(CNN) — Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s power grid are targeting the entire population, plunging people into the dark and cold, and pushing the US closer to sending in the long-sought Patriot missile defense system for the Ukrainian government.
But news, first reported by CNN, that the United States is finalizing plans to ship the system to Ukraine prompted a cryptic warning from the Russian embassy in the United States of “unpredictable consequences” on Wednesday.
Sending Patriot missiles would be seen as an escalation by the United States, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova added on Thursday.
“Previously, many experts, including those from abroad, questioned the rationality of such a step that would lead to an escalation of the conflict and increase the risk of directly drawing the US military into combat,” Zakharova told a briefing in Moscow.
The Patriot system is expensive and complicated, requiring intensive training for the many people needed to operate it, but it could help the country protect itself against Russian attacks that have left millions without power.
Asked Thursday about Russian warnings that the Patriot system would be “provocative,” Pentagon press secretary Gen. Pat Ryder said such comments would not influence US aid to Ukraine.
“I find it ironic and highly revealing that officials of a country that brutally attacked its neighbor in an unprovoked and illegal invasion… choose to use words like provocative to describe defensive systems intended to save lives and protect civilians.” Ryder told reporters.
“Despite Russia’s victimization propaganda, it’s important to remember that Russia is the aggressor here,” he said.
However, he added: “The United States is not at war with Russia and we are not seeking a conflict. Our goal is to provide Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself.”
Ryder also said the United States would expand its training of the Ukrainian armed forces with exercises in Europe.
Russia’s growing nuclear rhetoric
Frustrated on the battlefield and low on ammunition, Russian officials appear to have embraced nuclear rhetoric in recent weeks.
In what may be a message no less subtle than calling Patriot deployments provocative, the Russian Defense Ministry shared a video of the installation of a “Yars” intercontinental ballistic missile in a launcher silo in the Kaluga region for the which Alexei Sokolov, commander of the Kozelsky Missile Formation, called “combat duty as planned”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said the threat of nuclear war was growing and suggested his country might abandon its “no first-mover” nuclear weapons doctrine, under which Russia has said it would only use weapons nuclear weapons to defend their homeland. Putin’s comments came after drone strikes hit military infrastructure deep inside Russia. The Russian military blamed Ukraine for the attacks.
Appearing on Russian state television this week, Commander Alexander Khodakovsky of the Russian militia in the Donetsk region suggested that Russia could not defeat the NATO alliance in a conventional war.
“But we have nuclear weapons for that,” Khodakovsky said, according to the CNN translation.
What you should know about the Patriot defense system
The Patriot system is a long-range conventional defense system that the US has provided to multiple allies around the world.
It requires a relatively large number of personnel to train, according to CNN’s Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann, who first reported that the United States is close to shipping the system to Ukraine.
From the Starr and Liebermann report:
Unlike smaller air defense systems, Patriot missile batteries need much larger crews, requiring tens of people to operate them properly. Training for Patriot missile batteries normally takes several months, a process the United States will now carry out under the pressure of almost daily airstrikes from Russia.
The system is widely considered to be one of the most capable long-range weapons for defending airspace against incoming cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as against some aircraft. Due to its long-range and high-altitude capability, it can potentially shoot down Russian missiles and aircraft far from its intended targets inside Ukraine.
Half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure destroyed
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has long sought more long-range missile systems from Washington and NATO allies. In a conversation with US President Joe Biden last Sunday, Zelensky thanked Washington for its continued support and called for more air defense help. He told Biden that “Russian missile terror” has destroyed about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
In an interview with The Economist published on Thursday, Zelensky also rejected the idea recently suggested by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Ukraine seeks to recover only land seized by Russia since February 2022 and not areas like Donbas. and Crimea, which have been under Russian control since 2014.
“This would not be an end,” Zelensky said.
Help Ukraine without getting directly involved
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told French outlet France 24 this week, ahead of the development on the Patriot system, that the alliance still has two main goals: to provide aid to Ukraine and also to make sure that NATO forces do not get directly involved and escalate the war.
“We don’t have NATO troops on the ground. We don’t have NATO planes flying over Ukraine. But we are supporting Ukraine in its right to defend itself, ”he said.
He added that despite Russia’s threats on nuclear weapons, no change in Russia’s nuclear posture has been detected, but Putin’s rhetoric “is itself reckless and dangerous.”