By Anita Powell
U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the U.S. is providing Ukraine with a $700 million package of “more advanced rocket systems and munitions” as the Russian invasion enters its fourth month – but White House officials say Ukraine has vowed not to fire those rockets into Russian territory.
“This new package will arm them with new capabilities and advanced weaponry, including HIMARS (rocket launch systems) with battlefield munitions, to defend their territory from Russian advances,” Biden said in a Wednesday statement. “We will continue to lead the world in providing historic assistance to support Ukraine’s fight for freedom.”
The decision to send more advanced weapons follows earlier reluctance on the part of the Biden administration. The package includes medium-range rockets that can travel about 70 kilometers.
Biden wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the United States has aided Ukraine with weapons and ammunition in order to bolster its position on the battlefield and ultimately in peace negotiations with Russia.
Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps Forces Reserve colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that Ukraine’s assurances, while notable, rest on delicate premises.
“The Ukrainians could use the [HIMARS multiple launch rocket system] to strike targets in the Russian homeland because of course, in many places the Ukrainians are right up on the border,” he said. “And this is a risk because the Ukrainians have said that they won’t but in the heat of battle, you never know what they’re going to do. You know, many Ukrainians, of course, are very angry, understandably, at what the Russians have done, and it would not be inconceivable that some commander might shoot at a target in Russia.”
Speaking in Washington alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it’s not clear how or when this conflict will end, but that NATO wants to see Ukraine in a position of strength when peace talks happen.
“Wars are unpredictable,” he said. “We were able to predict the invasion. But how this war will evolve, it’s very hard to predict. What we do know is that almost all wars end at some stage at the negotiating table. And this has also been clearly stated by President Zelenskyy that, at some stage, this will end at the negotiating table. But what happens there at the negotiating table is, of course, totally dependent on the strength, the situation on the battlefield, and that’s what we do. We support them in upholding the right to self defense. And then I have trust and confidence in the political leadership in Ukraine that they can make the hard judgments and decisions on negotiations and what to agree to, when negotiations at some point will start.”
Blinken said Russia holds the power to slow or stop the conflict.
“It’s Russia that is attacking Ukraine, not the other way around,” he said. “And simply put, the best way to avoid escalation is for Russia to stop the aggression and the war that it started, it’s fully in its power to do so. Specifically with regard to weapon systems being provided, the Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory. There is a strong trust bond between Ukraine and the United States, as well as with our allies and partners.”
In his opinion piece, Biden clarified that he does not seek war with Russia.
“As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow,” Biden said. “So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces. We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that Russia takes a negative view of U.S. weapons shipments to Ukraine, adding that they do not encourage the renewal of peace talks.
“We believe that the U.S. is deliberately pouring oil on the fire. The U.S. is obviously holding the line that it will fight Russia to the last Ukrainian,” Peskov said.
White House officials told reporters late Tuesday that the new weapons package – the 11th such tranche of weapons the U.S. has sent to Ukraine – includes the rocket system, counter-fire radars, air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles and other anti-armor weapons. The U.S. is also sending more helicopters, more than 200,000 artillery rounds and a package of spare parts to help the Ukrainians fix their existing equipment.