Donating fighter jets to Kiev will not involve members of the alliance in the conflict, Jens Stoltenberg has insisted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the press on June 13, 2024 in Brussels, Belgium. © Omar Havana / Getty Images

Ukrainian strikes anywhere inside Russia using Western-donated F-16 aircraft would not be an escalation of the conflict and would not make NATO member states parties to it, according to the military bloc’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

He was asked on Thursday whether restrictions should be imposed on how Kiev can use the US-designed fighter jets. Several European nations intend to provide dozens of the warplanes once Ukraine has pilots and ground infrastructure to fly them.

Speaking ahead of a NATO defense ministers’ gathering in Brussels, Stoltenberg said “different allies have different types of restrictions on the use of their weapons,” and welcomed the recent relaxation of these rules by some member states.

Washington reportedly gave Kiev the green light to fire American weapons at targets outside of what the two nations consider Ukrainian territory, allowing strikes inside Russia’s Belgorod Region as part of the fight for the neighboring Kharkov Region. Some other Western nations have also said their weapons can be used in similar ways.

NATO state claims delivery of jets to Kiev was ‘illegal’ NATO state claims delivery of jets to Kiev was ‘illegal’

Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and this includes “striking legitimate military targets” on the territory of Russia, Stoltenberg declared. “Self-defense is not escalation,” he added.

“And we have the right to help Ukraine,” he continued. “By doing that, NATO allies don’t become party to the conflict.”

Moscow perceives the entire conflict as part of a US-initiated proxy war against Russia. It considers NATO’s increasing military presence in Ukraine and its intention to eventually bring the nation into the fold as major national security risks.

NATO member states arming Ukraine, providing “mercenaries” to bolster its troops, and helping Kiev to plan and deliver attacks against Russia are de facto participants in the hostilities, senior Russian officials have claimed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that any attacks using Western weapons deep inside Russia will be retaliated against. Moscow could supply long-range weapons from its own arsenal to third parties, who would then use them against Western military assets, he suggested. Such tit-for-tat escalation could lead to a major disaster for all parties involved, Putin has warned.

Andrey Kartapolov, the chairman of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, said last week that Moscow would consider any bases used by Kiev to fly donated F-16s as legitimate military targets regardless of what country they are located in. (RT)