U.S. steps up rocket shipments to Ukraine amid intense fighting in Donbas region


The U.S. is shipping four additional HIMARS launchers to Ukraine as part of its latest package of military assistance to counter Russia. It will include artillery ammunition and rockets and be the sixteenth drawdown of firepower from the Pentagon’s own inventory since August 2021. Ukraine will have 16 HIMARS from the U.S. and four more rocket launchers from other allied countries.

The latest security package also will include guided multiple launch rocket system ammunition, known as GMLRS, that has a range of about 50 miles. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Mark Milley detailed the latest aid in a briefing to reporters after a meeting of more than two dozen allies aiding Kyiv in the fight.

“That’s a pretty good reach. It has allowed and will continue to allow [Ukraine] to get after those longer-range targets that they’ve been unable to reach,” Mr. Austin said. 

The Pentagon’s top leaders described the conflict now as a grinding war of attrition focused on Ukraine’s eastern regions, after Russia’s initial Feb. 24 invasion failed to capture Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities.

Russian soldiers have been able to advance no more than 10 miles a day in the last three months, Gen. Milley told reporters following the fourth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, praising Ukraine’s unexpected successes in holding off the larger, better armed Russian forces.

“The Ukrainians have fought a very effective mobile defense in depth —  an area defense in depth anchoring on strong points,” Gen. Milley said. “They have fought the Russians very effectively.”

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He said the Russians will likely continue to rely on heavy artillery bombardments in order to achieve only limited gains in the east. “These tactical gains have come at an incredible cost, in terms of Russian casualties and destroyed equipment,” Gen. Milley said.

Ukrainian officials credit long-range artillery and rockets, such as the U.S.-supplied M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS,) with altering the balance of power in the fight with Russia and have pressed the U.S. and its allies for more sophisticated weaponry to continue the fight.

“HIMARS have already made a [huge] difference on the battlefield. More of them as well as ammo and equipment will increase our strength and help to demilitarize,” Russia, Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote in a Twitter message. 

Russia is now massing artillery and rocket units in the eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region in what Mr. Austin called a “desperate, aggressive push to seize sovereign Ukrainian territory in the Donbas.”

“Russia is keeping up its relentless shelling. That’s a cruel tactic that harkens back to the horrors of World War I,” Mr. Austin said. “Ukraine needs the firepower and the ammunition to withstand this barrage and to strike back.”

Earlier this week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered his generals to target the long-range rockets supplied by the West. Ukraine has used the missile to cripple Russian logistics hubs and disrupt command-and-control centers.

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The Biden administration says Russia is laying the groundwork to directly annex Ukrainian territory, along the lines of its seizure of Crimea from Kyiv in 2014. Proxy officials working on Moscow’s behalf will arrange sham referendums on joining Russia, officials said.

“Russia is attempting to set the conditions on the ground by seeking to establish branches of Russian banks, to establish the ruble as the default currency in those areas, and to sabotage civilian internet access,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House.

The White House believes the timeline for the referendums could take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia’s regional elections in September.

“Annexation by force would be a gross violation of the U.N. Charter, and we will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished,” Mr. Kirby said.

Russia pushed back on the charges, calling them “fundamentally false.”

“We are returning peace to the liberated territories, creating circumstances for normal life, and respect for equal rights of citizens regardless of ethnicity and language,” Russia’s embassy in Washington, D.C. said in a statement released Wednesday. “The leadership of the Russian Federation has repeatedly stated that the population of the liberated territories will decide on their future independently, by themselves.”

Russian Embassy officials said the allegations are an indication of Washington’s desire to “heat up” the conflict as long as possible. 

“The U.S. ruling circles are not driven by concern for Ukrainians but by a desire to inflict maximum damage on Russia,” they said.

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