According to sources of CNN in the Biden administration, the United States is close to transferring to Ukraine of advanced long-range missile systems, requests for which have repeatedly been voiced by Ukrainian officials and the military. The administration is keen to send systems as part of a larger package of military and security assistance to Ukraine, which could be announced next week.
In recent weeks, high-ranking Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have appealed to the United States and its allies to provide a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or MLRS. Weapon systems made in the United States can launch a barrage of missiles hundreds of kilometers, much further than any system already in Ukraine, which could dramatically change the situation in the war against Russia.
Another weapon requested by Ukraine is a highly mobile artillery missile system, known as HIMARS, a lighter wheeled installation capable of firing many types of MLRS ammunition.
However, for several weeks, the Biden administration has refused to provide such systems amid concerns that Ukraine could use them to carry out offensive attacks in Russia, officials said.
According to them, the issue was high on the agenda at two White House meetings last week, where deputy cabinet members met to discuss national security policy. At the heart of the matter was the same concern that the administration had struggled with since the start of the war – whether sending heavier weapons to Ukraine would be seen by Russia as a provocation that could provoke a response to the United States.
One of the major problems, according to sources, was the long range of missile systems. MLRS and its lighter version HIMARS can run up to 300 km, depending on the type of ammunition. They are used from mobile vehicles for ground purposes, which will make it easier for the Ukrainian military to hit targets inside Russia.
Another major concern in the Biden administration was whether the United States could afford to give away so many high-quality weapons from military stocks, sources said.
According to officials, one of the workarounds could be to provide Ukraine with short-range missile systems, which is also being considered. Sources told CNN that training the Ukrainian military with any multiple rocket launchers would not take long – probably about two weeks, they said.