Retired US and European military leaders are pushing for advanced Ukraine air defenses

A group of senior retired US military officers and former defense chiefs of three Eastern European countries said they are calling for Ukraine’s military to be equipped with air defense capabilities to defend against attacks by the Russian air force an open letter seen by CNN.

Supplying Ukrainians with such weapons would allow them to shoot down planes or missiles in their airspace, and Ukrainians have specifically asked the US and Western countries to do so.

“The purpose of this letter is to urge, in the broadest possible sense, immediate action to equip the Ukrainian Armed Forces with a viable medium- and high-altitude air defense capability. They need an immediate restoration of their ability to defend themselves against Russian Air Force airstrikes,” write the retired military officials. “We cannot stand by and wish them well as Russia wages an all-out campaign of destruction against the Ukrainian government, its infrastructure and people.”

The move should stop at the creation of a no-fly zone, which the US and NATO have so far resisted over fears it could embroil the alliance in a war with a nuclear power.

Earlier this week, 27 foreign policy experts published an open letter calling on the Biden administration and the international community to establish a limited no-fly zone in Ukraine around humanitarian corridors.

The retired military leaders say NATO’s decision to reject a no-fly zone is “devastating for the Ukrainian government and the morale of the people”. They further claim that the delivery of medium- and high-altitude air defense capabilities would prevent the Russians from dominating Ukrainian “airspace while devastating Ukrainian cities.”

They state: “Some nations have air defense systems similar to those previously destroyed in the early days of the Russian campaign. These nations could transfer existing stocks of Soviet-era and Russian-made weapon systems to radars. Other nations can buy them on the international market and expedite their delivery to Ukraine.”

This proposal may have a better chance of success than the establishment of a no-fly zone, since providing the Ukrainian military with advanced air defense capabilities,

The Ukrainians already have some S300 missile systems – it’s a form of air defense – which means they’re trained to operate them. The Croatians and few other NATO countries have S300 in their inventory.

Turkey could use this as an opportunity to offload the S400s bought by Russia, a purchase that led to deep tensions within the NATO alliance.

The signers of the letter: These include General Phillip M. Breedlove, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Former defense chiefs of three Eastern European countries also signed the letter from Lt. Gen. Raimonds of Latvia; Lieutenant General Vytautas Jonas Žukas from Lithuania and General Riho Terras from Estonia.

A number of key former US Special Operations Forces leaders also signed the letter, including Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, former Deputy Commander of Special Operations Command; Vice Admiral Sean Pybus, former Deputy Commander of Special Operations Command; Lt. Gen. Francis M. Beaudette, former commanding general, Army Special Operations Command, and Maj. Gen. Michael S. Repass, former commander, Special Operations Command Europe.

CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling was also one of the signers of the letter.

More background: Her letter comes just a day after the head of Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday called for surface-to-air defense systems, no-fly zones over critical areas and fighter jets for Ukraine in a letter to US lawmakers, the letter verified by CNN said.

Chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk said there was a need for “military assistance capable of countering Russian attacks and military advances,” citing the Iron Dome as an example of the military equipment Ukraine needs.

Asked about providing this type of additional military support to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, she told lawmakers some of it was possible, but cited challenges with certain cutting-edge equipment.

“I would just say in terms of Iron Dome, you can’t just snap your fingers and you have an Iron Dome. It takes training, it takes the ability to incorporate it and all of that stuff. But there are other things on your list, on your list, that we think we can do,” Nuland said. She added that she could go into more detail in a secret setting.

Read the full letter below:

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