NATO anti-aircraft weapons donations are not covering Ukraine’s losses

Slovakia last week became the first country to donate a sophisticated Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft system to Ukraine, as Kyiv leaders stressed the need for more and better anti-aircraft weapons to blunt Russia’s punitive aerial bombardment. gave.

But the Slovakian system alone is not enough to replenish Ukraine’s damaged anti-aircraft network. As Kyiv prepares to face Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new offensive in the eastern Donbass region, Ukrainian leaders are still stressing the need to protect their airspace and the importance of Western support in doing so.

Slovakia’s Ministry of Defense confirmed newsweek He sent an S-300 system to Ukraine. The transfer was facilitated by Germany and the Netherlands, which sent US-made Patriot anti-aircraft systems to Slovakia to liberate the S-300s, which Slovakia had inherited after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

“We are confident that this system will help protect as many innocent Ukrainians as possible from further invasion by Putin’s regime,” Slovakia’s defense ministry said in a statement released last week.

This file photo shows the S-300 PMU-1 anti-aircraft missile being launched during a Greek military exercise near Chania on the island of Crete on December 13, 2013. Slovakia has become the first country to donate sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft. System for Ukraine.
Costas Metaxakis/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine is believed to have had about 100 S-300 batteries before the invasion began, with about 300 launchers in total. Open source figures show that it has lost at least 21 launchers – the equivalent of seven batteries. newsweek Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has been contacted to request comment.

This apparently steady, if slow, erosion of Ukraine’s anti-aircraft list is of great concern to leaders in Kyiv. The longer the battle continues, the more launchers will be destroyed. Ukraine will also eventually run low on missiles.

Russia has already claimed that it destroyed a Slovakian S-300 in a missile attack in Dnipro. The office of Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Hager dismissed the claim as “disinformation”.

Since the offensive began, Ukrainian officials have called on Western countries to impose a no-fly zone on Ukraine, a request repeatedly rejected by NATO for fear of a direct confrontation with Russian forces.

The NATO nations also messed up the planned delivery of Russian-made fighter jets to Ukraine, causing frustration in Kyiv. Providing long-range anti-aircraft systems could reduce the Russian threat as well as reduce the threat of escalation.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dimitro Kuleba traveled to Brussels on Thursday to meet NATO foreign ministers. Their armament requests included “heavy air defense systems” such as the S-300.

Greece and Bulgaria also have S-300s that could theoretically be sent to Ukraine. But doing so will reduce the military preparedness of these countries. Neither Athens nor Sofia have yet shown any desire to move their S-300s to Ukraine.

The failure to dismantle Ukraine’s anti-aircraft systems was a glare by Russia’s armed forces. Ukraine’s air force, long- and medium-range anti-aircraft systems and portable shoulder-launched surface-to-air weapons have all consumed the Russian air force. Ukraine has claimed to have shot down 154 planes and 137 helicopters since the offensive began on 24 February.

Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday that Ukraine has received about 25,000 portable anti-aircraft weapons since the start of the offensive. He said Ukrainians were “extraordinarily grateful” for this support.

But these shoulder-fired weapons cannot reach targets at high altitude like the S-300 and other similar systems. They also cannot stop Russian ballistic missiles, which have caused so much damage to Ukrainian military and civilian targets as well as infrastructure.

The better Ukraine’s long-range anti-aircraft umbrella, the less Russian aircraft will be forced to fly. This makes them more vulnerable to portable weapons carried by Ukrainian ground forces.

Russian aircraft still enjoy more freedom in the air than their Ukrainian opponents. Last week, Russian planes were making about 250 flights a day, according to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military has generally been limited to between five and 10 sorties.

Recent Russian flight activity has been concentrated in the east and south, where Moscow’s troops are believed to be planning to launch a major offensive in hopes of capturing the Donbass.

Russian advance in the east has been limited. Its troops have had more success to the south, establishing a land corridor from the occupied Crimean peninsula to the occupied Donbass.

Ukraine’s former defense minister Andrey Zagorodnyuk said, “Russia has concentrated some aircraft in that area.” newsweek of the Eastern Front. Zagorodnyuk said that if Ukraine could buy them in time, anti-aircraft reinforcements would “certainly” make a difference to the military balance in the East.

Andrey Ryzhenko, a retired naval captain and former deputy chief of staff in the Ukrainian Navy, told newsweek That the Slovakian S-300 by itself wouldn’t make a huge difference. “But it helps anyway,” he said.

Ryzhenko said that Russia’s air power is Ukraine’s biggest problem. “Airstrikes are their only dominance,” he explained. “It compensates for the loss of their land,” he said, referring to Ukraine’s successful counter-attacks on all Russian axes of aggression.

Russia’s victory in the east could turn the war in Putin’s favor. The success in the Donbass could give Russia a springboard to threaten Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine’s coastline again. Another such dirty defeat on the Russians outside Kyiv would further weaken Putin’s position and limit his options.

Russia, Jet, Ukraine
The wreckage of a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber is seen in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in April 2022. Leaders in Kyiv have stressed the need for more and better anti-aircraft weapons to blunt Russia’s punitive aerial bombardment.

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