Monday, March 4, 2024

Ukrainian official says air defense resources depleted by Russian attacks

A Ukrainian Air Force official has acknowledged that Kiev’s air defense arsenal has been depleted as the country tries to shoot down escalating barrages of Russian missiles and drones.

“Intense Russian air attacks force us to use a corresponding amount of air defense means,” Air Force spokesman Yury Ignat said on Tuesday in a Ukrainian television interview.

“That’s why we need more of them, as Russia keeps increasing its attack capabilities.”

Moscow’s forces have ramped up airstrikes in the past two weeks, launching hundreds of missiles and drones targeting weapons plants and other targets in Ukrainian cities. A Russian barrage on Monday morning targeted military-industrial facilities in Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Khmelnitsky, and Zaporozhye regions, and Kiev admitted that its air defenses failed to intercept most of the missiles.

Ignat added Ukraine is currently reliant on supplies of guided missiles for its Western and Soviet-era air defense systems. Speaking by video on Sunday at a Swedish defense conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Kiev lacks adequate air defenses “on the battlefield and in our cities”.

The air defense shortfall comes at a time when Ukraine’s biggest military supplier, Washington, has run out of money to send more weapons to Kiev. US President Joe Biden’s plan to provide $61.4 billion in additional aid for Ukraine as part of a $106 billion emergency spending bill has stalled in Congress amid rising opposition from Republican lawmakers. Meanwhile, a €50 billion ($54.6 billion) EU aid package was derailed at least temporarily by a Hungarian veto in December.

Kiev is pinning its hopes for near-term help on NATO’s council of Ukraine backers, which is scheduled to meet on Wednesday in Brussels. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba stated he hopes the meeting will be followed by “prompt commitments” to help beef up Kiev’s air defenses amid the Russian onslaught.

“First and foremost, we expect the meeting to expedite critical decisions on further strengthening Ukraine’s air defense capabilities, both in terms of modern systems and their ammunition,” Kuleba said in a statement.

He added that supplying missiles for Ukraine’s Patriot, IRIS-T, and NASAMS air defense systems is a “top priority that must be completed today, not tomorrow.”

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