Why do ATACMS missiles represent a “red line” between Russia and the US in the Ukraine conflict?

Russia might interpret the United States’ decision to give Ukraine long-range ATACMS missiles as crossing a line and escalating the conflict.

The core of Kiev’s operations to launch counterattacks on Russian-controlled territory is the HIMARS rocket system, which was provided by the US. However, the US continued to forbid Ukraine from launching long-range ballistic missiles using the HIMARS system. In recent months, Kiev has asked Washington for a number of weaponry, including the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). But if the missile is fired into Russia, the US thinks President Vladimir Putin might raise the temperature of relations.

In fact, there are currently a number of attacks occurring in certain remote parts of Russia. Russia recently claimed that Ukraine was responsible for the drone attacks on its air bases on December 6 and 7. Moscow said there were few casualties, but it nevertheless demonstrated that the US was powerless to halt this phase of the conflict. Washington also denies having any part in recent drone attacks on Russian soil.

Ukrainian drone assaults on Russian air bases are “neither encouraged nor supported” by Washington, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Is the US prepared to offer Ukraine ATACMS if the violence there escalates further?

ATACMS has not yet been launched using the HIMARS rocket system that the US gave to Ukraine. If the Pentagon wants to launch ATACMS, it will need to locate launchers with these capabilities or send technical specialists to Ukraine to adjust HIMARS. The US would not choose to go through with such a difficult process.

The West is also worried that Russia may view ATACMS missile attacks on its territory as crossing a red line. They think that Moscow would accuse the US of being responsible for these lethal strikes and retaliate against the US or NATO countries. ATACMS attacks have the potential to be more destructive than UAV assaults. ATACMS may also be able to enter Russian territory, endangering Russian military infrastructure and personnel.

Since late November, the Pentagon has made known that the US has given Ukraine 38 HIMARS systems or is in the process of doing so. These systems are capable of launching 227mm caliber, 70km-range precision-guided missiles. The system is mounted on a truck, making quick installation possible in case of location changes. According to Ukraine, HIMARS caused Russia to lose a substantial amount of military hardware and personnel.

ATACMS missiles, however, have much greater ranges, ranging from 140 to 300 km. This range enables Ukraine to strike targets in Moscow, particularly at bases located far within Russian territory. Because of this, the US does not want to supply them to Ukraine and has modified the HIMARS system in order to prevent the launch of ATACMS.

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