NATO Secretary General addresses media during a meeting of alliance foreign ministers in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: NATO)

BELFAST — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to applaud the decision by the US and other alliance members to allow the limited use of weapons supplied to Ukraine to strike Russian territory.

“As this war has evolved, NATO support has evolved and I welcome that allies are easing restrictions on the use of weapons,” he said during a meeting of alliance foreign ministers today in Prague, Czech Republic.

Stoltenberg noted that Russia had escalated the war by “opening a new front in the north” of Ukraine, amid sustained attacks on the city of Kharkiv, situated 19 miles south of the Russian border.

Faced with such a crisis, the “only way” for Ukraine to strike behind enemy lines is to target Russian territory, said Stoltenberg.

“It makes sense to adapt any restrictions that would make it impossible for Ukrainians to hit back against artillery positions, missile positions in Russia, directly attacking Ukrainian forces or Ukrainian cities,” he explained.

His comments come after the Biden administration changed its long-held stance to allow a select number of US weapons to be used by Ukrainian forces to strike targets inside Russia. A hold on long-range weaponry, like Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) remains in place.

“The President recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use U.S.-supplied weapons for counter-fire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them,” a US official told Breaking Defense. “Our policy with respect to prohibiting the use of ATACMS or long range strikes inside of Russia has not changed.” (Politico first reported the change in policy Thursday.)

A State Department official further noted that the new weapons “guidance” is designed to help Ukraine “defend against military targets just over the border that Russia is using to launch offensives.”

As previously reported, a “significant” number of ATACMS were sent to Ukraine as part of a March arms package, according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Posting on social media, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces claimed on Thursday that the weapon was used to strike a Russian Kerch ferry crossing in occupied Crimea.

Spokesperson of the Federal Government: 🇺🇦 has the right under international law to defend itself against attacks from the Russian border region. To this end, it can use the weapons it receives, including those supplied by 🇩🇪, in line with its obligations under international law.

— Germany at NATO (@GermanyNATO) May 31, 2024

Germany also followed the US in lifting weapons restrictions earlier today, bringing to an end intense political debate inside the European country based around concerns that Berlin could become party to the war.

“We are jointly convinced that Ukraine has the right under international law to defend itself against these attacks” across Kharkiv, said Steffen Hebestreit, a German government spokesperson in a translated statement. “To this end, it can also use the weapons supplied for this purpose in accordance with its international legal obligations, including those supplied by us.”

Stoltenberg said that allies have previously decided to supply weapons without strike restrictions, singling out the case of the UK when providing MBDA made Storm Shadow long range cruise missiles.

London first announced it was sending an undisclosed number of the munitions to Ukraine in May 2023, which have since been integrated on Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets.

Elsewhere, NATO allies are to begin discussing details related to a $100 billion multiyear financial package, still to be agreed, to deliver additional long term funding for Ukraine, according to Stoltenberg.

“There’s no way I can go into all the details before I present them to all the allies and before we have worked through those details,” he added, before stressing that the new money will be dedicated to “immediate needs” and Ukraine’s “future force.”