Russia Confirms Second Strike on Western Combatants in Ukraine: Su-35 Increasingly Deployed For Air to Ground Missiles

On March 20 the Russian Military conducted a second strike on a military facility in western Ukraine hosting combatants from Western countries, with the Defence Ministry reporting that over 100 personnel were killed. "High-precision air-launched missiles struck the training centre for covert operations forces of the Ukrainian military, where foreign mercenaries were based, near the settlement of Ovruch in the Zhitomir region", the Ministry reported. It elaborated that further strikes targeted "Workshops at the Nizhyn repair plant used for the repair of Ukrainian armoured vehicles damaged in combat operations” which  “were destroyed with sea-based Kalibr cruise missiles launched from the waters of the Black Sea.” The class of air launched missile used remains uncertain, but it followed a prior strike on a facility in the western Lviv region that killed up to 180 foreign fighters. The prior strike resulted in large numbers of Western combatants fleeing to neighbouring Poland, according to those interviewed by a number of Western media outlets, and despite many being combat veterans from military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan few were prepared for the intensity of combat with a well armed state adversary. Swedish volunteer Jesper Soder described the Russian missile strike as “Pure hell – fire, shouting, panic. And a lot more bombs and missiles.” 

The new strike by air launched missiles comes as Russia has increasingly deployed its top fighter the Su-35 for air to ground missions, with the erosion of the Ukrainian Air Force and its ground based air defences leaving little need for air superiority which is the fighter’s primary role. While the fighter is thought to have seen its first air to air engagements over Ukraine, the fighter's kills against ground targets remain uncertain. 

Westerners fighting in Ukraine have largely been motivated by ideology, although Russia has dismissed them as mercenaries. It has been announced that such combatants will not be treated as prisoners of war if captured. The most notable reported death of a Western combatant was a veteran of the Royal Canadian Infantry’s 22nd Regiment, a sniper known in Arabic as Wali - or ‘the Guardian,’ who died within days of entering Ukraine. ‘The Guardian’ had previously gained the title of NATO’s deadliest sniper with some reports indicating he held a record of 40 kills in a day. Heavy losses among Western combatants in areas considered the safest in Ukraine from Russian strikes comes as Ukrainian territory under Russian Army control continues to grow at a considerable rate, with the depletion of Kiev’s forces placing growing pressure on the government to make terms with Moscow during talks. 

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