The Biden administration is unlikely to significantly change its approach to helping Ukraine fight Russia, sources tell CNN, and reject some Ukrainian arms requests just yet — even though Ukrainian forces have made considerable gains and recaptured thousands of miles of territory from Russia in recent days. .
U.S. officials generally view Ukraine’s recent momentum as proof that the kinds of weapons and intelligence the West has provided Ukraine in recent months have been effective. And some warn it is too early to label Ukraine’s rapid progress in recent days as a turning point in the war, warning that Russia is far from a depleted military force.
Officials do not believe the battlefield landscape has changed enough to warrant a drastic change in strategy in the short term despite recent Ukrainian demands to lawmakers and the Pentagon for long-range missile systems and tanks, which they say them, can help them maintain the thrust longer and longer. keep the territory they have reconquered.
But for now, at least, the United States is still reluctant to supply Ukrainian forces with the army’s long-range tactical missile systems, also known as ATACMS, which it has been asking for ever since. months, officials told CNN. ATACMS have a range of up to 300 kilometers, or about 185 miles. The administration still believes that providing these systems could be an escalation as they could be used to fire on Russia itself. Currently, the maximum range of weapons supplied by the United States to Ukraine is approximately 49 miles.
“We estimate that they do not currently require ATACMS to serve targets directly relevant to ongoing combat,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters in late August.
Last week Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted that the US position had not changed. “The HIMARS, using the GMLRS rockets, has been extraordinary in enabling the Ukrainians to service the targets they need inside Ukraine,” Austin said Friday in Prague, without mentioning ATACMS.
Since the conflict began in February, the Biden administration has taken a phased approach to supplying arms to Ukraine – in some cases later agreeing to send weapons that earlier in the conflict would have been deemed a lot too aggravating. His calculation was largely based on avoiding systems that Putin might consider too provocative, although those lines have evolved over time and have been criticized by some former officials as arbitrary.
Some US military officials have also acknowledged that systems currently considered too scalable — like the F-16 jets, for example — could eventually be supplied to Ukraine. But those sources warned that such a move is likely far in the future and unrelated to Ukraine’s recent, but nascent, successes. And there is no indication that such discussions are currently underway.
“Ukraine has made progress, but there’s still a very tough fight, and a tough fight ahead, so I think we have to keep that in mind as well,” the Pentagon’s press secretary said. Brig. General Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday. “I think it is reasonable to continue, as we have, this dialogue to hear what their needs are, to work with the international community.”
US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby echoed that, telling reporters that the US would likely announce additional military aid to Ukraine in the coming days, but has refused to describe this aid in detail.
Another defense official told CNN on Tuesday that longer-range gear is likely still not on the table just yet because Ukraine is “still in the sweet spot on HIMARS,” or High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that the United States and some of its allies supplied to Ukraine over the summer. Munitions for these systems, supplied by the United States, are capable of using GPS guidance to accurately hit a target from about 40 miles away.
Ukrainian forces received “thousands” of rounds from the GMLRS, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said last week, and used them to strike munitions depots, logistics centers and Russian command posts.
Still, some lawmakers disagree with the administration’s cautious approach.
When asked if he thinks the United States should send ATACMS, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told CNN, “I think we should send them whatever they need to get their territory, as far as we have it available, and that is reasonable. ”
“I think the concern some would say is that longer range missiles could aim deep inside Russia and trigger a wider conflict. I’m not sure I’m as troubled by that,” added Rubio.
The United States has also been careful not to call Ukraine’s rapid territorial gains a turning point in the war, or a critical moment that will decide the outcome for good.
“It’s more important than ever that we don’t look like we’re smashing the ball,” a defense official said. The Russians still have considerable firepower, manpower and equipment in the fight in Ukraine, and the victories of the Ukrainian army this month did not seal the outcome of the war. In military terms, Russia still has a “mace,” even if it has been unable to exert it at a critical time and place to shape the outcome of a particular fight.
Still, the Ukrainian counteroffensive — planned with US help — appears to have been “expertly executed,” the official said.
One thing that has changed in recent months is the Ukrainians’ willingness to share intelligence with the United States, allowing US officials to better assist the Ukrainians in shaping their battlefield operations.
“There is a lot more confidence now than at the start of the war,” said a Ukrainian source close to President Volodymyr Zelensky. “And Ukrainians recognize that the more they share, the more they are likely to get in return.”
A US military source added that there has been “decent communication at different levels about what is planned on the political side and on the military side. There is a fairly good military transparency.
In Kherson, where Ukraine telegraphed its intentions for months before the start of the counteroffensive, Russia had time to prepare, digging in to protect the territory around one of the first towns it occupied at the start of the war. Ukraine’s advances there have been gradual and deliberate, an official said, and there is no rapid advance through collapsing Russian lines.
Some analysts have described the Kherson offensive as a “fixation” operation designed to keep engaged Russian troops out of the fight in Kharkiv.
In Kharkiv, however, the attack took the Russians by surprise and without any well-prepared defenses, allowing the Ukrainian army to quickly recover thousands of square kilometers of territory.
Russia has so far failed to significantly halt the counter-offensive in southern or eastern Ukraine because of the problems it encountered at the start of the war – line-of-sight issues. supply, logistical problems and lack of effective command and control – continue to plague the Russian military, officials said. Russia proved unable to hold the territory it had seized, in part because of the high cost imposed on it by the Ukrainian defenders.
The United States is less concerned about Ukraine’s ability to retain reclaimed territory, officials said, even in the east, where Ukrainian forces have covered more than 60 kilometers in a few days in some cases. Ukraine’s supply lines are internal, while Russia’s were outside its own borders.
In addition, Ukrainian forces will benefit from a significant boost in morale and willpower from recent victories, an official said, while Russia’s depleted forces will feel the opposite.
It is “not a real concern of [Ukraine] overloading supply lines,” an official said. Despite Russian claims of destruction of US-supplied HIMARS, all 16 systems are still accounted for and the “overwhelming majority” of M777 howitzers also remain in service, officials said.