(CNSNews.com) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov charged on Wednesday that Ukraine’s appeals for increasingly sophisticated weaponry from Western countries were designed to draw them into the war.
Responding to President Biden’s announcement of a decision to provide Ukraine with advanced rocket systems, Lavrov said during a visit to Saudi Arabia that Kyiv’s push for more weapons was “a direct provocation aimed at drawing the West into hostilities.”
“These risks are well understood by sane Western politicians, although not all of them,” he said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the U.S. of “pouring fuel on the fire,” and said Russia did not believe that Ukraine would keep its word – given to the U.S. – that it would not use the new systems to fire rockets into Russian territory.
The Pentagon confirmed that a new $700-million military aid package to Ukraine includes four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), mobile units capable of firing multiple precision-guided rockets at targets around 40 miles away.
The systems have been pre-positioned in Europe, to allow for a swift transfer, although it will take around three weeks to train the Ukrainians to use and maintain them, undersecretary of defense for policy Colin Kahl told a briefing.
Ukraine has been pleading for multiple rocket launch systems to help it repel the Russian offensive as the invading forces make advances in the eastern Donbass region.
“The Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will use this system for defensive purposes only,” Kahl said.
Asked to clarify the “defensive purposes” condition, he said the Ukrainians have given a commitment that they will not use the HIMARS to strike inside Russia.
“Ukraine is defending their territory, anything they’re doing on the territory of Ukraine is defensive in this context,” he said. “The formal assurance is that they will not use these systems to target Russian territory.”
Kahl said the U.S. trusted Ukraine to keep to that commitment, which had been made at multiple levels, including “all the way to the top of the Ukrainian government, to include President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy.”
Kahl said the U.S. was “mindful of the escalation risk” but at the same time would not allow Russia “a veto over what we send to the Ukrainians.”
“President Biden has made clear: we have no intention of coming into direct conflict with Russia,” he said. “We don’t have an interest in the conflict in Ukraine widening to a broader conflict or evolving into World War Three.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was important to get assurances from Ukraine that the new systems being provided would not attack targets on Russian soil, because “we don’t seek to escalate this conflict.”
“We’re trying to bring it to a close, but bring it to a close in a way that defends the principles at stake and defends Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty,” he said during an event marking the centennial of Foreign Affairs magazine.
“Whatever the Russians say, we’ve been very clear from the start about what we were going to do, and we’re doing it.”
HIMARS are capable of firing rockets with a significantly longer range, but the munitions that the U.S. will provide for use with the four systems are guided long-range rounds (GMLRS) with a maximum range of just over 40 miles.
Kahl said the administration settled on providing GMLRS munitions “as the appropriate round at this time. We don’t assess that they need systems that range out hundreds and hundreds of kilometers for the current fight.”
The lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), welcomed the decision to provide Ukraine with HIMARS, while accusing the administration of “being too slow to respond to Ukraine’s battlefield needs.”
McCaul also called on the administration to deliver longer-range munitions for the systems now, “to help bring peace by providing Ukraine with the weapons it needs to push every last invading Russian soldier out of its sovereign territory.”
“In the face of Putin’s brutality and war crimes in Ukraine, it is utterly unacceptable that the administration is still debating whether these longer-range systems are ‘too provocative,’” he said.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, thanked the U.S. for the latest military aid package.
He said on Twitter that Ukraine “needs weapons to liberate its lands temporarily occupied by the RF [Russian Federation]. We are not fighting on the RF territory, our goal is [Ukrainian] sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
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