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Debate on ATACMS Missile Aid for Ukraine Stirs in the Biden Administration

In the midst of Britain and France's contributions of long-range “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles to Ukraine, the U.S. maintains a cautious stance on supplying its scarce Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) stock, despite acknowledging the depletion of Ukraine’s armament in their ongoing conflict with Russia.

ATACMS missiles, a long-desired asset for Ukraine, offer a striking range of approximately 190 miles, surpassing the capacity of the UK and French missiles by around 40 miles. However, the U.S. Defense Department asserts that such weaponry, capable of reaching beyond enemy lines into Russia and occupied Crimea, is currently unnecessary.

Quiet deliberations within the Biden administration have been revealed by three officials, one European and two American, about the possibility of dispatching a limited number of these guided surface-to-surface missiles. This discussion is held under the shadows due to the missiles' reservation for other potential security risks.

France's recent decision to support Ukraine with long-range missiles marks a reversal of its previous stance, driven by concerns about escalating conflict with Russia. The shift was announced by President Emmanuel Macron in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, during NATO’s annual summit, as he voiced commitment to enhancing Ukraine's self-defence capabilities.

The U.S. has also begun to overcome its previous reluctance towards arming Ukraine with advanced weaponry, fearing it might exacerbate the conflict. The American administration has backtracked on several arms deals, consenting to supply Patriot air defenses, Abrams tanks, and cluster munitions.

Military aid promised at the NATO meeting includes a $770 million package from Germany, including additional Leopard tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and Patriot air defense missile launchers, and $240 million from Norway for non-specified equipment and other support. Denmark and the Netherlands have also pledged to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters jets in Romania.

Yet, ATACMS missiles remain one of the last major weapons systems sought by Kyiv that the U.S. is hesitant to offer. The limited ATACMS arsenal, crucial for other Pentagon war strategies, comprises approximately 4,000 units produced since its inception in the 1980s.

France's recent pledge may fuel the pressure campaign on the U.S. to share ATACMS or conversely, mitigate it given Ukraine's receipt of long-range missiles from other nations.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, reaffirmed Ukraine's continuing need for long-range armaments and disclosed ongoing dialogues with U.S. and German officials about ATACMS and Taurus missiles respectively, vowing not to cease requests for these or other long-range missiles from allies.

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