UK News

US to send advanced rocket systems to Ukraine as Russia tightens grip on Sievierodonetsk

Joe Biden has confirmed he will send more advanced rocket systems to Kyiv, a critical weapon that Ukrainian leaders have been asking for as they struggle to stall Russian progress in the Donbas region.

The medium-range high mobility artillery rocket systems are part of a new $700m tranche of security assistance for Ukraine from the US that will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, according to two senior administration officials. The weapons package will be formally unveiled on Wednesday.

In a New York Times guest essay published on Tuesday, Biden said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will end through diplomacy but the United States must provide significant weapons and ammunition to give Ukraine the highest leverage at the negotiating table.

“That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Biden wrote.

The package also includes ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armour weapons, officials said.

The move comes after Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk province, said Russian forces had taken control of most of the key eastern city of Sievierodonetsk amid heavy fighting.

Gaidai reiterated calls for residents to stay in shelters after he said a Russian airstrike hit a nitric acid tank, risking the release of toxic fumes. In a post on the Telegram app he added a photograph of a large pink cloud over residential buildings.

The city’s mayor, Oleksandr Striuk, said artillery bombardments were threatening the lives of the thousands of civilians still sheltering in the ruined city, with evacuations not possible. Street fighting is under way, he said, adding: “The situation is very serious and the city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block.”

Striuk estimated that about 13,000 people remained in the city out of a prewar population of about 100,000 but said it was impossible to keep track of civilian casualties amid round-the-clock shelling.

He said more than 1,500 people in the city who died of various causes have been buried since the war began in February.

Sievierodonetsk is important to Russian efforts to capture Donbas before more western arms arrive. The city, which is 90 miles (145km) south of the Russian border, is in an area that is the last pocket under Ukrainian government control in the Luhansk region of Donbas.

The US decision on rocket systems tries to strike a balance between the desire to help Ukraine battle Russian artillery barrages while not providing arms that could allow Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia and trigger an escalation in the war.

Biden said on Monday that the US would not send Ukraine “rocket systems that can strike into Russia”. Any weapons system can shoot into Russia if close enough to the border but the aid package expected to be unveiled on Wednesday would send what the US considers medium-range rockets, which can generally can travel about 45 miles (70km), the officials said.

The US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS)
The US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) which will be sent to battlefields in Ukraine. Photograph: Toms Kalniņš/EPA

The Ukrainians have assured US officials that they will not fire rockets into Russian territory, according to the senior administration officials. Biden in his Times essay added: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”

sieverodonetsk map

sieverodonetsk map

The US deal is the 11th package approved so far, and will be the first to tap the $40bn in security and economic assistance recently passed by Congress. The rocket systems would be part of Pentagon drawdown authority, so would involve taking weapons from US inventory and getting them into Ukraine quickly. Ukrainian troops would also need training on the new systems, which could take a week or two.

Officials said the plan was to send Ukraine the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which is mounted on a truck and can carry a container with six rockets. The system can launch a medium-range rocket, which is the current plan, but is also capable of firing a longer-range missile, the Army Tactical Missile System, which has a range of about 190 miles (300km).

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been pleading with the west to send multiple launch rocket systems. The rockets have a longer range than the howitzer artillery systems the US has already provided. They would allow Ukrainian forces to strike Russian troops from a distance outside the range of Russia’s artillery.

“We are fighting for Ukraine to be provided with all the weapons needed to change the nature of the fighting and start moving faster and more confidently toward the expulsion of the occupiers,” Zelenskiy said in a recent address.

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned the west against sending greater firepower to Ukraine. The Kremlin said Putin held an 80-minute telephone call on Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany in which he warned against the continued transfers of western weapons.

With Associated Press


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