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Biden secretly gave Ukraine permission to strike inside Russia with US weapons

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In the last few days, the U.S. made the decision to allow Ukraine “flexibility” to defend itself from attacks on the border near Kharkiv, the second U.S. official said.

In effect, Ukraine can now use American-provided weapons, such as rockets and rocket launchers, to shoot down launched Russian missiles heading toward Kharkiv, at troops massing just over the Russian border near the city, or Russian bombers launching bombs toward Ukrainian territory. But the official said Ukraine cannot use those weapons to hit civilian infrastructure or launch long-range missiles, such as the Army Tactical Missile System, to hit military targets deep inside Russia.

It’s a stunning shift the administration initially said would escalate the war by more directly involving the U.S. in the fight. But worsening conditions for Ukraine on the battlefield –– namely Russia’s advances and improved position in Kharkiv –– led the president to change his mind.

The National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Biden administration hinted that a decision had either been secretly made or forthcoming in recent days. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who supports a restriction lift, became the first U.S. official to publicly hint that Biden may shift course and allow such strikes, telling reporters that U.S. policy toward Ukraine would evolve as needed. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby later did not rule out a potential change.

Those messages came after top U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom and France, said Ukraine should have the right to attack inside Russia using Western weapons. Lawmakers from both parties also supported the move publicly and privately, while top U.S. military officials briefed Congress behind closed doors that relaxing the restriction had “military value,” POLITICO first reported.

Some officials are concerned that Ukraine, when it attacks inside Russia using its own drones, has hit military targets unrelated to Russia’s invasion. The U.S. has strongly delivered the message that Kyiv must use American weapons only to directly hit Russian military sites used for its invasion of Ukraine, but not civilian infrastructure.

Ukrainian officials, from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on down, have pushed for the Biden administration to change its policy ever since Russia launched a large assault on Kharkiv. For weeks they’ve said an inability to attack Russian troop positions over the border complicated Ukraine’s defense of Kharkiv and the country writ large.

In a discussion with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov made a “hard push” to use U.S. weapons in Russia, according to a person with knowledge of the call.

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