American soldiers will not operate Patriot missile batteries slated to be shipped to Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, citing recent talks through diplomatic backchannels. Moscow previously threatened to destroy the advanced air defense systems should they reach the battlefield.
The FM detailed rare discussions between US and Russian officials during an interview on Wednesday, saying his country had received assurances that Patriots sent to Kiev will not be accompanied by US personnel.
“We asked the Americans via the channels that our embassy still has whether the decision to send Patriot systems [to Ukraine] means that American specialists will be there as well, considering the complexity of operation of these systems,” he said.
We were told at length that this is not being planned specifically because the Americans do not want and will not fight against Russia directly; the Patriot systems will be deployed within several months, as Ukrainian servicemen familiarize themselves with this technology.
Earlier this month, CNN was the first to report that Washington had nearly finalized plans to supply Patriot batteries, noting that Ukrainian troops would be trained on the system at the US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
Just days later, following a White House visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Pentagon unveiled another $1.85 billion in lethal aid for Kiev, including a lone Patriot battery – made up of launchers, radar and a control station – and ammunition.
The decision marked the twenty-eighth military package for Ukraine drawn from US stockpiles since Russia’s invasion last February, bringing direct aid to just shy of $22 billion. That sum does not include funds spent under the separate Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which looks to procure arms from the weapons industry rather than existing American arsenals.
Russian officials previously said any Patriot missiles sent to Kiev would quickly become legitimate targets, with President Vladimir Putin claiming that “the Patriot is a rather old system” while vowing to find an “antidote” to the air defense platform.
While the US military initially insisted it would not provide Patriots to Ukraine due to the lengthy training period and large number of personnel needed to operate them, the Pentagon has apparently reversed course on that stance. It is unclear what has changed in the months since, and officials have not provided an exact timeframe for when the system will be ready for use by Ukrainian forces, only saying it will take “several months.”