Ukraine Should Be Free to Hit Military Targets in Russia, Latvia Says

(Bloomberg) -- Ukraine should be free to strike military sites inside Russia as it fends off attacks on its critical infrastructure, Latvia’s foreign minister said. But allies including the US have held back on sending weapons that can strike Russia.

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“We should allow Ukrainians to use weapons to target missile sites or air fields from where those operations are being launched,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Tuesday in an interview on the sidelines of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Bucharest. Allies “should not fear” escalation, he added.

While the US hasn’t imposed restrictions on how Ukraine uses weapons, it has so far declined to send weapons with sufficient range to strike inside Russia.

The Biden administration has provided Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated weapons, including multiple-launch rocket systems, but officials have balked at sending the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, due to its ability to strike targets inside Russian territory.

Washington has so far declined to provide fighter jets, pointing to assessments that the aircraft would not improve Ukraine’s prospects. The introduction of longer-range weapons has spurred concerns that the conflict could escalate or widen to include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Those concerns are shared by Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who is set to take over as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee once the GOP gains control of the chamber in January. In an interview, he said such attacks would erode public support for Ukraine.

Strikes inside Russia “would trigger a massive response from Russia and that truly would escalate the situation,” McCaul told Bloomberg News. “You have to weigh in the tremendous backlash and the world public opinion. The Ukrainians have done a phenomenal job being on the right side of this issue with the public opinion in their favor. That would be a step perhaps too far.”

Rinkevics said several other member states also believed Ukraine generally shouldn’t have constraints on how it uses weapons, but this is ultimately up to individual nations when they decide which weapons to provide to Kyiv.

Allies Raise Issue

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters at the meeting that some countries were raising the issue of whether allies should provide weapons without imposing conditions, though “the consensus hasn’t changed.” Kyiv has been pushing for weapons from allies without “political caveats” since the beginning of the war, Landsbergis added.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told Bloomberg that “we don’t want problems with the other countries,” saying that “we are not in danger directly.” He added: “We are against an escalation of the conflict.”

Ukraine has been pummeled by Russian missile attacks on its critical infrastructure, leaving millions of people without reliable sources of energy and water in the middle of winter. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says more such attacks should be expected, especially as Russia loses ground on the battlefield.

Over the two-day meeting in Bucharest, allies are due to discuss sending Ukraine more air defense systems and other equipment to help Ukraine fend off the attacks, even as its current systems have taken down around two-thirds of Russian missiles in recent strikes.

--With assistance from Andra Timu, Irina Vilcu and Daniel Flatley.

(Updates with US lawmaker’s response in sixth paragraph.)

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