Ukraine is fighting. Perhaps more difficult than it has been since the beginning of the war. A lack of ammunition, problems in recruiting and training soldiers and delayed aid deliveries from the USA are putting Kiev’s troops at the front in great distress.

Experts are therefore watching with concern the ongoing offensive by the Russian armed forces, including in the Kharkiv region. But now there is hope: On his trip to Kiev this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference with his counterpart Dmytro Kuleba that the US would not encourage Ukraine to attack targets in Russia. But ultimately the country itself has to decide on such questions.

These words can be understood as permission to use US weapons even on the territory of Russia. For a long time this was considered a big taboo. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), for example, refuses to deliver the Taurus system.

The German cruise missiles could give Ukraine great advantages in its defense, but at the same time they would also make serious attacks possible inside Russia. It is feared that this would draw Germany and other affected countries deeper into the war against Russia.

Michael Roth, Chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, sees it somewhat differently. “Ukraine has been able to observe the Russian deployment behind the border for weeks, but has not done much about it, since the use of Western weapon systems against targets on Russian territory was prohibited by the Western allies,” said the SPD politician. If the Western partners were prepared to find a pragmatic solution to this issue that was fully consistent with international law, Roth believes Kharkiv could be defended much better.

“Ukraine is entitled under international law to attack targets in Russia,” says military expert Gerhard Mangott. “Nevertheless, this would significantly increase tensions between NATO and Russia; We would be entering a gray area, with a risk of escalation that no one can predict or control.”

Russia expert Jörg Himmelreich disagrees: Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue to escalate his rhetoric. “Britain and France have already lifted this restriction before the USA, not to use the missile systems they have supplied for targets in Russia. This hasn’t changed Putin’s conduct of the war – except for verbal threats.”

According to experts, the reason for the latest developments is the Russian successes: the dramatic situation in Ukraine and the ruthless actions of the Russian troops, says political scientist Thomas Jäger from the University of Cologne. They have waited long enough for Moscow to “understand” that a political response is now needed.

“The fact that Foreign Minister Blinken points out that Ukraine alone decides on the targets of its military attacks is due to the fact that Russia is conducting its attacks in the north not from Ukrainian, but from Russian territory,” says Jäger.

“The logic of military action is to try to repel the attacks from there. This identifies military targets on Russian territory.” Incidentally, the weapons that the Ukrainian army uses are its own, even if they were not produced in Ukraine but supplied from abroad, said the expert.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the chief of staff of the US armed forces is no longer ruling out sending NATO trainers to Ukraine. So far the USA has rejected this, but “over time we may get there,” said General Charles Q. Brown Jr. on the way to a NATO meeting in Brussels.

This fits with French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements in February that Western special forces in Ukraine would be an option if Russia made major advances quickly. Approval for this also came from the Baltics.

So far, Ukrainian soldiers have been trained in Germany, Poland and the United States in, among other things, maneuver warfare and mine clearance. But just the logistics required for this – transporting the men and women to the training locations – takes a lot of time that Ukraine doesn’t have. There are approximately 1,600 kilometers between Kiev and Grafenwöhr in Bavaria, where the Americans carry out the training programs at their base.

That’s why President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has asked the United States and NATO to train 150,000 new recruits closer to the front lines. A possible location would be the city of Lviv on the border with Poland, which has already been the target of Russian attacks. NATO trainers in Ukraine would be a top target for the Russian army. It is said that they would have to be extensively protected with air defense systems that would be missing elsewhere.

In the New York Times report, Evelyn Farkas, top diplomat for Ukraine under President Barack Obama, recalls the time after Russia’s conquest of Crimea in 2014. At that time, the United States sent troops to Ukraine to train soldiers .

Until the Russian attack in 2022, they were successfully trained on a rotational basis in Yavoriv in the west of the country. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, Farkas argues, that NATO members are thinking about how best to help Ukraine, especially now given the personnel problems on the front lines.

By Viktoria Bräuner

The original for this article “Military experts explain the two U-turns in the Ukraine war” comes from Tagesspiegel.