The Biden administration is hesitant to give Ukraine the longer-range missiles it is asking for as Russia has warned providing such arms would make the US a party to the conflict.
Ukraine has asked the US for Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, which have a range of about 190 miles, significantly farther than anything Washington has provided Kyiv up to this point. The HIMARS rocket launch systems that the US has sent Ukraine are currently equipped with missiles that can hit targets up to 50 miles away.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that President Biden is resisting Ukraine’s calls to send the arms. The report cited senior aides to Biden who said the president was told by the Pentagon that the benefits of sending Ukraine the ATACMS would be minimal, leading him to conclude it wasn’t worth the risk of provoking Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned the US that sending longer-range missiles to Ukraine would cross a “red line” and make the US a “direct” party to the conflict. “Under such a scenario, we will be forced to respond appropriately,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
The US appears to have heeded the Russian warning, at least for now. NBC News reported that senior Pentagon officials are opposed to giving Ukraine the ATACMS and that the administration has held off on the request over fears it could provoke a dangerous response from Moscow. Military officials told NBC News that the US was afraid the ATACMS could be used to target Russian territory and provoke a wider war.
It’s possible the US could send Ukraine the ATACMS in the future as the administration has escalated its involvement in the conflict throughout the fighting. US officials told the Times that they recognize that Russian President Vladimir Putin would have likely pushed back if they had given Ukraine the support it receives today at the outset of the war.
A US official told reporters on Friday that sending the ATACMS is “not on the table at this time” but added that the battlefield dynamics can change and “as their needs evolve, the types of assistance evolves.”