NATO divided over Ukraine's use of donated weapons

Kyiv seeks unrestricted weapon use against Russia, calling it pivotal, as NATO pledges support for its membership bid

Reuters July 11, 2024
US President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a bilateral meeting, during NATO's 75th anniversary summit, in Washington, US, July 11, 2024. PHOTO: REUTERS


Ukraine on Thursday urged NATO to lift restrictions on use of long-range weapons against targets in Russia, saying it would be "game-changer" in its war with Moscow, while China slammed NATO criticism of its support for Russia as biased and malicious.

NATO members issued a declaration in support of Ukraine at a summit in Washington on Wednesday, promising additional aid and pledging to support its "irreversible path" to NATO membership. NATO leaders will hold a two-hour session with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday afternoon.

Andryi Yermak, the chief of the Ukrainian president's cabinet, said he was "satisfied" with NATO's summit statement on Wednesday, but added:

"The partners have to take off any restrictions to use weapons not just by Ukrainian territory but have the possibility to answer (Russian attacks) including the territory of Russia.

Read also: Potential NATO-Russia conflict 'worrying': Turkiye's Erdogan

He told a public forum on the final day of the three-day NATO summit that Russia had no restrictions and it would be "a real game-changer" if Ukraine's allies could lift all limits on the use of the weapons they supply to Ukraine.

NATO members have taken different approaches to how Ukraine can use weapons they donate. Some have made clear Kyiv can use them to strike targets deep inside Russia while the United States has taken a narrower approach, allowing its weapons to be used only just inside Russia's border against targets supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine.

The United States and its allies have used this week's summit to project unity in the face of what the see as a rising threat to Europe from Russia and China.

US President Joe Biden declared on Wednesday that "We can and will defend every inch of NATO territory."

Angry words from China

Wednesday's NATO declaration included sharp words about China, calling it "a decisive enabler" of Russia's war effort in Ukraine, and said Beijing continues to pose systemic challenges to Europe and to security.

China's Foreign Ministry said the declaration was biased and "sowing discord" and its mission to the European Union described it as being "full of Cold War mentality and belligerent rhetoric, and China-related content full of provocations, lies, incitement and smears."

NATO member Hungary said ahead of a meeting of the 32 NATO countries with partners from the so-called Indo-Pacific Four - Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea - that it does not want NATO to become an "anti-China" bloc, and will not support it doing so.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Hungarian state television NATO was "a defense alliance" and that "we can't organize it into an anti-China bloc."

China remains an important trade and investment partner for Hungary, while other European countries are seeking to become less dependent on Beijing.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, irked other NATO members with surprise visits to Kyiv, Moscow and Beijing in the past two weeks on a self-styled "peace mission". He and Trump will meet on Thursday at the latter's Florida home, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Read: China’s top diplomat tells ASEAN to 'guard' against NATO influence

His meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin in particular angered some fellow NATO allies, who said the trip handed legitimacy to Putin's claims to Ukrainian territory seized since Russia's 2022 invasion.

Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told a public forum said he would not speculate on whether Orban's trip to Moscow was coordinated with Trump, Biden's rival in the November US election, but said the Ukrainians had grave misgivings about any effort to negotiate a peace deal without including them.

"So whatever adventurism is being undertaken without Ukraine's consent or support is not something that's consistent with our policy, the foreign policy of the United States," he said.

For its part, China has repeatedly lashed out at NATO criticisms and has warned against its expansion into the Indo-Pacific.

The leaders of Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia have forged stronger ties with NATO amid rising concerns over China's pressure on rival claimants in disputed waters in the region and on democratic Taiwan, the global hub of cutting edge chip production, which Beijing claims as its own.

Projecting unity

Looming over the Washington meetings are fears that the US presidential election could yield a sharp change in Washington's support for Ukraine and NATO.

Biden's uneven performance in a June 27 debate against Trump and low public approval ratings have raised fresh doubts about his mental fitness to stand again, with nine Democratic members of Congress and one Democratic senator calling for him to step aside.

Biden, 81, will hold a rare solo news conference on Thursday afternoon, where reporters are certain to question his candidacy, despite his hope to shift the narrative, surrounded by allied leaders he has cultivated.

Zelenskiy met both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday. He is keen to cement ties with US lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle in the event that Trump is reelected.

Also read: UK's Stramer calls for NATO unity on Ukraine, promises military assistance

A NATO declaration said the allies would provide at least 40 billion euros ($43 billion) in military aid to Ukraine within the next year, although they stopped short of the multi-year commitment NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had sought.

NATO and the four Indo-Pacific countries are set to launch new joint projects at the summit - on Ukraine, artificial intelligence, disinformation, and cybersecurity.

Greeting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Stoltenberg said Russia's closer cooperation with North Korea showed how European and Indo-Pacific security were interlinked.

He said NATO was "deeply concerned" Russia could support North Korea's nuclear and missile programs in return for weapons NATO says North Korea has provided Russia for use in Ukraine.


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