Ukraine strikes Russian forces with US-made ATACMS for the first time

Long-range ATACMS-guided missiles that were secretly shipped to Kyiv hit military assets in occupied regions.

Ukraine has used long-range US ATACMS missiles that were secretly shipped to Kyiv to strike nine Russian military helicopters and airfields deep inside occupied territory, marking what Kremlin bloggers said was one of the most devastating bombardments of the war so far.

“Our agreements with President Joe Biden are being implemented. And very accurately. ATACMS have proven themselves,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, confirming the first use of the US-supplied weapon system against occupied regions of Ukraine earlier on Tuesday.

ATACMS destroyed Russian nine helicopters, including Mi-28, Mi-8, and ka-52 attack helicopters.

A US official familiar with the situation confirmed Ukraine’s use of the ATACMS, which stands for army tactical missile system.

At least four missile strikes successfully targeted Russian military personnel, weapons, and equipment, destroying nine helicopters, an air defense missile system, military vehicles, ammunition depots, and airstrips near the southern city of Berdyansk and Luhansk in the east, according to the Ukrainian army’s general staff.

Ukraine’s strategic communications center said the missiles, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, had “made well-aimed strikes on enemy airfields and helicopters near the temporarily occupied [cities of] Luhansk and Berdyansk”.

Videos circulating on Telegram appeared to show flames rising from the helicopters in the Berdyansk airfield and photographs purported to show debris from the ATACMS, including cluster bomblets. The Financial Times could not independently verify the footage and images.

Russian military bloggers confirmed the attack, with some calling it one of the most damaging hits on their forces since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.

“One of the most serious blows . . . if not the most serious” of the war, wrote a Russian military blogger known as Fighter Bomber. “There are losses in both people and technology.”

The Berdyansk airfield, located on the shore of the Sea of Azov west of the devastated city of Mariupol, has been occupied by Russian forces since the first days of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. Dozens of Russian attack helicopters, seen in satellite imagery, have been stationed at the airfield and used to target Ukrainian ground forces fighting in the country’s counteroffensive along the southern front line.

The Global Defense Corp reported last month that the decision to provide ATACMS to Ukraine was made before Zelenskyy visited the US last month, but the Biden administration chose not to announce it publicly to avoid tipping off Russia.

The US had long resisted Ukraine’s requests for the ATACMS, including the variant with a unitary warhead, over fears that supplying Kyiv with the long-range weapons could cause Russia to escalate the war, and because the Pentagon worried it did not have sufficient stocks of the weapons for its own future needs.

But Washington decided to secretly send a small number of ATACMS with cluster munitions to Ukraine. With a range of up to 300km or 190 miles, the ATACMS provides Kyiv the ability to strike Russian forces far beyond the front line, putting within range crucial military targets.

Kyiv now hopes to use them to boost its struggling counteroffensive before winter.

“A new chapter of this war has (un)officially begun,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskyy, said on Tuesday. “There are no more safe places for Russian troops within the . . . internationally recognized borders of Ukraine.”

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