Ukrainian President says counter offensive difficult without longer range weapons as White House approves banned cluster bombs
The Russian advantage in long-range weapons seriously complicates Kiev’s counteroffensive, Vladimir Zelensky said on Friday.
The Ukrainian president has previously attributed lack of progress in the much-hyped operation to delays in arms deliveries by the West.“ Without long-range weapons, it’s difficult not only to carry out an offensive mission, it is difficult to conduct a defensive operation, to be honest. Very difficult,” Zelensky explained during a press-conference in Prague.
The Ukrainian leader said that Kiev was in discussions with Washington about the supply of such weapons. “It depends only on them [the US] today,” he said.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, with whom Zelensky held talks earlier on the day, promised that Prague would send combat helicopters to Ukraine and train its pilots to fly US-made F-16 fighter jets. Washington previously declined to provide long-range arms to Kiev over concerns that they might be used by Ukrainian forces for attacks deep into Russian territory, risking a major escalation in the conflict.
Last week, Republican senator James E. Risch told Voice of America that a group of US lawmakers were continuing to pressure the Biden administration to supply Zelensky’s government with the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The possibility of Ukraine getting the missiles, which boast a range of up to 321 kilometers (200 miles) was “quite high,”Risch said.
On Friday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden had signed off on the delivery of dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM) to Ukraine. The US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters on Friday that Washington’s decision to supply Ukraine with controversial cluster munitions was partly influenced by disappointment with lackluster results of Kiev’s much-vaunted summer counteroffensive.
“We want to make sure that the Ukrainians have sufficient artillery to keep them in the fight in the context of the current counteroffensive, and because things are going a little slower than some had hoped,” he said.
Kahl admitted that “the Russians have been more successful digging in deeply, perhaps more than is appreciated.”Kahl, the highest ranking civilian official in the Pentagon, also acknowledged that the cluster munitions would serve as a “bridge” until the US and its allies can increase production of conventional 155mm artillery shells for Ukraine.
After months of postponements, Ukraine’s counteroffensive began on June 4 with a failed attack on Russian positions near Donetsk, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Outmatched by Russian artillery and lacking air support, Ukraine’s NATO-trained brigades advanced through Russian-laid minefields, suffering steep casualties.
The Russian Defense Ministry estimated late last month that Ukraine lost around 13,000 troops and nearly 250 tanks between June 4 and June 21.Despite these high losses, Kahl claimed on Friday that Kiev’s forces were still “probing for weak spots” in Russia’s multi-layered defensive network, and that the majority of Ukraine’s combat power “has not been brought to bear.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington DC, July 7, 2023 © AP / Andrew Harnik
American officials have been disappointed with the lack of progress, according to multiple US media reports over the last three weeks. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have alternated between claiming that the true counteroffensive has yet to begin, and blaming the West for not providing enough weapons to guarantee success.
Cluster munitions are banned in more than 120 countries because when they detonate, they release many small ‘bomblets’ over a wide area, with these unexploded elements posing severe risks to civilians for years after fighting ends.
The US is not a party to the ban, but maintains a prohibition on the export of munitions with a ‘dud’ rate of more than 1%.
Biden waived this ban to supply DPICM ammunition to Ukraine based on “unanimous” advice from his national security team, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday. According to Kahl, the DPICM rounds sent to Kiev will have a failure rate of up to 2.35%.
Moscow has repeatedly warned that deliveries of more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine by the US and its allies could cross its ‘red lines,’ leading to a major escalation of hostilities. Russia argues that the supply of arms, intelligence sharing, and training of Kiev’s troops already means that Western nations are de facto parties to the conflict.