Speed Reads

Shooting Daggers

Ukraine's Patriot air defense is dueling Russia's hypersonic Kinzhal missiles over Kyiv, and winning

Russia has ramped up its missile and drone strikes against Ukraine in May, throwing everything from Soviet-era rockets to new hypersonic missiles at Kyiv and other cities. Ukrainian air defense have shot down just about every projectile aimed at Kyiv, though a few missiles have struck other areas of the country. 

In its ninth overnight air assault this month, Moscow fired 30 cruise missiles at Kyiv and Odesa early Thursday, and Ukraine shot down 29 of them, the Ukrainian Air Force said. The 30th missile struck industrial infrastructure in Odesa, killing one person. Ukraine and Western analysts say Russia's strikes are designed to deplete Ukraine's air defense munitions ahead of an imminent counteroffensive and draw out Kyiv's increasingly sophisticated air defense tools, especially U.S.-built Patriot systems, so they can be destroyed.

Ukraine used a Patriot battery to shoot down Russia's most sophisticated missile, a Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic ballistic missile, on May 3. Russian President Vladimir Putin has bragged that Kinzhal missiles, which travel at more than five times the speed of sound and boast evasive maneuverability, are invincible, so their "apparent vulnerability" is "likely a surprise and an embarrassment for Russia," Britain's Ministry of Defense assessed Wednesday. 

The hypersonic missile was trying to destroy the Patriot system that shot it down, The New York Times reports. And Russia tried again early Tuesday, firing six Kinzhal missiles at Kyiv along with 12 other rockets. That exceptionally dense attack did cause "minor" damage to two components of one Patriot system, but it remains functional and "was never offline," U.S. officials told CNN.

Ukraine says it shot down all 18 missiles, including the six Kinzhal missiles. "We were told such missiles would bring a guaranteed death because they are supposedly impossible to shoot down," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday. "But all lives were protected. All missiles were shot down, including ballistic ones — 100%. This is a historical result."

Also Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that three Russian scientists working on hypersonic missile technology — Valery Zvegintsev, Anatoly Maslov and Alexander Shiplyuk — have been arrested and are facing "very serious accusations." Their colleagues at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Siberia said in an open letter Monday that the three scientists had been charged with "high treason," protested their innocence, and demanded clarity and an "urgent solution."

The scientists are among a growing number of Russians accused of treason since Moscow invaded Ukraine, with no apparent rhyme or reason, said human rights advocate Dmitry Zair-Bek. "Never, in more than two decades of covering Vladimir Putin's regime, have I seen it in such an obvious state of chaos and disarray," journalist Anna Nemtsova wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday.