Bridget Brink and President Volodymyr Zelensky
© Twitter/@USAmbKyiv
US ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink and President Volodymyr Zelensky, June 2, 2022
The range of rocket launchers supplied by the US will be up to the Ukrainians, Washington's new ambassador, Bridget Brink, said after taking up her post in Kiev on Thursday. President Joe Biden himself denied the US was enabling Ukraine to strike Russia, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kiev had made a promise to that effect as well.

Brink held a press conference on Thursday, after presenting her credentials to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, declaring that her mission in Kiev was to "help Ukraine prevail against Russian aggression."

Asked about the HIMARS multiple rocket launch systems (MLRS) that the US is supplying to Kiev as part of a $700 million military aid package, she volunteered the details about their command and control.

"The range itself is going to be up to the Ukrainian side," Brink said.

Comment: And since the Kiev answers to the US it will actually be the US that decides whether it is worth taking the risk.

The remark, translated into Ukrainian and re-translated into English, quickly made the rounds on social media, to the effect that the US would not "regulate" the range of the HIMARS.

Four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers were "pre-positioned" in Europe, the Pentagon revealed on Thursday, after Biden officially announced their delivery to Ukraine. They will be armed with "battlefield munitions," the White House said, which was widely taken to mean barrage rockets with a range of 32-60 kilometers rather than the 300-kilometer range ballistic projectiles HIMARS is also capable of launching.

Moscow has warned the US about the risk of escalation if Kiev uses the new weapons to strike inside Russian territory, but the government in Washington has repeatedly insisted this would not happen.

"We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders," Biden wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday. Speaking after a meeting with the NATO secretary-general in Washington, Biden's top diplomat said the US had Ukrainian promises such an attack wouldn't happen.

"The Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory," Blinken said. "There is a strong trust bond between Ukraine and the US, as well as with our allies and partners."

Russia has said it will use military means to mitigate threats posed by American and other NATO weapons in Ukrainian possession, and that Washington was obviously escalating the crisis and increasingly risking direct confrontation with Moscow - noting that this was something Biden himself said he wished to avoid.

Ukraine backtracks on promise to US

Responding to a question about whether the restrictions on the use of US-supplied rocket systems apply to Crimea, a peninsula that overwhelmingly voted to become part of Russia in a 2014 referendum, Arestovich said that it belonged to Ukraine.

"Crimea is ours. It belongs to Ukraine. And they [Russia] know it. Therefore, it will fly to Crimea double-time, should the need arise", he pointed out, alleging that Kiev has already successfully struck targets on the peninsula.

Arestovich's comment comes despite US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying on Wednesday that Kiev has given Washington "assurances" that it won't use American rockets to attack targets in Russia.

Arestovich's statement echoes the claim made by another Ukrainian politician. Egor Chernev, a Ukrainian MP, said on Wednesday that Russian aircraft and military stationed on Russia's territory are "legitimate targets." "We have taken on certain obligations, but no one can guarantee where the missile will strike. Kiev has its own weapons, such as howitzers, self-propelled guns, Tactical Operational Missile Complexes 'Tochka' which can reach such targets," he told local news.

Comment: Indeed, Ukraine used a Tochka to murder innocent civilians in Donetsk, including children - a war crime - but there's no reason to believe that it would make it through Russia's defenses.

Russia considers Crimea to be an integral part of its territory after the peninsula overwhelmingly voted to part ways with Ukraine and join Russia in a 2014 referendum.

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.