The air battle over the Russia-Ukraine border has intensified over the past week and Moscow is worried about the waning aerial threat its forces pose in border regions with Ukraine, according to British defense officials.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) noted how Russia had lost several aircraft, including two advanced combat jets and two helicopters, allegedly shot down over the Russian border region of Bryansk on May 13 in an incident Kyiv claimed had been carried out by Moscow’s own air defense.
Earlier in May, Ukraine said it had shot down a Russian Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile— NATO reporting name Killjoy—using an American-supplied Patriot air defense system.
It was the first time Ukraine had successfully intercepted this type of missile since the start of the war, and led to Moscow “prioritizing” the neutralization of Ukraine’s air defense capabilities, the update said.
“The apparent vulnerability” of the nuclear-capable missile “is likely a surprise and an embarrassment for Russia,” said the British MOD referring to how Russian President Vladimir Putin had boasted that the system was unstoppable.
The increased air threat over the Bryansk region will be of “exceptional concern” for Russia’s air force because the area is used to “launch air power in support of the war,” the British defense officials added.
Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.
The assessment comes after Ukraine said it had shot down six Kinzhals fired by Russia on Monday night as part of an 18-missile barrage. Kyiv said all the missiles were intercepted. If confirmed, this would demonstrate the effectiveness of Ukraine’s newly deployed Western-supplied air defenses.
Fabian Hoffman, doctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo, said that Kyiv’s ability to intercept missiles “will cause Russian decision makers to ask some difficult questions.”
He told Newsweek that Ukraine’s purported success in stopping the Kinzhals demonstrates “the potency of Western missile defense, which is very effective.”
It also showed “the simple fact that Russia’s missile systems are clearly not as effective and as sophisticated as Russia has made them out to be.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine denied one of the hypersonic Kinzhal missiles had destroyed a Patriot missile defence system during Monday night’s airstrike, as claimed by Moscow.
Two U.S. officials said a Patriot system had probably suffered damage but that it did not appear to have been destroyed.
“Do not worry about the fate of the Patriot,” Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat told Ukrainian television, according to Reuters.
He said that destroying such a system with a missile like a Kinzhal was “impossible” and Russian “propaganda.”
“…the simple fact that Russia’s missile systems are clearly not as effective and as sophisticated as Russia has made them out to be.”
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