Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has confirmed that Kyiv used US-supplied long-range ATACMS missiles on the battlefield against Russian forces.
“Today, special thanks to the United States. Our agreements with President Biden are being implemented. Very accurately – ATACMS proved themselves,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address on Tuesday.
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The comments come after Kyiv’s military said Ukrainian forces struck airfields in Russian-held territory in eastern and southern Ukraine, destroying helicopters, knocking out an air defence missile launcher and damaging runways.
Ukraine said it carried out “well-aimed strikes on enemy airfields” near the eastern city of Luhansk and the southern city of Berdiansk overnight, but gave few details.
The country’s Special Operations Forces said nine helicopters, an air defence missile launcher and other equipment had been destroyed, runways had been hit, and heavy losses had been inflicted on Russian forces.
Russia’s Defence Ministry did not mention the attacks. Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhia region that is partly controlled by Moscow, said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian air defences had ensured the attack on the Berdiansk airfield was not successful.
A Ukrainian lawmaker said the US-supplied ATACMS missiles were used in the attack on the airfield in Berdiansk.
For months, Ukraine has pushed the US to provide it with ATACMS as it seeks to expel Russian forces from its territory.
The US had previously held off on providing Ukraine with the long-range missiles, fearing their use could risk an escalation of the conflict.
Several US news outlets reported that ATACMS had been sent to and deployed by Ukraine. Politico reported that Washington had “secretly shipped” them over the last several weeks.
Washington had previously hesitated to send the long-range missiles to Ukraine, partly due to concerns that they could enable Ukrainian strikes within Russian territory. Russia itself had warned against sending longer-range missiles, with the Russian foreign ministry calling them a “red line” that would make the US “party to the conflict” in September 2022.
Kyiv, for its part, insisted that ATACMS could play a vital role in its efforts to disrupt Russian supply lines, air bases, and rail networks within occupied Ukrainian territory.
The Biden administration’s apparent reversal signals continued US support as Ukraine fights to make progress in a counteroffensive launched in June. The counteroffensive has made only gradual gains through vast Russian minefields and heavily entrenched Russian positions, and Kyiv says Moscow is attacking in some areas ahead of the second winter since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday that Russia was hoping to advance as far as possible towards the town of Kupiansk in northeastern Ukraine before winter, and that fighting continued around the town of Avdiivka on the eastern front.
Kyiv says its forces are holding their ground, including around Avdiivka and Kupiansk.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies