07/06/2022
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© Reuters. Ukrainian soldiers walk as seeds burn in grain silos after being repeatedly bombed, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 31, 2022. REUTERS/Serhiy Nozhenko

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Written by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Tuesday that U.S. President Joe Biden and his team were still considering sending long-range missile systems to Ukraine, but did not want to use them to launch attacks on Russian soil.

US officials said Biden and his national security aides are in the final stages of preparing a new arms package for Ukraine, and an announcement is expected soon, possibly as early as Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials have asked allies for long-range systems, including the MLRS Multiple Launch Rocket System, which can launch a barrage of missiles hundreds of kilometers away, hoping to turn the tide in the three-month-old war.

White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said the system is under review.

“But as the president said, we will not send long-range missiles for use outside the battlefield in Ukraine,” she said. Other US officials said Biden did not want to transfer them to Russian soil to avoid an escalation of the Ukraine war.

“We will not send missile systems to Ukraine that will attack Russia,” Biden told reporters on Tuesday.

He did not rule out the provision of certain weapons systems, but apparently set conditions for their use. Biden and his team are working on a new package of military equipment, using some money from the $40 million budget approved by the US Congress.

A senior administration official said the MLRS had been considered, but none had such long-range offensive capabilities outside of a battlefield deployment.

Biden wants to help Ukraine defend itself, but has opposed providing weapons that Ukraine could use to attack Russia.

Thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced in Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24, which Moscow called a “special military operation” to “discredit” its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies describe this as a baseless excuse to launch a war to occupy the territories.

The West’s willingness to supply Ukraine with long-range weapons, including the M777 howitzer, is growing, as its forces are fighting the Russians with greater success than intelligence officials expected.

But US intelligence has also warned of the increased risks, particularly given the mismatch between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent ambitions and the performance of his military.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday that Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States.