UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Russia has cleverly taken out a Storm Shadow by throwing a barracks in its way.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Another round of drone attacks was launched at Kyiv in the last few hours. At least one drone struck the upper floors of a residential building, causing considerable damage. As Kyiv has moved into evening, the drone attacks seem to have stopped for the moment.
Russia has stepped up attacks on Kyiv over the past several days, employing both missiles and drones in numbers that had not been seen since early March. On Monday, it was reported that 11 of Russia’s hypersonic ”Iskander” ballistic missiles had been launched into the city in a rare daytime attack. Tens of thousands ran for shelters as others hunkered down in place, surprised by the fast-moving attack. The wave of missiles followed just hours after one of the largest drone attacks of the entire invasion, when Russia launched at least 59 Iranian-made Shahed drones at Kyiv on Sunday evening.
There have been multiple claims that Russia’s goal in these attacks was to destroy the Patriot missile battery that recently arrived in Kyiv, along with other Western air defense systems now guarding the city. If that’s the case, Russia’s success in this effort has been extremely limited. Ukraine reports that all of the Iskander missiles and 58 of the 59 drones were taken down by air defense systems. There were injuries reported due to debris and one large building was set on fire by the remains of a falling missile, but Russian attempts to cause significant damage in Kyiv failed, just as they did three days earlier when air defenses stopped a combined attack using 10 cruise missiles and 20 drones.
Shortly after the attack on Kyiv, there were explosions heard around Moscow. Russia reported that eight drones had entered the area around the capital, with all of them being either shot down or diverted using electronic warfare. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin immediately denounced the attack as “terrorist activity” and insisted that the drones were aimed at “civilian residences,” though how anyone could know this if not a single drone reached its target isn’t clear. What is clear is that after razing Ukrainian cities, launching daily missile attacks on sites across Ukraine, and striking homes, offices, schools, churches, hospitals, and infrastructure, the sight of drones around Moscow appears to be driving Russia nuts.
Air defense systems remain high on the list of Ukraine’s shopping list for Western military assistance. Considering the level of continued Russian assaults, that’s understandable. Between October and December of last year, Russia launched over 1,000 missiles into Ukraine. While the intensity of large-scale attacks has declined in 2023, the past week shows that Russia’s coffers are still a long way from empty.
More air defense systems, likely including the SAMP/T system, are expected to be at the core of a new package on the way from Italy on Tuesday. These systems also remain central to the requests made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. There are also reports that Zelenskyy is seeking to get new systems from emerging defense systems powerhouse South Korea.
The Ukrainian president seems to understand that the best way to keep people fighting on the front lines is to make them feel that their families back home are safe. Critical to that effort is seeing that Russia’s “missile terror” doesn’t mean a soldier fighting around Bakhmut has to worry that their spouse or children are threatened as they go about their daily lives. That means air defense, air defense, and more air defense.
There’s one very big factor that has surprised a lot of people over the past few weeks. Until it was actually tested, the assumption—even among a lot of U.S. military experts—was that Russia’s wave of hypersonic missiles would be essentially “unstoppable.”
A New York Times article from 2019 headlined “Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable” was just one of many hyping the Russian Kh-47 “Kinzhal” missile. But earlier this month, Ukraine stopped one of those unstoppable missiles. Then it shot down six of them at once. The Iskander missiles that were launched on Monday were not thought to be as unstoppable as the Kinzhal, but as short-range ballistic missiles with a very high speed they were still thought to be difficult to take down. Ukraine went 11 for 11.
Earlier in the war, Russia was able to launch missile assaults and know that something like half of their attacks would find their way to the targets. Now it’s something closer to 5%—or less. How Ukraine changed that number is not hard to define.
Zelenskyy: “When Patriots in the hands of Ukrainians ensure one hundred percent downing of any Russian missiles, terror is losing.”
Whether you want to believe Russian missiles are not as fearsome as thought, the Patriot is better than expected, or a little bit of both, the success of the Patriot in punching out Russia’s best has led to a reported mania in attempts to take it down. Russia has fired a bit of A, then tried some B, then C, then maybe A + C, all in an attempt to make that Patriot system stop knocking its missiles out of the sky. Two weeks ago, they even seemed to succeed to the point that U.S. sources reported that the Patriot system in Kyiv had been damaged, possibly by falling debris. However, if there was damage, it wasn’t enough to keep the system from defending the city in the next wave.
It’s not just the Patriot that’s working. Ukraine has received at least half a dozen different air defense systems from across NATO partnerships. In cities like Kyiv, many of these systems are working in tandem, making the successful use of any missile more difficult. The Iranian drones, which soon after their appearance seemed to plague Kyiv as well as other systems, have become vastly less effective as anti-aircraft gunners learned to deal with the relatively slow-moving devices.
Russia can still generate fear and disruption in Ukraine’s major cities, but its odds of getting a missile through against any target in those areas has sharply decreased. That’s why some of Russia’s most deadly attacks in recent weeks have come in smaller cities like Uman (pop. 82,000) where systems like Patriot aren’t yet in place.
With all the Russian attempts to attack Ukrainian cities, it would surprise no one if Ukraine was seeking a little reciprocity. It’s clear from images and demonstrations that have been seen on social media that Ukraine is creating an “army of drones” with hundreds, if not thousands, of devices ready to fly. They also have a good selection of larger, longer-range drones. That includes the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 as well as home-grown devices from companies like AeroDrone. There is no doubt about it: If Ukraine wanted to attack Russia with drones launched from inside Ukrainian airspace, it could definitely do so. The distance from Sumy to Moscow is less than 600 kilometers. There are plenty of drones capable of making that trip.
On Tuesday, Moscow was reportedly hit by an attack involving eight drones. That would make this attack barely bigger than the reported attack in which two drones were shot down over the Kremlin last month. Russia claims that, just as in the Kremlin incident, all eight drones were shot down.
Of course, Russia is also making claims like this one, which is totally ridiculous.
Civilian sources on Telegram have claimed the number of drones in the Moscow area on Tuesday was closer to 20 or 30, and that eight was just the number that Russia managed to shoot down. Considering what was aimed at Ukraine the previous two days, even the biggest estimate seems like a small number. There also seems to be a large amount of panic around these drones, so it would be unsurprising if the numbers reported by many accounts were inflated. However, there are also reports of damage in one of Moscow’s ritziest residential neighborhoods, with images showing explosions there as well as damage to a high-rise building.
Both Twitter and Telegram are now filled with fist-shaking, finger-waving, red-faced declarations from Russians that Ukraine has … has … well, it has gone over some kind of line here. Because it’s not like most of eastern Ukraine currently lies in ruin with tens of thousands of kilometers occupied by Russian troops. It’s not as if officials are still digging up mass graves filled with the bodies of children killed by Russian forces. It’s not as if Russia has been targeting and destroying civilian locations every single day since the unprovoked invasion began.
The “allegedly” in that last tweet is worth a second look. Officials in the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian military have denied any involvement in either of the two drone attacks in Moscow. News reports have indicated that U.S. intelligence believes Ukraine was actually behind the earlier flight of drones over the Kremlin, though they also believe that the drones were actually launched from within Russia, probably no more than a few miles outside Moscow.
In this latest attack, some of the debris recovered from the city looks suspiciously like a Russian Orlan-10 drone. This led Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak to quip that Russian drones were tired of being shot down over Ukraine and were now going after the people who sent them. “Even artificial intelligence is already smarter and more far-sighted than the Russian military and political leadership,” wrote Podolyak.
Why would Russia possibly launch a drone attack against its own capital when such an act is guaranteed to erode belief in Russia’s own air defenses, lower the standing of leadership, and generally enhance an already growing level of fear and chaos? Some sources claim that Putin is about to announce “full mobilization,” dragging hundreds of thousands more into Ukraine and finally stepping away from the language of “special military operations” to plain old “war.”
There is certainly at least one very good precedent for the idea that Putin would throw things into chaos and drive up fear to benefit his own agenda.
One month after then-President Boris Yeltsin plucked a security agency official named Vladimir Putin from obscurity and made him prime minister, an explosion leveled a nine-story apartment building on Moscow’s outskirts. …
On September 23, Putin asserted terrorists in Chechnya were to blame and ordered a massive air campaign within the North Caucasus region.
In one of his very first public acts, Putin almost certainly directed a massive false-flag operation that left 307 people dead in order to justify an attack and invasion of Chechnya. That gave Putin the excuse to launch the Second Chechen War. The ground offensive began one week after Putin made his speech about terrorists and ended with the capital city of Grozny looking remarkably similar to how Bakhmut looks right now.
Ukrainian forces may well have launched the drones that hit Moscow on Tuesday. If they did, no one could blame them. But the idea that Putin might invent such an attack as a means of creating the fear and confusion he needs to maintain control has a real basis in history. It’s also worth considering that some other oligarch may have recognized Putin’s weakened status and sees the current moment as a time when he might leverage some of the confusion to begin his own rise to power.
The U.S. Embassy has a whole page dedicated to other Russian false-flag operations, going back to the time Russia shelled its own forces in 1939 to justify launching the Winter War. Ukraine says they didn’t make this attack. Russia says they did. It’s worth considering some past events in evaluating the truth.
Oh, and of course there’s a Yevgeny Prigozhin response. If your day isn’t complete without listening to the Wagner Group CEO scream his hatred of Russian leadership: here you go.
On Tuesday, Oryx noted another big Russian milestone. With the latest documented loss of a T-90M north of Bakhmut, Russia has now exceeded 2,000 tanks verified to have been lost. Since the number has crept up on everyone at a bit over four tanks a day on average, it may not seem as jaw-dropping as it should. In that second Chechen War, the one that Putin started by murdering 307 people in Moscow and ended by leveling Grozny, Russia lost … 23 tanks. And not one of them was a newer T-80 or T-90.
Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.