US admits ‘Patriot’ role in POW plane downing – NYT
The American-supplied Patriot launcher was used in the January 24 shooting down of the Russian Il-76 transport over Belgorod, the New York Times confirmed on Thursday, citing anonymous US officials.
The plane was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners scheduled to be exchanged that afternoon, along with three observers and six crew. There were no survivors. Ukraine initially claimed the kill, then said the planes were legitimate targets because they had been delivering missiles, then called for an investigation into what happened.
Reports that a Patriot missile had been used to shoot down the plane “were accurate,” officials told the Times privately, on condition of anonymity, as the US government had no public comment. The missile was supplied to Ukraine by “a European partner,” the officials claimed, without naming the country.
In addition to the US, Germany and the Netherlands have supplied Kiev with the Patriot systems and missiles.
American officials also told the NYT the Ukrainian military may not have known the POWs were on board and that the strike was based on “legitimate but flawed intelligence” because the same plane had been used to transport Russian missiles.
It “appeared probable that at least some” people on board may have been Ukrainian prisoners, but Russia “may have overstated” the number of deaths, according to unnamed US officials.
“If there were prisoners on the plane, as appears likely, American officials said the loss of life was regrettable,” the newspaper noted.
Most of the article focused on the “innovative” use of Patriots by the Ukrainians, who claim to have shot down almost a dozen Russian fighter jets with it since May last year. The NYT and US officials took those claims at face value.
The Patriot was originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, but was repurposed for ballistic missile interception during the First Gulf War in 1991. Its actual effectiveness was rather low, contrary to the image nurtured in the media.
While initial reports on the demise of the Russian transport suggested a French-made missile may have been involved, the French military quickly issued a statement attributing the shoot-down to the US-made Patriot.
According to Russia’s Investigative Committee, the Il-76 was brought down by two MIM-104A surface-to-air missiles, launched from a Patriot battery located near the village of Liptsy, around 10km from the Russian border in Kharkov Region. The US government has estimated the price of each missile at $4 million or so.
Moscow has accused Kiev of crimes against its own citizens and Washington of complicity in the tragic death of Ukrainian POWs.