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Russia’s air force has so far “underperformed” in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, helping even the battlefield for ground forces as the fighting shifts to the east four months into the war, the British defense ministry said this week.
“Its failure to consistently deliver air power is likely one of the most important factors behind Russia’s very limited campaign success,” the UK said.
“It cannot gain full air superiority and has operated in a risk-averse style, rarely penetrating deep behind Ukrainian lines.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy routinely pushed for a no-fly zone to be enforced by the U.S. and NATO allies at the outset of the invasion, but has since abandoned those calls.
The U.S. and NATO allies have sent billions in military aid to Ukraine over the past four months. The latest $700 million weapons package included more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, as well as Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, anti-armor weapons, helicopters, tactical vehicles, and other arms.
Aside from Western support, the UK also blamed the Russian air force’s lackluster performance on “heavily scripted” air combat training that is “designed to impress senior officials, rather than to develop dynamic initiative” among air crews.
“While Russia has an impressive roster of relatively modern and capable combat jets, the air force has almost certainly failed to develop the institutional culture and skill-sets required for its personnel to meet Russia’s aspiration of delivering a more Western-style modern air campaign,” the UK defense ministry said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Kyiv last week for the second time since the war broke out, pledging to support the Ukrainian army against Russia.
“All the evidence is that Putin’s troops are under acute pressure themselves and they are taking heavy casualties. Their expenditure of munitions, of shells and other weaponry is colossal,” Johnson said in Kyiv.
“After our 114 days of attack on Ukraine, they have still not achieved the objectives they set out for the first week.”
General Sir Patrick Sanders, the chief of the British army, also reiterated the UK’s support for Ukraine in a message to his troops this month.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underlines our core purpose – to protect the UK and to be ready to fight and win wars on land – and reinforces the requirement to deter Russian aggression with the threat of force,” he said in an internal message reviewed by the BBC.
“We are the generation that must prepare the Army to fight in Europe once again”.