The White House said Wednesday there was no confirmation of reports from Moscow that the Russian military destroyed a US-supplied heavy artillery system called HIMARS in Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a progress report on Tuesday that missiles and airstrikes launched in eastern Ukraine had destroyed “two launch pads for HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) made in the USA”.
National Security spokesman John Kirby, in a call with reporters, said Wednesday: “I’ve seen Russian claims that they hit a HIMAR system, and in response to that, we don’t ‘have no information to confirm this report.’
Kirby added that the Russians had published similar reports before, suggesting it was part of President Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaign that paints Russia’s more than 10-month assault on Ukraine as a defensive military operation.
“Let’s just be very crystal clear here. This is a war of Russia against Ukraine,” Kirby said.
“And Mr. Putin can pretend all he wants that it’s kind of a fight against the West, it’s existential for his security, it’s the United States against Russia, it’s the NATO vs. Russia – we all know that’s a bunch of BS,” he continued. .
“Russia is the one who inflicted violence on the Ukrainian people on a completely historic and unprecedented scale. And we are and will continue to provide them with the kinds of systems and support they need to defend themselves.
The Kremlin claims followed a devastating attack on a Russian military base in the territory it occupies in eastern Ukraine, where Russian officials said at least 63 of its soldiers were killed after coming under fire from what he described as US-provided HIMARS.
Reached for comment, a Pentagon spokesperson said it “was aware of the information but was unable to confirm its accuracy at this time.”
“We let Ukraine talk about its own operations as it defends itself against Russian aggression,” the defense ministry spokesman said.
Kirby said the Biden administration could provide Ukraine with additional HIMARS, which stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
Congress approved a $45 billion aid package for Ukraine last month, coinciding with a historic visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak on Capitol Hill and meet with President Biden, who further announced a $2 billion in additional support, including the coveted Patriot Missile Defense Battery. .
“The United States is committed to ensuring that the brave people of Ukraine can continue to defend their country against Russian aggression for as long as it takes,” Biden said at the time.
The Biden administration pledged in September to deliver at least 18 HIMARS to Ukraine, in addition to at least 16 known to be on the ground in August.
Multi-rocket launch systems are praised for their agility and power; its satellite-guided rockets are mounted on a truck. The systems supplied to Ukraine allow its military to strike Russian positions at a range of 50 miles, although this is significantly shorter than the nearly 200-mile capability of the system.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the Biden administration secretly modified artillery systems to cripple their range and prevent long-range missiles from being fired by Ukraine at Russia.
Biden administration officials previously said they had received assurances from Ukrainian officials that they would not use the systems to strike on Russian territory, an effort to avoid escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Kirby said Wednesday that HIMARS gives Ukraine “a safe distance, a defensive capability.”
“Well, obviously it can hit offensively as well,” he added, “but I mean, the thing is, it gives them reach and distance and space in an area of the Ukraine which is a lot of open ground. And so the HIMARs have proven to be very, very effective, and we’re going to continue to support Ukraine with weapons systems, as you’ve heard from the president, for as long that it will take.
—Updated 4:24 p.m. Ellen Mitchell contributed.