France’s Macron Backs Ukrainian Strikes Inside Russia as the Idea Divides NATO Allies

France’s Macron Backs Ukrainian Strikes Inside Russia as the Idea Divides NATO Allies
President of France Emmanuel Macron speaks during the inauguration of the Tonelero submarine in the first day of the official visit of the French president to Brazil on March 27, 2024 in Itaguai, Brazil. (Lucas Figueiredo/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron signaled his support for Ukrainian forces to begin striking across their eastern border into Russia, ratcheting up support within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for attacks inside Russia.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Mr. Macron noted that Russian forces have launched missiles from within their internationally-recognized territory, which have then flown across the border into Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region. Mr. Macron said Ukraine must therefore be able to strike inside Russia to stop these types of attacks.

“We think we must allow (Ukraine) to neutralize the (Russian) military sites from which the missiles are fired, but not other civilian or military targets,” the French president said.

Mr. Macron’s remarks come as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has increasingly signaled support for NATO members to give Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy their blessing to use NATO-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia.

“The time has come for allies to consider whether they should lift some of the restrictions they have put on the use of weapons they have donated to Ukraine,” Mr. Stoltenberg said in a May 25 interview with The Economist. “Especially now when a lot of the fighting is going on in Kharkiv, close to the border, to deny Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard for them to defend themselves.”

Addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Monday, Mr. Stoltenberg again offered his support for Ukrainian forces to strike inside Russia’s borders.

“Self-defense includes the right to also attack legitimate military targets inside Russia,” the NATO chief said. “That’s self-defense and they have the right to self-defense, and we should help them to uphold the right of self-defense.”

Germany More Cautious About Russia Strikes

Mr. Scholz expressed reservations this weekend about encouraging Ukrainian strikes inside Russia. Addressing a German public forum on Sunday, May 26, the German chancellor said that the idea of striking inside Russia requires careful consideration and that it could prove “problematic” for NATO members to give Ukraine long-range weapons capable of such strikes without also providing careful guidance about the intended targets of these weapons.

While standing beside his French counterpart on Tuesday, Mr. Scholz avoided expressing outright support or opposition to Ukrainian strikes inside Russia.

Instead, the German chancellor said Ukraine is “allowed to defend itself” in accordance with international law.

Other NATO Allies Divided

Talk of permitting Ukrainian forces to strike inside Russia with NATO-supplied weapons has divided other members of the Western security alliance.

A Reuters reporter asked British Defense Minister David Cameron, during a May 2 interview, whether Ukraine should carry out strikes on targets in Russia, to which the British official replied, “We don’t discuss any caveats that we put on those things but let’s be absolutely clear Russia has launched an attack into Ukraine and Ukraine absolutely has the right to strike back at Russia.”

“Including inside Russia?” the Reuters journalist again asked, to which Mr. Cameron replied, “Well it’s, that’s a decision for Ukraine, and Ukraine has that right.”

Over the weekend, Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson also told the Swedish newspaper Hallandsposten that “Ukraine has the right to defend itself through combat actions directed at the opponent’s territory as long as the combat actions comply with the laws of war.” Sweden is the newest member of NATO and was inducted into the alliance in March.

By contrast, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her government have distanced themselves from Mr. Stoltenberg’s calls for NATO to support Ukrainian strikes inside Russia.

Speaking to Italy’s Ansa News agency on Monday, Ms. Meloni said the NATO secretary general should exercise “more prudence” with his remarks. Italy’s deputy prime minister and transportation minister, Matteo Salvini, also told Ansa News that Mr. Stoltenberg’s comments raise the prospect of a new world war and that the NATO secretary general should apologize for his recent comments or resign.

Biden Admin Not Changing Policy

The question of allowing Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia has elicited a mix of views from among current and former members of President Joe Biden’s administration. The Biden administration’s overarching policy has been one of opposition to Ukrainian strikes inside Russia, but some have urged a policy change or suggested caveats.

During a May 15 visit to Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. government has not “encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine.” However, Mr. Blinken left some room for Ukraine to decide for itself whether such strikes are prudent.

“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,” the secretary of state said. “We will continue to back Ukraine with the equipment that it needs to succeed, that it needs to win.”

In a May 19 interview with ABC News, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said that with the recent Russian offensive around Kharkiv, the time had come for the Biden administration to change its tune and allow strikes on military bases inside Russia.

“I think if the attacks are coming directly from over the line in Russia, that those bases ought to be fair game, whether they are where missiles are being launched from or where they are where troops are being supplied from,” Ms. Nuland said.

Asked to address Ms. Nulands remarks in the ABC News interview, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a May 20 Pentagon press conference that the Ukrainian military’s focus “ought to be on the close fight.” Moments later, Mr. Austin added that the United States expects Ukrainian forces to use U.S.-supplied weapons “on targets inside of Ukraine” but said “the aerial dynamic’s a little bit different” and that he’d “leave it up to the experts” to decide what to do.

A bipartisan group of 13 House sent a letter to Mr. Austin on May 20, urging the Biden administration to permit Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons on strategic targets inside Russia’s borders.

Last week, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) also appeared to throw his support behind allowing Ukrainian forces to use U.S.-supplied weapons inside Russia’s borders, telling a Voice of America reporter, “I think we need to allow Ukraine to prosecute the war the way they see fit” and “I think us trying to micromanage the effort there it’s not a good policy for us.”

Despite the growing domestic and international pressure, the Biden administration insisted it still won’t permit Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weapons inside Russia.

“We’re aware of the interest that President Zelenskyy has expressed in this regard. I would tell you that there’s no change to our policy at this point. We don’t encourage or enable the use of U.S.-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a White House press briefing on Tuesday.

Putin Warns NATO Members

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t remained silent regarding NATO’s discussion of Ukrainian strikes inside Russia.

Addressing reporters at a press conference while visiting Uzbekistan on Tuesday, Mr. Putin said the Russian side is monitoring the comments and behavior of NATO members “very carefully.”

The Russian president further asserted that certain long-range missile systems like the Franco-British-designed Storm Shadow cruise missile and the U.S.-designed Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) are reliant on space-based targeting support provided to Ukrainian forces by NATO member nations. He suggested such targeting assistance closely implicates these NATO nations in any strikes on Russian territory.

“Targets are identified and automatically communicated to the relevant crews that may not even realise what exactly they are putting in. A crew, maybe even a Ukrainian crew, then puts in the corresponding launch mission,” Mr. Putin said. “However, the mission is put together by representatives of NATO countries, not the Ukrainian military.”

The Russian president went on to say that NATO members therefore “should be fully aware of what is at stake,” adding, “They should keep in mind that theirs are small and densely populated countries, which is a factor to reckon with before they start talking about striking deep into the Russian territory.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told Russian broadcaster Izvetsia on Tuesday that Russia would prepare countermeasures if European Union member nations decide as a group to lift restrictions on Ukrainian attacks within Russia’s borders.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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