Ukraine’s Air Defense Missiles Will Continue Falling on Civilians: Here’s Why
14:01 GMT 19.09.2023 (Updated: 14:17 GMT 19.09.2023)
An expose in America’s main “newspaper of record” has revealed that Ukraine, not Russia, was to blame for the deadly September 6 missile strike on a market in the Ukrainian-controlled town of Konstantinovka in the Donetsk region. Veteran Russian military observer Alexey Leonkov told Sputnik why the incident won’t be the last of its kind.
The New York Times unexpectedly put a spoke in Volodymyr Zelensky’s wheels shortly before the Ukrainian president’s arrival in the US to meet with senior officials and take part in the UN General Assembly.
In an investigative report
featuring video footage, witness testimony, satellite imagery, and other evidence, the newspaper concluded that the deadly missile strike on a market in the town of Konstantinovka, Donetsk that killed at least 15 civilians and injured over 30 others was likely caused by Ukraine, not Russia, as was claimed by officials in Kiev and a number of Western capitals.
The outlet indicated that evidence on the ground indicated that an “errant” Ukrainian Buk anti-air missile system was responsible for the carnage, and pointed out that Ukrainian officials had seemingly deliberately tried to cover up the facts from media in the attack’s immediate aftermath, requiring journalists to do some sleuthing to get to the bottom of what actually occurred.
The mainstream media report was unusual in its bold decision to stray from the traditional narrative on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which typically blames Moscow
for a long list of tragedies and crimes
Not the First, Won’t Be the Last
The September 6 incident in Konstantinovka wasn’t the first incident of its kind, and given the air defense strategy adopted by Ukraine’s military, and the technical means at its disposal, it won’t be the last, Alexey Leonkov, a veteran Russian military analyst and editor of Arsenal of the Fatherland, a Russian military affairs magazine, told Sputnik.
“We’ve observed failures in the work of Ukraine’s air defense forces before. They’re taking place due to the fact that air defense systems have been deployed without taking into account the features of the urban environment, without taking into account the operation of the systems,” Leonkov explained.
This is a common problem for Ukraine’s air defense strategy, the observer said, pointing out the regular occurrence with which Ukrainian anti-aircraft rockets crash into residential areas and high-rise buildings, causing damage and casualties among civilians.
Worse yet, he noted, Ukraine has been running low on munitions for its air defenses, leaving them scraping the bottom of the barrel and turning to older, Soviet-made Buk and S-300 missiles which are long past their "use by" date.
This is taking place “because there is no localized production [of air defense missiles] in Ukraine. There is no localized production in Eastern European countries, either. Therefore, the preparation of these missiles for launch is conducted using whatever means they have, using logic they understand. And very often, rockets end up flying to the wrong place, to Poland and so on,” Leonkov noted, recalling the November 2022 incident in which a Ukrainian S-300 flew into Poland and killed two people, briefly bringing NATO and Russia to the brink of war as Kiev falsely blamed Moscow.
In Konstantinovka, the observer noted, the Soviet-era Buk M1 surface-to-air missile was unwittingly turned into a surface-to-surface missile, culminating in the tragedy.
Pointing out that Ukraine’s air defenses have had difficulty controlling "collateral damage" in civilian areas even when using newer NATO-standard munitions, Leonkov said it’s important to take into account the military’s strategy, as well as the human factor.
“The thing is, Ukraine’s air defense system is not built according to the canons of the Soviet system of organizing air defenses, or even that of Russia. It’s based on a new concept which the United States is promoting – the so-called ‘integrated air defense system,’ distributed over terrain. That is, the launcher can be situated a great distance from the radar system that detects the target, and transmits data via a modern communication channel over a long range,” Leonkov explained.
In other words, space-based reconnaissance and radars situated a long way away from the frontlines have been tasked with monitoring airspace. In Konstantinovka, which is near the front, it may very well have been the case that the Buk got information from satellites that a Russian aircraft or missile may have been approaching, with the missile system responding by launching a missile, but missing whatever target it was assigned, glitching out, or suffering some other technical error.
“There was definitely a technical factor at play here. Plus the human factor, because when air defense system operators fire, they should first of all think about the fact that they are situated near a civilian area, a whole populated settlement. The placement of the launchers, the rotation of the azimuth of fire, also has an effect. If restrictions are lifted, they can launch rockets over a city.”
And apparently in the September 6 incident, such a decision was made, with operators “thinking the missile would intercept some kind of air target on the approach to Konstantinovka.” But the missile, for one reason or another, did not reach its intended target, and instead ended up falling onto the heads of local residents.
Accident or Provocation?
Leonkov stressed the need to differentiate between the Konstantinovka market strike and the Kramatorsk attack of April 2022, characterizing the latter as an attempt to stage a “deliberate provocation” due to the inscription of the text "For the Children" of the Ukrainian Tochka-U tactical missile used.
The Konstantinovka attack instead “speaks about” the poor “state of Ukraine’s air defenses,” revealing that they have become not only unable to defend Ukraine’s vast air space, but are suffering from a range of technical problems, which can lead to tragic consequences.
“Foreign air defense systems like NASAMS and others are tasked mainly with the protection of the capital region. But Ukraine isn’t deploying them along the line of contact. Some air defense systems have been brought forward, but they have been punched full of holes, and destroyed by our Lancet drones,” Leonkov noted.
Will Formal Investigations Be Forthcoming?
Asked whether the Konstantinovka strike could turn into a jumping off point for investigations into similar incidents involving Ukrainian air defense systems hitting civilians and blaming Russia, Leonkov said that seems likely to take place only in the event of a Russian victory, because the Zelensky regime has no interest in unraveling its own narrative on the conflict.
At the same time, he noted, NATO is certain to be studying the operation of Ukraine’s air defenses, but doing so only from a “purely technical” standpoint to determine the effectiveness of alliance air defense systems and strategies, not to assign responsibility for any civilian “collateral damage.”
Leonkov believes the publication of the evidence related to Konstantinovka in a mainstream newspaper like The New York Times may be a signal by a part of the US establishment to the Biden administration, relating to the “ineffective” use of resources in the so-called Ukrainian project and its use as a battering ram against Russia.
It may very well be that revelations like those related to the September 6 attack could be designed to weaken Biden and nudge him toward bowing out before the 2024 election, particularly amid growing public anger about money being spent on Ukraine to prop up the Zelensky regime against the background of America’s vast internal problems.