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Zelensky hails US weapons green light as ‘step forward’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed a US decision to partially lift restrictions on using US-donated weapons to strike inside Russia as a “step forward”.

The US gave the green light yesterday for Ukraine to use US weapons to defend the Kharkiv region on the border with Russia, overcoming previous concerns that authorising such strikes could drag NATO into a direct conflict with Russia.

“This is a step forward toward (the) goal … of making it possible to defend our people who live in the villages on the border,” Mr Zelensky said during a visit to Stockholm.

Emergency services search a destroyed apartment after a Russian attack on Kharkiv

Germany said it too had given Ukraine permission to fire German-delivered weapons at targets in Russia.

Ukraine 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.

Russia accused the West yesterday of “entering a new round of escalations in tensions”.

And Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today said that US-made weapons “are already being used to attempt strikes on Russian territory”.

“This is quite eloquent evidence of the extent of US involvement in this conflict,” he said.

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.

However, divisions on the issue between NATO member states have emerged.

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’

The change in the thinking of the US was attributed by American officials to Russia’s daily bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city.

In the latest Russian strikes on the city overnight, six people were killed and 25 wounded, including two children, officials said.

Yulia, a local resident who fled to a basement in the night for shelter, said there were several explosions in the night.

“We are all just shocked by what we experienced. Honestly, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” she told AFP.

“These are monsters, these are not people. People cannot do such a thing in the 21st century,” she said.

Regional governor Oleg Synegubov said the rubble was still being cleared.

A firefighter standing on a destroyed car following a Russian missile strike on Kharkiv

“There may be more people under it,” he said.

Mr Zelensky has pressed Western allies for more support.

“Only together we can stop the madness from Moscow,” he said at a press conference in Stockholm.

While expressing gratitude to Western allies for weapons supplies, he said there were often delays in deliveries.

“It can take six months or more from the moment the package is approved to the moment it is used … Our biggest enemy is slow supply,” he said.

‘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 it had shot down 29 Ukrainian drones overnight that were targeting the port city of Novorossiysk and an oil depot in Temryuk.

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 880km2 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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