Ukraine uses US long-range missiles to strike Russian-occupied territories

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Ukrainian forces used US-supplied long-range missiles for the first time, inflicting heavy damage on two airfields in Russian-occupied areas, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying on Tuesday that the weapons had “proven themselves”.

The Ukrainian military had issued reports throughout the day about successful strikes on airfields near Luhansk in Ukraine’s east and in Berdiansk in the south, on the Sea of Azov.

An early version of the US long-range missiles tested in 2021.Credit: AP

“Today, special thanks to the United States. Our agreements with President Biden are being implemented. Very accurately – ATACMS proved themselves,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

Ukraine had repeatedly asked the US administration for Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS).

Senior officials said deploying the weapons would alter the course of the 20-month-old war, allowing Ukrainian forces to disrupt previously unreachable supply lines, air bases and rail networks used by Russia in occupied territories.

Ukrainian Special Forces earlier reported successful operations on the two airfields, without mentioning the long-range missiles.

They said nine helicopters, an air defence missile launcher and other equipment had been destroyed, runways had been hit, and heavy losses inflicted on Russian forces. Russia’s Defence Ministry did not mention the use of the missiles.

Zelensky’s comments mark the first confirmed use in Ukraine of the missiles, which can fly up to 310 kilometres. The country’s Defence Ministry promised on X, formerly Twitter, that there would be “more news to come”.

“This will involve a serious adjustment to the situation at the front,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat told national television.

“As you can see, it is now possible to hit targets impeccably, with great precision, giving the enemy no chance.”

Kyiv’s Western partners have been careful about supplying long-range missiles needed for its four-month-old counteroffensive, fearing it would provoke the Kremlin.

Ihnat said Ukraine was abiding by its promises not to use ATACMS on Russian territories. “But no one is stopping us from liberating our territory, as demonstrated today by this successful attack,” he added.

The long-range missiles are designed for “deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces,” a USArmy website says, and could be used to attack sites well behind the front line.

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a new chapter of the war had begun.

“There are no more safe places for Russian troops within the … internationally recognised borders of Ukraine,” he wrote on X.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, partly controlled by Moscow, said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian air defences had ensured the attack on the Berdiansk airfield was not successful.

Russian military bloggers commented on the attacks during the day, with Telegram channel Fighterbomber saying Russian forces had suffered losses of personnel and equipment in strikes carried out with ATACMS.

Citing two unidentified US officials, CNN said Washington had secretly delivered the long-range missiles to Kyiv. The Wall Street Journal said Ukraine had fired the missiles for the first time on Tuesday.

Since starting a counteroffensive in June, Kyiv has frequently attacked military targets in Russian-occupied areas. The counteroffensive has made only gradual gains through vast Russian minefields and entrenched Russian positions.

Kyiv says Moscow is attacking in some areas ahead of the second winter since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern group of forces, told national television that there had been no let-up in Russia’s week-old assault on the devastated town of Avdiivka in the east, with Ukrainian forces repelling 10 attacks.

Shtupun also said Ukrainian forces advancing southward to the Sea of Azov had registered “partial success” west of Verbove, one of a cluster of villages they are trying to capture.

The Ukrainian military said Russia was hoping to advance as far as possible towards the town of Kupiansk in north-eastern Ukraine before winter.

The Institute for the Study of War, an American non-profit research group, said in its latest report that Moscow had made only limited gains in the area around Avdiivka, and that the pace of its advance there had slowed.

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