A Pentagon official said Russia is attempting to deplete Ukraine’s air defense systems.

Pentagon’s top policy adviser Colin Kahl warned that Moscow wanted to deplete Ukrainian air defenses, which have so far prevented the Russian military from dominating the skies over Ukraine.

Kahl said during a visit to the Middle East that the Russians are trying to overwhelm and exhaust Ukrainian air defense systems. Russia’s increased missile strikes in Ukraine are partly intended to exhaust Kyiv’s air defenses and finally seize control of the skies over the country.

Colin Kahl
Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Adviser to the Vice President at the time, speaking at a talk about the Iran Deal hosted by Center for Strategic & International Studies. (Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies/Wikimedia)

“I think one of the things that probably surprised the Russians the most is how resilient Ukraine’s air defenses have been since the beginning of this conflict,” he said.

Since the beginning of Moscow’s invasion nearly nine months ago, Russia has been bombarding cities across Ukraine with missiles, causing one of the heaviest waves of missile strikes in recent days.

Ukraine says the strikes have virtually wiped out nearly half of the country’s energy infrastructure, creating a potential humanitarian catastrophe as winter approaches, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

“They are determined to destroy our power grids,” said Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, in a speech at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.

“The calculation is simple: a humanitarian catastrophe. Moscow always considers frost and darkness as its allies. It always uses the deprivation of basic life needs as a war tool. It always despises humanitarian law. Russia is a terrorist state,” Yermak added.

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Western military experts predicted that the Russian military would immediately try to destroy Ukraine’s air force and air defenses after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. This is a core element of modern military strategy, allowing better air support for advancing ground forces.

Most are aware of the Russian notion of victory, but the Ukrainians are dedicated to preventing it from succeeding by ensuring that they have the air defenses they require.

“A Ukrainian victory would be the best outcome for European leaders, but many are aware that Russia is unlikely to accept defeat. Striking a balance between this morally correct best-case scenario and an existential threat is one of the key challenges European leaders now,” wrote Marie Dumoulin, Director of the Wider Europe Programme.

Russian Air Force
Russian Air Force, 052, 054, Sukhoi Su-57 (Source: Anna Zvereva/Flickr)

Rather than having Ukrainian troops with surface-to-air rockets and other air defenses threaten Russian aircraft and the skies above Ukraine remained contested, Russian aircraft and the skies above Ukraine remain contested to this day.

Russia’s failure to achieve its objectives in Ukraine in the early phases of the conflict has been a critical factor in the country’s difficulties.

The resilience of Ukraine’s air defenses has surprised Russia the most, Kahl said.

Senior administration officials said that thanks to the inventiveness and cleverness of the Ukrainians themselves in keeping their air defense systems viable, as well as the United States’ and other allies’ and partners’ substantial support, large numbers of Ukrainian troops, are still in the fight against Russian-backed separatists.

During a virtual meeting at the Pentagon last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin focused on providing air defense supplies for Ukraine. Ukraine’s allies have provided everything from legacy Soviet-era systems to more contemporary Western ones.

Kahl also said that the Ukrainians had been transitioned toward NATO equipment standards across the board, including air defense systems like the NASAMS.

The Pentagon says that 100% of the NASAMS air defense systems provided by the United States have successfully intercepted Russian missiles in Ukraine.

So far, the United States has supplied over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, counter-artillery radar, and air surveillance radar systems to Ukraine.