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Russia threatens US with ‘serious consequences’ after Ukraine fires first long-range ATACMS missiles

Russian envoy says US’s secret deliveries of long range munitions could lead to direct conflict between Nato and Russia

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 18 October 2023 06:59 BST
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Destruction in Ukraine’s eastern village of Klishchiivka captured in aerial footage

Russia has hit out at the US for its decision to send long-range missiles to Ukraine for the first time, claiming the move increases the risks of a direct conflict between Nato and Moscow.

Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on Tuesday that the Ukrainian military used the US-supplied ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) for the first time this week and struck two Russian military airfields.

Western backers of Ukraine have been reluctant to provide long-range munitions since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February last year, fearing that their use against targets within Russia would represent an escalation of the conflict.

But Ukraine has repeatedly argued that it needs long-range missiles and other more powerful equipment like fighter jets in order to defend itself against attacks launched from military facilities deep inside Russia.

The GPS-guided missiles used this week destroyed nine military helicopters at Russian bases in the east of the country, Ukrainian officials said.

Russia’s ambassador to America, Anatoly Antonov, threatened Washington over what he said was the secret delivery of weapons on Wednesday.

"The consequences of this step, which was deliberately hidden from the public, will be of the most serious nature," Mr Antonov said on Telegram. "Washington is consistently pursuing a policy of completely curtailing bilateral relations. The United States continues to push for a direct conflict between Nato and Russia.”

Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday confirmed the use of ATACMS and said the weapon systems have “proven themselves”.

“Today, special thanks to the United States. Our agreements with President Biden are being implemented,” he said. "They have performed very accurately. ATACMS have proven themselves," Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

The White House also officially acknowledged the delivery of the missiles. “We believe these ATACMS will provide a significant boost to Ukraine’s battlefield capabilities without risking our (US) military readiness,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.

Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces said they conducted the night time attack and hit targets in Berdyansk and Luhansk.

Russia suffered the loss of an air defence system, other equipment and dozens of troops, it said, adding that some people were also injured.

“The ammunition depot in Berdyansk detonated until 4am. The detonation in Luhansk continued until 11am,” Ukrainian Special Operations Forces said in a statement.

“Losses in the enemy’s manpower amount to dozens of dead and wounded. Bodies are still being pulled from the rubble.”

ATACMS are long-range guided missiles with a specialist GPS system designed to hit targets with precision, able to carry cluster munitions to deliver hundreds of bomblets rather than a single warhead.

The variant provided to Ukraine has a lower range than the maximum that it is capable of, according to the Associated Press, amid fears over its use in Russian territories.

Meanwhile, Russia’s defence ministry said it destroyed 28 Ukrainian drone attacks over its western territories. Ukrainian forces launched drones over Russia’s Belgorod and Kursk regions, and over the Black Sea, it said in a statement.

Two civilians were killed and four more were injured after an apartment block was pounded in an attack for which Russian and Ukrainian armies traded blame.

Yuriy Malashko, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, said that eight apartment buildings were damaged in what he said was a Russian missile attack.

"Search and rescue operations are ongoing at the site," Anatoliy Kurtiev, secretary of the Zaporizhzhia city council, said on Telegram.

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