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‘Beef up’ Ukrainian air defence: former U.S. Def Sec on rocket strike in Poland

Mark Esper, former U.S. Defence Secretary during the administration of Donald Trump, explained to Times Radio in an interview on Wednesday, how NATO should respond to the tragic events of Tuesday, when a rocket crossed into Polish airspace and killed two men.

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At the time of the interview it was not yet clear whether the missile was fired by Russia from the territory of Belarus, or fired by Ukrainian air defence in an attempt to intercept a Russian missile, or perhaps even a combination of the two: a Russian rocket knocked off course by Ukrainian air defence.

However, later on Wednesday, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General said that the blast in southeastern Poland was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile but that Russia was ultimately responsible because it started the war.

One thing nevertheless became clear on Tuesday, a day that saw the greatest barrage of rocket and drone strikes yet on key Ukrainian infrastructure.

“If anything, it points out we have been late, insufficient in terms of providing the Ukrainians with air defences,” said Mr Esper.

One reason for this is patently obvious, according to the former Secretary of Defence. Russia is deliberately targeting Ukrainian infrastructure with hope of breaking the Ukrainian’s will ahead of winter.

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But the tragic death of the two men killed in Poland shows that Ukraine being able to mount a successful defence of its own air space is in the vital interest of its NATO neighbours.

“Think how many hundreds of miles [the missiles] likely traversed Ukrainian airspace before they landed accidentally in Poland, if that proves to be the case,” said Mr Esper, still operating on the premise that the missile could have been fired by the Russians. “Many, many opportunities to shoot these things down, and they weren’t because the Ukrainians don’t have sufficient air defences.”

When inquired on whether the incident should spur NATO into providing Ukraine with more weapons, Mr Esper responded affirmatively.

“Absolutely. We shouldn’t reach this point, I’m surprised we haven’t had something like that happen earlier. But yes, the air defences are woefully inadequate,” he said. As he stressed, “We have the means to provide them [Ukrainians] with any number of air defences.”

“We should be beefing up the Ukrainians so that they can withstand this pummeling and this terrorism that is being perpetrated on them by Moscow,” said Mr Esper.

There are hopes that the much needed air defence systems will materialise soon.

During a press briefing given on Tuesday by Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told the assembled reporters that a U.S.-Ukraine contact group will meet on Wednesday to discuss the kind of support in terms of weapons Ukraine will require.

“Certainly, as evidenced today by Russia’s air strikes, missile strikes against civilian targets in places like Kyiv, air defence continues to remain a priority and we’ll continue to work with Ukraine on how we can best support them from an air defence standpoint,” said Brig. Gen. Ryder.

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