The US is set to send Patriot air and missile defence batteries to Ukraine pending final approval from President Joe Biden, two US officials said on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s government has urgently sought the system, produced by Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, saying Patriots are needed to counter a relentless barrage of Russian missiles that have hit its military as well as civilian and energy infrastructure.
The decision to send the Patriot system may come within days, one of the officials said, but still requires a final sign-off by Mr Biden and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed western leaders as recently as Monday to provide more advanced weapons to help his country in its war with Russia.
Providing Patriot surface-to-air missiles would be a step up in the type of defence systems the West is sending to Ukraine — and could mark an escalation.
During a video conference on Monday, Mr Zelenskyy told leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers that his country needed long-range missiles, modern tanks, artillery and missile batteries, and other high-tech air defence systems to counter Russian attacks that have knocked out electricity and water supplies for millions of Ukrainians.
“Unfortunately, Russia still has an advantage in artillery and missiles,” he acknowledged.
He added that protecting Ukraine’s energy facilities from Russian missiles and Iranian drones “will be the protection of the whole of Europe, since with these strikes Russia is provoking a humanitarian and migration catastrophe not only for Ukraine, but also for the entire EU”.
The Patriot air defence system, the most exported US system, could provide greatly expanded, networked coverage against Russian aircraft and missiles.
The most advanced version fielded with the US Army has a “hit-to-kill” capability to ensure greater accuracy over earlier models that explode near a missile or aircraft.
Agencies contributed to this report