U.S. officials say Ukraine should continue to develop innovative ways to strike at Russian forces as the war approaches its third year. But Ukraine’s use of a Patriot missile to take down a plane last month is an example of how novel battlefield tactics can be fraught with peril as well as promise.
Unbeknown to Ukraine’s military, the Russian aircraft it targeted may have been carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war, according to U.S. officials.
The Patriot is a defensive system, usually used to protect a location and not to shoot down planes. A European partner provided the Patriot interceptor that hit the Russian Ilyushin-76 cargo plane on Jan. 24, according to American officials briefed on the incident.
Russian officials immediately claimed the aircraft was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were to be exchanged for Russian service members.
Publicly, American officials will not comment on what brought down the plane, though officials who spoke privately on the condition of anonymity said the reports of a Patriot missile being used were accurate.
The question of who was on the plane is less clear. American officials have not confirmed the identities of the passengers, but they said it appeared probable that at least some of them were Ukrainian prisoners. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia may have overstated the number of deaths.
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