WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has said it will send Ukraine a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems, a critical weapon Ukraine’s leaders have been calling for as they struggle to stall progress. Russians in the Donbass region.
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The rocket systems are part of a new $700 million tranche of security assistance for Ukraine from the United States, which will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles , spare parts and more, two senior administration officials said Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the weapons package which will be officially unveiled on Wednesday.
The US decision to supply the advanced rocket systems attempts to strike a balance between a desire to help Ukraine combat fierce Russian artillery barrages while not supplying weapons that could enable Ukraine to reach targets deep within Russia and trigger an escalation of war.
In a guest essay published Tuesday evening in The New York Times, President Joe Biden confirmed that he has decided to “provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will allow them to more accurately strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine”.
Biden had said on Monday that the United States would not send Ukraine “rocket systems capable of hitting Russia.” Any weapon system can fire on Russia if it is close enough to the border. The aid package due to be unveiled on Wednesday would send what the United States considers medium-range rockets – they can typically travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers), officials said.
“The Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday. “There is a strong bond of trust between Ukraine and the United States.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that the United States was “deliberately and diligently pouring oil on the fire.” He added that the Kremlin did not trust Kyiv’s assurances that US-provided multiple rocket launch systems would not be used to attack Russia.
“To trust (someone), you need to have experience in situations where such promises have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, there is no such experience,” Peskov said.
It is expected that Ukraine could use the rockets in the eastern region of Donbass, where they could both intercept Russian artillery and eliminate Russian positions in cities with intense fighting, such as Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk is important to Russian efforts to capture Donbass before more Western weapons arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defense. The city, which lies 145 kilometers south of the Russian border, sits in an area that is the last pocket under Ukrainian government control in the Luhansk region of Donbass.
Biden in his New York Times essay added, “We neither encourage nor allow Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We don’t want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.
It is the 11th package approved to date and will be the first to tap into the $40 billion in security and economic aid recently passed by Congress. Rocket systems would be part of the Pentagon’s withdrawal authority, which would involve removing weapons from US inventory and moving them quickly into Ukraine. Ukrainian troops would also need training on the new systems, which could take at least a week or two.
Officials said the plan was to send the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, which is mounted on a truck and can carry a container with six rockets, to Ukraine. The system can launch a medium-range rocket, which is the current plan, but is also capable of firing a longer-range missile, the Army Tactical Missile System, which has a range of approximately 190 miles (300 kilometers) and is not part of the plan.
Since the start of the war in February, the United States and its allies have tried to toe a narrow line: send Ukraine the weapons needed to fight Russia, but refrain from providing aid that will inflame the Russian president. Vladimir Putin and trigger a wider conflict that could spill over to other parts of Europe.
Over time, however, the United States and its allies have been building up weaponry in Ukraine, as the fight has shifted from Russia’s broader campaign to take the capital, Kyiv, and other areas, to closer skirmishes for small patches of land in the east and south.
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To this end, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with the West to send several rocket launchers to Ukraine as soon as possible to help stop Russia’s destruction of Donbas cities. The rockets have a longer range than the howitzer artillery systems that the United States supplied to Ukraine. They would allow Ukrainian forces to strike Russian troops from a distance beyond the range of Russian artillery systems.
“We are fighting for Ukraine to receive all the weapons necessary to change the nature of the fighting and start moving faster and more confidently towards the expulsion of the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said in a recent speech.
Ukraine needs multiple rocket launchers, said Philip Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general who served as NATO’s commander-in-chief from 2013 to 2016.
“These are very important capabilities that we don’t yet have. And not only do they need them, but they’ve been really vocal about wanting them,” Breedlove said. “We seriously need to supply this army so that it can do what the world asks it to do: fight a world superpower alone on the battlefield.”
U.S. and White House officials have not commented publicly on the details of the aid package.
Russia has made gradual progress in Donbass as it attempts to take the remaining sections of the region not yet controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Overall, the United States has committed about $5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Biden administration, including about $4.5 billion since the invasion of Russia. February 24.
AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee. Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani and Associated Press reporter Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.