Russia sternly warned Thursday of "unpredictable repercussions" if the Biden administration moves forward with plans to equip Ukraine with the Patriot missile system, the United States' most advanced air defense weapon, to assist it in combating Russian invasions.
Kyiv has pressed the U.S. and other Western powers for more advanced weapons to counter a barrage of deadly missiles and drones targeting civilian infrastructure, but on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the Western arms flowing into Ukraine would be "legitimate targets" for Russian forces.
Despite numerous reports in Washington this week that the Patriots' relocation was in the works, a Pentagon spokesperson refused to confirm on Thursday that President Biden was prepared to sign off on the transfer within the next few days.
The United States and its allies have shown strong support for Ukraine, but have stressed they have no desire for a direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia.
According to Russian authorities, the rising degree of support, which includes a separate, recently-announced proposal to expand the training program for Ukrainian forces in Western Europe, essentially draws the United States and its NATO allies into the conflict.
The Russian Embassy in Washington stated last week that the Biden administration's Patriot transfer would be "yet another aggressive measure."
"Continued delivery of armaments would only bolster [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy's sense of impunity and urge it to commit further crimes against people in the Donbas, Kherson, and Zaporozhe areas," embassy officials wrote on Telegram.
In a briefing on Thursday, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, argued that Washington had "essentially become a party" to the conflict due to its growing support for Kiev. Adding Patriot defense systems to the mix, she said, would be "another aggressive action by the U.S." and increase its engagement in the conflicts, "with potential repercussions."
Ms. Zakharova stated, "Any weapons systems provided to Ukraine, including the Patriot, as well as the personnel maintaining them, have been and will continue to be legitimate priority targets for the Russian military."
The United States and other NATO allies have equipped Ukraine with short- and medium-range air defense systems capable of intercepting Russian planes and unmanned aerial vehicles, but not the ballistic and cruise missiles that Ukrainian cities are increasingly threatened by.
Even if the Patriot contract falls through, the United States is "increasingly dragged into the conflict" with its security assistance to Ukraine, which has exceeded $19.3 billion since the incursion in late February, according to Russian authorities.
"Both the flow of weaponry and the training of service members are increasing," the embassy reported. "Intelligence information is being sent to the Ukrainian assistance. Sending American military specialists to the war zone is a topic that is increasingly explored. In addition, U.S. citizens participate in the confrontation as mercenaries.”
On Thursday, a Pentagon spokesperson said he thought it “ironic and very telling” that Russia would consider the Patriot system, which is meant primarily to defend against air strikes, to be a provocative piece of military hardware. After their early land attacks were rebuffed, Russian forces shifted to an aggressive drone and cruise missile campaign, targeting cities and Ukraine’s vulnerable electrical infrastructure.
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder stated that Russia "brutally invaded its neighbor in an illegal and unprovoked invasion" and "deliberately targets and murders innocent civilians while destroying civilian infrastructure."
General Ryder told reporters, "Despite Russia's propaganda to portray themselves as victims, it is crucial to remember that Russia is the aggressor here."
Thursday, the European Union approved a new set of sanctions against Russia in response to the conflict in Ukraine. EU states have approved a ninth set of sanctions against Russian firms and persons. According to media reports, Friday's expected announcement of a compromise agreement with European ambassadors is expected to involve over 200 persons.
Additionally on Thursday, the Pentagon stated that U.S. military personnel will train Ukrainian soldiers in combined weapons maneuvers. Beginning at the beginning of next year, American instructors will instruct approximately 500 Ukrainian soldiers per month, the equivalent of a small battalion.
Since the invasion, U.S. troops have instructed Ukrainians in the use of weapons such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and the FGM-148 Javeline anti-tank missile. The training will take place at the German Army base in Grafenwohr. It will emphasize company- and battalion-level maneuvers in the field, as well as command post drills at higher levels.
Before the outbreak of hostilities, U.S. Army Special Forces and National Guard members were conducting training in Ukraine.
General Ryder stated, "We will remain flexible and adaptable based on the demands of our Ukrainian allies and the unfolding situation in Ukraine." "Training has been crucial to ensuring that Ukraine's armed forces have the required skills to protect itself."
Officials of Mr. Zelenskyy's government appeared to recognize the sensitivity involved in deploying the Patriots, which have thus far been limited to close U.S. military partners.
The Associated Press reported that Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, told reporters Thursday in Kyiv that the delivery of such weaponry remains “sensitive not only for Ukraine but for our partners” and that only Mr. Zelenskyy or Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov would make any official announcement on such an agreement.
According to the Associated Press, the operation and maintenance of a Patriot battery requires as many as 90 men, which is a primary reason why the Pentagon has rejected past requests from Kyiv. Even if the defensive batteries are staffed by Ukrainian soldiers with rushed training, there is danger that a Patriot defensive missile could wander and land in Russia.