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U.S. President Joe Biden has decided to send U.S. long-range missiles known as ATACMS to Ukraine after months of deliberation over whether to provide munitions to Kiev, according to people familiar with the matter.
Washington will launch a version of the missile equipped with cluster munitions rather than a single warhead, people familiar with the matter said.
The decision comes ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the United States this week, but the Biden administration has chosen not to announce it publicly. One person said this was to avoid tipping off the Russians, prompting them to move supply lines farther from the front lines.
The missiles have a range of up to 300 kilometers (190 miles), allowing Kiev to hit Russian forces from greater distances than before.
The United States will send them in the near future, initially in small numbers, people familiar with the matter said.
Ukraine has long demanded hundreds of ATACMS, including those with a single warhead. Until now, the United States has been hesitant, partly out of concern that supplying weapons to Kiev could escalate the conflict and partly because the Pentagon is worried about not having enough weapons to meet its own future needs.
But after the Pentagon and other agencies signed on, officials said they felt comfortable sending them. Launching cluster bombs could help ease some of officials’ concerns because they would not deplete stockpiles of missiles with a single warhead, according to people familiar with the matter.
On Thursday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden “constantly talks to his own troops, his European counterparts and the Ukrainians about battlefield needs” and what the United States can provide while ensuring we have the capabilities to meet our own deterrence and defense need”.
The United States has shipped 155mm cluster munitions to Ukraine, a controversial decision made by the Biden administration earlier this year when it became clear that stocks of 155mm artillery were running low and Ukraine would face significant challenges if it could not fill the gap.
Earlier this week, Biden announced a $325 million aid package that includes air defense systems and additional cluster munitions, and said U.S. M1 Abrams tanks would arrive in Ukraine next week.
ATACMS was not included in the plan, but Biden signaled to Zelensky this week that he was willing to provide the equipment, a person familiar with the matter said.
Ukraine has been using British and French long-range Storm Shadow missiles as well as short-range U.S. Shimar guided missiles to target Russian logistics, weapons depots and command posts in its summer offensive.
On Friday, the Ukrainian air force launched two Storm Shadow missiles that hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, occupied Crimea. It is the latest attack in an intensifying air campaign against Moscow’s forces on the Black Sea peninsula.
ATACMS has an advantage over British and French missiles in that they can be fired from Shimar launchers rather than from Ukraine’s aging Soviet-era fighter jets.