As US-supplied weapons show impact in Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes

KHARKIV REGION, Ukraine (AP) — Weeks after the decision allowing Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons for limited strikes on Russian territory, the country is going some way to stopping the new Russian advance along the northeastern front, but military commanders are calling for restrictions. on long-range missiles to be lifted.

Deteriorating battlefield conditions forced the United States to allow Ukraine to use Western-supplied artillery and rocket systems to Defend the eastern city of Kharkiv targeting border regions where Kremlin forces are gathering and launching attacks. The impact was rapid: Ukrainian forces pushed back Russian positions, gained time to better fortify their own positions and even launched small offensive actions.

But commanders said that without the ability to use long-range guided missiles, such as ATACMS, their hands were tied.

“We could target the command points of the (Russian) brigades and the entire northern group, because they are located 100 or 150 kilometers from the front line,” said Hefastus, artillery commander of the Kharkiv region. , which bears its call sign. “Normal ammo can’t hit them. With this sort of thing, we can do a lot to destroy their command centers.

Ukrainian commanders interviewed spoke on the condition that their call signs were used, in accordance with brigade rules.

United States expanded the scope of its policy to authorize counterattacks in a wider region on Friday. But the Biden administration has not lifted restrictions on Ukraine that prohibit the use of U.S.-supplied ATACMS to strike inside Russian territory, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter who spoke spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. The United States began supplying Ukraine with long-range ATACMS earlier this year, but with rules including that they cannot be used to strike inside Russia and must be used on a sovereign territory, which includes land seized by the Russians.

This prevents attacks on airfields and military infrastructure in Russia’s rear, underscoring a common Ukrainian complaint that Western allies keen to potentially provoke Russia are undermining Ukraine’s ability to fight effectively.

Ukrainian officials are pushing U.S. allies for the ability to strike high-value targets in Russia using ATACMS, which can reach more than 100 kilometers (62 miles).

“Unfortunately, we still cannot reach, for example, airfields and their planes. This is the problem,” Yehor Cherniev, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, defense and intelligence, said earlier this month. “That is why we ask (our allies) to lift restrictions on the use of long-range missiles against limited military targets on Russian territory.”

Since late May, Ukraine has been able to target Russian troops and air defense systems 20 kilometers from the border in the Kharkiv region. Moscow opened a new front in the region on May 10, capturing village after village in a sweeping advance that caught Ukrainian troops off guard.

While not a panacea, the move has significantly slowed Russia’s momentum, even allowing Ukrainian troops to advance along the northeast border, including recently retaking areas southwest of Vovchansk, according to local reports. The brigades said High Mobility Military Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, were fired hours after clearance was granted, destroying an air defense complex equipped to launch the deadly missiles.

At the time, the stakes were high, as Ukraine’s military leadership anticipated another attack intended to distract troops from other intense battlefields in the Donetsk region. First Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Havryliuk told The Associated Press that at least 90,000 Russian troops on Russian territory were preparing for a new assault.

“The HIMARS were not silent all day,” Hefastus said, recalling the first hours when clearance to use the rocket systems was granted. “From the first days, Ukrainian forces managed to destroy entire columns of troops along the border, waiting for the order to enter Ukraine. »

“Before, we couldn’t target them. It was quite complicated. All warehouses containing ammunition and other resources were located at a distance of 20 kilometers beyond what we could reach,” he said.

The dynamic changed almost immediately, allowing Ukrainian forces to stabilize this part of the front line. Soldiers near a strategic area north of Kharkiv where fighting continues to push back Russian troops said enemy troops had retreated several kilometers. Such claims could not be independently verified.

“The tactics have changed” thanks to Ukraine’s improved strike capabilities, said Kalina, a platoon commander in the Khartia brigade. Previously, they were only capable of hitting infantry assaults; Now they can employ more artillery against Russian firing positions.

The U.S. decision came at the last minute, after much pressure from Ukrainian officials and as troops prepared for combat in anticipation of Russia opening a new front in the northeast.

Ukrainian officials hope to convince U.S. allies to authorize the use of ATACMS against specific targets.

“It seems quite absurd when the enemy is so actively advancing on our territory and strikes with all types of missiles and calibers on Ukrainian territory and we cannot retaliate inside the enemy’s territory where he is holding logistics and supplies,” said Lys Mykyta, the commander. of a drone company within the 103rd Territorial Defense Brigade.

But Ukrainian officials said only desperate battlefield conditions could convince U.S. officials to reverse the restriction.

The new invasion of the Kharkiv region, which attracted valuable Ukrainian reserves, caused the United States to change its mind and authorize self-defense strikes on Russian territory, Cherniev said.

“It is likely that the decision regarding ATACMS will also be changed depending on the situation on the ground,” he said. “I hope the decision will be made as soon as possible.”


Associated Press writers Volodymyr Yurchuk in Kyiv and Aamer Madhani, Matt Lee and Tara Copp in Washington, DC, contributed to this report.

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