Ukraine steps up US long-range missile attacks

The Ukrainian military has increasingly used US-supplied long-range missiles to strike Russian airfields and warships inside occupied Ukrainian territory, but Washington has prevented it from extending its attacks into Russia proper, limiting the its ability to repel enemy assaults.

Last week, Kiev's forces launched three strikes using the army's tactical missile systems, known as ATACMS. The airstrikes – which hit an air defense system and a missile ship in Russian-occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine – were reported by both sides and their impact was confirmed by independent groups analyzing geolocalized footage of the battlefield.

Ukraine hopes that the attacks, by damaging Moscow's ability to conduct military operations, will ultimately help relieve troops struggling to contain the Russian advance on the ground. But the United States and other Western allies have only allowed the launch of Western weapons onto Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, not Russia itself, for fear of an escalation of the war.

Ukrainian officials have complained that the policy allows Moscow to launch attacks from inside Russia without risk and limits Ukraine's ability to repel them. “They proceed calmly, knowing that our partners do not give us permission” to strike, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with the New York Times last week. “That's their huge advantage.”

Now, pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to reverse that policy in the face of Ukraine's battlefield difficulties. The latest call came on Friday, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg telling the Economist that denying Ukraine “the ability to use these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very difficult for them to defend themselves.” .

Ukraine does not produce powerful long-range weapons, leaving it dependent on its Western allies to obtain them. But Washington had long refused to even provide ATACMS – pronounced “attack ems” – fearing that doing so could cross one of the Kremlin's “red lines” that would lead to escalation.

That changed late last year, when President Biden approved sending Ukraine a version of the ATACMS capable of hitting targets 100 miles away. Then, in April, Washington secretly supplied Kiev with a new version of the weapon, with a range of about 190 miles.

And on Friday the United States announced a $275 million military package for Kiev that includes ammunition for HIMARS, a rocket launcher capable of firing ATACMS missiles. Zelensky thanked the White House, saying on social media that the package included “much-needed long-range missiles.”

The missiles allowed Ukraine to target logistics and command posts behind Russian lines. Kiev targeted airports, ammunition depots, anti-aircraft missile launchers and troop concentrations.

A particular target has been the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, a supply hub for Moscow's forces in the southeast and a launching pad for missile and drone attacks. Moscow has reported several attacks involving ATACMS missiles this month.

Last week, the Ukrainian military said it had struck the port of Sevastopol in Crimea and damaged a small missile vessel. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said satellite images following the attack showed probable damage to the ship.

In early May, Ukrainian forces struck a Russian air defense system near an air base in Crimea, according to Oryx, a military analysis site that counts losses based on visual evidence.

But Ukraine's failure to fire weapons at Russia itself has given Moscow a significant advantage, Ukrainian officials say, which became clearer when Russian forces opened a new front this month in the Kharkiv region, in the north-east of Ukraine. Ahead of the offensive, Moscow had amassed troops and equipment near the border, but allied policies prevented Ukraine from targeting them with Western weapons.

After about two weeks of fierce fighting, Zelensky said Friday that the Russian advance had stopped and that the situation was under control. However, the offensive gave Moscow its biggest territorial gains in Ukraine since late 2022.

Russia has also launched attacks on Ukrainian cities from inside Russia, particularly on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which is about 25 miles from the Russian border. On Saturday, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, said a strike at a shopping center in the city killed at least two people and injured at least 24 others.

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