The US is “mindful of the escalation risk in everything we’re doing associated with” the conflict in Ukraine, including the latest decision to provide Ukraine with four HIMARS systems, but ultimately “Russia doesn’t get a veto over what” the US sends to Ukrainians, Defense Department Undersecretary for Policy Dr. Colin Khal told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon Wednesday.
“President Biden has made clear we have no intention of coming into direct conflict with Russia. We don’t have an interest in the conflict in Ukraine widening to a broader conflict or evolving into World War III so we’ve been mindful of that, but at the same time, Russia doesn’t get a veto over what we sent to the Ukrainians,” Kahl said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave US President Joe Biden assurances Ukraine would not escalate the conflict if the US did provide HIMARS systems to Ukraine, Kahl added.
“The assurances have been given at multiple levels of Ukrainian government. Secretary Austin has raised these issues with Minister Reznikov in their numerous calls. They’re talking to each other once or twice a week, that has been true since the beginning of the conflict, but this particular assurance goes all the way to the top of the Ukrainian government to include President Zelensky,” Kahl said.
The United States decided to send Ukraine four HIMARS systems, or high mobility artillery rocket systems, with about 70 kilometers (about 43 miles) range instead of a target with a longer range as Ukrainians had requested, Kahl told reporters at a briefing at the Pentagon Wednesday.
“As we looked at the targets that they were looking to be able to go after on Ukrainian territory and have some additional standoff, we thought the HIMARS with the GMLRS rounds — these guided long-range rounds with about 70km range could service any target that they needed precisely — so we settled on the HIMARS with the GMLRS round as the appropriate round at this time,” Kahl said.
Ukraine had sought longer range weapons, but the US clearly had resisted due to concerns Ukraine would strike inside Russia thereby potentially escalating the war.
The US agreed to provide Ukraine with these weapons as long as Ukraine assured the US they would not target locations inside Russian territory with the US weapons systems.
“We don’t assess that they need systems that range out hundreds and hundreds of kilometers for the current fight, and so that’s how we settled on it,” Kahl added.