U.S. defends supplying advanced rocket systems to Ukraine

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The Biden administration on Wednesday defended its decision to send advanced multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, dismissing criticism that the decision comes too late to make a difference while dismissing the Kremlin’s complaint that the United States prolong the war.

The transfer of four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, commonly referred to as HIMARS, to Ukraine will take place soon and will take about three additional weeks to train Ukrainian forces to use them, said Colin Kahl, undersecretary for the Defense for politics. The weapons, deployed by the US military to target militants during the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, will allow Ukrainian forces to quickly and accurately launch multiple rockets at Russian artillery and forces.

“We don’t see the Ukrainian defenses collapsing. They’re hanging on, but it’s an uphill battle,” Kahl said. “We believe these additional capabilities will arrive in a timely manner.”

The satellite-guided weapons, launched from the back of a truck, will be the most advanced weapons supplied to Ukraine by the Biden administration since the February 24 Russian invasion. Ukrainian officials had been asking for them for about two months without approval, causing frustration in Kyiv and Washington.

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week that Ukraine needed rocket systems and that some countries were “dragging their feet” in supplying Kyiv with heavy weapons.

The transfer of the rocket systems was approved after Ukraine assured the Biden administration that it would not use them to launch cross-border attacks against Russia, Kahl said. The administration has also decided to send munitions that the HIMARS can launch and which have a range of around 45 miles, rather than the Advanced Tactical Long Range Missile System (ATACMS) which can reach up to 186 miles, limiting how Ukraine can use weapons.

Kahl said the US has “good capability” to send additional HIMARS, but US officials want to assess how they are being used before making future deliveries.

“We need to get information … about their usefulness and how they are used on the battlefield,” he said.

The weapons are part of a new $700 million package with a variety of weapons and equipment that the United States has already sent to Ukraine. They include counter-artillery radars, Javelin anti-armour missiles, 155 millimeter howitzer artillery shells and Mi-17 helicopters, the Pentagon said.

The United States has sent Ukraine $5.3 billion in security aid since President Biden took office, most of it — $4.6 billion — after the invasion.

The Biden administration announced the HIMARS decision on Tuesday night with Russia poised to seize the city of Severodonetsk, home to around 100,000 people. While earlier Russian efforts to seize the capital Kyiv and other major population centers have been rebuffed, Russian forces now control the southeastern port city of Mariupol, the southern city of Kherson and expanses of territory that connect them.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, which includes Severodonetsk, wrote in a Telegram post on Wednesday that Russian troops have consolidated in the city, pushing from the north, south and east.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday accused the United States of aggravating tensions by providing HIMARS.

“We believe the United States is deliberately and diligently throwing oil on the fire and toeing the line to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian,” he said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

“Such deliveries do not contribute to… the will of the Ukrainian leadership to resume peace talks,” he added.

Peskov also said the Kremlin did not trust assurances that Ukraine would not use weapons to launch missiles at Russia.

“No, to trust, you have to have experience of cases where promises have been kept. Unfortunately, such an experience does not exist at all,” he said.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed Peskov’s assessment, telling a news conference in Washington that Russia was solely responsible for the war and that Russian President Vladimir Putin could end it by withdrawing his forces.

“The best way to avoid escalation is for Russia to stop aggression and the war it has sparked,” Blinken told a news conference alongside NATO Secretary General Jens. Stoltenberg. “It’s entirely within his power to do so.”

Blinken noted that Biden had warned Moscow that the United States would supply Kyiv with more sophisticated weapons if Russia invaded.

“We did exactly what we said we would do,” he said.

The decision was warmly welcomed by Ukrainian officials, who hailed HIMARS as a potential difference-maker.

“I think it has a very fundamental impact and importance,” Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview with Washington Post Live on Wednesday. Even though Russia has made limited gains on the battlefield, he said 60 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers die every day as Ukraine resists the Russian offensive.

“If we don’t receive the necessary weapons in the very near future – weapons and weapons and ammunition – it could take quite a long time,” Kyslytsya said.

At the Pentagon, Kahl said “no system is going to transform warfare” alone. But he said the HIMARS, along with other weapons the US has already supplied, ‘will allow Ukraine to hit any target it needs’ in the fighting in the east. .

“It’s a battle of national wills,” Kahl said. “You have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of men mobilized on each side. It is an overwhelming and difficult conflict, and it is likely to be a conflict [that] we have said many times that it will last a long time.

Ilyushina reported from Riga, Latvia. Missy Ryan in Washington and Bryan Pietsch in Seoul contributed to this report.

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