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NATO leader supports alliance’s right to defend Ukraine


A Ukrainian serviceman tests an anti-drone gun during a presentation of radio-electronic warfare and radio-electronic intelligence systems of the Ukrainian company Kvertus in Lviv region on May 28, 2024.
A Ukrainian serviceman tests an anti-drone gun during a presentation of radio-electronic warfare and radio-electronic intelligence systems of the Ukrainian company Kvertus in Lviv region on May 28, 2024.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg Friday said he supports the alliances right to help Ukraine defend itself as its war against Russia evolves, including allowing Kyiv to return fire on targets inside Russia using NATO supplied weapons.

Stoltenberg made the comments to reporters in Prague following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. It came as NATO allies, the United States and Germany, altered their policies to allow Ukraine to counter-fire into Russia against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them.

The NATO meeting had been intended as a planning session for the full NATO summit scheduled for July in Washington, but the issue of returning fire dominated discussions this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week accused NATO and the United States of escalating the war by considering the policy change and warned of consequences.

But Stoltenberg was emphatic in his response Friday. “Let me clear: self-defense is not escalation,” he said. “Self-defense is a fundamental right. Ukraine has the right and the responsibility to protect its people, and we have the right to help Ukraine uphold its right of self-defense.”

“Of course, Russia doesn’t like this,” he noted. “Putin wanted to deter NATO allies from supporting Ukraine. But we will not be deterred.”

The United States announced Thursday it had given Ukraine permission to use U.S.-supplied weapons to target Russia, but only in the Kharkiv region bordering Russia.

The decision marks a major policy change. Until now, U.S. President Joe Biden had refused to allow Ukraine to use American weapons for assaults inside Russian territory. A U.S. official, speaking on background, said the U.S. policy against the use of long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, has not changed.

Following the U.S. decision, Germany announce Friday it also would allow Ukraine to return fire into Russia using German-supplied weapons.

Speaking to reporters in Prague shortly after Stoltenberg, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained that Ukraine had approached U.S. officials in recent weeks and asked for authorization to use U.S. weapons against Russian troops on the other side of the border. The request was passed along to the president, and Biden approved.

"The hallmark of our engagement in Ukraine over these more than two years is to adapt and adjust as necessary to meet what is actually going on on the battlefield,” Blinken said. “Going forward, we will continue to do what we are doing, which is as necessary, which is adapt and adjust."

Also Friday, Stoltenberg said he wanted NATO member countries to commit to supporting Ukraine with $43 billion annually in military aid.

"We need a firm commitment for the long haul to ensure that Ukraine is able to plan, to ensure that Ukraine has the predictability they need to conduct this war of self-defense," Stoltenberg said.

NATO countries already provide 99% of Ukraine’s military aid, Stoltenberg said.

In fighting Friday, Ukraine shelling killed five people in the Russian-occupied region of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader of the region, reported on social media.

Russian casualties since the beginning of its war in Ukraine have now likely reached 500,000, the British Defense Ministry said Friday.

The death rate for Russian personnel remains high, the report said, with Russian casualties in May reaching 1,200 daily, “the highest reported since the start of the war.”

The ministry said Russian forces were “highly likely” receiving “only limited training” and did not have the capability to carry out complex operations.

Also, Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a prisoner exchange with Russia, which brought 75 Ukrainian prisoners — both civilians and military personnel — back home. Zelenskyy made the announcement as he met with leaders of Nordic countries in Sweden.

The Russian news agency RIA, citing Russia's Defense Ministry, reported Ukraine handed over 75 people in a deal brokered by the United Arab Emirates. It was the first prisoner exchange in nearly four months.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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