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State Department: Ukraine makes own decisions on non-US weapons

FILE - U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, shown here in Washington on July 18, 2023, said in an interview with VOA that "when it comes to using non-U.S. provided weapons, ultimately Ukraine will make its own decisions."
FILE - U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, shown here in Washington on July 18, 2023, said in an interview with VOA that "when it comes to using non-U.S. provided weapons, ultimately Ukraine will make its own decisions."

In recent weeks, Ukraine has intensified its appeals to the Biden administration to lift the ban on using U.S.-provided weapons to strike targets inside Russia.

The White House has said that it “does not encourage or enable” strikes on Russian territory with American weapons. At the same time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that “ultimately Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war.”

For more about how the U.S. government sees its role in arming Ukraine, and why officials insist that American weapons not be used to strike targets in Russia, VOA’s Ukrainian Service spoke to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Miller talked about why the U.S. will continue to provide Kyiv with everything it needs to defend itself as well as how he sees the relationship between NATO and Ukraine developing in the months ahead.

The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: During his recent visit to Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken told Kyiv that U.S. aid will make a difference against Russia's offensive. Also, he declared a vision for Ukraine’s victory. After 2½ years of war, what is this strategy?

Matthew Miller, State Department spokesperson: We continue to believe that Ukraine can win this conflict, that Ukraine will win this conflict. We've seen the Ukrainian military repel Russian forces from the outskirts of Kyiv. We've seen them reclaim more than half the territory that Russia initially occupied. And we see them continuing to fight bravely. We also see Ukraine building back its economy so it can stand on its own two feet. And one of the focuses of Blinken’s visit was about all the things Ukraine needs to do to succeed diplomatically, militarily, economically.

VOA: Secretary Blinken recently stated that Ukraine will be a NATO member. How many steps closer will Ukraine be to NATO after the Washington summit compared to the one in Vilnius?

Miller: I will say on behalf of the United States, we have been very clear that Ukraine's future is in NATO and other NATO member states have made clear that Ukraine's future is in NATO.

And what the secretary wanted to make clear to the Ukrainian people when we were in Kyiv is that we do see a bridge from here to there, and we think that bridge needs to be well lit. It needs to be clear what the path is for the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government needs to be, clear about what milestones need to be met.

But I would say it is also important to step back and make clear that even in advance of NATO's membership, we do continue to negotiate a defense agreement with Ukraine. There are some 30 countries that have either already concluded or are negotiating their long-term security agreements with Ukraine. Those are to provide Ukraine substantive long-term security commitments to ensure that not only does it have what it needs to defend itself today but has what it needs to defend itself in the future.

VOA: The Pentagon and the White House have been firm on the position regarding restrictions on how Ukraine can use American arms inside Russia. Secretary Blinken noted multiple times that the U.S. does not encourage Ukraine to use U.S. equipment to strike in Russia but that it’s up to Ukraine to make decisions on how Kyiv is going to conduct the war. Could you explain the difference between the two positions?

Miller: So, there is no difference in policy between us and the Pentagon or between us and the White House. We all have the same policy, which is we don't encourage strikes outside of Ukraine's borders. We don't enable such strikes beyond Ukraine's borders. We understand that when it comes to using non-U.S. provided weapons, ultimately Ukraine will make its own decisions.

Ukraine is a sovereign country, and they will have to make their own determinations when it comes to using weapons that they have acquired elsewhere or that they have built or that they have produced themselves, such as some of the drones that they produce, that you've seen them use. Those are decisions for Ukraine to make.

We don't enable the use of those weapons to strike outside Russia. That has been our longstanding policy ... continues to be our policy.

VOA: And why exactly is there this policy amid Russia opening a new front in the Kharkiv region?

Miller: So, we continue to support Ukraine's ability to back itself, including even some of the money or some of the equipment in the recently passed supplemental [aid package] has already made it to the front lines to help Ukraine defend itself against that assault in Kharkiv. We have, from day one, been committed to Ukraine's defense.

I can just tell you that we have always been there for Ukraine. We will always be there for Ukraine. We will always provide them [with] what they need to defend themselves.

VOA: What is the Department of State's reaction to the recent statement from the U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps that China is developing “combat equipment” with Russia to use against Ukraine? Does the State Department see any evidence of that? And if it’s confirmed, what could be the consequences of such a decision for Beijing?

Miller: We haven't seen the intelligence to back that up. We will, of course, get into a conversation with our U.K. counterparts about what it is they've seen. I will say, as for the United States, we have looked at this question very closely because there was a time where we were quite concerned that China was going to provide military support to Russia.

And we made it quite clear to the Chinese government that that would be unacceptable. We haven't seen them cross that line. Now, that said, we have been incredibly concerned about what we have seen China do, which is Chinese companies selling microelectronics, optical sensors, other equipment that is not direct military equipment, but that Russia has used to reinvigorate its defense industrial base and to fuel its war machine.

We've made [it] quite clear that we have concerns about that. And as the secretary said, when he went to China several weeks ago and raised this exact issue with President Xi [Jinping], if China doesn't take action to address this problem, the United States will.