Ukraine Uses Long-Range Missiles Provided by the U.S. Against Russian Forces for the First Time

The United States delivered long-range ballistic missiles that Ukraine urgently needed, and President Joe Biden promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month. Zelenskyy confirmed the delivery Tuesday and said they were used on the battlefield against Russia and “executed very accurately.”

“Today, I express special gratitude to the United States,” said Zelenskyy in his Tuesday evening address, and added that the missiles “have proven themselves.”

The U.S. has refused to discuss the delivery publicly, but officials familiar with the move confirmed it earlier. U.S. officials said the missiles arrived in Ukraine within the last few days. 

The arrival of the missiles at the war front gives Ukraine a critical ability to strike targets that are Russian that are farther away, which would allow Ukrainian forces to stay out of range safely. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly before an official announcement and spoke anonymously on Tuesday.

The delivery of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) was veiled in secrecy, with the expectation that the first acknowledgment in public would be when the weapons were used on the battlefield. The intense scrutiny is a substantial change from previous weapons sent by the Biden administration. In almost all other cases, the United States had publicly announced its decision before the equipment and weapons were shipped overseas.

The U.S. is concerned over escalating tensions with Russia.

Because of lingering concerns by the U.S. about increasing tensions with Russia, the version of the ATACMS that went to Ukraine will have a shorter range than the maximum distance of the missiles. Although some versions of the missiles can go as far as around 18 miles, the ones sent to Ukraine carry cluster munitions and have a shorter range, which, when they are fired in the open air, release hundreds of bomblets instead of a single warhead.

Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces claimed that an attack at nighttime on targets in southern and eastern Ukraine destroyed military equipment and personnel and nine Russian helicopters at two airfields in Russia-occupied regions.

Weapons provided by the U.S.: Crucial to Ukraine’s ability to strike longer distances

The ATACMS would be crucial in Ukraine’s ability to hit the Berdyansk airfield since it’s within striking distance of the shorter-range version of the missile, and cluster munitions would effectively hit several targets. The closest positions of Ukrainian troops on the western bank of the Dnieper River are about 100 miles from Berdyansk.

Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders have been pushing the United States to provide missiles that have a more extended range than any others provided by the U.S. However, the Biden administration has balked for months and is worried Kyiv could use weapons to hit deep into Russia’s territory, which would enrage Moscow and escalate the conflict.

According to officials, President Biden finally approved the delivery last month and told President Zelenskyy during a White House meeting that the United States would finally give Ukraine the ATACMS. 

However, the U.S. has refused to provide further details on how many missiles would be delivered or the timing, although officials suggested the plan was to send a relatively small number, around two dozen.

Ukrainian forces want to utilize the missiles to assist in their counteroffensive as it heads into the colder, muddy winter months and enable troops to strike behind Russian lines while remaining out of the firing range.

The small number of missiles emphasizes the reluctance of the U.S. to send the powerful weapons. Sending the cluster munition version will mark only the second time the Democratic administration has moved to send that type of weapon.

In July, the United States agreed to send thousands of cluster bombs to Ukraine. When cluster bombs are used, they are dispersed over a wide area and are intended to impose destruction on multiple targets simultaneously. Several NATO allies ban the weapons because they have a track record for causing numerous civilian casualties. Unexploded rounds often litter populated civilian areas and battlefields and can cause unintended deaths.