The Biden administration on Tuesday announced details of the newest $700 million security package it is sending to Ukraine, which includes rocket systems with longer ranges than those sent in previous packages. The package is expected to be officially announced Wednesday.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) will provide Ukrainian troops with greater precision when striking against Russian advances, senior administration officials told reporters Tuesday night. The officials stressed that these newer systems will not be used to strike at targets within Russia.
Officials also said they will not be giving Ukraine long-range weapons, and added that Ukraine has assured the U.S. that it will not fire the medium-range rockets into Russian territory.
The aid package also includes radar systems, more Javelin missiles, anti-armor weapons, helicopters, tactical vehicles, and various forms of ammunition.
The U.S. decision to provide the advance rocket systems tries to strike a balance between the desire to help Ukraine battle ferocious Russian artillery barrages while not providing arms that could allow Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia and trigger an escalation in the war.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow views the latest package of U.S. military aid to Ukraine “extremely negatively,” adding that it would increase the risk of a direct confrontation, according to the Reuters news agency. He pointed to the HIMARS equipment in particular, Reuters said.
In a guest essay published Tuesday evening in The New York Times, President Biden confirmed that he’s decided to “provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.”
Mr. Biden had said Monday that the U.S. would not send Ukraine “rocket systems that can strike into Russia.” Any weapons system can shoot into Russia if it’s close enough to the border. The aid package expected to be unveiled Wednesday would send what the U.S. considers medium-range rockets — they generally can travel about 80 kilometers, the officials said.
The expectation is that Ukraine could use the rockets in the eastern Donbas region, where they could both intercept Russian artillery and take out Russian positions in towns where fighting is intense, such as Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk is important to Russian efforts to capture the Donbas before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defense. The city, which is 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of the Russian border, is in an area that is the last pocket under Ukrainian government control in the Luhansk region of the Donbas.
Mr. Biden in his New York Times essay added: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”
It’s the 11th package approved so far, and will be the first to tap the $40 billion in security and economic assistance recently passed by Congress. The rocket systems would be part of Pentagon drawdown authority, so would involve taking weapons from U.S. inventory and getting them into Ukraine quickly. Ukrainian troops would also need training on the new systems, which could take at least a week or two.
Officials said the plan is to send Ukraine the HIMARS, which is mounted on a truck and can carry a container with six rockets. 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 about 190 miles (300 kilometers) and is not part of the plan.
Himars units carry one preloaded pod of six 227mm guided missiles (the M270 carries two pods), or one large pod loaded with an Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) tactical missile. The US will not supply Ukraine with the ATACMS, which has a range of 300km.
Overall, the United States has committed approximately $5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including approximately $4.5 billion since the Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
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