Ukraine claims to have shot down Russian hypersonic missile in ‘slap in face’ for Putin

It comes as a car bomb wounds prominent Russian nationalist writer and kills his driver

David Rising
Saturday 06 May 2023 19:14 BST
<p>A Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet carries a high-precision hypersonic aero-ballistic missile Kh-47M2 Kinzhal</p>

A Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet carries a high-precision hypersonic aero-ballistic missile Kh-47M2 Kinzhal

Ukraine's air force has claimed to have downed a Russian hypersonic missile over Kyiv using newly-acquired American Patriot defence systems – the first known time the country has been able to intercept one of Moscow's most modern missiles.

Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk said that the Kinzhal-type ballistic missile had been intercepted in an overnight attack on the Ukrainian capital earlier in the week. It was also the first time Ukraine is known to have used the Patriot defence systems.

It comes as Kyiv accused Moscow of using phosphorus munitions in the eastern city of Bakhmut. Drone footage released by the Ukrainian military shows parts of the city – the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war – ablaze as what is alleged to be white phosphorus rains down.

Phosphorus weapons are not banned in their entirety, given their use for creating smoke screens or illumination. However, the use of white phosphorus, or other munitions designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries, in civilian areas is considered a war crime. Writing on Twitter, Ukraine's defence ministry said the attack had targeted "unoccupied areas of Bakhmut with incendiary ammunition".

On Saturday, the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper quoted military officials as saying that "the enemy used phosphorus and incendiary ammunition in Bakhmut in an attempt to wipe the city off the face of the Earth”.

The allegations could not be independently verified and it is not clear exactly when the alleged attack took place. Russian forces have not commented on the claim, but have rejected all previous accusations from Ukraine that they had used phosphorus.

As for the hypersonic weapon, General Oleshchuk said the Kh-47 missile was launched by a MiG-31K aircraft from the Russian territory and was shot down with a Patriot missile. "Yes, we shot down the 'unique' Kinzhal," Gen Oleshchuk wrote in a Telegram post. "It happened during the night-time attack on May 4 in the skies of the Kyiv region."

The Kinzhal – which means "dagger" in Russian – is one of the latest and most advanced Russian weapons. The Russian military says the air-launched ballistic missile has a range of up to 2,000 kilometres (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, making it hard to intercept. A combination of hypersonic speed and a heavy warhead allows the Kinzhal to destroy heavily fortified targets, like underground bunkers or mountain tunnels.

Russia, which did not immediately comment on Ukraine's statement about the Kinzhal, has in the past boasted that the missile has no equivalent in the West. The Ukrainian military has previously admitted lacking assets to intercept the Kinzhals.

"They were saying that the Patriot is an outdated American weapon, and Russian weapons are the best in the world," Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said on Ukraine's Channel 24 television. "Well, there is confirmation that it effectively works against even a super hypersonic missile." Ihnat said.

He said successfully intercepting the Kinzhal is "a slap in the face for Russia" – led by President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine took its first delivery of the Patriot missiles in late April. It has not specified how many of the systems it has or where they have been deployed, but they are known to have been provided by the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.

The Patriot was first deployed by the US in the 1980s. The system costs approximately $4m (£3.1m) per missile, and the launchers cost about $10m each, according to analysts. At such a cost, it was widely thought that Ukraine would only use the Patriots against Russian aircraft or hypersonic missiles.

In a Telegram post on Saturday, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces, said he had thanked US General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, for American aid to Ukraine.

General Zaluzhnyi said he also briefed General Milley "about the situation at the front and preparations" for Ukraine's long-expected counteroffensive against Russia. Ukraine has not said when it might launch the counteroffensive, but it is widely anticipated to be soon.

Elsewhere, a prominent Russian nationalist writer, Zakhar Prilepin, was wounded in a car bombing that killed his driver on Saturday, an attack that Russia immediately blamed on Ukraine and the West.

The state Investigative Committee said the writer's Audi Q7 was blown up in a village in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 250 miles (400km) east of Moscow, which it was treating as an act of terrorism. It said Mr Prilepin had been taken to hospital.

An interior ministry spokeswoman said a suspect had been arrested. State news agency TASS quoted security sources as saying the suspect was a "native of Ukraine" with a past conviction for robbery with violence. The novelist is an outspoken champion of Russia's war in Ukraine and has boasted of taking part in military combat there. He was the third prominent pro-war figure to be targeted by a bomb since Moscow's full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February 2022.

Russia has blamed Ukraine for the deaths of journalist Darya Dugina and war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in the two previous attacks, and Kyiv has denied involvement.

In other developments, officials in both Russia and Ukraine said they had carried out another of their regular exchanges of prisoners of war. The Russian Defence Ministry said it brought three military pilots back to Russia, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said 45 fighters who defended the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol had been returned to Ukraine.

Associated Press

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