Ukraine Has Promised U.S. Not to Fire New 50-Mile Range Rockets Into Russia

Ukrainian officials have vowed to fire new U.S. rocket systems with a range of roughly 50 miles only at Russian targets within Ukraine and not strike deeper into Russian territory, a senior official of President Joe Biden's administration said.

Speaking to reporters on a press call Tuesday, the official said that a new $700 million package of military assistance to Ukraine set to be announced Wednesday would include M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which "allows the Ukrainians to range out to about 80 kilometers," or roughly 50 miles.

The official said that the latest tranche of U.S. support, which is now valued at more than $5 billion since Biden came into office in January 2021, was part of the president's plan "to provide security assistance to the Ukrainians that is above and beyond what we were already providing them to help defend their country."

"To that end, we are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders," the official said. "We do not seek to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia."

These words echoed Biden's comments featured in an op-ed published Tuesday in The New York Times in which the president said he "decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine. "

On the HIMARS, specifically, the senior administration official said during the press call later that same day that "we're giving the Ukrainians a range of capabilities that we think are commensurate with the fight that they're in on the battlefield and the conditions that exist today." As such, a decision was made to not provide a "longer range of munitions" and the administration "communicated that to the Ukrainians," according to the official.

Asked whether Ukrainian officials had offered explicit promises not to launch the new systems toward positions within Russia itself, the senior administration official said they had.

"The Ukrainians have given us assurances they will not use these targets in Russian territory," the official said. "Based on those assurances, we're very comfortable with it."

Ukraine New 50-Mile Range Rockets
A senior Biden administration official said Ukraine has promised to fire new U.S. rocket systems only at Russian targets within Ukraine and not strike deeper into Russian territory. In this combination image, U.S. Marines fire a HIMARS launcher while conducting rapid insertion training at Avon Park Air Force Range, Ukainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) stands in the town of Bucha, Joe Biden during a meeting with Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell , May 31, 2022 Getty

The official also emphasized that it was Russia that first attacked Ukraine.

"I think it's important to point out that it is Russia attacking inside Ukraine, not the other way around," the official said. "It's a Russian assault on a sovereign country and that can't be stated enough because there's definitely a Russian goal to obfuscate that fact."

After months of Russian military buildup near Ukraine's borders, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on February 24 the beginning of a "special military operation" now nearing its 100th day. The Kremlin has accused Ukraine of threatening Russia's national security through support for neo-Nazi elements, a claim rejected by Kyiv, and attempts to join the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance.

The attacking forces made early gains near major cities, including the capital, but became stalled amid fierce resistance and Russian troops have since shifted the battle plan to a new phase in which they have prioritized gaining ground in the eastern Donbas region and across the southern Black Sea coast to the Crimean Peninsula.

Parts of the Donbas region have been in control of Moscow-aligned Russian rebels since 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea as part of an internationally disputed referendum. The events followed a political uprising in Kyiv that brought to power a government seeking closer ties with the West.

The U.S. has since provided billions of dollars of assistance to Ukraine's military, including weapons and training. The amount of aid has increased significantly since the conflict erupted and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly requested more support in attempting to fend off the Russian incursion.

Ukrainian officials have specifically mentioned the HIMARS as well as the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Variants of the two systems are capable of hitting targets hundreds of miles away.

But as outlets including The Washington Post and CNN reported that U.S. officials were planning to send such platforms to Ukraine, Biden told reporters outside the White House on Monday that M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System that his administration was "not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia."

Shortly after, however, the White House appeared to walk back the remarks, with one senior official saying that "MLRS is under consideration, but nothing is on the table with long-range strike capabilities."

Denials that the U.S. would provide Ukrainian troops with the capability to strike within Russia were also offered Tuesday by U.N. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

The assurances were welcomed as "rational" by Russian Deputy Security Council Secretary Dmitry Medvedev, who previously served as president and prime minister throughout Putin's two-decade tenure in power.

"Otherwise, in case of strikes against our cities Russia's armed forces would act on the warning to attack the centers where such criminal decisions are made," Medvedev wrote on his Telegram channel Monday. "Some of them are certainly not in Kiev. No explanations necessary..."

The remarks followed a spat of incidents in the past two months in which apparent attacks on the Russian side of the border were blamed on Ukrainian forces by Russian officials. Zelensky's administration has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in such operations.