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President Biden on Monday said the United States will not send rocket systems to Ukraine that could potentially reach into Russia, after reports that the administration was preparing to send long-range systems to the besieged European ally.
Multiple outlets had reported that the administration was leaning toward sending advanced long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, which is currently fending off an invasion from Moscow — and to which the U.S. is providing significant economic and military support.
Biden was asked about the potential move by reporters outside the White House and said that his administration would not send Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia.
The Washington Post reported that the administration was mulling providing the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), which would allow Ukrainians to fire rockets much further than they are currently able.
MLRS had reportedly been a top request from Ukrainian officials, who say they need it to stop the advance of Russian forces in the east, which has taken control of the key city of Lyman last week.
The Washington Post reported that the State Department had said the White House had concerns that providing Ukraine with the MLRS could result in a situation in which Ukrainians fire rockets into Russian territory — which would spark a major escalation in the conflict. Officials had reportedly mulled managing the risk by withholding some of the longest-range rockets available.
Russia has objected loudly to moves by the West to provide Ukraine with weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken to leaders of France and Germany on Saturday and warned against continued transfers of weapons to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. had said that any move by America to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine would be “unacceptable” and demanded that “Washington does not take such a provocative step.”
Rebekah Koffler, former DIA intelligence officer and author of “Putin’s Playbook,” said that sending those systems to Ukraine would be seen as escalatory by Moscow, which comes with significant risks and a potential Russian response.
“Whether we believe we are climbing the escalatory ladder or not, it’s irrelevant, it’s how the Russians perceive it, because they are acting on it,” she said.
Koffler said that another motivation for Biden could be concern about how the systems would be used by the Ukrainians.
“Perhaps he doesn’t trust [Ukrainian President] Zelenskyy in using the systems judiciously because Zelenskyy has been very clear that he doesn’t want to cede any land to Russia, he doesn’t want to compromise at all, and he even wants to take Crimea back, which is pretty unlikely,” she said. “And probably the concern is that Ukraine might misuse it, causing uncontrollable escalation and would potentially drag the United States into the conflict and would potentially trigger Russian cyberattacks on the U.S. homeland in order to deter us, and things can just go out of control pretty quickly.”
She also noted that Russia had sought to deter Washington from sending the systems to Ukraine by testing a hypersonic missile this week.
“This test of highly advanced technology was almost certainly Moscow’s signal to Washington that Russia would be willing to take this conflict into the next level on the escalation ladder if Ukraine is provided with weaponry that by far overmatches its current capabilities,” she said.
The Biden administration had received criticism from hawkish Republicans for not moving quickly enough to provide Ukraine with the systems. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that the administration has been “dragging their feet” on the Ukrainian request.
“Apparently, providing Ukraine this new capability creates concerns among some in the Biden Administration that it will be seen as provocative and escalatory in the eyes of Putin,” he tweeted.
“It is time to stop Putin from dictating the actions of the free world.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.