Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Warming To Sending ATACMS

Ukraine appears to be a step closer to obtaining the U.S.-produced Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missiles, which can hit targets at about 200 miles away with a significantly more powerful kinetic punch than any other precision guided weapon in Kyiv’s arsenal today.

“Close,” is how Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov described to The War Zone Kyiv’s timeline for obtaining the long-range weapons system that the Biden administration has so far refused to provide. Budanov’s take comes after The Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that the Kyiv has recently received “positive signs” of such a transfer from Washington.

“Kyiv had received positive signs in recent weeks that the U.S. had come around on the ATACMS system,” the Journal said it was told by a senior Ukrainian defense official.

Ukraine has long sought ATACMS to strike deeper into Russian-held territory, in particular targets on the Crimean peninsula occupied since 2014. In addition to being a base to launch drone attacks, the peninsula is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, several air bases and serves as a symbol of Vladimir Putin’s imperialistic intentions. Being able to hit targets in Crimea could help Kyiv achieve its long-stated goal of liberating it along with the rest of the country still occupied by Russia.

The value of such long-range strike weapons was likely shown on June 22, when the Chongar Bridge, a key span linking Crimea and Kherson Oblast, was hit. Russian officials claimed the bridge was struck by a U.K.-provided Storm Shadow air-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile.

Those weapons, with an officially stated range of at least 155 miles (the non-export configuration is nearly double that), were recently praised by British Defense Minister Ben Wallace for their effectiveness.

But ATACMS can strike even hardened targets far away, including the Kerch Bridge, Putin’s prized $4 billion span linking Crimea with Russia attacked last fall.

“Officials said that the matter is pending approval at the highest levels and that the deliberations could continue while the U.S. assesses the situation on the ground in Ukraine,” the Journal reported. “Officials in the U.S. and Europe have seen signs, however, that previously reluctant quarters of the U.S. government, namely the White House, have come to see an urgent need to bolster Ukraine’s fight in the coming weeks.”

The Pentagon on Thursday said there was nothing imminent about the delivery of ATACMS to Ukraine.

“I don’t have anything to announce regarding ATACMS, and certainly, I’m not aware of any imminent decisions as it relates to ATACMS,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman told reporters, including from The War Zone, on Thursday.

The Biden administration has expressed three main hesitations in providing ATACMS to Ukraine. One is concern that Kyiv will use them against targets within Russian territory, something it has repeatedly avowed it would not. Another is a matter of how many the U.S. has, as it weighs their need in potential future conflicts. There are also significant concerns that giving Ukraine ballistic missiles would be viewed as a major escalation and could widen the war.

Lockheed Martin has produced about 4,000 ATACMS in various configurations over the past two decades, according to Politico. Some have been sold to allied nations, which bought the missile for their own multiple rocket launcher systems, while about 600 were fired by U.S. forces in combat. Some of these may have been retired from service or fired in training and testing, as well. ATACMS is seen a critical weapon that would be needed in a peer conflict. Until its successor – the Precision Strike Missile (PSM) – arrives in large numbers, the existing inventory is viewed as strategically important to maintain.

Asked whether the U.S. was holding off giving ATACMS to Ukraine until there are enough PSMs on hand to backfill that critical resource, Ryder said “we’re going to constantly look at a variety of capabilities based on what Ukraine’s most urgent needs are… we’ll just continue to keep that dialogue open.”

Clearly, ATACMS would give Ukraine an additional edge, something that would be a big help to strike against Russian logistic nodes as its nearly month-old counteroffensive grinds on at heavy cost.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, also appears closer to providing Ukraine with cluster munitions. You can read more about such munitions – like the controversial 155mm Dual-Purpose Conventional Improved Munition (DPICM) artillery cluster shells – and what they could bring to the table for Ukraine here.

CNN is reporting that U.S. officials told it a final decision is expected soon from the White House. If approved, the weapons could be included in a new military aid package to Ukraine as soon as next month.

“These would undoubtedly have a significant battlefield impact,” a US official told CNN.

We will update this story when there is more news to report about ATACMS and cluster munitions.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continue to advance “slowly but surely” on the front lines in the east and southeast of the country, according to senior military officials. They also confirm that Ukrainian troops are also making progress around Bakhmut, which was the scene of months of heavy fighting earlier in the conflict before the city fell into Russian hands.

In the words of Ukrainian commander-in-chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have “succeeded in seizing the strategic initiative.” Zaluzhnyi was addressing the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley.

Meanwhile, further details of Ukrainian advances came from the country’s Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar, who in a national television interview described advances in sectors in the south around the Russian-occupied cities of Berdyansk and Mariupol. “Every day, there is an advance,” Maliar said. “Yes, the advances are slow, but they are sure.”

In the direction of Berdyansk, in particular, Maliar claimed that Ukrianian troops have advanced by 1,400 yards.

In a more detailed description posted on her Telegram channel Thursday, Maliar also pointed to ongoing offensive operations that are continuing in the directions of Melitopol and Bakhmut.

She described success in “gnawing away” at every meter of land from the enemy “in a heavy duel.”

As for Bakhmut, here Russia is “trying to hold the occupied positions, carries out counterattacks, but gradually retreats after suffering losses,” Maliar said.

“In general, it is hot again in the Bakhmut direction, fierce battles continue,” she added. “The enemy pulls up reserves there and clings to Bakhmut with all its strength.”

Meanwhile, the deputy minister of defense confirmed that Russia is continuing its offensive in the direction of Lymansky, Avdiyivskyi, and Mariinsky, albeit “unsuccessfully.”

Maliar also provided an update on the fighting around Rivnopil, one of the latest in a cluster of villages in Donetsk Oblast that are being liberated in the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“In the direction of Rivnopil–Volodyne, our forces are successful, now they are entrenched on the achieved lines and inflict serious losses on the enemy,” Maliar said. “In fact, the offensive potential of the enemy is bled to death, destroying equipment, warehouses, control points, and personnel.”

The status of Russian Gen. Sergei Surovikin, commander of the Aerospace Forces and erstwhile ally of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozin, remains somewhat up in the air.

A day after the Moscow Times reported Surovikin was arrested for his role in Prigozhin’s aborted mutiny, Financial Times and The Associated Press report that he is being detained.

Surovikin “is believed to have been detained days after mercenaries staged a revolt inside Russia, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Thursday, citing U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence assessments.”

Financial Times added that it “remains unclear whether Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine and head of its aerospace forces, has been charged as a plotter in the uprising or simply detained for interrogation, and where he is being held.”

The man known as “General Armageddon” for his brutal bombardment tactics in Syria that he later carried out in Ukraine, could be in a world of trouble.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Surovikin knew about Prigozhin’s plot in advance. Thursday, CNN reported that it saw documents indicating Surovikin is a “VIP member” of Wagner.

“The documents, obtained by the Russian investigative Dossier Center, showed that Surovikin had a personal registration number with Wagner,” CNN reported.

“As it pertains to press reports involving the potential detainment of Russian military personnel. I don’t have anything to provide from the podium on that,” Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Thursday. 

Meanwhile, Budanov, the GUR honcho, told us earlier Thursday that he does not have enough information to know Surovikin’s status. You can read more about that in our interview here.

The Polish government announced today that it expects to get funds from the European Union to strengthen its eastern border, as it seeks to tighten security in a direct response to the presence of Wagner troops in Belarus.

“It is difficult for us to exclude today that the presence of the Wagner group in Belarus could pose a potential threat to Poland, which shares a border with Belarus, a threat to Lithuania … as well as potentially to Latvia,” the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, said today during a visit to Kyiv.

The move comes as satellite images emerged showing a build up of Wagner forces in Belarus, according to Reuters.

More strengthening of the Polish Armed Forces is also coming in the shape of U.S.-provided M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks. The first 14 of these tanks, a company’s worth, arrived at the port of Szczecin yesterday.

In a statement, Mariusz Błaszczak, the Polish Minister of Defense, said: “In April last year and January this year, I signed two agreements with our American partner for the acquisition of 366 Abrams tanks for the Polish Army. Today, the first Abrams tanks are already on Polish soil. This is an important day in the history of the Polish Army [and] an important day in the history of Polish-American cooperation. We have achieved so much in such a short time.”

The Polish Army is slated to receive another two companies of Abrams this year, and another full battalion in 2024. Eventually, Poland will receive 116 M1A1s and 250 of the more advanced M1A2 SEPV3 versions of the Abrams.

The first Polish crews have already trained on the tanks with the U.S. Army. At first, tankers from the 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade, part of the 18th Mechanized Division, responsible for the security of eastern Poland, have been trained on the new tanks. The training unit, known as the Abrams Academy, has already received 28 secondhand M1A2 SEP V.2 Abrams, acquired under a separate deal, and operated by U.S. Army instructors in Poznań.

Of the 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade, Błaszczak said: “So, they’re about to take over these tanks and they’re going to be equipped, and they’re going to be a truly impenetrable barrier … Our task is to deter the aggressor, to prevent the aggressor from invading Polish territory,” he added.

Meanwhile, one possible source of additional tanks for Ukraine has been closed off, for now, with the Swiss Federal Council’s decision to block the transfer of Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks.

In a complicated arrangement, the 96 Leopard 1A5s had been purchased from the Italian Ministry of Defense in 2016, by RUAG, a Swiss state-owned defense company. The tanks had since been held in storage in Italy. In 2022, German defense firm Rheinmetall asked RUAG whether it could purchase the tanks before refurbishing them and then delivering them to Ukraine.

The Swiss Federal Council yesterday deemed the transfer of the tanks to be incompatible with the country’s policy of neutrality and its rule of law. “Such a sale would, in particular, be in contradiction with the law on war material and would lead to a change in Switzerland’s policy of neutrality,” the council said.

The decision has led to some controversy among Swiss lawmakers, with a number pushing for a change in policy that would allow re-export of Swiss-made weapons to countries at war, specifically in the case of providing defense against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More from Switzerland, now, with Russia ruling out the country as a potential location for peace talks. While Switzerland has been resistant to approving exports of arms to Ukraine, Moscow argues that the Alpine country has “lost its status as a neutral state” due to its support for European Union sanctions on Russia. This was confirmed by Sergei Garmonin, Russia’s ambassador to Switzerland.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had earlier this month invited Switzerland to host a global peace summit on Ukraine.

With Taiwan retiring its HAWK anti-aircraft systems today, we asked the Pentagon if those weapons might be eventually transferred to Ukraine, which already is using donated HAWKs.

Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, referred us to Taiwan.

Ukraine continues to receive foreign donated munitions, in this case Serbian M62P10 120mm high explosive fragmentation mortar shells.

Russia meanwhile, continues to build cope cages in an attempt to protect its armor against Ukrainian drones. In this image below, a T-72B tank has a roof screen that looks a lot like a lanai seen over pools in Florida.

There is also video of nearly a dozen Russian BMPs so equipped rushing to the front lines near the Dnipro River.

If you want to see the struggles of war and the desperate fight troops have to save their comrades, watch this video of Ukrainian forces working frantically to dig out one of their cadre from a collapsed trench.

You can also watch Ukrainian forces clear a trench in this video below.

Russia continues its bombardment of Ukraine, with more civilians being killed and injured in recent shelling.

The regional governor responsible for the city of Kherson, in southern Ukraine, reported two people killed and two wounded by Russian shelling of a civilian refuge today.

Russian shelling in the Ukraine-controlled portion of Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, has meanwhile led to a pause in the distribution of humanitarian aid in the village of Nevske.

Meanwhile, the Russian MoD has also posted new claims about one of its more notorious recent strikes on a civilian target in Ukraine. According to the Russian state-run RIA state news agency, the ministry now says that the missile attack on the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, which targeted a pizza restaurant, resulted in the deaths of two Ukrainian generals and up to 50 officers. But such claims are to be taken with large doses of skepticism as Russia routinely exaggerates its battlefield victories.

While there is no independent verification of this claim, the Ukrainian authorities stated that the missile attack killed 12 people, including four children, while a further 56 people were injured. Rescue operations at the site of the strike have now been completed.

On Wednesday, the Kremlin and Russian Ministry of Defense had claimed the strike — involving two Iskander missiles — was aimed at military targets.

More questionable Russian claims also relate to Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Ukraine, Europe’s largest. In a statement today, Moscow described a constant threat of “provocations” from Ukraine relating to the power plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory.

Located close to the front line of fighting, the power plant has long been a cause of concern, including from the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency, with both sides shelling in the vicinity.

Earlier today, Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s GUR, reiterated his take that Russia has rigged the plant with explosives to create a disaster by cutting off the supply of water needed to cool the reactors. You can read more about that and more in our interview here.

However, contrary to Budanov’s claim, International Atomic Energy Agency Director (IAEA) General Rafael Grossi told the FRANCE 24 news outlet that he “didn’t see that kind of development” on the ground, but also added that “anything can happen, that is what worries me.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov today said that inspectors had recently been at the site to check on the plant’s safety.

Meanwhile Ukrainian emergency workers were taking part in drills to practice how to respond if the power plant was hit by a Russian strike.

On Telegram, the governor of Kherson, Oleksander Prokudin, explained: “The purpose of the event is to coordinate the actions of all services in case of a real threat of an emergency situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”

And finally, a Ukrainian soldier offers a one-finger salute to Russia in this video of a captured T-72B tank.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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