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Why Joe Biden Won’t Let Ukraine Strike Russia With ATACMS

The United States has authorized Ukraine to use American weapons to strike Russia, but with limits: Kiev cannot rotate its Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles to look beyond the border.

President Joe Biden has given the green light to Ukrainian strikes on Russian soil with weapons donated by the United States to help kyiv repel Moscow’s offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, people said last week. American officials.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday during a visit to the Czech capital Prague that Ukraine had for weeks been seeking a green light to use U.S.-supplied weapons against Russian forces after Moscow opened the new front in Kharkiv.

Commenting on Washington’s significant policy shift, Blinken said the United States had adapted “time and time again,” adding: “We have adapted, we have provided Ukraine with the systems and weapons that they have need. »

But long-range strikes, including US ground-launched ATACMS missiles, remain prohibited. For some, this is reasonable. For others, Ukraine is paralyzed when it badly needs a boost.

The U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) fires a missile over the East Sea July 29, 2017 on the East Coast, South Korea. The use of ground-launched ATACMS missiles by the United States to strike targets in Russia is still…

South Korean Ministry of Defense via Getty Images

The move reflects “excessive fear” in Washington that Russia could somehow escalate the conflict, said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe. . “The priority is escalation management,” he said. News weeksaying he wholeheartedly supports allowing Ukraine to strike key Russian targets with ATACMS.

Last week, several Republican representatives, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, wrote an open letter criticizing the Biden administration’s decision, writing: “To win this war of self-defense against Russia’s aggression, Ukraine must be allowed to use resources provided by the United States. weapons against any legitimate military target in Russia, not just along the border near Kharkiv. »

News week has contacted the White House for comment.

But denying Ukraine permission to launch ATACMS on Russia helps avoid a possible nuclear crisis, argued Daniel Rice, a former adviser to the Ukrainian army and current president of the American University of kyiv.

Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons. But with U.S.-made ballistic weapons heading to Russia, “anything can happen,” Rice said. The artillery fire on Russia cannot be confused with a nuclear strike, especially since Ukraine has targeted Russian radars designed to detect nuclear strikes, he said. News week.

However, Matthew Savill, director of military science at the London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute, said that although ATACMS missiles are tactical ballistic missiles, they are much smaller than nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and the Russia knows that Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons. .

An effective tool

It is unclear whether long-range strike capabilities could be discussed in the coming weeks as Ukraine prepares for another wave of Russian attacks aimed at depleting kyiv’s resources to the north, entangled in bitter clashes in the east.

Ukraine can currently use shorter-range rockets fired by High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to reach some distance into Russian territory, hitting some Moscow support bases while Russian forces are on the point of attacking the northeast, Savill said. News week.

Authorized use of ATACMS, however, would extend Ukraine’s hand to fighter-bomber and helicopter air bases located beyond HIMARS range in several regions of southern Russia, such as Voronezh, he added.

Ukraine has received several waves of ATACMS since fall 2023, giving kyiv’s troops the firepower needed to strike high-value Russian assets far behind the front lines, not to be confused with the border. Ukraine launched an ATACMS cluster variant in October, and longer-range versions were authorized earlier this year.

In late April, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden had authorized the sending of a “significant number of ATACMS missiles” to Ukraine in February.

ATACMS immediately proved to be an effective tool. Ukrainian and Russian sources, as well as open source analysts, have attributed a series of damaging Ukrainian attacks on Moscow’s facilities in Russian-controlled mainland Ukraine and the annexed Crimean Peninsula to ATACMS.

Long-range capabilities, whether ATACMS, air missiles supplied by Britain and France or Germany’s Taurus – which Berlin did not supply to kyiv – would help Ukraine strike key Russian logistics, headquarters and artillery, Hodges said. A single type of weapon may not be a game-changer, but it will give kyiv a helping hand, he argued.

The mood has changed

The strikes in Russia, however, have long been a delicate subject for Ukraine’s Western allies keen to avoid an escalation of the conflict. kyiv has generally avoided claiming official responsibility for drone attacks in Russia, as on the main air bases used to launch strikes on Ukraine.

But the mood has changed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said The Guardian In an interview published Friday, it is “absolutely illogical” that Ukraine has Western weapons and “sees the murderers, the terrorists, who are killing us on the Russian side.”

“I think sometimes they laugh about this situation,” he added.

Several major NATO countries, including France and Germany, last week gave permission for Ukraine to use the weapons they supply to strike inside Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Paris and Berlin believe Ukraine should be allowed to target sites used to launch missiles at Ukraine.

“But this should not allow them to strike other targets in Russia and civilian or military sites in Russia,” Macron added.

Russia denounced NATO’s statements, with President Vladimir Putin saying “constant escalation can lead to serious consequences.”

“Russia considers that all long-range weapons used by Ukraine are already directly controlled by the militaries of NATO countries,” added former Russian President and current Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev. “This is not military aid, it is participation in a war against us.”