Ukraine pushes allies for air defense help in the wake of deadly Russian strikes

The Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that its armed forces “continue launching the massive attack using high-precision long-range air- and sea-based armament at the facilities of military control and energy system of Ukraine.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of Monday’s strikes in a televised address, painting them as retaliation for the “terrorist” blast at a key bridge between Russia and the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Across both days, Ukrainian officials said the country’s air defenses had been able to intercept large numbers of missiles and Iranian-made drones that it said Russia was deploying. But enough made it through to do deadly damage — and prompt vociferous calls for the West to do more to help protect the country’s skies.

President Joe Biden spoke with Zelenskyy after Monday’s strikes, pledging “to continue providing Ukraine with the support needed to defend itself, including advanced air defense systems.”

Zelenskyy, who has been calling for that help since before the war began in February, said on Twitter that air defense “is currently the number 1 priority” for his country when it comes to military aid.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Western allies offers of air defense assistance in a press conference Tuesday.

“Ukraine has the momentum and continues to make significant gains, while Russia is increasingly resorting to horrific and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure,” he said.

A woman examines the damage to her apartment close to another which was hit by a missile strike Monday in Kyiv, Ukraine. Ed Ram/Getty Images

While Ukraine has received large amounts of crucial equipment from the United States, Britain and other European nations — Washington previously pledged to provide surface-to-air missiles in July, and long-range weapons like HIMARS have played a role in Ukraine’s recent counteroffensives — Zelenskyy has consistently asked for more anti-air attack firepower.

Now, the message may be getting through.

German Defense Secretary Christine Lambrecht said Monday that her country would send four medium-range air defense systems to Ukraine, the first to be delivered in the next few days.

“The renewed rocket fire on Kyiv and many other cities makes it clear how important it is to deliver air defense systems to Ukraine quickly,” she said in a statement.

France and Britain both reaffirmed their support for Ukraine and pledged further unspecified military assistance.

Analysts said that if Ukraine had that help sooner, it could have saved lives and protected critical infrastructure and public services.

“The consensus is that if the West had agreed to this, there would have been less casualties,” said Jaroslava Barbieri, a researcher on Russia’s post-Soviet conflicts at Birmingham University in England, referring to air defense systems.

Current and former US officials and defense analysts told NBC News in February that Washington and its allies were reluctant to supply Ukraine with surface-to-air defense weapons before the war and even after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 because of fears it would provoke Putin .

“That was an understandable position — if you were to shoot down a Russian plane, you could start World War III,” Barbieri said. “But the position of the West is shifting, they understand that Ukraine has to win militarily.”

Russia’s objective in Monday’s strikes across Ukraine, she said, was to cause civilian panic, intimidate the West and discourage countries from providing military aid — as well as to show critics at home that the Kremlin was not conceding defeat after recent setbacks.

Jeremy Fleming, head of the British electronic intelligence agency GCHQ, told BBC News on Tuesday that Russia’s military prospects in Ukraine looked “desperate.”

“We believe that Russia is running short of ammunition, it’s certainly running short of friends, and we’ve seen because of the declaration for mobilization that it’s running short of troops,” he said.

Image:
A Russian warship launches a cruise missile at a target in Ukraine on Monday.AP

With Monday’s escalation and Ukraine’s battlefield successes seemingly solidifying the case for increased Western support ahead of the winter, Moscow said it was Kyiv’s allies that were escalating the conflict.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency Tuesday that Russia will be “forced to take adequate countermeasures, including of an asymmetric nature,” in response to the actions of Ukraine and its allies.

“It is obvious that a direct clash with the United States and NATO is not in Russia’s interests. We warn and hope that Washington and other Western capitals are aware of the danger of uncontrolled escalation,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov underlined this point in his daily press briefing, adding that Western supplies of advanced air defense systems would not change Russia’s goals and would only extend the conflict.

CORRECTION (Oct. 11, 2022, 9:30 am ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of a researcher. She is Jaroslava Barbieri, not Jaroslav.

Anastasia Parafeniuk, Cal Perry, Lawahez Jabari oath Artem Grudinin contributed.

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