President Joe Biden and the United States on Thursday balked at a red line laid down by the Kremlin, releasing more than a half billion dollars’ worth of arms assistance to Ukraine but leaving out long-range precision-guided missiles Kyiv specifically had requested.
On Thursday, the U.S. leader announced the aid to be drawn from U.S. military equipment inventories in a memorandum to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Washington has approved and promised to send 21 separate military hardware packages worth more than $15.1 billion to Ukraine.
The latest $600 million arms transfer will include “additional ammunition” for the HIMARS precision-guided rocket artillery systems, 36,000 105mm artillery rounds, 1,000 Excalibur precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds, four counter-artillery radars, four trucks, and eight trailers to transport heavy equipment, anti-drone equipment, mine-clearing equipment, Claymore anti-personnel mines, demolition munitions, small arms and ammunition, night vision devices, cold weather gear, and other field equipment, official statements said
The Army Tactical Advanced Conventional Munitions System (ATACMS) missile, a long-range, precision-guided munition manufactured by Lockheed Martin and long deemed by Kyiv a priority weapon precisely needed to defeat the Russian army as quickly as possible, was conspicuously absent from the White House announcement.
Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, only hours before the arms package was announced in Washington, told reporters in Moscow, “If the United States decides to supply Ukraine with longer-range missiles, they will cross a red line and become a direct party to the conflict.”
Opponents of the Biden administration have argued that it is wrong to bow down to the Kremlin. One day before Zakharova communicated the Kremlin’s red line, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement: “The Ukrainians need more of the weapons we’re giving them, they need to start getting them faster, and they need new capabilities like longer-range ATACMS, bigger drones, and tanks.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky put the best face possible on the US thumbs down, saying in a late Thursday Twitter post: “Our (US-Ukraine) interaction proved its efficiency on the front. Ukraine strikes for freedom. And with the solidarity & sincere support of partners, it amazes the whole world. Together we’ll win!”
Massive deliveries to Ukraine of the 227mm GPS-guided HIMARS rocket, fired by the wheeled HIMARS system and also the tracked M270 system, have effectively ended Russian Federation (RF) artillery dominance of the battlefield by allowing the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) to demolish Russian ammunition depots deep behind the fighting lines, as well as cut Russian supply lines by destroying bridges between RF logistics centers and frontline troops.
Currently, between 10 and 15 thousand RF troops in Kherson are nearly unable to receive ammunition and fuel or escape to the safe territory because the AFU bombarded and destroyed three critical bridges over the Dnipro River with HIMARS rockets, cutting the RF forces off.
The maximum range of the GPS-guided 350 kg HIMARS rocket is 70 kilometers. Warheads, typically, are 90 to 120 kilos of high explosive or cluster munitions.
The ATACMS missile also fired from both the HIMARS and M270 systems, is almost an order of magnitude more powerful, weighing in at 1.6 tons and carrying a half-ton warhead to a maximum range of 300 kilometers. It flies in a ballistic trajectory and is almost impossible to intercept.
Ukrainian civilian and military officials have argued that the White House should send ATACMS missiles now so that the AFU might hit high-value targets currently far out of Kyiv’s range, particularly the logistics-critical Kerch Strait rail bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet home base in Sevastopol.
Destruction of the bridge could devastate military supply to the entire southern wing of Russian forces invading Ukraine. Also, the bombardment of Black Sea Fleet headquarters could put a stop to Russian warships’ loading up in Sevastopol with dozens of cruise missiles capable of firing, with impunity, at Ukrainian homes and businesses hundreds of kilometers inland, military observers have said.
The news agency CNN on Sept. 25 cited unnamed Pentagon officials as saying that Washington’s view that Ukraine does not need ATACMS has not changed, nor was it likely to. US Defense Under Secretary Colin Kahl on 25 Aug. said the ATACMS munitions are, in the US view, “not currently needed” by Ukraine.
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