Russian TV host warns US against crossing ‘red line’ in helping Ukraine

The Biden government is preparing to ramp up the kind of weapons it offers Ukraine by sending advanced long-range missile systems that are now the main request of Ukrainian officials, multiple officials say.

The government is looking to ship the systems as part of a larger package of military and security assistance to Ukraine, which could be announced next week.

Senior Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have been calling for the US and its allies to provide the Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS, in recent weeks. The US-made weapons systems can fire missiles hundreds of miles away — far beyond any systems Ukraine already has — which the Ukrainians claim is a game-changer in their country. war against russia
A U.S. soldier sits by a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) during a demonstration of reloading procedures following an artillery firing event by the U.S. Army's 41st Field Artillery Brigade at the military training ground in Grafenwoehr, southern Germany, on March 4.  2020.
A U.S. soldier sits by a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) during a demonstration of reloading procedures following an artillery firing event by the U.S. Army’s 41st Field Artillery Brigade at the military training ground in Grafenwoehr, southern Germany, on March 4. 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)

Another system that Ukraine has requested is the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, a lighter-wheeled system capable of firing many of the same types of ammunition as MLRS.

Russia has ravaged Ukraine in the east in recent weeks, where Ukraine is overrun and armed, Ukrainian officials have said.

However, the Biden administration balked at shipping the systems for weeks, amid concerns raised within the National Security Council that Ukraine could use the new weapons to launch offensive strikes in Russia, officials said.

On Friday, after CNN first reported the news, Russians warned that the United States will “cross a red line” if it delivers the systems to Ukraine.

“The US plans to discuss the issue of supplying these weapons to Ukraine next week,” Olga Skabeeva, a prominent Russian TV host, said in her high-profile show on state network Rossiya-1. “Right now, the issue is being addressed by the US presidential government. So now we’re not even talking about tactical weapons, we’re talking about operational-tactical weapons.”

Children walk between buildings destroyed during fighting in Mariupol, in the area under government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
Children walk between buildings destroyed during fighting in Mariupol, in the area under government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (AP)

She continued: “The US MLRS can launch grenades over a distance of 500 kilometers. And if the Americans do this, they will clearly cross a red line and we will register an attempt to provoke a very harsh response from Russia. “

Although Skabeeva does not speak on behalf of the Kremlin, her views often reflect official thinking.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina responded to CNN’s Twitter coverage Friday, saying he was frustrated that the Biden administration is “holding too long” to give Ukraine the missile systems.

The issue of whether to supply the missile systems topped the agenda during last week’s two meetings at the White House, where deputy cabinet members met to discuss national security policy, officials said. At the heart of the matter was the same concern that the government has struggled with since the start of the war — whether Russia’s sending ever heavier weapons to Ukraine will be seen as a provocation that could lead to some sort of retaliation against the US.

A major problem, the sources said, was the extended range of the missile systems. The MLRS and its lighter version, the HIMARS, can launch up to 300 km or 186 miles, depending on the type of ammunition. They are fired from a mobile vehicle at targets on land, making it easier for Ukrainians to attack targets in Russia.

Ukraine is already believed to have carried out numerous cross-border attacks in Russia, which Ukrainian officials neither confirm nor deny. Russian officials have publicly said any threat to their homeland would constitute a major escalation and have said Western countries are making themselves a legitimate target in the war by continuing to arm the Ukrainians.

Another major concern within the Biden administration was whether the US could afford to give away so many high-value weapons taken from the military’s stockpiles, the sources said.

Asked on Monday whether the US would provide the systems, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin protested. “I don’t want to prejudge where we are in the resource needed process,” he told reporters.

The government had similar concerns about providing additional MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, with some fearing the Ukrainians could go into battle in Russia. In the end, the US decided not to fill Poland with new jets, which would have allowed the Poles to equip Ukraine with the Soviet-era MiGs.

The debate over the MLRS is also similar to the one that played out before the US decided last month to send heavier long-range howitzers to Ukraine. Weapon packs focused on short-range anti-tank Javelin and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, as well as small arms and ammunition. At the time, the M777 Howitzers marked a significant increase in range and power over previous systems, but even those with a range of about 15 miles. The MLRS can fire far beyond all the artillery the US has sent so far.

One solution could be to provide Ukraine with shorter-range missile systems, officials said, which is also under consideration. It wouldn’t take too long to train the Ukrainians on any of the missile launch systems, officials told CNN — probably about two weeks, they said.

Any withdrawal from existing stockpiles implies a review of the potential effect on US military preparedness. With the previous admissions, the risk was “relatively low,” Joint Chiefs chairman General Mark Milley said on Monday. The military is watching “very, very carefully” to make sure stocks don’t fall below levels that pose a greater risk, he added.

Concerns are growing significantly with more capable, more expensive systems that the US doesn’t have as large of a supply as, the sources said.

Pentagon officials met with the CEO of Lockheed Martin last week to discuss the delivery and ramping up of the MLRS, a source familiar with the meeting told CNN. The meeting was led by Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Conservation Bill LaPlante.

The UK is also still deciding whether to send the systems, two officials told CNN, and would like to do so in conjunction with the US.

On the Ukrainian side, frustration has grown in recent weeks at the US indecision, as they believe that once the US steers the systems, other countries will soon follow.

Just this week, the Pentagon had told Ukraine that “we are working on it,” said an irritated Ukrainian official, adding that Ukraine “is asking for an update of the decision every hour.”

“We are in dire need of weapons that allow us to attack the enemy over a long distance,” Ukraine’s top military commander, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said on Thursday. “And this cannot be delayed, because the price of delay is measured by the lives of people who have protected the world from… [Russian fascism]†

When Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was asked on Thursday what his country’s most urgent needs are, he replied: “If you really care about Ukraine, weapons, weapons and more weapons.”

“My least favorite phrase is ‘We’re working on it’; I hate it. I want to hear ‘We’ve got it’ or ‘It’s not going to happen,'” he added.

Democratic Representative Jason Crow of Colorado, who was part of a congressional delegation trip to Kiev earlier this month, told CNN he believes the systems can help Ukraine gain significant momentum against Russia.

“I think it could be a game changer, to be honest,” Crow said, not just for offensive offense, but defense as well. He explained that Russian conventional artillery, which has a range of about 50 km, “wouldn’t come close” to Ukrainian urban centers if MLRS systems were placed there. “So it would take away their siege tactics,” he said of the Russians.

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