Zelensky: Ukrainian retreat looms without US support, ATACMS are ‘the answer’

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Ukraine’s armed forces could soon be forced to retreat further if U.S. military aid continues to be delayed, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said, as he called on Washington to provide more long-range missiles to strike airfields in occupied Crimea.

In an interview with the Washington Post published March 29, Zelensky said his military has been unable to plan counteroffensive operations as they do not know if they’ll have the weapons required to conduct one.

“If you are not taking steps forward to prepare another counteroffensive, Russia will take them,” he said, adding: “That’s what we learned in this war: If you don’t do it, Russia will do it.”

After an unsuccessful counteroffensive last year, Russian forces now hold a theater-wide initiative which Ukraine is finding increasingly difficult to contain, largely due to a lack of ammunition.

This was starkly illustrated in February when Russia took Avdiivka, forcing Ukrainian troops to retreat from the town and accelerate the building of defensive lines further back on Ukrainian territory.

“We are trying to find some way not to retreat,” Zelensky said, and added that after the fall of Avdiivka “we have stabilized the situation because of smart steps by our military.”

But he warned the wider situation is grim without further military aid.

“If there is no U.S. support, it means that we have no air defense, no Patriot missiles, no jammers for electronic warfare, no 155mm artillery rounds,” he said.

“It means we will go back, retreat, step by step, in small steps.”

As well as inching forward on the front lines, Russian forces have also escalated missile and drones attacks on Ukraine’s cities and civilian infrastructure.

As well as facing dwindling supplies of air defense missiles, Ukraine also has a lack of long range missiles with which it could target the air bases from which Russian bomber aircraft take off.

“When Russia has missiles and we don’t, they attack by missiles: Everything — gas, energy, schools, factories, civilian buildings,” he said, adding: “ATACM-300s, that is the answer.”

ATACMS are long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems. After months of deliberation, the U.S. delivered a small number to Ukraine in October 2023, but they were an older model with a range of 165 kilometers.

“Newer variations of ATACMS have a maximum range of around 300 kilometers and have so far not been provided to Ukraine.”

“When Russia knows we can destroy these jets, they will not attack from Crimea,” Zelensky said.

“It’s like with the (Black Sea) fleet. We pushed them from our territorial waters. Now we will push them from the airports in Crimea.”

Zelensky stressed that political “bickering” in Washington was hobbling Ukraine’s ability to fight back.

“We can’t waste time anymore. Ukraine can’t be a political issue between the parties,” he said, adding: “If Ukraine falls, Putin will divide the world.”

Read also: Can new security agreements forge Ukraine’s path to victory?

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