Russia to push Ukraine further back if Kyiv gets long range U.S. missiles, says Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia will need to push Ukrainian forces further back and expand what it regards as a "buffer zone" if Kyiv takes delivery of advanced longer-range ATACM guided missile systems from the United States, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.

The White House last October said it had provided Kyiv with a type of ATACMS capable of hitting targets up to 165 kilometres (102 miles) away. But a new U.S. package being prepared now after a long-delayed aid bill was approved by Congress is expected to include a longer 300 km (186-mile) range type.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy said on Monday that Kyiv would be receiving the long-range ATACMS and thanked Washington.

That raises the prospect of Ukraine using those missiles to strike targets deeper inside territory controlled by Russian forces, particularly in Russian-annexed Crimea.

The ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) are mounted on trucks and can travel at speeds of Mach 3, considerably faster than British and French cruise missiles currently in Ukraine's armoury.

When asked on Wednesday about the move, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia's stance, which it has set out several times, had not changed.

"Nothing changes in that regard," Peskov said.

The Kremlin said last month that the only way to protect Russian territory from Ukrainian attacks - which it says includes four regions Moscow has annexed from Ukraine - is to have "a buffer zone" so that territory is beyond the range of Ukrainian fire.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last year that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further from its borders.

The U.S. delivery, which is unlikely to be public when it happens, may stipulate that Ukraine can not use ATACMS to strike targets within Russia itself.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday that the United States was preparing a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine, the first to be sourced from the yet to be signed Ukraine bill.

(Reporting by ReutersWriting by Andrew Osborn Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)