US secretly shipped long-range missiles to Ukraine

The United States (US) secretly agreed to send a long-range missiles to Ukraine in February, reversing a decision to withhold the weapons that some in the White House feared could dangerously escalate the war with Russia.

President Joe Biden’s decision to reverse course was influenced in part by Russia’s increased attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure in recent months, as well as the Kremlin’s use of North Korean ballistic missiles, according to Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser.

Other US officials said the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, arrived in Ukraine last week.

The Ukrainian military immediately used the system to attack an airfield in Crimea and a Russian troop position.

The US did not announce the decision at the time to maintain Ukraine’s operational security at Kyiv’s request, the officials said.

The shipment was first reported by Politico.

“We’ve already sent some, we will send more now that we have additional both authority and money,” Sullivan acknowledged, citing the new $61bn military aid package signed by Biden on Wednesday.

“I believe they will make a difference.”

Although the US has sent shorter-range Atacms systems to Ukraine in the past, the most recent shipment is the first time it has agreed to transfer artillery that can travel 190 miles — a distance that would allow the Ukrainian military to strike deep into Russian territory.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine’s use of the new Atacms showed the US wanted to “ramp up Zelenskyy’s terrorist potential”.

Sullivan said he did not believe the new shipments would escalate the conflict, arguing it was an appropriate response to the increased Russian attacks with long-range North Korean missiles.

“We think it’s appropriate,” Sullivan said. “We think it is a good capability in this phase of the conflict.”

In addition to US concerns that the system could escalate the war, the Pentagon had also raised objections because it feared deployment to Ukraine would deplete its own ATACMS stocks, which it needs for military readiness in other critical theatres.

The Pentagon remedied this issue in January, a US official said, saying the US military was able “to find a solution to mitigate readiness concerns by acquiring new ATACMS coming off the production line”.

Although the long-range ATACMS have been coveted by the Ukrainian government for months, Sullivan warned that they would not immediately change the course of the war.

“There is no silver bullet in this conflict,” he said at a White House briefing.

“One capability is not going to be the ultimate solution; it is an amalgam of capabilities that come together and combine with the bravery and skill of Ukraine’s fighters that’s going to make the difference in this conflict.”