US mindful of ‘escalation risk’ in giving Ukraine rocket systems

AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy

The Pentagon’s top policy official on Wednesday said the United States is “mindful of the escalation risk” in providing Ukraine with advanced, long-range rocket systems, a move that has drawn the ire of Russia.  

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it would send four high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine, part of a $700 million arms and equipment drawdown package for the war-torn country.  

Administration officials have stressed that the systems would be used to repel Russian systems and not for strikes aimed for inside Kremlin territory, an assurance that has been given “at multiple levels of the Ukrainian government,” Defense Department Undersecretary for policy Colin Kahl told reporters at the Pentagon. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has raised such issues with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov “in their numerous calls — they’re talking to each other once or twice a week … But this particular assurance goes all the way to the top of the Ukrainian government to include President [Volodymyr] Zelensky,” Kahl said. 

He added that the U.S. is “mindful of the escalation risks in everything we’re doing associated with this.” 

“President Biden has made clear we have no intention of coming into direct conflict with Russia,” he said. “We don’t have an interest in the conflict in Ukraine widening to a broader conflict or evolving into World War III. … But at the same time, Russia doesn’t get a veto over what we send to the Ukrainians.” 

The latest package of security assistance, which brings the U.S. commitment to about $5.3 billion worth of lethal aid for Ukraine, includes the four HIMARS, 1,000 Javelin missiles and additional equipment, according to Kahl.  

Kahl said the U.S. decided to send HIMARS, which have a roughly 43-mile range, over ammunition that can travel further, which the Ukrainians had requested. 

“As we looked at the targets that they were looking to be able to go after on Ukrainian territory and also have some additional standoff, we thought that the HIMARS with the GMLRS rounds — these guided long-range rounds with about 70 kilometer range — could service any target that they needed precisely,” he said. 

“We don’t assess that they need systems that range out hundreds and hundreds of kilometers for the current fight.” 

Kyiv has asked Washington for longer range weapons in its fight against Russia, which first invaded the neighboring nation more than three months ago, on Feb. 24. 

The U.S., however, has been hesitant to provide such weapons due to concerns it could escalate the war should Ukraine use the rocket system to hit targets inside Russia. 

Tags Biden Colin Kahl Colin Kahl HIMARS Lloyd Austin Lloyd Austin Oleksii Reznikov Russia-Ukraine war
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