Rocket attacks on Ukrainian cities earlier this week have led experts to recall that the West promised to supply all necessary air defense systems to Ukraine in the summer. But until now, Ukraine clearly lacks the means to protect such a large territory. The influential British publication Financial Times writes about how she is going to solve this problem in her publication .
Russian strikes against Ukraine's largest cities are increasingly forcing Kyiv to choose between deploying its few air defense systems to protect civilian targets or using them for a counteroffensive. Western and Ukrainian officials, as well as military analysts, cite the lack of air defenses as one of the main weaknesses of Kyiv, which is trying to defend itself against Russian missiles and drones that attacked several major cities in the country earlier in the week. Russia fired more than 80 cruise missiles and 24 drones into Ukraine during the morning rush hour in what Putin said was retaliation for a weekend explosion that collapsed part of the Kerch Bridge connecting Russia and the Crimean peninsula.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said that more than half of the shells were shot down, but dozens still managed to hit Kyiv and other settlements, causing damage to civilian infrastructure as well.
Ukrainian President Zelenskiy said Monday's attacks also used Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. Last week, six such drones struck the city of Bila Tserkva near Kyiv, suggesting that Russia may be sending them from more than 200km away. “Air defense is currently the #1 priority in our defense cooperation,” Zelensky said in a blog post after speaking with US President Biden.
"President Biden pledged to continue to provide Ukraine with the support it needs to defend itself, including advanced air defense systems," the White House said in a statement.
Monday's strikes demonstrate how difficult it is for a large country like Ukraine to fully defend itself against continued Russian air attacks.
“The problem is not so much that Ukraine has no air defense,” said one Western defense adviser. “The fact is that Ukraine does not have enough funds to protect such a large country, and missiles can come from many directions.”
As part of counter-offensives in the east and south of the country, Kyiv has already deployed some of its air defense systems to the front line to provide cover for the advancing troops. According to a senior Western official, this reduced the number of systems standing to protect civilian areas. “They have few long-range and high-precision air defense systems,” the official said. "They need more."
Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine's ambassador to the UK, told the Financial Times that Kyiv has instructed its diplomats in Western capitals to push for more air defense deliveries.
“This is something we all talk about all the time” after Monday’s attacks, he said, adding that the recent appointment of Sergei Surovikin as commander-in-chief of the campaign in Ukraine made it clear that Moscow would focus on using missile, jet and drone strikes.
Since the launch of a special operation by Russian forces in February, Ukraine has received a range of air defense systems from American and European allies, from shoulder-launched short-range man-portable missiles to more sophisticated air defense missiles. But, like the artillery, which is a mixture of Russian and Western howitzers of different standards, it lacks a single, comprehensive air defense system.
In the next few months, the US is due to deliver the first two of eight promised National Advanced Air Defense Systems (Nasams). Germany is also due to hand over the first of four Iris-T ground-based air defense systems (pictured) in the coming days, fulfilling a promise made over the summer by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
But, as Zelensky told Biden last month when he thanked him for the Nasamses, they are still “not enough to cover civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities, Ukrainian homes.”
Monday's attacks appeared to prove Zelensky right and came ahead of a meeting of Western countries on Wednesday to discuss and coordinate arms supplies to Ukraine, and a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
It is expected that both meetings will focus on how to speed up the supply of weapons and ensure that the supplied weapons are the most effective and useful for the country's armed forces.
Justin Bronk, senior fellow at London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute, said that "the fact that the world lacks air defense systems to fully protect all of Ukraine from air attack is only a slight exaggeration." "In the end, it's about balancing priorities between protecting civilian areas or soldiers fighting on the front lines."
Another complication is Russia's increasing use of Shaheed drones. Cheap, relatively small and capable of flying long distances, multiple drones can be launched simultaneously, creating a swarming effect that is difficult to combat with sophisticated air defense systems. At the same time, they are slower, fly lower, and often use available control technology - so they can be jammed electronically and shot down with old-fashioned anti-aircraft guns with radar or even conventional weapons. Ukraine said it shot down one Shaheed drone with a heavy machine gun over the weekend.