Ukraine says it shot down Russian hypersonic missiles for first time
An explosion of a missile is seen in the city during a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
By Gleb Garanich and Sergiy Karazy
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Tuesday it had shot down six Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missiles in a single night, thwarting a superweapon Moscow had previously touted as all but unstoppable.
It was the first time Ukraine had claimed to have struck an entire volley of multiple hypersonic missiles, and if confirmed would be a demonstration of the effectiveness of newly deployed Western air defences.
Air raid sirens blared across nearly all of Ukraine early on Tuesday and were heard over Kyiv and its region for more than three hours.
"The enemy's mission is to sow panic and create chaos. However, in the northern operational zone (including Kyiv), everything is under complete control," General Serhiy Naev, Commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces, said.
The six Kinzhals, ballistic missiles which travel at up to 10 times the speed of sound, were among a volley of 18 missiles Russia fired at Ukraine overnight, lighting up Kyiv with flashes and raining debris after they were blasted from the sky.
Russia's defence ministry said it had destroyed a U.S.-built Patriot surface-to-air missile defence system with a Kinzhal missile, the Zvezda military news outlet reported.
But the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said all had been successfully intercepted.
City authorities in the Ukrainian capital said three people were wounded by falling debris.
"It was exceptional in its density - the maximum number of attack missiles in the shortest period of time," Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv's city military administration, said on Telegram.
Zvezda quoted the Russian ministry as saying the attacks had been aimed at Ukrainian fighting units and ammunition storage sites.
Zaluzhnyi said his forces had intercepted the six Kinzhals launched from aircraft, as well as nine Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea and three Iskanders fired from land.
Earlier this month, Ukraine claimed to have shot down a single Kinzhal missile over Kyiv for the first time using a newly deployed U.S. Patriot air defence system.
The Kinzhal missile, whose name means dagger, can carry conventional or nuclear warheads up to 2,000 km. Russia used the weapon in warfare for the first time in Ukraine last year and has only acknowledged firing the missiles on a few occasions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently touted the Kinzhal as proof of world-beating Russian military hardware, capable of taking on NATO.
With Ukrainian forces preparing to go on the offensive for the first time in six months, Russia is now launching long-range air strikes at the highest frequency of the war.
It has launched eight drone and missile volleys so far this month, compared to weekly during the winter and a lull in March and April. Kyiv says it has been shooting most down.
The past week has seen Ukrainian forces make their biggest gains on the battlefield since last November, recapturing several square km of territory on the northern and southern outskirts of the battlefield city of Bakhmut. Moscow has acknowledged that some of its troops have retreated but denies that its battle lines are crumbling.
Kyiv says those advances are localised and do not yet represent the full force of its upcoming counteroffensive, which is expected to take advantage of hundreds of modern tanks and armoured vehicles sent by the West this year.
A Ukrainian counteroffensive would bring the next major phase of the war after a huge Russian winter offensive that failed to capture significant new territory despite the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.
Moscow mounted its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year and now claims to have annexed around a sixth of its neighbour's territory. Ukraine turned back Russian troops from the outskirts of Kyiv early in the war and recaptured territory in two counteroffensives in the second half of 2022, but has kept its forces on the defensive since November.
Russia says its invasion was necessary to counter a threat to its security posed by Kyiv's close ties to the West. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked and unlawful war of conquest, and Kyiv says it will not stop fighting until all Russian troops leave its land.
European leaders meanwhile were meeting in Iceland on Tuesday for a two-day Council of Europe summit meant to show their support for Ukraine.
According to a draft of the final declaration seen by Reuters, the leaders will approve a new Register of Damages, a mechanism to record and document evidence and claims of damage, loss or injury incurred as a result of the Russian invasion.
European leaders such as Germany's Olaf Scholz, Britain's Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron are attending the summit, which Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address via videolink.
(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Dan Peleschuk, Maria Starkova, Lidia Kelly; Writing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan; editing by Frank Jack Daniel)