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US sending medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine: Biden

A launch truck fires the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) produced by Lockheed Martin during combat training in the high desert of the Yakima Training Center, Washington. (AP file photo)

The administration of US President Joe Biden announced that it will send Ukraine a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems, in a further ratcheting up of Washington’s offensive against Moscow over its military action against the Kiev government.

The rocket systems are part of a new $700 million tranche of security assistance for Ukraine from the United States that will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday quoting two senior Biden administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the weapons package will be formally announced on Wednesday.

The Kiev government has been asking for a critical weapon in order to stall Russian progress in the Donbas region. One official noted that the advanced rocket systems will give Ukrainian forces greater precision in targeting Russian assets inside Ukraine.

The US administration claims it has decided to provide the advanced rocket systems to strike a balance between its desire to help Ukraine battle Russian artillery barrages while avoiding delivering arms that could allow Ukraine to strike deep inside Russia and trigger an escalation in the war.

Biden confirmed in an article published on Tuesday evening in The New York Times that he’s decided to “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.”

Biden said that the US goal was to ensure a “democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine.”  

Biden writes US not seeking Putin ouster

Biden also wrote that the United States would not try to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin from his position of power.  

“We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia. As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow,” Biden wrote. 

“So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces,” he added. 

On Monday, Biden told reporters that the advanced weapons that the US intended to send to Ukraine would not include those rockets that can reach the Russian Federation.  

“We are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia”, said the US president.

The senior Biden administration officials said the US military aid package expected to be unveiled on Wednesday would send what Washington considers medium-range rockets that can generally travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).

The officials said the Kiev government has provided assurances that it will not fire rockets into Russian territory.

Since the onset of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, the United States and its European allies have been pouring advanced weapons into the ex-Soviet country, a move that Moscow has time and again warned would prolong the conflict.

Kiev, which hopes to outnumber the Russians both technologically and in numbers of artillery, heavily relies on its western allies to support and fulfill their promises to regain back the Donbas, composed of two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that Moscow has vowed to liberate.

Reports by CNN and The Washington Post on Friday said that Washington was preparing to send advanced long-range rocket systems to Kiev to use against Russian forces, particularly in Donbas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pleading with the US to send multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine as soon as possible to help stop Russia’s advance in the Donbas.

“We are fighting for Ukraine to be provided with all the weapons needed to change the nature of the fighting and start moving faster and more confidently toward the expulsion of the occupiers,” Zelensky said in a recent address.

Philip Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general who was NATO’s top commander from 2013 to 2016, said Ukraine needs multiple launch rocket systems.

“These are very important capabilities that we have not gotten them yet. And they not only need them, but they have been very vociferous in explaining they want them,” said Breedlove. “We need to get serious about supplying this army so that it can do what the world is asking it to do: fight a world superpower alone on the battlefield.”

White House officials have not publically commented on the aid package.

“We continue to consider a range of systems that have the potential to be effective on the battlefield for our Ukrainian partners. But the point the president made is that we won’t be sending long-range rockets for use beyond the battlefield in Ukraine,” State Department Ned Price said Tuesday. “As the battle has shifted its dynamics, we have also shifted the type of security assistance that we are providing to them, in large part because they have asked us for the various systems that are going to be more effective in places like the Donbas.”

Ukrainian officials have sought a longer-range system called the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), a high-mobility automatic system that can fire up to 12 MLRS rockets miles away in fewer than 60 seconds.

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