The Last Big Weapon on Ukraine’s Wish List

Congress, fresh from seemingly securing a U.S. promise to provide advanced fighter jets to Ukraine, is now urging the Biden administration to send long-range weapons to Kyiv.

Congress, fresh from seemingly securing a U.S. promise to provide advanced fighter jets to Ukraine, is now urging the Biden administration to send long-range weapons to Kyiv.

In a letter sent to U.S. President Joe Biden and obtained by Foreign Policy, the leaders of the bipartisan Helsinki Commission urged the White House to greenlight the delivery to Ukraine of the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a weapon that can be fired from Kyiv’s U.S.-provided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and hit Russian targets nearly 200 miles away.

“Now that the decision has been made to send F-16s, now is the time to commit to Ukraine’s full victory and deliver all the tools needed,” Reps. Joe Wilson and Steve Cohen wrote in the May 25 letter, which was also signed by Rep. Victoria Spartz, a member of the commission. “Nearly every weapon system requested by Ukraine has been delivered after intense pressure. Let us not wait for another pressure campaign to deliver ATACMS.”

Some members of Congress and U.S. officials think the deliveries of ATACMS to Ukraine could be decisive in putting Russian troops, ships, and bases on occupied Ukrainian soil at risk. After Ukraine first began raking Russian lines with High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, it received from the United States last year, cutting supply lines, knocking out command posts, and crashing weapons depots, enemy troops began to move out of range and hunker down.

The ATACMS has a range that is nearly four times as great as the HIMARS. “This would not only help Ukraine degrade or destroy Russian weapons of war used to murder Ukrainian defenders and civilians but would also push Russian units and supply chains further from the front, dramatically complicating sustainment and their ability to continue prosecuting this genocidal war,” the lawmakers wrote. “The fewer supplies and arms that reach Russian forces, the less capable they are of holding Ukrainian territory and killing its people.”

In recent weeks, Russia has stepped up rocket attacks on civilian targets farther away from the front lines. On Friday, at least two civilians were killed and 23 injured by a Russian missile strike on the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro. Russia had previously pounded the city with drones and missiles in late April, as well another central city, Uman, and assaulted Kyiv with strikes surrounding the anniversary of Russia’s World War II victory in early May.

Still, as it has throughout the war, the Biden administration has offered a number of reasons for not sending long-range weapons to Ukraine. Officials have worried about Ukraine hitting targets in Russia, which could escalate the war. U.S. war plans also require keeping plentiful ATACMS on hand in case of a war with China, Russia, or North Korea.

But the drumbeat to send the kinds of weapons that Ukraine needs has only grown louder after a monthslong, British-led pressure campaign to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets culminated with Biden announcing his backing for the plan at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, last week. Wilson, Cohen, and Spartz, the U.S. lawmakers pushing Biden to take the next step in delivering ATACMS to Ukraine, recently returned from a congressional delegation to the war-torn country, where Ukrainian officials told them that their military was staving off the Russians in all areas of the battlefield, except for the skies.

And U.S. allies are finally beginning to send longer-range weapons to Ukraine in a bid to further hammer home the issue in Washington. In early May, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced that the United Kingdom would provide Ukraine with Storm Shadow cruise missiles that can hit targets about 155 miles away.

“It expands Ukraine’s options to fight the deep battle—and prosecuting that battle is all about starving the front line of logistics, command direction, and people,” a British government spokesperson said in a statement. “These missiles will help them to hit Russian command and control nodes within Ukrainian territory. It creates more dilemmas for Russia’s senior leadership, and it means they have to further disperse their highly strained logistics. It gives the Ukrainians options and allows them to take decisive steps forward on the southern battlefield.”

The renewed push to send longer-range weapons to Ukraine comes as Kyiv has started to prepare its long-anticipated spring offensive, with operations hitting much of the Russian front line this week, including targets across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region. Sending ATACMS, the lawmakers insist, will help the Ukrainians seal the victory.

“A defeat or even a military stalemate against Russia’s genocidal invasion would be a catastrophe for our national security and guarantee renewed Russian attacks on Ukraine and broader aggression in Europe,” they wrote. “Once Ukraine has achieved victory on its terms, ATACMS, along with other long-range and advanced weapons, will be a primary means of deterring and constraining future Russian aggression.”

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