Ukraine, using US-provided HIMARS, “changed the dynamic” in its war against Russia, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in an interview on CNN on Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin faced international rebukes for launching his “military special operation” against Ukraine on February 24. Many leaders condemned the invasion, which they saw as unjustified and contrary to international norms. The US, an ally of Ukraine, has provided humanitarian and military assistance to Kyiv to bolster the country’s defense efforts.
US military assistance included M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), a rocket launcher system with a longer range than other Ukrainian artillery rockets. HIMARS is credited with enabling the Eastern European country to better defend its territory against Russia and even launch counter-offensives of its own to retake formerly occupied territory near Kharkiv and Kherson.
Austin, a key figure overseeing US aid to Ukraine, praised Kyiv for using HIMARS on the “right way” to bolster its defenses against Moscow.
Above Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks September 8 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. Austin said in a CNN interview on Sunday that the deployment of HIMARS in Ukraine “changed the dynamic” in their war against Russia. Thomas Niedermuller/Getty Images
He commended the Ukrainian defenders for using the missiles to “carry out attacks on things like logistics warehouses and command and control systems,” thereby eroding Russian capabilities.
Ukraine’s deployment of HIMARS “changed the dynamic and gave the Ukrainians an opportunity to maneuver,” Austin said.
“What we’re seeing now is sort of a shift in battlefield dynamics,” Austin added. “They did very, very well in the Kharkiv region and started to take chances. The fight in the Kherson region is a little slower, but they are making progress.”
John Herbst, the former US ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, told Newsweek on Sunday that Ukraine’s deployment of HIMARS was “vital” in halting the Russian offensive while allowing them to have a “successful, if… to launch a “limited” counteroffensive. However, he said the US should provide Ukraine with more powerful weapons, which Ukrainian officials have requested to maintain their victories.
“I’m confident that if we gave Ukraine most of what it asks for, they would be able, certainly within a year, a year and a half, but maybe even months, to take back everything that Russia has had since February.” confiscated everything that Russia has confiscated since the war began in 2014, with the exception of Crimea,” he said.
He specifically pointed to ATACMS, F-16s and long-range missiles as weapons that could further help Ukraine. Herbst said he believes Putin has no plans to stop in Ukraine, and giving Ukraine more aid to stop his efforts may be key to preventing him from attacking NATO countries like Estonia and Latvia.
“Giving enough support to Ukraine to stop Putin before we have to defend ourselves with American troops is not only good for saving American lives but also for saving American dollars,” he said.
Javed Ali, a former US counter-terrorism official and a professor at the University of Michigan, told Newsweek on Sunday afternoon that deploying HIMARS in Ukraine has allowed Ukraine to offset Russia’s “numerical strength” on the battlefield by giving Russian troops would be attacked from a greater distance and with increased precision.
“The deployment of HIMARS in combination with other Western-supplied weapons and equipment, an evolving Ukrainian military strategy and increasing successes at the operational and tactical levels, and the continuing shortcomings and weaknesses in Russia’s efforts have all contributed to what appears to be greater momentum currently on the side of Ukraine, with the possibility of Russia losing more control over previously seized territory in eastern Ukraine,” Ali wrote in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Wednesday announced a new $1.1 billion security package that will include funding for 18 HIMARS – more than double the amount of systems the US has provided to Ukraine.
Austin condemns ‘irresponsible’ Russian nuclear threats
Austin also addressed Putin’s recent nuclear threats on Sunday after Russia illegally annexed regions of Ukraine last week. Putin has promised to defend these areas “with all the forces and means at our disposal”. The remark was interpreted by the West as a threat that it could use nuclear weapons to defend annexed territories, which include Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“It’s an illegal allegation. It is an irresponsible statement. This nuclear rattle is not what we would expect from leaders of large countries with capabilities,” Austin said.
He added that he expects the Ukrainians to continue “pushing forward” their defense efforts and that the US will continue to support them despite these threats.
In the face of more Russian losses, nuclear fears grew again. Despite the annexation of those areas and the mobilization of 300,000 reservists, the Kremlin continued to record casualties in Donetsk, with Ukraine retaking the key transport hub of Lyman on Saturday. The loss prompted a key Putin ally to urge him to launch a nuclear strike on Ukraine.
Newsweek has reached out to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry for comment.
Updated 10/2/2022 5:37 PM ET: This article has been updated with additional analysis.