Desperate Ukraine Wants Its Buk Missile Defense System Back That Kyiv ‘Gave For Free’ To Georgia In 2008

A diplomatic tussle unfolded between the governments of Georgia and Ukraine after the latter asked Tbilisi to return the Buk air defense system that was “given for free” in 2008.

On January 10, the Georgian Defense Ministry said that the country would not return the Buk missile systems to Ukraine because the South Caucasian nation paid for them rather than accepting them for free in 2008, as claimed by Ukraine, TASS reported.

The announcement was made following an interview given by the Charge De’affaires for Ukraine in Georgia, Andrei Kasyanov, in which he stated that Kyiv had issued a request to Tbilisi for the return of the Buk surface-to-air missile systems.

The diplomat claimed that the Buk system was transported to Georgia during the 2008 conflict with Russia.

Buk missile system - Wikipedia
Buk missile system – Wikipedia

The diplomat for Ukraine claimed that Kyiv had also requested the Javelin missile systems that Georgia had received from the US. Kasyanov claimed that Washington had approved and was prepared to offer Georgia newer systems as a substitute.

However, the statement given by the Georgian Defense Ministry in response to Ukraine’s diplomatic pitch read: “This [purchase] was done under a classified agreement, which is why we are deprived of the opportunity to specify more details.” The Ministry also pointed out that “tens of millions of dollars were paid by the Ministry of Defense in 2017 for purchasing Javelin anti-tank systems from the USA.”

Javelin missile system (via Twitter)

A member of the Georgian parliament Givi Mikanadze went so far as to declare that Kasyanov’s comments regarding Kyiv’s demand for the weapons it had given Tbilisi 15 years ago were yet another attempt at inciting war among the Georgian people.

However, the Georgian Defense Ministry emphasized that the government was “firmly continuing its humanitarian and political assistance” for Ukraine and cited the shipments of aid made to Kyiv since the crisis began last year in February.

It also referred to the most recent aid delivery of power generators to Ukraine in December in response to a request from the Ukrainian government. However, it also stated that Georgia had made clear that it opposed facilitating the delivery of weapons or equipment with a dual-use to Ukraine due to the possibility of Georgia being seen as a combatant by Russia.

The Georgian anxieties may not be without reason, as even after almost fifteen years of Russia’s five-day invasion, Moscow continues to intimidate the Caucasian country sporadically. In 2008, Russia carried out a five-day invasion of Georgia that splintered the country and led to the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia has since cultivated stronger relations with the West and NATO.

However, Georgia’s refusal to hand over the Buk Air defense system to Ukraine may be a big snub to the embattled country. Ukraine has asked European countries for Soviet-era defense systems besides pleading with Western countries for advanced missile defense systems to resist Russian missile and drone strikes.

Ukraine’s Buk Air Defense In The Ongoing Conflict

The Buk Air Defense system is a Soviet missile system that can defeat maneuverable aircraft and helicopters flying at low or high altitudes when the enemy uses electronic countermeasures.

The Buk series of tracked self-propelled SAM systems initially appeared in the latter stages of the Cold War. Both combatants have extensively deployed several variants of the Buk air defense system in the ongoing conflict.

According to reports from the Royal United Services Institute, the Buk Air defense system has wreaked havoc on Russian fighter jets since the invasion was launched in February 2022. The efficacy of this antiquated system against Russian fighter jets has been particularly apparent in Ukraine.

For Russian fighter pilots, altitude proved to be a considerable challenge. It was impossible to fly at high altitudes with so many Ukrainian S-300s pointing at them.

Meanwhile, the widely used shoulder-mounted MANPADS used by Ukrainian ground troops against the Russian Air Force made flying at low levels challenging. The Buk missile systems were deployed to shoot down Russian aircraft flying at a medium altitude, making life miserable for RuAF pilots.

Buk-1 Air Defense System-Wikimedia Commons

They turned on their radars only long enough to discharge missiles against Russian aircraft before rolling their launchers into the tree line to conceal them. Consequentially, the Ukrainians have successfully denied air superiority to Russian Aerospace Forces.

However, as Russia continues to rain down cruise missiles and Iranian Shahed kamikaze drones, the need for air defense systems has grown exponentially. To keep its energy infrastructure running, the Ukrainian air defense has to shoot down most, if not all, hostile targets.

Recently, the Pentagon disclosed that it was sending the anti-air Sea Sparrow missiles to Ukraine as part of the $3.75 billion military aid. These missiles will be integrated into the Buk-1 missile defense systems.