US to provide long-range rocket system to Ukraine

US military personnel stand by a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), on March 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - US President Joe Biden has agreed to provide Ukraine with advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range Russian targets as part of a US$700 million (S$958.72 million) weapons package expected to be unveiled on Wednesday (June 1).  

The United States is providing Ukraine with high mobility artillery rocket systems that can accurately hit targets as far away as 80km after Ukraine gave assurances they will not use the missiles to strike inside Russia, senior administration officials said.  

In a New York Times op-ed published on Tuesday, Mr Biden said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will end through diplomacy but the US must provide significant weapons and ammunition to give Ukraine the highest leverage at the negotiating table.  

“That’s why I’ve decided that we will 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 wrote.  

A senior Biden administration official said weaponry provided would include the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which Ukraine’s armed forces chief said a month ago was crucial to counter Russian missile attacks.

The package also includes ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armour weapons, officials said. 

Ukrainian officials have been asking allies for longer-range missile systems that can fire a barrage of rockets hundreds of miles away, in the hopes of turning the tide in the three-month-long war.  

Mr Biden on Tuesday told reporters that “we’re not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia".

He did not rule out providing any specific weapons system, but instead appeared to be placing conditions on how they could be used.

Mr Biden wants to help Ukraine defend itself but has been opposed to providing weapons that Ukraine could use to attack Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the supply of US advanced rocket launchers to Ukraine raised the risks of a “third country” being dragged into the conflict.

Lavrov was responding to a question at a news conference about US plans to provide Ukraine with advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range Russian targets.

Asked later if the US move increased the chances of a third country becoming involved in the conflict, Lavrov said: “Such risks certainly exist.” He told a news conference in Saudi Arabia: “It is a direct provocation (by Ukraine), aimed at involving the West in military action.”

Separately, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned of an increased risk of direct confrontation with the United States.

“We believe that the United States is purposefully and diligently adding fuel to the fire,” Peskov told reporters, adding that such supplies would not encourage Ukraine’s leadership to resume stalled peace talks.

Shortly after the US decision was announced, the Russian defence ministry said Russia’s nuclear forces were holding drills in the Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported.

Some 1,000 servicemen were exercising in intense manoeuvres using more than 100 vehicles including Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, it cited the ministry as saying.

There was no mention of the US decision to supply new weapons in the Interfax report.

Thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine and millions more displaced since the Russian invasion on Feb 24, which Moscow calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to seize territory.

The West has been increasingly willing to give Ukraine longer-range weaponry, including M777 howitzers, as its force battle Russians with more success than intelligence officials had predicted.

But US intelligence has also warned about growing risks, particularly given a mismatch between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent ambitions and the performance of his military.  

Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the US, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday it will deliver to Ukraine an air defence system capable of shielding a “large city from Russian air raids”, rejecting accusations that his government was slow to arm Kyiv.

Berlin will be “sending more weapons” to Ukraine, Scholz told parliament.

“The government has decided that we will send the Iris-T system – the most modern system that Germany currently possesses,” he said.

The system would “enable Ukraine to protect an entire major city from Russian airstrikes.” Germany will also deliver a tracking radar system capable of detecting enemy rocket artillery, he said.

Under heavy pressure over the last weeks, Scholz’s government has agreed to send heavy weapons including self-propelled howitzers and Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Scholz said in Brussels he had agreed a deal with Greece for Athens to send Soviet-era military vehicles to Ukraine in exchange for more modern armour from Berlin.

Germany has already struck a similar agreement with the Czech Republic to help supply weaponry to Ukraine and is currently negotiating one with Poland.

The goal is to supply Ukraine with vitally needed weapons from old Soviet-era stocks that it can quickly put into battle as it tries to halt Russia’s invasion.

Germany wants to deliver 14 Leopard battle tanks and one Leopard armoured vehicle to Prague in exchange for the Czechs sending T-72 tanks to Ukraine.

No date has yet been set for the delivery, however, Scholz told the German parliament.

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