Under pressure, Biden allows Ukraine to use US weapons to strike inside Russia

The decision follows weeks of intense behind-the-scenes conversations with the Ukrainians, made even more urgent after Russia began a major assault on Kharkiv around May 10.

Three days later, on May 13, Sullivan, Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. held one of their regularly scheduled secure video conferences with their Ukrainian counterparts. Once again, the Ukrainians pressed Biden to lift US restrictions on firing into Russian territory, arguing that the president's concerns about escalation were overblown. But now, they said, the issue has become more urgent because the Russians are bombing civilian sites around Kharkiv from inside their border, knowing that the Ukrainians could not fully respond.

After the meeting, officials said, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Austin and General Brown agreed to recommend that the president reverse his position. But they kept the decision very close. Two days later, on May 15, Sullivan forwarded the recommendation to Biden, who, for the first time, said he was willing to carve out an exception that would allow the Ukrainians to fight back, even if Russian attacks came. a few miles behind the Russian border. By then, Blinken was already in Kiev and had heard President Volodymyr Zelensky's call for a reversal directly.

On the same day as the private meeting with Sullivan, the President met with General Christopher G. Cavoli, four-star commander of the United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. He was in Washington for an annual meeting of all combatant commanders and told Biden that he too agreed that Russia's shooting ban was posing a danger to Ukraine — although he too, an official said , was worried about possible Russian reactions.

Mr. Blinken returned from Kiev and saw Mr. Biden and Mr. Sullivan on the evening of May 17 in the Oval Office, saying he came away convinced that the United States needed to change its position. By then it was clear that Biden agreed, the officials said, but the president insisted that before issuing a formal decision, he wanted a meeting of his national security “principals” to consider the risks. The meeting didn't take place until last week, just as news of Mr. Blinken's change of heart leaked out.

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