The United States is awaiting final approval “at the highest levels” to send Ukraine long-range weapons that would allow them to attack Russian positions from roughly 180 miles away, which includes vital strongholds in the Crimean peninsula.
US and European officials revealed on Thursday (June 29) evening that the White House has edged ever closer to actioning the package just two weeks to the day after US lawmakers submitted a bill to Congress proposing the allocation of £63 million ($80 million) for the purchase of ATACMS for Ukraine.
The missiles can travel roughly 30 miles farther than the UK-supplied Storm Shadow missiles that have already been used to devastating effect across the Russian-occupied territories.
The US has withheld from sending ATACMS to Ukraine over fears their use would dramatically escalate the conflict.
But a senior Ukrainian official told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday they were now seeing positive signs from the White House.
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US and EU officials said the decision was not final but pending approval “at the highest levels”, which indicates the White House is more seriously considering the option.
Mr Biden has been under growing pressure to give the green light for the ATACMS to be sent to Ukraine. At the end of last month, he said the idea was “still in play”.
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The sophisticated weapons systems would be used by Kyiv to hit Russia’s fragile supply chains, much in the same way that the UK-supplied Storm Shadows have been used.
Targets would include ammunition depots, warehouses and other infrastructure critical to Russia supporting its invasion.
Theoretically, the 180-190 mile range of the ATACMS would also afford Ukraine the possibility of striking Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol – the nearest Ukrainian soldiers are roughly 150 miles north, in Kherson – as well as the Crimean bridge.
Calls for the White House to approve the sending of the ATACMS have been abounding over the past few weeks as Ukraine’s counter offensive gets underway.
Last week, the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution calling for the missile systems to be sent immediately, calling them “critical to Ukraine’s success”.
Republican senator James Risch said this week: “I think the possibility [of them being sent] is quite high.”
Earlier this month, Kyiv’s ambassador to the US indicated that the Biden administration had recently “changed its tone” on ATACMS.
Oksana Markarova said: “If before all the answers sounded like, ‘just forget it’, then now, for the first time, we heard that the issue is being discussed.”
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