Russian officials say Ukraine attacked Crimea with U.S.-made ATACMS missiles

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian officials said on Tuesday that Ukraine had attacked Crimea with U.S.-produced Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) in an attempt to pierce Russian air defences of the annexed peninsula but that six had been shot down.

Washington secretly shipped the long-range missiles to Kyiv as part of a $300 million military aid package for Ukraine that U.S. President Joe Biden approved on March 12, a U.S. official said last week.

Whether to send the ATACMS missiles with a range up to 300 km was a subject of debate within the Biden administration for months. Mid-range ATACMS were supplied last September.

The Russian Defence Ministry said six ATACMS had been shot down but it did not say where. Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-backed head of Crimea, said ATACMS missiles were shot down over the peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

"Ten Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles, six ATACMS tactical missiles manufactured by the United States and two guided 'Hammer' aircraft bombs manufactured by France were shot down by air defences," the ministry said.

Russian lawmaker Leonid Ivlev, who once served in the Soviet Air Force, said Ukraine struck at airbases in Crimea with 12 ATACMS, and added that attacks could increase ahead of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a new term next week.

"Their target is airfields. The missiles were destroyed by air defences," Ivlev told RIA news agency. He said Ukraine was trying to pierce the air defence shield over Crimea to then strike at strategically important facilities.


"I admit that as the May holidays approach, as well as the inauguration of the president of Russia, new attempts to attack the peninsula are possible," Ivlev was quoted as saying.

The influential pro-Russian Rybar Telegram channel said 30 such missiles had been fired at Crimea in recent days.

Ukraine overnight fired eight missiles at the Dzhankoy airbase and four at the airfield in Gvardeyskoye. It said the missiles were launched from the Kherson region.

Aksyonov posted on Telegram a photo showing what he described as undetonated submunitions of ATACMS missiles without specifying how many missiles had been shot down.

The ATACMS missiles were used for the first time in the early hours of April 17, launched against a Russian airfield in Crimea that was about 165 km (103 miles) from the Ukrainian front lines, a U.S. official told Reuters in Washington.

The Pentagon initially opposed the long-range missile deployment, fearing the loss of the missiles from the American stockpile would hurt U.S. military readiness.

There were also concerns that Ukraine would use them to attack targets deep inside Russia, a step which could lead to an escalation of the war towards a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States.

(Reporting by ReutersEditing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gareth Jones)