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Zelenskyy-Biden meeting - Ukraine's expectations, the possibility of obtaining ATACMS

Zelenskyy-Biden meeting - Ukraine's expectations, the possibility of obtaining ATACMS Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Joe Biden will meet today at the White House (photo: Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with American leader Joe Biden as part of his trip to the United States. Last year, after a similar visit, the supply of Patriot missile defense systems was announced, and now Ukraine is awaiting approval from its key ally for the delivery of long-range ATACMS missiles.

During the preparation of this material, sources such as AP, CNN, Financial Times, Axios, Fox News, an analysis from the Long War Journal, statements from the American and Ukrainian governments, a letter from senators to Joe Biden, as well as expert comments for RBC-Ukraine, were used.

Joe Biden will meet with Volodymyr Zelenskyy today, September 21, at the White House. It is expected that the leaders will discuss a wide range of issues, from security guarantees and military assistance to financial support. This will be their third meeting in 2023, following Biden's visit to Kyiv in February and talks on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius in July.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of discussions in Congress about providing nearly $24 billion in additional aid to Ukraine. The United States is about to kick off its election campaign, which is expected to influence Washington's future decisions. The Ukrainian side is concerned about potential issues with the Republican Party.

Зустріч Зеленського і Байдена: на що чекати та чи будуть ATACMS для України

The photo of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to the United States coincides with ongoing discussions in Congress regarding the allocation of an additional $24 billion for Ukraine. This visit takes place amid significant debates and deliberations over increased financial support for Ukraine from the United States.

The Biden administration's request has already been satisfied by the Senate. However, there shouldn't have been any particular problems there, as the majority belongs to the Democrats. The next step is with the House of Representatives, where there is a Republican majority. Conservative members of the Republican Party insist on reducing federal spending, and some supporters of former President Donald Trump seek to block funds from reaching Ukraine.

Congress is working on passing appropriations bills by September 30. If they don't meet the deadline, a government shutdown is looming. Despite differences, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security advisor, remains quite optimistic.

"Based on our consultations on Capitol Hill, we believe that there continues to be strong bipartisan support in both chambers," he said, adding that at a critical moment, both Republicans and Democrats recognize that they cannot withdraw support for Ukraine.

Likely for this reason, in addition to his visit to the White House, President Zelenskyy will meet with leaders of both the House and Senate, as well as leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties. It is expected that he will address them with a speech on Capitol Hill at 10:00 AM (17:00 Kyiv time).

According to political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, ultimately, the question of aid to Ukraine will be resolved positively even in the context of future elections.

"Will Zelenskyy be able to resolve this issue? Unfortunately, not everything depends on our president. But I think this issue will be resolved because it's not just about Zelenskyy or Biden, it's because assistance to Ukraine is in the interest of the United States," he said in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

What will Zelenskyy and Biden discuss?

Biden wants to hear from Zelenskyy his personal assessment of the events on the front lines and the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. As stated by the White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby, this is important because the leaders of both countries are meeting at a critical time.

"The President is looking forward to hearing from President Zelenskyy about the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the progress they're making — kind of his own assessment of what the battlefield looks like," he noted.

Зустріч Зеленського і Байдена: на що чекати та чи будуть ATACMS для України

Photo: The presidents will discuss a wide range of issues, but it is expected that the main topic will be military aid (Getty Images)

He also added that Biden will reiterate the statement that the U.S. will stand with Ukraine as long as necessary. Therefore, support will continue in any case.

The Ukrainian side is also interested in briefing Biden on the situation on the front lines to make him aware of the current needs on the battlefield and to explain why and how the acceleration of the counteroffensive is necessary.

Advisor to the Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, emphasizes that the expectations are known in advance because the United States is the largest partner both in terms of military assistance and leadership in support matters.

According to him, first and foremost, the Armed Forces of Ukraine need long-range ATACMS missiles.

"Also, we need to accelerate the training on the F-16. The third component is armored vehicles in any form. We also need ammunition for HIMARS," he added.

In addition, ahead of the winter challenges, Ukraine is counting on additional air defense and missile defense systems. Since last year, Russia had focused on attacks on energy facilities.

At the moment, everything points to another round of military aid being delivered. From the UN General Assembly podium, Biden referred to defending Ukraine as an investment in the future of every nation, and the announcement of another aid package came just last week. The specific weaponry included in it is currently unknown.

ATACMS for Ukraine. What is known

The topic of long-range missiles will indeed be discussed during the meeting with Biden, as stated by Zelenskyy himself. According to Zelenskyy, the American leader is capable of "turning the page of war" once again, as he did previously with the HIMARS missile systems.

"We are moving forward. I hope we will receive them (ATACMS, - Ed.) in the fall," he said, explaining that the missiles are needed to avoid interruptions in the counteroffensive.

ATACMS is a tactical ballistic missile with a range of up to 300 km, capable of targeting key Russian material-technical and logistical bases, as well as launch sites for cruise missiles and UAVs in temporarily occupied territories.

Senators have written a letter to Biden expressing their view that such missiles would greatly increase the chances of success in both the current counteroffensive and future operations.

"It is necessary to immediately send the ATACMS variant with a unitary warhead of great range. The recent Ukrainian strike on the military-sea port of Sevastopol using the Storm Shadow demonstrated the combat effectiveness of such weapons," the letter dated September 16 states.

Зустріч Зеленського і Байдена: на що чекати та чи будуть ATACMS для України

Photo: Officially, the United States is not yet ready to transfer ATACMS to Ukraine ( USAASC)

According to Western media reports, even before this letter, Biden was leaning towards a positive decision, and some even predicted deliveries for the fall. Officially, there is no "green light" yet, and the Pentagon chief, Lloyd Austin, after the latest meeting in the "Ramstein" format, avoided answering a direct question.

During his trip to the United States, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that if Ukraine does not receive ATACMS, it will result in significant losses on the battlefield and beyond.

As reported by Axios, the Biden administration is still refraining from making an announcement. According to their sources, the Ukrainian side inquired about the missiles during a recent visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kyiv, but he assured them that discussions regarding ATACMS were not concluded. According to Fox News, they will not be included in the next package.

Nevertheless, there is a possibility that the official announcement is being withheld until the meeting between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine.

"I don't share the pessimism of certain Western media outlets, and I believe that announcements regarding ATACMS may still come. I think Zelenskyy has all the opportunities to persuade Biden to provide the missiles," said the military-political expert of the "Information Resistance" group, Oleksandr Kovalenko, in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

However, it's not excluded that, as in the case of the Abrams tanks, there may be several weeks between the presidents' meeting and the final decision. Oleksandr Musiyenko, the head of the Military-Legal Studies Center, is confident that Ukraine will still receive ATACMS in the near future, as everything is moving in that direction, and there are several reasons for it.

Nevertheless, there is a possibility that the official announcement is being withheld until the meeting between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine.

"Firstly, we are entering a period when we will need to conduct combat operations with weapons capable of striking enemy rear positions. If the autumn is rainy, we probably won't be able to actively use armored vehicles and will be forced to operate from positions of long-range weapons and artillery. Secondly, there is a geopolitical challenge, such as the transfer of ammunition from Russia via North Korea, and possibly behind-the-scenes dealings with China. For these reasons, as well as to demonstrate continued support and Western dominance, it is crucial to provide ATACMS to Ukraine," he explained in an interview with the edition.

Analysts from the Long War Journal project believe that the transfer of these long-range missiles could free up upgraded Ukrainian "Neptunes" for strikes on targets directly in Russia and even on the Crimean Bridge.

However, the actual use of ATACMS will depend on the version Ukraine receives. If it's the M57 modification with a 227 kg warhead and a range of up to 300 km, such weapons can target Russian rear logistics. If it's the M39 version with a cassette warhead, theoretically, it could be used to destroy Russian air defense systems.

In any case, analysts note that the transferred M142 HIMARS and M270 launchers to Ukraine would still require "reprogramming." Supposedly, in the summer of 2022, they were stripped of the ability to launch ATACMS.

Should we expect further announcements regarding the F-16?

Alongside European partners, the United States leads the so-called aviation coalition. Within this framework, allies are working to transition Ukrainian pilots to F-16 fighter jets.

To completely replace the current combat aviation fleet, Ukraine would require 128 F-16. The minimum number needed for the defense of Ukrainian airspace would be 60 units, which is equivalent to five squadrons of 12 aircraft each.

Зустріч Зеленського і Байдена: на що чекати та чи будуть ATACMS для України

Photo: One of the topics of the Biden-Zelenskyy meeting could be F-16s from American stocks (Getty Images)

As of today, there is a readiness to provide 61 units: 42 fighter jets from the Netherlands and 19 from Denmark. Norway may become the third country to join the list of suppliers, but it's currently unknown how many F-16s they may offer.

Before the Ukrainian Air Force receives Western-model combat aircraft, pilot training needs to be completed. The first group of pilots has already departed for training in Denmark, and others will need to improve their English language skills before the main training phase begins. Training may take between 4 to 6 months, and it's most likely that the first F-16s will take to the Ukrainian skies in 2024. Western media outlets suggest this might happen in February.

The U.S., being the manufacturer of F-16 fighter jets, promises that third countries will be able to transfer these aircraft to Ukraine after pilot training. However, the largest ally, the United States, has not yet mentioned the possibility of supplying from its own reserves. The U.S. military remains the largest operator of F-16s, with nearly 900 units in service.

The experts surveyed generally agree that President Biden's statement during his meeting with President Zelenskyy regarding the transfer of American aircraft would demonstrate even greater determination to assist Ukraine.

"It seems to me that the political decision has already been made, and the only question remaining is when it will be announced. It's possible that this could happen this week," stated Oleksandr Musiyenko in his conversation with RBC-Ukraine.

Expert Oleksandr Kovalenko believes that in this case, Washington may not limit itself to, for example, just one squadron.

"I have a feeling that the F-16 issue will be raised during the meeting, considering that the US has given permission for their transfer to other countries but has not yet transferred them themselves. Therefore, I would not rule out the possibility that the US may announce their readiness to strengthen Ukraine with one, two, or perhaps even three squadrons of F-16s," he concluded.