to Washington, DC last week to meet with Biden administration officials, rightly railed against the Pentagon prohibition against using weapons and munitions provided by the United States to target Russian forces and their equipment massing in assembly areas inside of Russia.

Ukraine is now facing a Bastogne-like moment in Kharkiv Oblast – and had Kyiv been allowed to interdict these forces in the Belgorod region prior to launching their offensive, Ukraine might have prevented Russia from capturing roughly 50-square miles of Ukrainian territory.

Advertisement

In pushing Biden administration officials and congressional lawmakers to get the US to reverse the ban, Arakhamiya doubled down and said the White House’s policy of affording Russia sanctuary is “crazy.”

It is indeed. Strategically and tactically.

Oleksandra Ustinova, head of the Ukraine’s parliamentary commission on arms and ammunition added: “We saw their military sitting one or two kilometers from the border inside Russia, and there was nothing we could do about that… They [Russia] know there is a restriction for Ukrainians to shoot at Russian territory.”

Eurotopics: EU Elections - Support for Kyiv Wavering?
Other Topics of Interest

Eurotopics: EU Elections - Support for Kyiv Wavering?

How the strengthening of the right-wing camp in the EU Parliament will effect support for Ukraine is still unclear, as this is yet another issue on which the corresponding parties are divided.

The Biden administration is indeed providing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military sanctuary in Russia – and enabling them to dictate conditions on the battlefield without fear of recourse.

Ukraine’s perspective is shared by many of our European allies.

In February, Finland’s Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen said his country had not set any restrictions on what Ukraine can do with the weapons they provided. Jukka Kopra, chair of the Finnish parliamentary defense committee, added: “If necessary, Ukraine should also strike military targets on the Russian side. It is a completely legitimate defensive battle that Ukraine is waging. The UN Charter allows military targets to be attacked across land borders.”

Advertisement

The insanity of being stuck in the perpetual “close fight” may serve the Biden administration’s “weaken Russia” strategy, but it is literally killing Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, while attending a meeting of European foreign ministers in Strasbourg, France, called for providing Ukraine’s armed forces with more long-range weapons to be able to hit targets deep behind the frontline. Yet, inexplicably, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz remains firmly uncommitted to supplying Ukraine with long-range Taurus missiles, fearing escalation.

Meanwhile, Putin continues to escalate – including attacks on Ukrainian civilian population centers in Kharkiv City and Odesa.

Jean-Louis Bourlanges, chairman of the French parliament’s foreign affairs committee, took a similar stance. Earlier in May, he called on French leadership to authorize Ukraine to use weapons provided by France to strike Russian forces in Russia, arguing: “The right to self-defense excludes the right to inviolability of the aggressor’s territory.”

In Washington, however, it was a schizophrenic week for the Biden administration. Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon are on different sheets of music, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is talking about a 2025 counteroffensive. Taking interdiction off the table for Ukraine is a potential death sentence – Kyiv cannot win the war, much less launch a counteroffensive, if they cannot stem the flow of Russian forces crossing the border.

Advertisement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his generals must create space – breathing room. A task that cannot be achieved while in constant contact. The insanity of being stuck in the perpetual “close fight” – a groundhog day scenario – may serve the Biden administration’s “weaken Russia” strategy, but it is literally killing Ukraine.

Notably, Thursday afternoon, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh pointedly contradicted comments made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier in the week during his visit to Kyiv.

When questioned about the US position concerning Ukraine striking targets inside Russia with American weapons she responded: “We haven’t changed our position. We believe that the equipment, the capabilities that we are giving Ukraine… should be used to take back Ukrainian sovereign territory.”

Advertisement

Singh emphasized that the best use of the weapons – their capabilities – “is within Ukrainian territory,” despite the fact that Russia is massing troops and equipment across the border for use in their assault on Kharkiv.

On Wednesday, Blinken had told reporters during a joint interview with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that “the United States is committed to helping ensure Ukraine wins this war.” He went on to add: “We have not encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine, but ultimately Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war, a war it’s conducting in defense of its freedom, of its sovereignty, of its territorial integrity. And we will continue to back Ukraine with the equipment that it needs to succeed, that it needs to win.”

His comments seemingly gave Ukraine the green light to interdict Russian forces massing on the other side of the border. Earlier this month, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine and endorsed Ukrainian strikes on targets inside Russia using British-supplied weapons – to include Storm Shadow.

Nor can Foggy Bottom seem to keep its story straight. When questioned about Ukraine targeting Russian oil fineries in late March, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters: “It has always been our position since the outset of this war that we do not encourage or support Ukraine taking strikes outside its own territory… this has been our longtime policy that we have made clear to the Ukrainian government, so it’s not something that they would – of which they would be unaware.”

Advertisement

The Biden administration’s defensive strategy for Ukraine is not working and is putting Kharkiv and Kyiv at risk. They need to embrace Gen. George S. Patton’s perspective that “nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.”

Ukraine needs the authority to use US and NATO weapons systems to strike targets inside Russia posthaste.

Blinken’s announcement last week concerning the release of an additional $2 billion in military aid for Ukraine, while welcomed and needed to stop the bleeding, is really more of the same. Even Sullivan acknowledged it was intended to “hold the line” and that additional funding would be necessary. Wanting Ukraine to win, and enabling Ukraine to win are two different things. Half measures are not helpful, Ukraine needs “deeds not words.”

Retired US Army Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt argues that the congressional supplemental, while necessary, is not enough to reverse the “deteriorating situation in Ukraine.” And that the US needs to “loosen the handcuffs we’ve placed on Zelensky and let him use the weapons and equipment we provide.”

Advertisement

That sentiment is echoed by former national security advisor and retired US Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who urges: “It’s past time to provide Ukraine what they need.”

Renowned military analyst Seth Jones reminds us: “Without a clear US strategy and a sustained supply of Western weapons, intelligence and training, Mr. Putin could prevail.”

Ukraine needs the authority to use US and NATO weapons systems to strike targets inside Russia posthaste. One word will shape Ukraine’s ability to win or lose the war – interdiction: an action to divert, disrupt, delay, or destroy the enemy’s military surface capability before it can be used effectively against friendly forces, or to otherwise achieve objectives.

If the Biden administration cannot come off their defensive strategy and get control of their schizophrenia, then Zelensky and his generals should call it what they are – self-defense strikes to defeat an imminent threat against Ukrainian military forces and civilians. It seems to work for US Central Command in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post. 

Copyright 2024. Jonathan E. Sweet and Mark C. Toth. All rights reserved.

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter