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24 Apr, 2024 19:00

US secretly shipped ATACMS missiles to Ukraine – media

President Biden personally approved the delivery, an anonymous official has said
US secretly shipped ATACMS missiles to Ukraine – media

Washington secretly sent Kiev an unspecified number of longer-range ATACMS missiles last month, multiple US outlets reported on Wednesday, citing an anonymous US government official.

The Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), with a range up to 300 kilometers, were included in the $300-million package of military aid approved by President Joe Biden on March 12, according to the official, who spoke with Reuters, Politico and the New York Times, among others.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said that Ukraine used the missiles for the first time last Wednesday, targeting a Russian airfield about 165 kilometers (103 miles) from the front line. 

On the morning of April 17, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said his forces had attacked the airbase in Dzhankoy, Crimea. The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on that claim.

Zelensky has long clamored for longer-range missiles. According to the anonymous official cited in Reuters’ report, the Pentagon was initially opposed, but changed its mind after Russia used ballistic missiles allegedly supplied by North Korea and began targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. 

“We warned Russia about those things,” the official said. “They renewed their targeting.”

Biden was advised to send the longer-range missiles by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Charles Q Brown, the official said.

The ATACMS were acquired from Lockheed Martin, rather than from the Pentagon stockpiles, and paid for by the “savings” discovered in March, when several military contracts were reportedly delivered for less than the original bid value. 

According to the official, Biden instructed his aides to include the ATACMS in the package but to keep it secret, so as to preserve Ukraine’s “operational security and the element of surprise.”

Ukraine first received mid-range ATACMS last September. The Russian military quickly began shooting them down, however, thwarting Zelensky’s plan to damage or destroy the Crimean Bridge.

“This is yet another mistake on the part of the United States,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said last October, explaining that, had Washington refrained from sending the missiles, it could have later positioned itself as the “good guy” for its attempts to prevent needless casualties.

With Russia upgrading its air defenses to intercept the ATACMS, their arrival will not have a major impact on combat operations, and will only “prolong the agony” of Ukraine, Putin explained. “That’s why it’s a mistake.”