US President Joe Biden has made the decision to provide Ukraine with long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), a significant enhancement to Kyiv’s capacity to engage Russian military logistics over extended distances as the nation braces for its second winter at war.
During a private meeting with Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Biden conveyed that a limited quantity of weaponry would be transferred, as reported by NBC, citing US officials.
Ukraine had been requesting ATACMS for several months. Still, US officials were initially hesitant due to concerns about Ukraine’s limited reserves and the potential for Russia to accuse Washington of escalation.
However, Ukraine has committed not to employ these missiles to target Russian territory, and a waiver permitting the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine has expanded the pool of potential missiles for deployment, as the Wall Street Journal noted.
Fired from mobile launchers, ATACMS can reach targets up to 190 miles (300 km) away, enabling Ukrainian forces to strike well beyond the front lines. This opens up the possibility of targeting headquarters, weapons storage facilities, and supply networks, including railways.
When asked about reports of Biden’s change in stance, Zelenskiy did not provide a direct response, simply highlighting that the US serves as Ukraine’s primary source of arms supply. According to Reuters, Zelenskiy stated during a press conference on an official visit to Canada, “We are discussing all types of weapons: long-range weapons and artillery, 155 mm caliber projectiles, and air defense systems.”
Ukraine’s acquisition of ATACMS marks another achievement in its ongoing campaign to encourage Western allies to provide more advanced weaponry. This campaign has gained momentum with Ukrainian military successes on the ground.
When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, anti-tank guided missiles were among the most advanced equipment sent to Ukraine. Now, Ukraine has Western tanks, surface-to-air missile defense systems, and pilots training to operate a fleet of F-16 fighters.
Ukrainian forces already have experience with the Himars mobile rocket launchers used to deploy ATACMS, as the United States began transferring these systems last year, although initially providing shorter-range guided rockets.
The acquisition of long-range missiles becomes particularly crucial in winter when harsh weather conditions slow down fighting along the front lines. Russia may attempt to fortify its defenses in occupied Ukrainian territories.
In the summer, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive that progressed more slowly than anticipated by Ukrainian military officials and their American allies. Kyiv’s objective was to break through Russian lines and advance to the Sea of Azov, thereby isolating invading forces around Kherson and cutting off supply routes to Crimea. However, an extensive minefield halted Ukrainian troops for weeks, proving impassable even for armored vehicles and tanks from Western powers.
Ultimately, sappers cleared a path, and in another significant development, armored vehicles breached the primary Russian anti-tank defenses in the same region last week, potentially facilitating southward advancement or attacks on Russian forces from behind their defensive lines.
While the ground offensive advanced at a measured pace, Ukraine sought to exert pressure on Russian forces through long-range drone strikes and other attacks inside Russia and on occupied Ukrainian territory, particularly in Crimea.
Although there was no official announcement regarding ATACMS during Zelenskiy’s recent visit to Washington, he secured $325 million in new US assistance. He worked to garner increased support for Ukraine among politicians. While support for Ukraine’s war effort remains largely bipartisan in Europe, in the United States, there are political divisions, with a faction of congressional Republicans, mainly aligned with former President Donald Trump, increasingly opposed to financing aid and arms transfers.