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EXPLAINED: Arguments Rage Over Downed Hypersonic Missiles Versus ‘Destroyed’ Patriot

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Kyiv and Moscow have announced competing claims about the exact details of what happened during the exceptionally heavy missile attack on Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

What’s been said?

In comments made after the attack yesterday, Ukraine said Russia had launched a total of 18 missiles including six hypersonic “Kinzhal” missiles, all of which were intercepted and shot down.

Hailing what was an incredible performance by Kyiv’s air defense systems, Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter: “Another unbelievable success for the Ukrainian Air Forces! Last night, our sky defenders shot down SIX Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missiles and 12 other missiles.”

Another unbelievable success for the Ukrainian Air Forces! Last night, our sky defenders shot down SIX russian hypersonic Kinzhal missiles and 12 other missiles.80-1-6=❌

russian terrorists have no chance of prevailing over Ukraine. Their weapons can and should be countered by…

— Oleksii Reznikov (@oleksiireznikov) May 16, 2023

President Zelensky later told the Council of Europe via videoconference that “100 percent” of Russian missiles fired at Ukrainian territory on the night of Monday to Tuesday had been intercepted.

How did Russia respond?

On Tuesday the Russian defense ministry said that the overnight missile barrage  had hit all of the targets assigned by its military and that its long-range precision-strike missiles had been targeted against storage facilities housing “ammunition, weapons and military equipment supplied by Western countries.”

On Tuesday evening, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went further in addressing the specific claims about the six downed hypersonic missiles, saying: “Russia has not launched as many Kinzhals as (Ukraine) says it has shot down.”

Shoigu added: “A high-precision strike by the hypersonic Kinzhal missile hit a US-made Patriot anti-aircraft missile system in the city of Kyiv.”

Who is right?

As with anything that comes from the Kremlin, the Russian claims should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Although the Ukrainian claims of six downed hypersonic missiles has not yet been confirmed by any of Kyiv’s western allies, there is no doubt at all that the capital’s air defenses took out a large number of Russian missiles during the attack and in areas of the city observed by Kyiv Post reporters, no Russian missile was seen to hit any target.

What about the Patriot system?

US officials have admitted that a Patriot air defense battery stationed in Kyiv likely suffered some damage during the attack but that it was not destroyed.

Reuters reports that officials in Kyiv and Washington are already discussing how best to repair the unit.

On Wednesday Ukraine said the system continued to operate in Ukraine.

“Don’t worry, all is fine with the Patriot,” air force spokesman Yury Ignat told AFP. He declined to say if the sophisticated system had been damaged.

“The Patriot is in service,” Ignat added. “All is well.”

The Patriot – finally delivered to Ukraine in April – is one of the most advanced US air defense systems and typically consists of launchers along with radar and other support vehicles.

Russia’s claims to have destroyed western- supplied advanced weapons since the earliest days of the war. In May 2022 it claimed to have destroyed a major consignment of Western arms in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles and in July, shortly after the delivery of HIMARS rockets to Ukraine had been confirmed, Russia claimed to have destroyed two HIMARS launchers; claims that were later shown to be false.

Why is Russia so keen to deny Kyiv’s reports?

 Russia has a lot riding on its Kinzhal missiles, touted as “invincible” by Russian President Vladimir Putin on their unveiling in 2018, claiming their speed made them invulnerable to  most NATO air defense systems.

Unfortunately for Moscow, it was confirmed that Ukraine had shot one down for the first time in early May, using a US-supplied Patriot air defense system, shattering Putin’s myth and undermining the effectiveness of what had been categorized as one of his best weapons for his ongoing assaults against Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

The British Ministry of Defense in its daily assessment on Tuesday morning said the “apparent vulnerability” of the Kinzhal would be a “surprise and embarrassment” for the Kremlin and a boost to the morale and confidence of Ukraine’s armed forces.

Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 17 May 2023.

Find out more about Defence Intelligence’s use of language: https://t.co/cV0mFk5RY0

🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/y5MN5K28eL

— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) May 17, 2023

Chris York

Chris York

Chris is Kyiv Post’s Head of News and has over a decade of experience as a former senior editor and reporter at HuffPost UK. He has an MA in Conflict, Development, and Security and after a stint learning Russian, is now trying to forget it and learn Ukrainian instead.