Zelensky throws down challenge to West over 'immobile' Patriot systems.

Kiev has doubled its calls for the currently unused Patriot air defense systems after NATO pledged to boost its supplies to Ukraine to protect the country's skies.

“Air defense systems can be called ‘patriots’ only if they work and save lives instead of standing still somewhere in storage bases,” Volodymyr Zelensky said in a social media post on Sunday. “The patriots must be in the hands of the Ukrainians now.”

Intense Russian aerial bombardment has forced Ukraine to intensify its increasingly desperate search for ground-based air defences. Moscow launched missile strikes on vital infrastructure and residential areas in Ukraine.

Patriot bombers north of Athens at Tatoi Military Air Base, July 30, 2004, in Tatoi, Greece. “Patriots can only be called air defense systems if they work and save lives instead of standing still somewhere…

Milos Pecanski/Getty Images

US-made Patriot missiles, the gold standard of air defense credited with intercepting Russia's supposedly unstoppable hypersonic missiles, are at the top of Kiev's wish list.

“Give us the damned patriots,” Kiev Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Politico in late March. Shortly after, Zelensky said the country needed 25 Patriot systems, with up to eight batteries each, “to cover the whole of Ukraine.” Kuliba said Washington Post Earlier this month, securing seven systems was his immediate priority.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday that Berlin will provide Kiev with a third Patriot system, and he urged other European leaders to increase donations to air defense.

Attention quickly turned to the number of Patriot systems available to Kiev, after years of declining defense spending in Europe raised concerns about NATO's ground protection devices.

European militaries have about 100 Patriot batteries, said Josep Borrell, the European Union's top diplomat. But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there were “significantly” fewer than 100 in Europe.

“We know that many countries are sitting on large piles of Patriot systems and may not want to hand them over directly,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday. “We can buy it from them, we can deliver it to Ukraine, and we have the funds available. It's critical.”

Burrell said Thursday that there were Patriot systems available in the barracks, stored “just in case.”

Stoltenberg told the media on Friday following a NATO-Ukraine Council meeting that the alliance would strengthen Ukraine's air defense arsenal.

“NATO has identified existing capabilities across the alliance and there are systems that can be made available to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Kuleba said earlier this month that “active negotiations” were underway for two more Patriot systems, without elaborating. Financial Times It was reported that Ukraine was holding talks with Spain and Poland regarding these systems, citing anonymous officials.

The US House of Representatives on Saturday approved more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine after potentially game-changing aid for Kiev languished in Congress for months mired in political infighting. Lawmakers also agreed to provide billions more in aid to other US allies. The Senate will now vote on the package, before it heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.

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Matthew Saville, director of military science at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute, said air and missile defense systems were likely to be a priority in this package after Ukraine exhausted much of its resources against recent Russian air strikes.