(UKRAINE) — Soon after President Joe Biden announced a new $225 million package of desperately-needed weapons and ammunition for Ukraine during an in-person meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris Friday, he told Biden that to thwart the Russian invasion, Ukraine must be allowed to use the weapons to strike at its source: Inside Russia itself.

Last week, Biden gave limited permission for Ukrainian forces to fire back at Russians attacking Kharkiv from just across the border with United States’ weapons, but the administration has been emphatic that it still opposes strikes on key military targets elsewhere on Russian territory.


“It should not be construed as a shift away from our broader policy that we don’t encourage or enable U.S. weapons to be used against targets inside Russia,” a U.S. official said.

Zelenskyy has been vocal about the importance of using long-range Western weapons, like the U.S.-provided Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), against military targets in Russia.

“There is no moral, legal, or military reason for restricting them from using ATACMS, or any other weapon that we give them across the border,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who led all U.S. Army forces in Europe.


As opposed to ethics, law or sound military strategy, the restrictive American policy for Ukraine is based on fear, according to Hodges and other experts on the region.

“I believe it is actually just fear of escalation,” George Barros, leader of the Institute for the Study of War’s Russia team, told ABC News on Friday.

Since launching his invasion in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin has deliberately cultivated such fear within the U.S. and NATO. Putin rattled the saber most recently on Friday while speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where he threatened to begin arming enemies of the West with precision weapons.


“If they supply these weapons to the combat zone and call for the use of these weapons on our territory, why then don’t we have the right to do the same, to respond in a mirror way?” Putin said.

Biden and his cabinet members at the Pentagon and State Department have repeatedly vowed to assist Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” However, Hodges and Barros believe the administration has been unduly cowed by the Kremlin into not doing “what it takes.”

Hodges sees the Biden administration’s hesitant, incremental approach to supporting Ukraine — seen in the pattern of refusing to send advanced equipment like Patriot air-defense systems, Bradley tanks and F-16 fighters before eventually relenting — as a symptom of its failure to conceive and express a clear strategic vision for its support of Ukraine.


“It’s all kind of wishy-washy, leaves all kinds of caveats,” he said. “It’s very difficult to develop good strategy and good policy if you don’t have a clearly defined end state.”

Without a clearly defined objective, “You end up with bad policy, just as we did for 20 years in Afghanistan,” he said.

With its current restrictions, the U.S. is “giving Russia sanctuary from which they’re murdering innocent Ukrainian people,” Hodges said.


Changing the policy to instead help deny Russian forces sanctuary on their home turf could have a major impact on how the war plays out, according to Barros.

“One of the most decisive things that the administration can do, but that it really, earnestly, has not done, is unambiguously remove all the sanctuary space and allow the Ukrainians to conduct strikes in the deep and operational rears with all the U.S.-provided weapons,” Barros said. “This is super, super important, because I actually do think that we are on the cusp of what could be a game changer for the Ukrainians and what they could do on the battlefield.”

Russia’s dependence on centralized leadership orchestrating masses of poorly-trained troops might leave it especially vulnerable to long-range strikes on command centers and other targets behind the front lines.


“The way you defeat their only advantage, which is mass, is with precision,” Hodges said. “Precision out to 300 kilometers allows you to destroy headquarters, logistics, artillery, long-range fires – if you can destroy those, then you completely emasculate the Russian army.”

A policy change from Biden could disrupt Putin’s war machine even before Ukraine launched its first U.S. missile deep into Russia, according to Barros, if Russian commanders were anticipating the new threat, they would have to make hard decisions on whether to move any of its limited air-defense systems away from the front to cover its rear areas, leaving one or both at least partially exposed.

Those rear areas are “currently configured to maximize economic efficiency,” Barros said. But a new, credible threat of attack could immediately deprive Russia of such luxury.


With restrictions removed, Ukraine could also use U.S.-provided precision weapons to possibly destroy air-defenses within Russia, making it more likely Ukraine could overcome the current air-superiority stalemate and use its coming F-16s to good effect.

Despite the limits being imposed, military aid approved by the Biden administration has been significant, and it is doubtful Ukraine would have retained so much of its territory without it.

With the aid package announced on Friday, which included more artillery pieces and ammunition, as well as rockets for its High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), the U.S. has now committed more than $51 billion to Ukraine since Russia initiated the war.


“It’s better than not having it, for sure,” Hodges said to ABC News, “But none of this is decisive.”

Helping Ukraine, and helping it achieve victory are not the same.

“We haven’t even tried to actually help Ukraine win yet,” Hodges said.


While the outcome will be undoubtedly consequential for Ukrainians, assisting them toward victory is no matter of altruism for Americans, according to Hodges and Barros.

“If you want to keep NATO out of a fight with Russia, then then we need to help Ukraine defeat Russia,” Hodges said.

Barros echoed that sentiment, going on to say he believes Putin would love to go down as the man who proved NATO to be a paper tiger in a future attack on Europe.


“There’s actually a real opportunity here for the Russians to achieve that in a conventional small-scale war in the future, if we’re not careful,” he said.

But the way the U.S. handles the current conflagration in Europe could also have implications for a potentially higher-stakes war looming in the Pacific, argued Hodges.

“I think the Chinese are watching closely to see if we have the political will, industrial capacity and military capability to help Ukraine defeat Russia, where it is a much, much simpler problem than it will be out in the Indo-Pacific region,” Hodges said. “So this is about deterring China, also.”


Barros said that if the U.S. undermines its stated principle of supporting Ukraine due to nuclear threats from Russia, it would give the “greenest light you can give” to any other malign nation seeking leverage over America.

“All you have to simply do is just get nukes, and you’ll get a veto on our decision making,” he said.

He added, “If we’re not willing to take that risk with Russia, why would it be any different with China?”


And that risk is low, according to both Barros and Hodges.

“Putin, he’s evil, but he’s not crazy,” said Hodges, who argued that Russia has more to gain by threatening to use nuclear weapons than actually detonating them, which would likely bring a swift, destructive response.

Barros pointed out the U.S. has already blown past several Kremlin warnings that proved toothless.


“Even though we cannot 100% eliminate the risk, I think you can be really intellectual robust about this and say that the risk is extremely low, that we actually can indeed push back against the Russians, that we have, over the course the last two years collected sufficient evidence, and we know enough about Putin’s reaction to our efforts to push back on him, that we actually can do this,” he said.

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