US secretly sent long-range missiles to Ukraine in February

US secretly sent long-range missiles to Ukraine in February
The US secretly sent Ukraine the advanced Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) capable of striking targets up to 300km away that have been used for the first time this week. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 25, 2024

The US secretly sent Ukraine long-range missiles in February ahead of the new $61bn aid package on April 20 that Kyiv used for the first time this week.

Included in the new aid package, that includes $20bn earmarked for weapons purchases, is an assignment of the advanced Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) capable of striking targets up to 300km away.

"I can confirm that the United States provided Ukraine with long-range ATACMS at the president's direct direction," state department spokesman Vedant Patel said, adding Washington, "did not announce this at the onset in order to maintain operational security for Ukraine at their request.”

Washington's change of heart came after Ukraine was staring defeat in the face after Russia intensified its barrage and has done significant and irreparable damage to its energy infrastructure. Supplies of ammunition on the battlefield have been running critically low as the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has only been able to fire one shell for every Russian ten due to rationing.

"We’ve already sent some, we will send more," stated White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on April 24. The missiles were included in a $300m aid package approved by US President Joe Biden in March and they arrived this month, the last possible spending without a fresh aid package, after the US ran out of money for Ukraine in January.

The ATACMS, included in a $300mn aid tranche announced in March, have already been employed by Ukraine to retaliate, striking strategic locations including an airfield in Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and military concentrations in south-eastern Ukraine.

The new aid package has been welcomed across the board, but questions remain over how quickly fresh supplies can be delivered and some have criticised the weapons not included on the list released by the US authorities.

The Pentagon has assured that munitions like shells will begin arriving within a week, but other ammunition like the badly needed rockets for the air defence systems still need to be ordered and manufactured and could take up to a month to arrive. In the meantime, Russia is expected to intensify its attacks to take advantage of the closing window of opportunity afforded by Ukraine’s ammo crisis.

In particular, the new package does not include an allotment of the sophisticated Patriot missiles that have become the backbone of Ukraine’s air defences.

Both the US and Europe are running out of Patriots to send to Ukraine having depleted their surplus stocks after two years of war. EU countries have reached the bottom of the barrel and are reluctant to send their remaining batteries for fear of undermining their own security by sending their last batteries of Patriots to Ukraine.

Germany is leading the initiative to provide more Patriots, having sent two and promising to send a third battery. In the last days EU leaders have also persuaded Greece to send two batteries as well, for monetary compensation and under US "guarantees" against the threat of attack by Turkey on April 24. Germany is also urging the US to send another Patriot system to Ukraine, which remains reluctant.

As Ukraine’s Nato allies increasingly scrap the bottom of the barrel for supplies, Ukraine is increasingly looking to go it alone and make its own arms. Kyiv is in talks to set up joint production of Patriot systems with US partners, but these plans remain on the drawing board, Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova said in an interview with European Pravda on April 23.

And even the powerful weapons that Ukraine has been sent come with strict limitations. The US is keen to avoid provoking Russia into wider aggression and is afraid of an escalation should US munitions be used to attack Russian territory. In addition, the US has been openly critical of Ukraine’s attacks on Russian oil refinery and depos, afraid that cutting supplies will cause oil prices to spike ahead of the November US presidential election.

The US ruled that the ATACMS should be used exclusively within Ukrainian sovereign territory, although Kyiv has already used them to hit a military base in the Crimea this week.

"They will make a difference. But as I've said before at this podium... there is no silver bullet," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said a press briefing

Germany has also refused to send its game changing Taurus cruise missiles for similar reasons, although it remains the biggest European donar of weapons to Ukraine.

"Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery and air defence are extremely important tools for the quick restoration of a just peace," Zelenskiy said on social media platform X.

While the new US aid has been welcomed, many have pointed out that it might be once again insufficient to make a difference on the battlefield and will merely prevent a Ukrainian defeat.

“President Biden has finally signed the next tranche of aid to Ukraine. Too little, too late for victory,” Russia opposition figure and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky posted on X.

“What does this $60bn decision mean for Ukraine, for the world, and for the United States? In reality, it's not $60bn, but only $40bn ($20bn to replenish the already spent stocks of the US army). And of the $40bn, only $20bn is for weapons. Putin is spending $140bn a year on the war. His weapons are much cheaper, but not radically worse,” Khodorkovsky said.

Ukraine is being shelled from border to border and its economy and energy system are semi-destroyed. As a result, not much of its own weapons are produced in Ukraine and almost entirely imported.

“Europe, having been under the American umbrella for many years, has lost production capacity and will be rocking for a couple more years. If it doesn't fall asleep again,” Khodorkovsky said. “In general, the new US aid package will help Ukraine hold out until the end of the year, but no more. Then the loss of Kharkiv, Odessa become real…”

Khodorkovsky went on to suggest three options the West should consider if it wants to make a real difference in the war: substantially increasing military aid to $150bn or more; ensure a ceasefire through negotiation to stop the fighting; and consider committing Allied forces to support the AFU.

Kyiv has refused to consider starting peace talks until the Russians leave its territory, but Khodorkovsky argues that an armistice would be to everyone's advantage. “This is not a victory, but not a complete defeat either. And perhaps a victory in the medium term, with the fall of Putin's regime.”