Ukraine needs U.S. permission to use ATACMS to hit Russian bases where bomb-dropping aircraft are based.


July 1, 2024



KYIV — Ukraine cannot stop the deadly rain of Russian bombs unless the U.S. gives permission to use long-range missiles to hit airfields in Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a new interview.  “The biggest issue is with glide bombs,” Zelenskyy told the Philadelphia Inquirer in an interview published on Sunday.

Glide bombs are free-fall bombs, many dating back to Soviet times, that have been modernized with winglets and GPS navigation allowing them to be steered toward their targets with a range of 40 kilometers to 60 kilometers. They are fast, small and emit no heat signature, making them very difficult to intercept. Russia has been launching more than a hundred a day to devastating effect, dropping them from fighter-bombers flying in Russian airspace.

In the interview, Zelenskyy urged U.S. President Joe Biden to allow Ukraine to use Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles with a range of 300 kilometers to strike airfields deep in Russia’s rear. That would imply a further loosening of U.S. policy on Kyiv’s use of donated weapons. So far, the U.S. only lets Ukraine strike areas in Russia close to the border — a response to this spring’s Russian offensive against Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv. “We managed to make a deal that we can use certain weapons in the Kharkiv direction and a little bit farther to the north. But everyone understands that Russian aerial bombs and missiles are our biggest problem as of today,” Zelenskyy said in the interview.

Ukraine has been pleading for more air defenses to help fend off regular Russian drone and missile attacks that are destroying the country’s electricity infrastructure and hitting cities across the country.

However, even more Patriot missile batteries would not solve the glide-bomb problem, Zelenskyy said. “A Patriot missile costs some $3 million. We would not be able to have thousands of such missiles or even hundreds. No one can produce that many. You might win in the short term, but Russians will still exhaust your missile stocks and then keep bombing cities and energy infrastructure as usual,” Zelenskyy said.

The best solution is allowing Ukraine to use longer-range ATACMS to destroy Russian bombers on airfields far from Ukraine’s border, Zelenskyy added.

Mykola Bielieskov, a Ukrainian military analyst and research fellow at the Ukrainian National Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed with the president, saying that the only way to destroy a Russian glide bomb is to either shoot down the fighter-bomber carrying it or to hit the airfield

where it is based. “Only Patriot with its costly missiles can shoot down bombers. But it is necessary to bring the Patriot close to the front line to get a bomber, which makes the launcher vulnerable,” Bielieskov told POLITICO.

According to him, hitting Russian airfields some 250 kilometers from the border is necessary. If Russia cannot use those airfields, it will significantly reduce the intensity of the bombing campaign and increase the load on aircraft if they are forced to fly from more distant airfields, the analyst added.

Russia’s glide bombs have become a major tactic for the Kremlin and a growing problem for Ukraine since the beginning of 2024, Bielieskov said.

Russia has been dropping about 120 to 150 a day against Ukrainian military positions. In addition, it regularly launches 500-kilogram to 1,500-kilogram bombs at Ukraine’s major frontline cities.

Just this weekend, a glide bomb launched from Belgorod destroyed a post office logistics terminal in Kharkiv, killing one man and injuring nine, including a toddler, the Kharkiv prosecutor’s office reported on Sunday. “If an effective response is not given, Russia will gain an asymmetric advantage that in combination with other systems, will complicate the success of Ukraine’s strategic defense operation by the defense forces of Ukraine,” Bielieskov said.

Allowing unfettered Russian bombing is a key military problem for Kyiv. “Defeating Russia’s operation in Kharkiv Oblast requires defeating Russia’s glide bomb threat,” said an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, adding: “The Russian Air Force can strike wide swaths of Ukraine uninhibited so long as the Russian Air Force continues to leverage Russia’s airspace sanctuary.”

It’s not only Ukraine that is suffering under Russian glide bombs. About 38 of them fell on Belgorod and other Russian regions near Ukraine since last year, the Washington Post reported on Monday, citing Russian internal documents it had obtained.


Veronika Melkozerova is a reporter for POLITICO Europe and her work has also been featured in The Atlantic. She specializes in covering geopolitical conflicts, with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia. Veronika’s articles provide in-depth analysis and reporting on the tensions, political dynamics, and military developments in the region.