US to give Ukraine more Himars rocket launchers, Biden tells Zelensky

Ukraine has 16 of the US Himars systems (above), which are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden promised his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky another US$625 million (S$890 million) in military assistance on Tuesday, prompting a warning from Moscow that such a move risked a direct military clash between Russia and the West.

 The US package would include High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) launchers used in Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive where it has recently forced Russian troops into retreat.

Biden pledged "a new US$625 million security assistance package that includes additional weapons and equipment, including Himars, artillery systems and ammunition, and armored vehicles," the White House said, without specifying how many of the powerful, highly accurate rocket launchers were being sent.

Ukraine already has 16 of the Himars systems, which are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal as the pro-Western country fights back against a massive eight-month-old Russian invasion.

In a telephone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky and US Vice-President Kamala Harris, Biden underscored that Washington would never recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, the White House said.

Biden “pledged to continue supporting Ukraine as it defends itself from Russian aggression for as long as it takes”.

The aid package is the first since Russia’s most recent declared annexation of Ukrainian territory and the second Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) since Ukraine’s large battlefield gains in mid-September.

In a strongly worded response, Russia’s envoy to the United States warned that Biden’s offer fuelled the danger of a direct military clash between Russia and the West.

On the Telegram messaging app, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov urged Washington to stop “provocative actions” that could lead to “serious consequences”.

“We perceive this as an immediate threat to the strategic interests of our country,” he said.

Russia’s declared annexations last week followed what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

The State Department said in a release the package includes four Himars launchers and associated rockets, 32 Howitzers with 75,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, and Claymore anti-personnel mines.

Made by Lockheed Martin Corp, the Himars launchers’ accuracy and longer range have allowed Kyiv to reduce Russia’s artillery advantage.

“Recent developments from Russia’s sham referenda and attempted annexation to new revelations of brutality against civilians in Ukrainian territory formerly controlled by Russia only strengthens our resolve,” the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Last week, the United States unveiled a US$1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine, which included 18 Himars launcher systems, accompanying munitions, various types of counter drone systems and radar systems.

But last week’s aid package was funded by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) meaning the government has to procure the weapons from industry, rather than pulling them from existing US weapons stocks.

The United States has now pledged 20 Himars launchers to Ukraine using PDA.

This announcement would mark more than $16.8 billion worth of US security assistance since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24. REUTERS

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