Support grew among NATO allies on Friday for using Western-donated weapons to strike inside Russian territory, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg downplayed Kremlin warnings of an escalation.

Germany said it had given Ukraine permission to fire German-delivered weapons at targets in Russia, a day after US officials said Washington had partially lifted similar restrictions to allow Ukraine to defend its eastern Kharkiv region, which borders Russia.

Kyiv has the "right under international law to defend itself" against attacks coming from inside Russia, close to the border with Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

"To this end, it can also use the weapons supplied for this purpose... including those supplied by us," he said.

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Washington had previously resisted allowing Ukraine to use longer-range US weapons to attack Russian territory, fearing it could drag NATO into a direct conflict with Russia.

The Kremlin accused the West on Thursday of "entering a new round of escalations in tensions".

But NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, speaking to reporters at a meeting of alliance foreign ministers in Prague, responded: "This is part of efforts by President (Vladimir) Putin and Moscow to prevent NATO allies from supporting Ukraine to defend themselves."

"Ukraine has the right for self defence and we have the right to help Ukraine," he said.

Some NATO member states are opposed, however.

Slovak PM Blasts Ukraine’s Lukoil Sanctions As Oil Flow Stops
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Slovak PM Blasts Ukraine’s Lukoil Sanctions As Oil Flow Stops

Slovak PM Robert Fico told his Ukrainian counterpart on Saturday that Slovakia will not be a “hostage” to Ukraine-Russia relations after Kyiv's sanctions on Lukoil halted deliveries.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said that "for Italy, it is impossible to use our weapons outside of Ukraine".

"We are not fighting against Russia. We're defending Ukraine and it is not the same," he said.

- 'Stop the madness' -

A US official said on Thursday that President Joe Biden "had recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use US-supplied weapons or counter-fire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them".

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The official said that ATACMS missiles, which could hit deeper inside Russia, were still prohibited.

A second US official confirmed the change of policy, which followed weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions between the White House and top US military and State Department officials.

Biden gave the final sign-off in recent days but the decision was kept secret for operational reasons and only became effective on Thursday.

The change in Washington's thinking was attributed by US officials to Russia's daily pounding of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second biggest city.

In the latest Russian strikes on the city overnight, five people were killed and 23 wounded, including two children, officials said, warning residents could still be trapped under the rubble.

"The rescue and search operation continues. All services are working at the scene," said regional governor Oleg Synegubov.

Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov said there had not been "a single military person, not a single military object" present.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pressed Western allies for more air defence fire power.

"Our top priorities are to ensure more air defence systems for Ukraine, joint defence industry projects, and weapons for our warriors, as well as global efforts to force Russia to make peace," he said on social media during a visit to Sweden on Friday.

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"Only together we can stop the madness from Moscow," he told a press conference in Stockholm.

- 'The advance is underway' -

Ukraine has intensified strikes on Russian targets in recent months, claiming drone attacks on military and energy infrastructure targets deep inside the country.

Russia's military said on Friday that it had shot down 29 Ukrainian drones overnight that were targeting the port city of Novorossiisk and an oil depot in Temryuk.

The Temryuk strike sparked a fire, which raged for several hours before being extinguished, and wounded several oil depot workers, Krasnodar Region Governor Venyamin Kondratyev wrote on the Telegram social media channel.

No injuries were reported in the Novorossiisk strike, local authorities said.

The increasing intensity of strikes has come as Russian troops have made gradual advances in Ukraine this year after holding off a Ukrainian counter-offensive last year.

Russian Defence Minister Andrei Belousov said Moscow's forces had seized 880 square kilometres (340 square miles) of territory so far in 2024.

"The advance is underway in all tactical directions," he said at a meeting of the Russian-led CSTO security alliance in Almaty, according to Russian news agencies.

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