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Ukraine Steps Up Attacks With U.S. Long-Range Missiles

The Ukrainian army has increasingly used U.S.-supplied long-range missiles to target Russian airfields and warships deep behind enemy lines, a practice that has brought it some success within Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, but that it has been barred by Washington from extending into Russia proper, limiting its ability to repel Russian assaults.

In the past week, Kyiv’s forces launched three attacks using Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS. The air assaults — which hit an air-defense system and a missile ship in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine’s east and south — were reported by both sides, and their impact was confirmed by independent groups that analyze geolocated footage of the battlefield.

Ukraine hopes that the strikes, by hurting Moscow’s ability to conduct military operations, will ultimately help relieve troops struggling to contain Russian advances on the ground. But the United States and other Western allies have permitted only the firing of Western weapons into Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, not into Russia itself, for fear of escalating the war.

Ukrainian officials have complained that the policy allows Moscow to launch attacks from inside Russia without risk and handcuffs Ukraine’s ability to repel them. “They proceed calmly, understanding that our partners do not give us permission” to strike, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in an interview with The New York Times this past week. “This is their huge advantage.”

Now, pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to reverse that policy in the face of Ukraine’s difficulties on the battlefield. The latest call came on Friday, with NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, telling The Economist that denying “Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard 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 that can hit targets 100 miles away. Then, in April, Washington secretly gave Kyiv 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 Kyiv that includes ammunition for HIMARS, a rocket launcher that can fire the ATACMS missiles. Mr. Zelensky thanked the White House, saying on social media that the package included “much-needed long-range missiles.”

The missiles have allowed Ukraine to hit logistics and command posts deep behind Russian lines. Kyiv has targeted airfields, ammunition depots, antiaircraft missile launchers and concentrations of troops.

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

This past week, the Ukrainian army said it had hit the Crimean port of Sevastopol and damaged a small missile ship. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said that satellite imagery from the attack’s aftermath showed likely damage to the ship.

Earlier in May, Ukrainian forces hit a Russian air-defense system near an air base in Crimea, according to Oryx, a military analysis website that counts losses based on visual evidence.

But Ukraine’s inability to fire the weapons into 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 of northeastern Ukraine. Leading up to the offensive, Moscow had built up troops and equipment near the border, but the allies’ policy barred Ukraine from targeting them with Western weapons.

After about two weeks of fierce fighting, Mr. Zelensky said on Friday that the Russian advance there had stalled and that the situation was under control. Still, the offensive has given Moscow its biggest territorial gains in Ukraine since late 2022.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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