Thus far, the US has delivered a total of 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine over the past months, based on what has been publicly disclosed. A total of 38 units have so far been authorized as part of Congressional-approved arms packages.
At the start of this week The Wall Street Journal has revealed a bombshell regarding the 20 which have already been delivered, reporting based on anonymous US officials that the HIMARS systems were secretly modified by US technicians to prevent ranges that would put Russian territory within striking distance.
The decision to modify the HIMARS was taken to “reduce the risk of wider war with Moscow,” according to the US officials cited.
The White House has long been under pressure by US Congressional hawks, as well as of course the Zelensky government, to transfer longer range missiles, including anti-air systems, to defend against the greatly ramped up Russian airstrikes which are currently pummeling Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Starting in May, President Biden cautioned, “we’re not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia.”
As the US has began authorizing medium and longer range systems over the summer, Defense News reported in July that “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy formally promised only to use HIMARS for defensive purposes and to avoid firing into Russian territory; this took place before the U.S. agreed to provide the systems in order to avoid escalating the conflict.”
And yet, this week has witnessed at least three times Ukraine has struck airbases deep inside Russia, reportedly utilizing drone strikes. For this reason, some have questioned the timing of the WSJ disclosure of the modified HIMARS ranges. Is the story meant to run cover for the Ukrainian cross-border action?
At the very least, the “anonymous”-sourced WSJ report seems intent on distancing Washington from Ukrainian forces’ fresh escalation.
Curious that this leak to the WSJ was published hours after Ukraine carried out by far its longest-range attacks yet inside Russia pic.twitter.com/aBSy42IMBw
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) December 6, 2022
Meanwhile, some within NATO are actively calling to launch operations against Russian territory. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics last week said, “We should allow Ukrainians to use weapons to target missile sites or air fields from where those operations are being launched.”
It should be recalled that in the summer, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened that Russia is prepared to annex more Ukrainian territory if Kiev receives longer-range weapons. “The longer the range of armaments that you will supply, the further away we will move from our territory the line,” he said in June.