Ukraine is in a race against time to save the eastern Donbas region as relentless Russian artillery and air strikes threaten to turn the tide of the war, and support for Kyiv’s continued defiance among some west European allies appears to be slipping.
Ukrainian officials say they urgently need advanced US-made mobile multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to halt Russian advances in Luhansk and Donetsk. The rockets would be capable of striking Russian firing positions, military bases, air strips and supply lines at a range of up to 300km (185 miles).
“We are in great need of weapons that will make it possible to engage the enemy over a long distance,” Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said. “The price of delay is measured by the lives of people who have protected the world from [Russian] fascism.”
Ongoing disagreements in Washington have held up MLRS deliveries. Some of President Joe Biden’s national security advisers are said to be fearful Ukraine may use the rockets to hit targets inside Russia, a development that could spark an escalation drawing in the US and Nato. Kyiv has previously launched attacks on Russian soil.
Moscow, keenly aware of the game-changing potential of the rocket systems, has already voiced strong objections. “If the Americans do this, they will clearly cross a red line,” said Olga Skabeeva, an influential Russian state TV host whose views reflect the Kremlin’s. Russia’s response could be “very harsh”, she warned.
US news outlets reported on Saturday that Biden had agreed to provide some rocket systems as part of a major new US arms package for Ukraine to be announced this week. The package may also include another advanced weapon, the high mobility artillery rocket system, known as Himars.
The decision reportedly followed talks between the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. “Heavy weapons on top of our agenda, and more are coming our way,” Kuleba said after the talks.
But doubts remain about which weapons systems will be provided, and the timing of the US move. The White House and the Pentagon have yet to confirm the reports. [Continue reading…]