Russian claims that they destroyed one of two US-supplied Patriot air defence systems protecting the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv are unlikely to be true, a US official has said, but reports suggest it may have been damaged. While Ukrainian officials have emphatically denied the Russian claims, suggesting the remarks were pulled from the “propaganda archive”, a US official told CNN that there has been some damage and that they are assessing its extent to see whether it will need to be repaired outside of Ukraine.
The comments by the officials undermined what many had previously believed was simply another Russian disinformation campaign; the veracity of their claim to have destroyed the Patriot is now being more carefully scrutinised.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday in a post on Telegram that “a high-precision strike by the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system in the city of Kyiv hit a US-made Patriot anti-aircraft missile system”.
Russia fired six of the hypersonic missiles at the Ukrainian capital. Local officials in the immediate aftermath of the early morning strikes said all of them, as well as the additional dozen missiles, had been successfully intercepted.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, Yurii Ihnat, however, declined on multiple occasions on Tuesday to comment on the Russian MoD suggestion they had destroyed a Patriot system.
Late on Tuesday evening, he then suggested on Ukraine’s state television channel that it would be “impossible” to destroy their air defence systems with a Kinzhal.
He said that Patriot systems use multiple launchers located separately from each other to ensure combat work. To destroy the entire system, he intimated, Russia would need to strike multiple locations, which cannot be done with one missile as the MoD claimed.
Mr Ignat said: “To destroy the system with some kind of Dagger [alternate name for Kinzhal], well, it’s impossible. Therefore, I think that everything they tell there should remain in their propaganda archive.”
He concluded: “I want to say: Don’t worry about the fate of the Patriot.”
Later on Tuesday, however, a US official told CNN that there had been damage to one of the systems and that they were currently determining whether it needed to be pulled back from Ukraine for extensive repairs or simply fixed on the spot by the local forces.
Another US official said it is possible that the missile barrage hit one of the Patriot battery’s six components. The battery consists of generators, a radar set, a control station, antennas, a launcher station and interceptor missiles.
Ukraine has two Patriot batteries – one supplied by the US and the other jointly by Germany and the Netherlands – and they are vital to repel Russian aerial attacks, which usually occur roughly every fortnight.
But Russia has ramped up its assault on the Ukrainian capital in May – Tuesday’s strikes were the eighth in under three weeks – so the loss or immobilisation of one of these systems presents a heightened risk.
In light of this, in the first hours of the strikes this week Kyiv civilians were warned explicitly not to share photos of the Patriot systems at work to avoid alerting the Russians to their whereabouts.
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On Tuesday night, top presidential advisor Andriy Yermak issued another call to civilians, saying: “Do not film or post [Patriot] work online.”
But the air defence system’s radar emission, necessary to spot threats at a distance, also makes it possible for the enemy to detect the battery and figure out its location.
US officials believe the Russian military has been able to pick up on signals that are emitted from the Patriot, allowing them to target the system.
And unlike some shorter-range air defence provided to Ukraine that are mobile and harder to target, the large Patriot battery is a larger and more stationary system, making it possible for the Russian forces to zero in on the location over time.
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