Ukraine has begun using long-range missiles secretly produced by the US against Russia, US officials have confirmed. The weapons were part of $300m (£240m) in aid approved by US President Joe Biden in March and arrived this month.

They have already been used at least once against Russian targets in the occupied Crimea region, US media reports say. Mr Biden has now signed a new $61bn aid package for Ukraine. The U.S. previously provided Ukraine with an intermediate-range version of the ATACMS but was reluctant to send anything more powerful, due to concerns about jeopardizing U.S. military readiness.

However, Mr Biden is said to have secretly approved the deployment of the long-range missile system – which can launch missiles up to 300km (186 miles) away – in February. “I can confirm that the United States provided Ukraine with the long-range ATACMS at the direct direction of the president,” state department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

The US “did not announce this at first to maintain the security of military operations in Ukraine at their request”, he added. It is unclear how many weapons have already been deployed, but US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington plans to send more. “They will make a difference. But as I have said before on this forum… the easy way,” he said.

The long-range missiles were first used last week to attack a Russian airport in the occupied Crimea region, Reuters quoted an unnamed US official as saying. And the new missiles were also used in an attack on Russian troops in the occupied port city of Berdyansk on Tuesday night, according to the New York Times.

Recent months have seen Kyiv step up its calls for Western aid as its ammunition stockpile dwindles and Russia gains ground. The new aid package follows months of stalling amid opposition to the aid from some members of Congress. “It’s going to make America safer, it’s going to make the world safer,” Mr Biden said after signing it into law.

Responding to questions about the package, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Now we will do everything to compensate for half a year spent in discussions and doubts. “What Russia can do at this time, what Putin is planning now, we must oppose.”

Mr Zelensky recently warned that a Russian attack was expected in the coming weeks after Ukraine lost the town of Avdiivka during the winter. Ukraine’s forces have suffered shortages of ammunition and air defense systems in recent months and officials have blamed delays in military aid from the United States and other Western allies for the loss of life and part of their country. Mr Sullivan said on Wednesday it was “certainly possible that Russia could make more progress in the coming weeks”.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, tens of thousands of people, mostly soldiers, have been killed or injured on both sides and millions have been displaced.

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