The Biden administration is unlikely to significantly change its approach to helping Ukraine fight Russia, sources told CNN, and is refusing some of Ukraine’s arms requests for now, even as Ukrainian forces have made major gains and retaken thousands of miles of territory from Russia in recent days. .
U.S. officials generally say the types of weapons and intelligence Ukraine has been providing to Ukraine in recent months have proven to be effective. And some have warned that it is too early to call Ukraine’s rapid progress in recent days a turning point in the war, warning that Russia is far from a militarily exhausted force.
Officials do not believe the battlefield landscape has changed enough in the short term to warrant a dramatic shift in strategy, although recent requests to Ukrainian lawmakers and the Pentagon for long-range missile systems and tanks, they say, could help sustain a longer-term push. keep the territory they regained.
But for now, at least, the U.S. has yet to provide Ukrainian forces with the Army’s tactical missile systems, also known as ATACMS, that they have been requesting for months, officials told CNN. ATACMS have a range of up to 300 kilometers, or about 185 miles. The administration still believes that offering such systems could be scalable because they could be used to fire at Russia. Currently, the maximum range of US-provided weapons to Ukraine is about 49 kilometers.
“Our assessment is that they do not currently need ATACMS to serve objectives that are directly relevant to the current warfighter,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters in late August.
Last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that the US position has not changed. “HIMARS, using GMLRS rockets, has been exceptional in allowing the Ukrainians to serve the targets they need to serve within Ukraine,” Austin said Friday in Prague, without mentioning ATACMS.
Since the conflict began in February, the Biden administration has taken a closer approach to supplying weapons to Ukraine; in some cases, he later agreed to send weapons that would have been too scalable at the beginning of the conflict. His calculus has largely been based on avoiding systems that Putin might consider too provocative, though those lines have shifted over time and have been viewed as arbitrary by some former officials.
Some US military officials also acknowledged that systems currently considered too scalable (such as F-16 jets) could eventually be supplied to Ukraine. But those sources cautioned that such a decision is far in the future and is not tied to Ukraine’s recent, but nascent, successes. And there is no indication that such discussions are underway now.
“Ukraine has made some progress, but there’s still a very tough fight, and a tough fight ahead, so I think we have to keep that in mind as well,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s reasonable over time, as we have, to continue that conversation to hear what their needs are, to work with the international community.”
US National Security Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby echoed that, telling reporters that the US would likely announce additional military aid to Ukraine in the coming days, but declined to elaborate.
Another defense official told CNN on Tuesday that long-range equipment is still off the table for now because Ukraine is “still in the sweet spot” of HIMARS, the highly mobile artillery rocket system provided by the US and some of its allies. Ukraine in summer. Munitions for these systems, which are provided by the US, are capable of using GPS guidance to accurately hit a target up to 40 miles away.
Ukrainian forces have received “thousands” of GMLRS rounds, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said last week, and used them to attack Russian ammunition depots, logistics centers and command posts.
However, some members of parliament do not agree with the cautious attitude of the administration.
Asked whether he thinks the US should send ATACMS, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told CNN: “I think we should send whatever they need to recover their territory, as much as we have available, and it’s reasonable.”
“I think the concern some people would say is that long-range missiles could hit inside Russia and cause a wider conflict. I’m not sure I’m as worried about that,” Rubio added.
The US has also been careful not to call the rapid territorial gains in Ukraine a turning point in the war, or a critical moment that will ultimately decide the outcome.
“It’s more important than ever that we’re not turning the ball over,” one defensive lineman said. The Russians still have enormous firepower, manpower and equipment in the fight in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military’s victories this month have not sealed the outcome of the war. In military terms, Russia still has the “mass”, even if it has not been able to shape the outcome of a particular battle at a critical time and place.
However, the Ukrainian counterattack – planned with US support – appears to have been “expertly executed”, the official said.
One thing that has changed in recent months is the willingness of the Ukrainians to share intelligence with the U.S. to better help American officials shape their own battlefield operations.
“There is more trust now than there was at the beginning of the war,” said a Ukrainian source close to President Volodymyr Zelensky. “And Ukrainians recognize that the more they share, the more opportunities they will have in return.”
A US military source added that “there has been decent communication at different levels about what is being planned in the political and military side. There is quite good military transparency.’
In Kherson, where Ukraine had telegraphed its intentions months before the counteroffensive began, Russia had time to prepare to protect territory around one of the first cities they occupied at the start of the war. Ukraine’s advances have been increasingly deliberate, one official said, and there is no rapid progress due to the collapse of Russian lines.
Some analysts have described the Kherson offensive as a “fix” designed to keep Russian troops away from the fighting in Kharkiv.
In Kharkiv, however, the attack caught the Russians by surprise and without a well-prepared defense, and the Ukrainian army quickly recaptured thousands of square kilometers of territory.
Russia has so far failed to meaningfully halt a counteroffensive in southern or eastern Ukraine, as the problems it faced at the beginning of the war – supply line problems, logistical problems and a lack of effective command and control – still plague the Russian military, officials said. Russia was unable to hold on to the territory it had seized, in part because of the high cost imposed by the Ukrainian defenders.
The US is less concerned about Ukraine’s ability to hold retaken territory, officials said, even in the east, where Ukrainian forces have moved more than 60 kilometers in some cases in days. Ukraine’s supply lines are internal, while Russia’s are outside its borders.
In addition, the Ukrainian forces will receive a lot of morale and strength from the recent victories, an officer said, while the depleted Russian forces will feel the opposite.
“It is not a real concern [Ukraine] overstretching supply lines,” one official said. Despite Russia’s claim to have destroyed the US-supplied HIMARS, all 16 systems remain accounted for and the “vast majority” of M777 howitzers remain operational, the officials said.