NATO members to meet as Ukraine calls for 25 Patriot systems to defend against Russian attacks

A dog stands on a pile of rubble as rescuers work at the site of a destroyed building following deadly Russian missile strikes, in Chernihiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters - image credit)
A dog stands on a pile of rubble as rescuers work at the site of a destroyed building following deadly Russian missile strikes, in Chernihiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters - image credit)

As NATO members get set to meet with Ukraine on Friday amid a desperate appeal from the embattled country for more air-defence systems, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called on alliance members to send an additional six U.S.-made Patriot systems to Ukraine as it faces an increasing barrage of Russian aerial attacks.

Germany's move comes after it announced on Saturday that it was sending a third Patriot system to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says its military needs 25 of the expensive mobile units in order to down aircraft, ballistic missiles and drones — including Iranian-made Shahed drones that have been targeting the country's cities and infrastructure.

"Concrete decisions have to be taken in order to send to Ukraine more air defence," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters at a G7 summit of foreign ministers in Capri, Italy, on Thursday.

"Otherwise, the electricity system of Ukraine will be destroyed, and no country can fight without having electricity."

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says it has compiled data on the various defence systems available and is working with allies to ensure some of them are deployed to Ukraine.

But some defence experts doubt that the $1 billion US Patriot systems will be deployed on the kind of scale needed to make a real difference for Ukraine, which has been fighting a war since it was invaded by Russia just over two years ago — particularly given the increased focus on the Middle East and Israel's need for interceptor missiles for its air defence.

RValentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
RValentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Anger following Chernihiv attack

After at least 17 people were killed and dozens injured on Wednesday — when three missiles slammed into Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine, about 70 kilometres from the Russian border — Zelenskyy proclaimed on the online platform Telegram that the carnage could have been prevented if the country had been given sufficient air-defence systems and "the world's determination to counter Russian terror had been sufficient."

Zelenskyy's comments are a nod to the palpable frustration among those Ukrainian officials who have been pleading for more air-defence systems for months yet saw how global partners were able to rally last weekend when Israel came under attack by Iranian drones and missiles.

The United States, Britain and France helped down some 300 projectiles.

Mindaugas Kulbis/The Associated Press
Mindaugas Kulbis/The Associated Press

As Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba met his G7 colleagues in Italy on Thursday, he remarked on the two different responses: "Our job today is to find a way where our partners will design a mechanism, a way that will allow us also to avoid death and destruction in Ukraine," he told reporters.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russia fired more than 3,000 guided aerial bombs, 600 drones and 400 missiles at Ukraine in March, including 11 missiles that Zelenskyy said were launched at a major thermal power plant outside of Kyiv, the country's capital.

He said the military had only enough interceptors to bring down seven of the missiles. The rest hit the plant, destroying it.

The northeastern industrial city of Kharkiv, which sits 30 kilometres from the Russian border, has come under attack several times in recent months, killing dozens and causing power outages. The region's governor declared the shortage of missile defence systems "catastrophic."

Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters
Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters

Patriot defence system in high demand

Ukraine has said it believes its partners have 100 U.S. Patriot systems as part of their arsenals, but Marina Miron, a post-doctoral researcher in the war studies department at King's College London, said she doubts many of them will end up in Ukraine.

"It's a very difficult sell ... after everything that has already gone to Ukraine," she told CBC News during a phone interview. "You can only go so far if you are risking to undermine your own security as a state. That's where you draw the line."

According to data compiled by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the largest donor to Ukraine from January 2022 to January 2024 has been the European Union, which has pledged more than 80 billion euros ($117.3 billion Cdn) in military and financial aid, followed by the U.S. with a pledge of 67.7 billion euros ($99.3 billion). Canada has pledged 5.8 billion euros ($8.5 billion).

Miron said the Patriots are pricey, difficult to procure and in demand as Europe seeks to strengthen its own security in light of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

While a few additional air-defence systems might help protect Ukrainian infrastructure in the short term, she said, the looming question is who is going to produce and pay for all of the interceptor missiles that will be required as Russia keeps targeting the country with waves of relatively inexpensive drones.

Miron said Germany's decision to send one of its air-defence systems came as an abrupt pivot, after the country's foreign affairs minister had said just a few days earlier that Germany had nearly depleted its supply of Patriots.

Ints Kalnins/Reuters
Ints Kalnins/Reuters

She said she believes Germany's decision to send the weaponry and lobby for other countries to do the same is part of an effort to diffuse tensions with Ukraine over Berlin's refusal to send Kyiv some of its Taurus long-range missiles.

"Ukraine needs more than just one type of equipment," she said. "It's like a boat that has a lot of holes, and you're essentially plugging just one hole, hoping that it will not fill up with water."

Hope for long-delayed U.S. aid package

Even as Ukraine is buoyed by the prospect of the long-stalled $60-billion US military aid package that could be voted on as early as Saturday in the U.S. House of Representatives, there is frustration over the months of delays.

"It is not just about picking up the pace," Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of strategic industries, Oleksandr Kamyshin, said in a video interview from Kyiv. "It is about realizing that Russia is not standing still all this time. Russia is building up their own capabilities."

Until recently, he said, Ukraine had an 80 per cent success rate of shooting down the missiles and drones, but now that Russia has stepped up its attacks, it's less.

WATCH | Ukraine says if it received more aid, it could stop Russian attacks:

On Dec. 29, Ukraine said it was able to shoot down just over 70 per cent of the more than 150 cruise missiles and drones that were fired at the country in the largest aerial attack of the war, which killed more than 30.

Sak said that while Ukraine is grateful for the support it has received from other countries, people on the ground can't help but make comparisons to the response Israel received during last weekend's attack by Iran.

"It is easier for [military experts] to understand the nuances that separate these two war scenarios," he said. "But for ordinary people ... a lot of us felt abandoned and neglected."