“The HIMARS, that was a game changer,” Danylyuk said. “Right up until Russia managed to learn how to adapt to it. Now, we kind of reached the limit of what we can do with these advanced weapons. For the next stage, we need the longer-range weapons to achieve the goals that we achieved four months ago when we first received the HIMARS. We can do the same but the range should be longer.”
Hodges, the former U.S. Army Europe commander, argued that ATACMS missiles are “exactly what they need” right now. The longer-range weapons would allow Ukraine to hammer key Russian positions such as the Kerch bridge, Russian air bases on Crimea and communications lines.
Zelenskyy brought the weapon up during his talks with Biden, but the U.S. hasn’t budged in its refusal to send them, the person said.
While those longer-range missiles remain atop Ukraine’s wish list, other weapons could help Kyiv continue its offensives around Bakhmut and in the south. Military leaders have said for months that U.S. Abrams tanks and German Leopard tanks would tip the scales in some of the closer-range ground fighting they expect to see over the winter.
Ukrainian officials have asked the Biden administration to send just a handful of Abrams tanks — as few as three or four — to break German resistance to sending their own Leopards, according to one person familiar with the discussions. German officials have said publicly they won’t be the first country to send their own tanks to the fight, so the pitch by Kyiv is that even a small number of Abrams tanks would remove that obstacle.
Poland has donated 250 older Russian-made T-72 tanks, and the U.S. is paying for Czechia to upgrade another 45 T-72s for Ukraine, but no Western-made tanks have yet been delivered. While U.S. defense and military officials say tanks are not off the table, some argue that the training and logistics challenges associated with giving these weapons to Kyiv would prove counterproductive.
Kyiv is also calling for cluster munitions, which Russia has been using to deadly effect on the battlefield. But these weapons — officially called dual-purposed improvised conventional munitions — are banned by more than 100 countries, and there is no appetite in the Biden administration to send them. Instead, the U.S. and other countries continue to send tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and mortars every few weeks as part of each new aid package.
And experts argued that more sophisticated weapons such as the Patriot system and ATACMS are not as important to the coming fight as effective training, logistics and tactics. Patriot, for example, is a long-range, high-altitude missile system used against intercontinental ballistic missiles and high-flying jets. One Patriot will not be enough to defend Ukraine’s entire 500-kilometer front, Hertling said, stressing that it must be used in combination with mid-range and low-altitude air defenses.
“Patriots are not going to do the kinds of things people think they are going to do right now,” he said. “It is not a be all, end all in terms of providing the air defense Ukraine needs.”
A new training program the Pentagon recently announced, which will teach Ukrainian soldiers new tactics for maneuvering infantry with supporting artillery, will be key to a successful river crossing, Hertling argued.
“I won’t say that will be unopposed, but it will be difficult for the Russians to oppose that kind of movement,” he said.
And the Biden White House has flatly refused to ATACMS because it views the weapon as too escalatory.
“The idea that we would give Ukraine material that is fundamentally different than is already going, there would have a prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union and the rest of the world,” Biden said during the press conference with Zelenskyy. “They’re not looking to go to war with Russia. They’re not looking for a third World War.”
“Ukraine will defend itself at any cost,” Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said in an interview. “It will use the weapons that we have and even if we don’t have the weapons [that we need], we will fight with our teeth to get Russia out of our lands.”
Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.
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