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U.S. secretly sent long-range missiles to Ukraine for its fight with Russia | CBC News

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The United States in recent weeks secretly shipped long-range missiles to Ukraine for use in its battle to fight off Russian invaders, and Ukraine has now used them twice, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The missiles were contained in a $300-million US military aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden approved on March 12, said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official would not say how many of the missiles were sent.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, at a briefing for reporters, confirmed that a “significant number” of the missiles had been sent to Ukraine. “We will send more,” he said.

He said Ukraine has committed to only use the weapons within its borders, not in Russia.

The missiles were used for the first time in the early hours of April 17, launched against a Russian airfield in Crimea that was about 165 kilometres from the Ukrainian front lines, the official said.

The official said Ukraine used the weapon a second time overnight against Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine.

Whether to send the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) with a range up to 300 kilometres was a subject of debate within the Biden administration for months. Mid-range ATACMS were supplied last September.

Pentagon initially opposed move

The Pentagon initially opposed the long-range missile deployment, fearing the loss of the missiles from the American stockpile would hurt U.S. military readiness. There were also concerns that Ukraine would use them to attack targets deep inside Russia.

A Ukrainian soldier drives near a tank in a front-line position near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Alex Babenko/The Associated Press)

Russia’s use of North Korean-supplied long-range ballistic missiles against Ukraine in December and January, despite U.S. public and private warnings not to do so, led to a change in heart, the U.S. official said.

Also a factor in U.S. decision-making was Russia’s targeting of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, the official said.

“We warned Russia about those things,” the official said. “They renewed their targeting.”

In late January, the U.S. military found a way to satisfy their concerns about military readiness, which enabled the administration to move forward. They began acquiring new missiles coming off the Lockheed-Martin production line.

Biden met with his national security team in mid-February and agreed to accept the unanimous recommendation of his advisers to send the missiles to Ukraine. Involved in the discussion were Sullivan, the national security adviser; Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin; Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman C.Q. Brown.

The challenge at that point was to figure out how to pay for the missiles. The United States had exhausted all of its funding options and congressional gridlock stymied further aid.

Ukrainian forces are seen firing from a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system toward a Russian position in Ukraine's Donetsk region on Wednesday.
Ukrainian forces are seen firing from a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system toward a Russian position in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Wednesday. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

An opportunity arose in March, when several Pentagon contracts came in under bid. Biden was able to use the difference to send $300 million US in assistance to Ukraine.

Biden told his team to include the long-range ATACMS in this funding package, but to do so secretly in order to maintain operational security and the element of surprise for Ukraine, the official said.

Drones hit 2 Rosneft-owned depots

In Russia’s Smolensk region, drones sent by Ukraine struck two Rosneft-owned oil depots in an overnight attack on Wednesday.

WATCH | Russia oil depot on fire: 

Video shows fire at Russian oil depot

Video obtained by Reuters shows fire at an oil depot in Russia’s Smolensk region. The video, which contains profanity, was matched by Reuters to satellite images, but the date could not be confirmed.

Russian regional officials said that fires had broken out at the facilities following the drone attack.

As the emergency services worked on sites, some residents were evacuated from parts of Lipetsk in Russia’s southwest after a drone there fell on an industrial park.

There were no casualties reported in the attack, Vasily Anokhin, the governor of the Smolensk region, said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

With Russia’s full-scale invasion in its third year, Ukraine has increasingly focused on targeting Russian oil and energy facilities with long-range drones.

Kyiv considers oil refineries as legitimate targets, despite calls from allies led by the U.S. to halt strikes in order to avoid Russian retaliation and hikes in global oil prices.

As of the end of March, around 14 per cent of Russia’s primary oil refining capacity had been knocked out by Ukrainian drone attacks, according to Reuters calculations.

Energy grid attacks have been a feature of the ongoing war, with Russia by March 2022 having gained control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in southeastern Ukraine, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

This year, Russia has stepped up combined missile and drone strikes targeting Ukraine’s grid system since mid-March.

“This has become an issue that is threatening international peace and security,” International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi told CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live in an interview that aired on April 21.

Energy site attacks threaten ‘international peace and security,’ UN’s Grossi tells CBC: 

Ukraine’s energy grid has received emergency power imports from Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova as the system struggles to meet demand amid the attacks, national grid operator Ukrenergo said on Monday.

The European Union and Ukraine linked electricity grids after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. The link was designed to open avenues for emergency help in the face of Russian strikes on critical infrastructure.

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