Russia warned the U.S. on Thursday that it risked escalating the war in Ukraine if it pushed ahead with plans to equip Kiev with sophisticated air defense missile systems, warning Washington it would face ‘consequences.’
Unnamed U.S. officials this week said the Pentagon was preparing to send Patriot missile systems to Ukraine as Russia bombarded its power infrastructure from the air.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the U.S. had ‘effectively become a party to the war.’
The transfer of such sophisticated weapons, she added, ‘would mean even broader involvement of military personnel in the hostilities and could entail possible consequences.’
She did not specify what those consequences might be.
Senior administration officials on Tuesday said Washington was ready to supply a Patriot missile battery, after Ukraine had asked for more help in shooting down incoming missiles.
The country’s infrastructure has been under sustained assault as Russia tries to freeze Ukraine by hitting energy supplies during the bitter winter months.
Operating and maintaining a Patriot battery requires as many as 90 troops, and for months the U.S. has been reluctant to provide the complex system because sending American forces into Ukraine to operate the systems is a nonstarter for the Biden administration.
Even without the presence of U.S. service members to train Ukrainians on the system, concerns remain that deployment of the missiles could provoke Russia or, worse, see a Patriot land inside Russia.
While officials have briefed privately that Biden and Defense Secretary are close to signing off on the plan, the Department of Defense this week declined to comment on the reports.
Russia has already said the Patriot systems would be a legitimate target for its armed forces.
Ukraine has so far been cautious in reacting to the reports. 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 President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov would make any official announcement on such an agreement.
White House and Pentagon leaders have said consistently that providing Ukraine with additional air defenses is a priority, and Patriot missiles have been under consideration for some time.
As the winter closed in and the Russian bombardment of civilian infrastructure escalated, officials said, the idea became a higher priority.
Emergency electricity shutdowns have begun around the country as temperatures drop below freezing.
The state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo warned in a statement on Facebook that damage caused to energy infrastructure by Russian attacks is being compounded by harsh weather, including snow, ice and strong winds.
Maximum temperatures in the capital were forecast to barely climb above freezing heading into the weekend. Even colder weather is expected next week.
The southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was left completely without power following Russian shelling on Thursday, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, who wrote on Telegram. He added that two people were killed in the attacks.
Heavy shelling of the city’s Korabelny district was still under way in the afternoon, and Russian shells hit 100 yards from the regional administration building, he said.
Amid the infrastructure attacks and power outages across the country, seven civilians were killed and 19 wounded on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a report issued by the Ukrainian president’s office.
The head of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, Pavlo Kyrylenko, reported that Russian strikes the previous day had killed two civilians and wounded seven.
Kremlin-backed authorities in the region, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in September, announced that Russia had taken control of 80% of the city of Marinka, seen as critical to Ukrainian hopes of retaking the Russian-held regional capital, Donetsk.
The Moscow-installed mayor of Donetsk, Aleksei Kulemzin, said Thursday that the city center had been hit by ‘the most massive strike’ since the area came under the control of Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
Writing on Telegram, Kulemzin said 40 Ukrainian rockets struck Donetsk on Thursday morning, noting that multistory residential buildings were hit and that fires broke out at a hospital and university campus.