Russian President Vladimir Putin faced international rebuke when he launched his “special military operation” on Ukraine on February 24. Many world leaders condemned the invasion, which they viewed as lacking justification and going against international norms. The U.S., an ally of Ukraine, has provided Kyiv with humanitarian and military aid to bolster the country’s defense efforts.
Included in the U.S. military aid were M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), a rocket launcher system with a longer range than other rockets in Ukraine’s artillery. HIMARS have been credited with allowing the Eastern European country to better defend its territory against Russia and even launch its own counteroffensive efforts to reclaim formerly occupied territory near Kharkiv and Kherson.
Austin, a key figure overseeing U.S. assistance to Ukraine, praised Kyiv for using HIMARS the “right way” to boost its defense against Moscow.
He commended Ukrainian defenders for using the missiles to “conduct attacks on things like logistical stores and command and control,” eating away at Russian capabilities.
Ukraine’s use of HIMARS “changed the dynamics, and it’s created an opportunity for the Ukrainians to maneuver,” Austin said.
“What we’re seeing now is a kind of change in the battlefield dynamics,” Austin added. “They’ve done very, very well in the Kharkiv area and moved to take advantage of opportunities. The fight in the Kherson region’s going a bit slower, but they’re making progress.”
John Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, told Newsweek on Sunday that Ukraine’s use of HIMARS has been “decisive” in stopping Russia’s offensive, while allowing them to launch a “successful, if limited” counteroffensive. However, he said the U.S. should provide Ukraine more powerful weapons that Ukrainian officials requested to help sustain their victories.
“I am confident that if we gave Ukraine most of what they’re asking for—they would be able, certainly within a year, year and a half—but maybe even in months, to take back everything Russia has seized since February, maybe even everything Russia has seized since the war began in 2014 with the exception of Crimea,” he said.
He specifically pointed to ATACMS, F-16s and longer range missiles as weapons that could further help Ukraine. Herbst said he believes Putin does not plan to stop in Ukraine, and giving Ukraine more aid to stop his efforts could be key in preventing him from targeting NATO states like Estonia and Latvia.
“Giving Ukraine this amount of assistance to stop Putin before we have to defend with American troops is not just good in terms of saving American lives, but also saving American dollars,” he said.
Javed Ali, a former U.S. counterterrorism official and professor at the University of Michigan, told Newsweek on Sunday afternoon that Ukraine’s use of HIMARS has allowed Ukraine to offset Russia’s “numerical strength” on the battlefield by striking Russian troops from a greater distance and increased precision.
“The use of HIMARS, combined with other Western-supplied weapons and equipment, an evolving Ukrainian military strategy and increased successes at the operational and tactical level, and the continued shortcomings and weaknesses in Russia’s efforts, have contributed to what appears to be more momentum on the side of Ukraine at the moment with the possibility of Russia losing more control of previously captured 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 doubling the amount of the systems the U.S. has provided to Ukraine.
Austin Condemns ‘Irresponsible’ Russian Nuclear Threats
Austin also addressed on Sunday Putin’s recent nuclear threats made after Russia illegitimately annexed regions of Ukraine last week. Putin has pledged to defend these areas “with all the forces and means at our disposal.” The remark was interpreted by the West as a threat that he could use nuclear weapons to defend annexed territories, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
“It’s an illegal claim. It’s an irresponsible statement. This nuclear sable rattling is not the kind of thing that we would expect to hear from leaders of large countries with capability,” Austin said.
He added that he expects to see Ukrainians continue “moving forward” with their defense efforts, and that the U.S. will continue to support them despite these threats.
Nuclear fears again grew amid more Russian losses. Despite annexing these territories and mobilizing 300,000 reservist troops, the Kremlin continued to see losses in Donetsk, with Ukraine taking back the key transportation hub of Lyman on Saturday. The loss led a key Putin ally to urge him to conduct a nuclear strike against Ukraine.
Newsweek reached out to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense for comment.
Updated 10/02/2022 5:37 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional analysis.