In a somewhat surprising reversal, President Biden has approved supplying Kyiv with the advanced long-range missiles called U.S. Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, for which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading for months.
Up until Thursday, White House officials had mostly signaled that Biden was not ready to provide the long-range ATACMS (pronounced “attack ’ems”) capable of striking much deeper behind Russian defensive lines than any munitions that Ukraine’s military currently has.
Ahead of the Biden and Zelenskyy meeting, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden had “determined that he would not provide ATACMS” but that the president “is also not taking it off the table in the future,” reported Breaking Defense.
But during the meeting, Biden told Zelenskyy that he would provide a small number of ATACMS in the next few weeks with the prospect of more after this initial allotment, reported The Wall Street Journal.
The reversal comes as many Republicans in the U.S. House, reflecting the continuing influence of the party’s presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, have so far opposed approving a new round of funds to Ukraine, reported The Associated Press. There was a significant chance that Zelenskyy’s state-side trip would have ended with the embattled leader leaving empty-handed.
Zelenskyy had seemingly been spurned by Congress not just with regards to further funding but also with the quality of his reception. The last time he visited, the House and Senate convened a joint session to hear Zelenskyy speak in hopes of rallying support. On this trip, Zelenskyy’s call for another such session did not go over well, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appearing annoyed by the request.
Biden made sure that the White House welcome would leave no doubt that its backing of Ukraine had not waned in the least. Zelenskyy was greeted with a red-carpet ceremony on the South Lawn, and after the meeting, Biden addressed the stalled funding on the Hill, saying, “I’m counting on the good judgment of the United States Congress. There’s no alternative,” reported the AP.
Some have speculated that the limited number of ATACMS being authorized is Biden’s way of nudging Germany to greenlight sending its own Taurus long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, as reported by the WSJ. Earlier this year, only after Washington announced a handful of Abrams tanks to Ukraine did Germany agree to supply Ukraine with the Leopard main battle tank.
The announcement that ATACMS are headed to the field of battle comes as the summer Ukrainian counteroffensive aimed at retaking the territory seized by Russia has mostly disappointed.
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported on Thursday that the Ukraine military assessed the counteroffensive as having failed fairly early in the campaign and pulled back from undertaking major offensive actions, which is why the lines of contact have remained stagnant for months.
Some analysts see the provision of ATACMS as the next step, leading eventually to sending F-16 fighter jets, which could reenergize a counteroffensive that has turned into a battle of attrition, reported Time.
Margarita Konaev, a researcher at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, suggested to Time that these weapons are being approved now because Washington has determined that Russia has no interest in a war with NATO.
“So there’s a lot more room to maneuver than what they thought earlier on,” she said.