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Austin says the “expectation” is that Ukraine will not use US weapons outside its territory, despite Russian advances

The United States’ top military leaders said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has opened “a new front” in the Kharkiv region, home to the country’s second-largest city.

“Putin’s forces have opened a new front to seize sovereign Ukrainian territory, and the Kremlin invaders are destroying Ukrainian villages, killing innocent civilians and bombing civilian infrastructure, including dams and power plants,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after a meeting of the Ukrainian Defense Contact. Group, an international working group that coordinates defensive assistance to Kiev.

Despite the Russian advance, the defense minister said American weapons should not be used outside Ukrainian territory.

“Our expectation is that they will continue to use the weapons we have provided against targets in Ukraine,” Austin said.

US military aid, with another $60 billion passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in April, is arriving as Ukraine faces a Russian offensive that could define the ‘character’ of the war, says Can Kasapoğlu, a senior fellow and political leader. military affairs expert at the Hudson Institute, told ABC News.

Gen. CQ Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that Russia’s new offensive “aims to establish a shallow buffer zone along the Ukrainian border.”

“Russia expects that this will divert Ukrainian focus and capabilities from other critical areas,” he said.

Kharkiv was retaken by Ukraine in a counter-offensive in the fall of 2022, after Russia captured the city in its initial invasion in February 2022.

Russia has not broken the Ukrainian front line, but Kasapoğlu said the front line has not been stabilized, raising doubts about whether Ukraine can hold the city if Russia attempts to take it.

“The Russians have managed to secure many tactical gains” in the Kharkov region and around the city of Kharkov, Kasapoğlu said, and the Russians can be expected to “try to gain this tactical foothold… artillery range.”

“This can go beyond merely a subordinate effort or a distracting effort,” Kasapoğlu continued.

If the offensive is a major effort, and the Russians can retake Kharkov after winning it once and then losing it, “the chances are very slim for Ukraine to launch a full-scale counter-offensive and regain territory from the Russians” , Kasapoğlu said.

It could become clear “in the coming weeks” whether Russia can “translate its tactical gains into strategic gains” and recapture Kharkov, Kasapoğlu said.

After completing its spring military service, Russia will have sufficient manpower, and the scale of the Kharkov offensive will largely depend on whether Putin chooses to redouble his efforts, Kasapoğlu said.

The United States’ additional package included much-needed artillery and ammunition for air defense, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his troops need more.

The Kharkov crisis is “the world’s fault,” Zelenskyy told ABC News’ James Longman on Friday, adding: “We cannot afford to lose Kharkov.”

Air defense, which Austin said the contact group discussed at length Monday, is crucial, Zelenskyy told Longman. “All we need is two Patriot systems,” he said.

The US package includes ammunition for the patriots, but not the systems themselves. The Germans have pledged to provide one — a move Austin praised Monday — but the Pentagon chief said in April that the system would not be a “silver bullet” for Ukraine’s defense.

Long-range ATACMS, a missile system that the US acknowledged was first deployed to Ukraine in April, could have made a difference in Ukraine’s early defense of Kharkov, according to Kasapoğlu.

This would have been the “ideal weapon” to counter a heavy build-up of Russian forces, Kasapoğlu said, but because the Russians were striking from their own territory for the first time – and not from Ukraine – Ukraine was not allowed to use it. by the circumstances of the allies.

Victoria Nuland, former undersecretary of state for political affairs, told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz on Sunday that American weapons should be available to Ukraine for Russian targets.

“I think if the attacks come directly from across the Russian line, these bases should be fair, whether it is where missiles are launched or where the troops are supplied,” she said.