By Stefaniia Bern
KYIV (Reuters) -President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a new call for foreign help strengthening Ukraine’s air defences against Russian air strikes during talks on Friday with three members of the U.S. Congress.
An air force spokesperson echoed Zelenskiy’s appeal, saying the world must prevent Tehran providing Moscow with ballistic missiles in addition to the “kamikaze” drones which Kyiv says Russia is using in its attacks on Ukraine.
Zelenskiy said his talks with U.S. Congressmen Mike Turner, James Himes and Eric Swalwell had covered the armed forces’ priority needs, repairs to damaged energy facilities and Ukrainian demands for tougher sanctions on Russia.
“It is important for Ukraine to receive air defence systems in the necessary quantity to create an ‘air shield’,” Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app following the talks.
He said the visit to Kyiv was “a bold step that demonstrates strong bicameral and bipartisan support for Ukraine”, adding: “It confirms that the United States is our strategic partner.”
Russia has stepped up attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities and cities since Oct. 10, using missiles and what Kyiv says are Iranian-made Shahed-136 attack drones.
Air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said Ukraine’s air defences were proving increasingly effective against the drones but indicated they were less effective against missiles.
“If we take the last two weeks and the results in taking down drones, our air defence is 85% effective,” Ihnat told a briefing. “Now we’ve learned to recognise them and shoot them down more effectively.”
UKRAINIAN CONCERNS ABOUT IRAN
Tehran denies supplying Shahed-136 drones to Moscow and the Kremlin denies its forces have used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine. But two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters that Iran has promised to provide Russia with surface to surface missiles, in addition to more drones.
“Ukraine currently doesn’t have effective air defence systems against ballistic missiles. Iran will likely supply those (to Russia), unless the world finds a way to stop it,” Ihnat said.
The United States has dismissed Iran’s denial that it has sold the drones to Moscow and said Iranian military trainers are in annexed Crimea helping Russian forces operate the drones.
Ihnat said this was a matter for Ukrainian and Western intelligence but added: “It’s obvious they are there, for me personally. They are teaching and maybe even participating in military action.”
Ukraine has been aided by the delivery of sophisticated air defence systems from allies including the first of four IRIS-T air defence systems from Germany.
“One of those systems is already working in Ukraine. The only thing is we obviously can’t say where it is and how it works,” Ihnat said. “Iris had shown itself to be very useful, and its capability has been proven under military conditions.”
(Reporting by Stefaniia Bern, Editing by Timothy Heritage)