Ukraine Could Use New Weapons to Hit Russian Targets in Crimea, Pentagon Says

Ukrainian forces will be able to use a newly delivered, coveted long-range missile system to more effectively target Russian forces in occupied Crimea, senior Pentagon officials said on Thursday.

After months of requests, Ukraine received a longer-range version of the Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS, which can travel 190 miles. Before the delivery this month, the United States had supplied Ukraine with a version of the system that has a 100-mile range and is armed with wide-spreading cluster munitions.

Much of the long-delayed weapons deliveries would need to initially focus on shoring up Ukraine’s defenses, U.S. national security officials said. The new system can reach deeper into Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine and target supply nodes for Russian forces in the southeast.

The goal for the new longer-range systems is to put more pressure on Crimea, a hub of Russian air and ground forces, “where, right now, Russia has had relatively safe haven,” a senior defense official told reporters during a news briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Pentagon officials refused to specify the exact number of long-range systems that have been sent to Ukraine. The Biden administration sent the longer-range ATACMS secretly, to avoid alerting the Russians. They were part of a $300 million shipment announced in March that was the first new aid package for the country since funding ran out in late December. Congress approved a new round of military assistance to Ukraine this week.

Ukraine used the longer-range missiles overnight Tuesday to strike Russian troops in the port city of Berdiansk, a senior U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters. Social media accounts in Ukraine reported large fires and explosions last week at a military airfield in Dzhankoi, Crimea, which two U.S. officials said was a long-range ATACMS target. In an address that evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine thanked Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the top military commander, but did not elaborate on the attack.

“One of the things we’ve been able to see is that when Ukraine is supplied, they’ve been able to be effective,” Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a moderated conversation at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Private Service on Thursday.

President Biden’s decision in February to send more than 100 of the longer-range systems to Ukraine was a major policy shift. His administration had previously shied away from sending them for fear that Kyiv would use the systems to attack targets in Russia, which could further escalate the conflict.

But more than two years into Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine, Mr. Biden’s calculus has changed, administration officials said. As Congress spent months considering another aid package for Ukraine, its troops ran out of ammunition and equipment and lost territory to a slow but steady Russian advance.

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