The rocket system was a key demand from Ukrainian officials who said it was necessary to stem the advance of Russian forces, which on Friday claimed full control of the strategic eastern town of Lyman, offering Moscow another victory in its offensive in the eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine. . CNN first reported on US preparations to send the system.
The transfer is subject to a final decision by the White House.
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The Kremlin has warned that any country supplying advanced weapons to Ukraine will face serious repercussions. On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the West had “declared total war” on Russia.
The Biden administration is trying to help Kyiv defend itself without provoking Russian retaliation against U.S. forces or allies. At a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill this week, State Department officials said some White House officials fear providing the MLRS with a range of more than 180 miles could lead Ukrainian forces to fire rockets into Russian territory and cause a major escalation. , according to people familiar with the briefing, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military matters.
State Department officials present at the meeting said those concerns would likely be addressed with Ukrainian leaders. A senior US official said the White House is comfortable providing the MLRS system to Ukraine, but will seek to manage the risk of escalation by withholding longer-range rockets compatible with the system.
Typical rockets fired by these systems have a range of about 43 miles, according to Army data. Specialized rockets called Army Tactical Missile Systems can hit much further at ranges of up to 186 miles. These missiles were used during the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War and are used to pulverize critical infrastructure, such as air defense sites and forward bases.
Even shorter-range rockets would more than double the range of Ukrainian firepower. Kyiv forces use US-delivered M777 howitzers, which have a range of about 18 miles. Other sophisticated weapons sent by the United States include thousands of shoulder-fired Stinger and Javelin missiles.
Despite the influx of US and Western weapons into Ukraine, Moscow retains an edge in firepower, which Ukrainian officials say is causing them to lose ground in the Donbass.
The White House came under fire Friday from some Republicans for not moving faster with the delivery of the rocket system, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.). “The Biden administration is dragging its feet,” he tweeted.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Biden administration is not slowing demand.
“I would dispute the idea that there was a heist here,” he told reporters on Friday.
He said the United States was moving weapons systems into Ukraine “every day … literally helping them in the fight, including howitzers, which are still coming.”
When asked to confirm the impending transfer of long-range rocket systems, Kirby said, “I’m not going to preempt decisions that haven’t been announced.”
Ukrainian officials have been increasingly public in their demands for weapons amid Russian advances to the east. “If you really care about Ukraine, weapons, weapons and more weapons,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday.
“My least favorite phrase is ‘We’re working on it’; I hate that. I want to hear either ‘We got it’ or ‘It’s not gonna happen,’” he said.
In the easternmost province of Luhansk, Russia controls more than 95% of the territory, according to the Institute for the Study of Warfare, a Washington-based think tank. Severodonetsk – one of the last major cities under Ukrainian control in eastern Luhansk – is under major assault, with forces nearly encircling the city. Russian troops are steadily approaching from the northeast, where they already control several areas.
In Izyum, a town near the Donbass region, Russian troops were advancing east – possibly to merge operations with those in the captured town of Lyman, potentially encircling a large mass of Ukrainian forces in what would be a major defeat on the battlefield. Russian artillery and tanks were seen in nearby towns. Around the city of Donetsk, the Russians have so far been unsuccessful, the think tank said.
On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Kuleba, his Ukrainian counterpart. Following the call, Kuleba tweeted “Heavy weapons are at the top of our agenda, and more are coming.”
Alex Horton, Maria Paul, Claire Parker and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.