Give Ukraine Better Air Defenses
If other European capitals want to avoid Kyiv’s fate, they must arm Ukraine with better defenses against Russia’s missile onslaught.
Ukraine needs better aerial defensive weapons, immediately.
Europe is experiencing its bloodiest war since World War II. No illusions are left about the Kremlin’s barbaric intentions following Russia’s nonstop attacks since February 24, bombarding Kyiv, Kharkiv, Bucha, and Chernihiv, sieging Mariupol, and leaving it destroyed.
Other European capitals should take a closer look at the weapons used by Putin and consider the risk that those same weapons will be used in their territory, killing even more people. If European leaders want to prevent that future, they must help Ukraine by giving them more aerial defense.
This week, the U.S. announced an $800 million arms package for Ukraine. Slovakia gave its S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine, and the United States backfilled that donation by giving Patriot missile batteries to Slovakia. Those are welcome additions, but not good enough. Americans should give more Patriots directly to Ukraine. European militaries should at least give Ukraine the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System, or NASAMS.
I also hope NATO leaders will find a way how to convince Ankara to give Turkish C-400 air defense systems to Ukraine. Unfortunately, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused, instead choosing to hold Ukrainians hostage as bargaining chips in hopes of convincing Washington to deliver Patriot missiles and F-35s to Turkey.
Ukraine also needs new fighter jets. It's hard to believe, but Ukrainian pilots have launched fundraising to buy new aircraft. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Air Force continues to lose fighters and Kyiv doesn't have enough money for new purchases.
The Ukrainian David is capable of defeating the Russian Goliath, provided the democratic world continues to put stones into our sling. Putin is attacking Ukraine with the most advanced conventional weapons on earth. The Ukrainian military needs the right systems to defend itself and the rest of Europe.
At the start of the Russian invasion, Western partners did not believe that Ukraine would be able to halt the overwhelming Russian forces for more than a couple of days. As we can see after almost two months, not only has the Russian Army failed to achieve its initial objective, it is experiencing colossal material and human losses. According to NATO, Russian casualties may range as high as 30,000 to 40,000 soldiers.
The Kremlin was infuriated by fierce resistance demonstrated by the Ukrainians. As a result the Russian Army has resorted to genocide. They started destroying peaceful cities through regular air attacks and ground shelling with ‘Grad’ and ‘Uragan’ systems, and other lethal weapons. The civilian death toll is reaching the tens of thousands, but the number of casualties is not yet known. Regular shellings, like those in Mariupol, prevent rescue workers from accessing the damaged buildings to find victims and collect dead bodies.
European countries cannot look away from the weaponry being deployed in their neighborhood.
According to information by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, 175 Iskander ballistic missiles have been launched against Ukrainian cities from Russian and Belarussian territory, hitting residential areas in Kyiv and Kharkiv, and airports in Dnipro and Zhytomyr. Solid-rocket fueled Iskander missiles are believed to have a range of 200 miles. The Ukrainian army is demonstrating a commendable resistance. But it needs enough contemporary air defense systems needed for effective interception of the Iskanders. Should the Russian occupiers install the missile launchers close to Kyiv, they will be in range of other European capitals, including Warsaw, Vilnius, and Chisinau.
Kalibr cruise missiles are the second type deployed to destroy Ukrainian cities, and the defense ministry reports at least 183 have been launched so far. The missiles are being launched from the ground as well as from warships stationed in the Black Sea, where Ukraine lacks any advanced anti-ship missiles in service. It was a Kalibr missile that hit a military barrack in Mykolaiv, killing 50 people. With a range of 1,550 miles, they can fly as far as Paris.
Regular air raids by Russians are equally dangerous for Ukraine. Strategic X-101 cruise missiles with a destruction range of 5,000 kilometers were launched against Vinnytsia from ‘Tupolev’ strategic bombers without even entering Ukraine’s airspace. According to the defense ministry, 86 counts of X-type cruise missiles had been launched against Ukraine as of March 24.
Ukrainian air defense also has no defense against ‘Kinzhal’ hypersonic missiles, which fly at 4,000 meters per second.
In addition to the high-precision missiles, Russia is bombarding Ukrainian cities with giant (500 to 1500 kg) unguided bombs. The killer bombs have been used to devastate Mariupol, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian cities. This exact type of bomb was dropped on a maternity hospital and theater in Mariupol with over 1,000 women and children hiding in its bomb shelter.
Russia is also attacking Ukraine with phosphorous and thermobaric bombs, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Phosphorous bombs were used during active fights in the suburbs of Kyiv and cities in Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Luhansk regions. Thermobaric bombs, considered among the most powerful non-nuclear weapons, release a cloud of fire accelerant. It inflames and burns immediately, producing an enormous disruptive blast wave. Military experts report that the bomb was used in a small Ukrainian town of Okhtyrka in the Northeast of Ukraine, as it refused to surrender.
By now, according to the Ukrainian defense ministry, Russian military have dropped over 1,800 air bombs and launched 487 different missiles into Ukraine. To compare, this is 11 times more than were used in Syria. Ukrainian authorities did their best to avoid the worst-case scenario. The head of the president's office, Andriy Yermak, sought to deploy ‘Patriot’ air defense systems in Ukraine as early as last April. In November, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov requested that the United States equip Ukraine with air, naval defense, and electronic warfare systems reserved for Afghanistan prior to the country’s takeover by Taliban. At the end of last year, Ukraine again requested contemporary air defense systems from the United States.
No doubt, military assistance provided by our Western allies, including Stingers and Javelins, is helping Ukraine to halt the giant occupant army. However, those weapons are not enough to retake the occupied territory and protect the civilian population.
Not long ago, Ukrainians were far from believing that enemy Russian jets would be bombing them in in the capital of Kyiv. Perhaps other Europeans in other capitals still do not realize their cities can be destroyed, too. Let me warn you: do not try the mercy of the despot in the Kremlin.
Ukrainians are ready to fight for the democratic world and prevent this war from spreading throughout the European continent. All the Western allies need to do is to share the right weapons to allow us to fight.
Hlib Kanievskyi is an expert in defense budget issues and frequent author and researcher on civilian control over the defense budget and procurements featured in Ukrainian media. He is a member of the Nomination Committee of Ukroboronprom, which selects directors of defense state enterprises in Ukraine.
Olena Tregub is the secretary general of NAKO, the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Commission, created by Transparency International to fight corruption in Ukraine, since 2017. NAKO’s focus is defense and security sector reform. Previously, she was the director for international assistance coordination at Ukraine’s Ministry of Economy, where she oversaw the management of a portfolio of over $10 billion in international development projects.