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Any move by the US to supply Ukraine with longer-range missiles for its HIMARS systems would “cross a red line”, Russia has warned, raising the possibility an alarming showdown between the superpowers. Washington has supplied Ukraine with advanced rockets that can hit targets up to 80 km (50 miles) away, while so far holding back from publicly announcing it would send rockets with more than double that range.
US officials say Ukraine has promised not to use U.S. rockets to strike Russian territory.
Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry today said: “If Washington decides to supply longer-range missiles to Kyiv, then it will be crossing a red line, and will become a direct party to the conflict.”
She stressed that Russia “reserves the right to defend its territory”.
Ukraine has requested and received large quantities of weapons from the United States and other Western allies to help it resist the Russian armed forces that were sent into Ukraine in February.
Moscow says it sent troops to prevent Ukraine being used as a platform for Western aggression and to defend Russian speakers. Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss these arguments as baseless pretexts for an imperial-style war of aggression.
Ukraine said on Tuesday it aimed to liberate all of its territory after driving back Russian forces in the northeast of country in a rapid offensive, but called on the West to speed up deliveries of weapons systems to back the advance.
Ms Zakharova’s remarks were likely to have been in part a response to remarks by Volodymyr Zelensky during his video address on Monday.
Ukraine’s President urged the West to speed up deliveries of weapons systems, calling on allies to “strengthen cooperation to defeat Russian terror”.
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Since Moscow abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
Fighting was still raging in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said yesterday, saying Ukraine’s forces were making good progress because they are highly motivated and their operation is well planned.
She spoke while on the road to Balakliia, a crucial military supply hub recaptured by Ukrainian forces late last week which lies 74 km (46 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
Ms Malyar said: “The aim is to liberate the Kharkiv region and beyond – all the territories occupied by the Russian Federation.”
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HIMARS, standing for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, has been credited with turning the tide of the war since they were first supplied to Ukraine in June.
Speaking to Express.co.uk last month, Sunil Nair, an analyst with defence intelligence company Janes, said:
“It is now two months since the first four HIMARS were introduced In Ukraine. With additions in tranches of four, there are now 16 Launchers and an estimated 200 Ukrainian gunners trained on these systems.
“The HIMARS have certainly proved their potential as a potent force multiplier for Ukraine’s existing artillery, along with the other recently received western kit – towed and self-propelled howitzers.”
He added: “It is the precision factor with the M31A1 rounds that offers Ukraine a significant new artillery capability over its Soviet-era MRLs. However, for range, the M31 GMLRS round fired from the HIMARS does not provide dramatically greater capability than the BM-27 Uragans or the BM-30 Smerch.
“Hence while the massed artillery fire will come from these and other new artillery systems, the M142 HIMARS will be useful in counter-battery, striking high-value targets in deep and possibly in Suppression of Russian air defence assets (SEAD).”
Mr Nair warned: “The one factor that the Ukrainians will be cognisant about is the ‘Burn rate’.
“The limitation of the ‘HIMARS effect’ is more the availability of rockets than launchers.
“While 16 launchers have been supplied, Ukraine has called for a 100 more.”
As for the impact the weapons system was having on the conflict, he added: “It is always complex to measure the impact of a single piece of technology in the battlefield and currently it may seem that HIMARS is replacing the Bayraktar TB2, which seemed so devastating in the earlier part of the conflict.
“Just like how the Russians developed a series of countermeasures including (EW techniques) that disrupted Ukrainian command and control, against the Bayraktar TB2 and other drones, there is a good chance of the same happening for the HIMARS.
“So, with the HIMARS, Ukraine has a weapon system that can provide stand-off attacks with in-depth precision fire ability and provides an opportunity to degrade Russia’s physical, intellectual and moral capacity.
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