Moscow decries US move to allow its weapons to be used on targets in Russia

<span>US 155mm shells in production at the Scranton army ammunition plant in Pennsylvania.</span><span>Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images</span>
US 155mm shells in production at the Scranton army ammunition plant in Pennsylvania.Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

The Kremlin has said Joe Biden’s decision to allow Ukraine to use US-supplied weapons against targets in Russia demonstrates Washington’s deep involvement in the conflict, as some of Vladimir Putin’s allies increased their nuclear threats against the west.

The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists on Friday that Moscow was already aware of attempts by Ukraine to strike targets on Russian territory with weapons provided by the US.

Biden’s decision on Thursday to allow Kyiv to use US weapons for counter-fire purposes inside Russia near the border with the Kharkiv region marked an important shift, after warnings from Moscow that the move could trigger a global conflict.

The approval came after days of growing pressure on Biden from western allies and the Ukrainian president, Volodomyr Zelenskiy, who argued that the delay in the use of western weapons had cost lives.

“I think it is absolutely illogical to have [western] weapons and see the murderers, terrorists, who are killing us from the Russian side. I think sometimes they are just laughing at this situation,” Zelenskiy told the Guardian in an interview published on Friday.

The German government announced on Friday that it would also give Ukraine permission to use weapons it supplied against military targets in Russian territory bordering the Kharkiv region to defend itself against Moscow’s attacks.

During a visit to Uzbekistan earlier this week, Putin warned against western countries allowing Ukraine to use their weapons to strike Russia. “This constant escalation can lead to serious consequences,” the Russian president said on Tuesday, without giving further detail.

Putin also issued a thinly veiled threat against Nato’s smaller European members, saying they “should be aware that they are playing with fire” because they had small land areas and very dense populations.

In the lead-up to Biden’s decision on Thursday, other western allies including the UK, France and the Netherlands, and the Nato secretary general, also said Ukraine should be able to use western weapons against military targets in Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev, the hawkish former Russian president and current deputy chair of the country’s security council, called Biden’s decision a “serious escalation of the conflict”.

“Russia regards all long-range weapons used by Ukraine as already being directly controlled by servicemen from Nato countries. This is no military assistance, this is participation in a war against us,” he said, adding that Russia would destroy any western weaponry used to attack it “both in Ukraine and in the territory of other countries”.

Medvedev said it would be a “crucial mistake” on the part of the west to believe that Russia was not ready to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine. He also spoke of the potential to strike unnamed hostile countries with strategic nuclear weapons. “This is, alas, neither intimidation nor bluffing,” he said.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, dismissed warnings by Moscow that the decision to allow Ukraine to use western weapons to strike inside Russian territory might lead to an escalation.

“This is nothing new. It has ... been the case for a long time that every time Nato allies are providing support to Ukraine, President Putin is trying to threaten us to not do that,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting in Prague. “And an escalation – well, Russia has escalated by invading another country.”

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Western countries’ approval for the use of their weapons comes amid reports that France is planning to send military trainers to Ukraine, making it the first to publicly deploy troops on the ground.

The country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, could announce the move next week during a visit by Zelenskiy, who will attend a ceremony in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of D-day.

Putin has said the French move would escalate the situation toward a global conflict, and some senior officials in Moscow have said French trainers would become legitimate targets for Russian troops.

In the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin frequently invoked Moscow’s nuclear arsenal, pledging to use all means necessary to defend his country. He later seemed to moderate his rhetoric, reportedly after Chinese officials persuaded him to abandon his nuclear threats, but he has recently returned to them.

Russian forces started military drills near Ukraine last week that simulated the use of tactical nuclear weapons, in a move that Moscow said was a warning to the west not to escalate tensions further.

Since the start of the war, Washington has voiced fears of provoking Putin into a nuclear response and drawing the US and Nato into direct conflict with Moscow.

It has reportedly expressed anger over two Ukrainian drone strikes in the last week against Russian radar stations that provide warning of nuclear launches. At least one of the strikes in the south-eastern Krasnodar region appeared to have caused some damage, according to images circulating on social media.

“They are sensitive locations because Russia could perceive that its strategic deterrent capabilities are being targeted, which could undermine Russia’s ability to maintain nuclear deterrence against the United States,” an unnamed US official told the Washington Post.

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