Responding to reports that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine as the country endures waves of deadly Russian missile strikes, a top Kremlin official said Thursday that such a move would be viewed as an escalation in hostilities.
Citing anonymous sources, CNN reported Tuesday that a Pentagon plan to send an unknown quantity of Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile systems is awaiting approval by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin before being sent to President Joe Biden's desk.
"We strongly advise those who make decisions in Washington to listen at last, if not to us, then at least to themselves, to draw the right conclusions from our repeated warnings that any weapons systems supplied to Ukraine, including Patriot systems, respectively, with the operating personnel, have been and remain legitimate priority targets for the Russian Armed Forces," Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters Thursday during her weekly press conference in Moscow.
"Given the growing amounts of direct U.S. military aid, including the presence of U.S. servicemen on the ground, the transfer of such sophisticated weaponry, the handling of which requires months of training, would mean an expansion of the involvement of regular U.S. military personnel in combat operations with all the ensuing consequences," she added.
On Wednesday, the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. said that "an information campaign has been launched in the U.S. about alleged preparations for sending cutting-edge air defense systems to Kyiv."
"If this is confirmed, we will witness yet another provocative step by the [Biden] administration that may lead to unpredictable consequences," the embassy continued. "Even without delivery of the Patriot systems, the United States is increasingly drawn into the conflict in the post-Soviet republic. The weapons flow is growing, the training of servicemen is expanding. The Ukrainian army is being supplied with intelligence data. Sending American military specialists to the combat zone is discussed more and more often. In addition, U.S. citizens participate in the confrontation as mercenaries."
If approved, the Patriot systems would be shipped to a U.S. Army base in Grafenwöehr, Germany, where Ukrainian troops would be trained in their operation. Patriot missiles—which have a range of up to 100 miles—are deployed to intercept other missiles and can also shoot down crewed aircraft.
Ukraine—which is suffering a devastating onslaught of Russian missiles as President Vladimir Putin's faltering invasion nears its 10th month—has long sought the battle-proven Patriot to counter one of Russia's most destructive tactics.
However, anti-war activists fear Moscow could come to view the deluge of state-of-the-art Western weaponry as an intolerable provocation warranting a military response.
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 6,700 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and over 10,600 others have been wounded by Russian forces, although OHCHR "believes that the actual figures are considerably higher."
"Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects," OHCHR added, "including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles, and airstrikes."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Brett Wilkins.