A US-made Patriot missile defence system being used by Ukrainian forces has likely suffered some damage from a Russian air attack but does not appear to have been destroyed, two United States officials told the Reuters news agency.
The reported damage to the US-donated missile defence system follows Russia’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday saying that a Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile had destroyed a Patriot missile battery in Kyiv.
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One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing initial information, said Washington and Kyiv were already talking about the best way to repair the Patriot system and that, at this point, it did not appear the system would have to be removed from Ukraine.
The official said the US would have a better understanding of the damage in the coming days and information could change over time.
The Patriot is considered to be one of the most advanced US air defence systems, including against aircraft as well as cruise and ballistic missiles. It typically includes launchers along with radar and other support vehicles.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters he could not confirm reports that a Patriot system had been damaged in Ukraine.
Kirby added that US military equipment sent to Ukraine is often damaged or worn out and that “it would depend on the scope of the damage as to whether or not it could be repaired by the Ukrainians or whether we might need to help them”.
“Obviously, if – if there was damage done to a Patriot system that needed to be repaired outside Ukraine, we would certainly assist with that. I just can’t confirm it,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces claimed success in shooting down 18 missiles, including six Kinzhals, which Russia had fired at targets in Kyiv in what was said to be one of the most complex attacks on the capital city – in terms of the number of missiles fired in a short space of time and launched from multiple directions.
The commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said earlier that the army had intercepted the six Kinzhals launched from aircraft, as well as nine Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea and three Iskanders fired from land.
18 of the 18 missiles were shot down, in particular, ballistic ones, which the terrorist state has boasted about. That's why we are constantly working on visits that will bring more opportunities, more Patriot, IRIS-T, Crotale, Hawk, NASAMS systems. Again and again, I thank all… pic.twitter.com/WnRtV7ae6D
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 16, 2023
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu dismissed the Ukrainian claims that six Kinzhals had been intercepted, saying that Moscow had not fired that many, the RIA news agency reported.
The number of missiles Ukraine claims to intercept is “three times greater than the number we launch”, Shoigu said, according to the report. “And they get the type of missiles wrong all the time. That’s why they don’t hit them,” he added, without elaborating.
Russia began using the Kinzhal to hit targets in Ukraine early in the invasion but has used the expensive weapon sparingly and against priority targets, apparently reflecting limited availability.
The Russian military says the missile’s range is up to 2,000km (about 1,250 miles) and it can fly at 10 times the speed of sound. Its speed and heavy warhead allow the Kinzhal to destroy heavily-fortified targets, such as underground bunkers or mountain tunnels.
The Patriot system is one of an array of sophisticated air defence units supplied by the West to help Ukraine repel a Russian campaign of air attacks that has been aimed at critical infrastructure, power facilities and other sites.
Ukrainian military officials also said on Tuesday that Russian forces had been pushed back from the flanks of Bakhmut city, but that Moscow’s forces were pushing deeper inside the embattled town.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces had taken back about 20 square kilometres (7.7 square miles) of a Russian pincer movement around Bakhmut – the epicentre of the current fighting.
“At the same time, the enemy is advancing in some measure inside Bakhmut itself and is completely destroying the town with artillery,” she added on social media.
The United Kingdom’s defence ministry said that “over the last four days, Ukrainian forces have made tactical progress, stabilising the flanks of Bakhmut to their advantage”.
“As well as progress to the south of town, Ukrainian assaults have forced back the Russian front line to the north-west of the town,” the ministry said.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video shared by Russian military bloggers on Tuesday that a US volunteer had died fighting alongside Ukrainian troops in the east.
“He came to meet us. Citizen of the United States of America,” he said, showing what he claimed is the body of an American. It was not clear where or when the video was filmed.