Sep 15, 2023 - World

U.S. not planning to announce long-range missiles decision during Zelensky visit: source

Zelensky and Biden.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Biden at the White House in December 2022. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration at the moment does not plan to announce its decision on whether to ship longer-range missiles that Kyiv is seeking during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to Washington next week, according to a source familiar with the issue.

Why it matters: Ukrainian officials had hoped President Biden would approve the delivery of the Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, a surface-to-surface guided missile system with a range of up to about 190 miles, next week, according to a Ukrainian source.

  • A U.S. official said the issue was raised by Ukrainian officials during Secretary of State Tony Blinken's visit to Kyiv last week.

Driving the news: The U.S. official told Axios there is still a debate within the Biden administration about the supply of ATACMS.

  • The White House declined to comment.
  • The Kremlin has warned that supplying longer-range missiles would constitute a red line, though the U.S. and its allies have provided other weapons that Moscow has said the same about without prompting a major escalation by Russia.
  • The U.K. and France have also already provided the long-range "Storm Shadow" missiles, which have a range of up to 150 miles.

The big picture: Zelensky will visit Washington next week for meetings with Biden at the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He will first be in New York for the UN General Assembly.

  • The primary purpose of his trip to Washington is to meet with both Republicans and Democrats about U.S. aid to Ukraine, according to two Ukrainian sources.
  • There are growing divisions within Congress — particularly among Republicans — about the future of U.S. assistance to Ukraine.
  • Zelensky wants to lay out to the American people and to members of Congress what Ukraine is doing with the U.S. assistance and why it's important, one of the Ukrainian sources said.

Behind the scenes: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday that over the last two weeks, he has met with House and Senate leadership and the heads of the relevant committees to discuss aid to Ukraine.

  • Sullivan admitted that views on this issue in the current Congress are different than the previous one, but stressed that the discussion of providing additional assistance will continue. President Biden has requested Congress approve $20 billion in additional aid for Ukraine.
  • He said he felt in his meetings with congressional leadership that the "general vibe" was an understanding that there needs to be strong U.S. assistance to Ukraine.

What to watch: The Biden administration will likely announce next week a new package of military assistance for Ukraine, Sullivan also told reporters.

  • "We are always preparing a new military package for Ukraine," Sullivan said. "[W]e do these presidential drawdown packages essentially every couple of weeks," he added.
  • "I think you can anticipate that there will be a further announcement of additional resources and capabilities — additional weapons to go to Ukraine as they continue this counteroffensive ... at some point next week."
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