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Expect Russia’s drone attacks to intensify

Kyiv residents near a damaged site in the aftermath of Tuesday's drone attack. Credit: Getty

May 31, 2023 - 7:00am

Kyiv

On Sunday evening, Ukrainian defence forces faced a massive onslaught as Russia launched 59 drones towards Kyiv in what has been described as the largest such assault since the beginning of the war. Ukrainian defence systems intercepted all but one of the inbound drones, with none landing in Kyiv, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

After 17 attacks recorded in May alone, the past 72 hours have seen a particularly explosive continuation of the raids. Ukraine’s Air Force reported the interception of the majority of air-launched cruise missiles and kamikaze drones sent by Russian forces during Monday morning’s raid, which saw the city’s metro system flooded with civilians seeking shelter from both direct impacts and the falling debris of intercepted weapons. 

In what has become a standard part of daily life, residents once again took to the underground on Tuesday morning. During yesterday’s raid, Ukrainian officials reported that 29 out of 31 drones launched over Ukraine were shot down, another testament to the efficacy of the country’s interception systems. One Kiev resident died due to falling debris from an intercepted Russian projectile, with at least four others injured.

“Our apartment isn’t very high up, but none of us can sleep through the noise,” one couple tells me as they comfort their young daughter. She has brought a stuffed animal down with her. “Night after night after night,” a man remarks to me in broken English. “Will they never run out of things for us to shoot? When will it be done?”

Ukrainians take cover in a Kyiv metro station. Credit: Sam Forster

William Courtney, an adjunct senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, sees these air raids as a crude and desperate strategy by Russia, aimed at introducing chaos into Ukrainian life rather than pinpointing specific offensive military assets. 

“The Russians are hoping to discombobulate or discourage Ukrainians in their counteroffensives,” he tells me, adding that the strikes have lessened in precision throughout the course of the war. “The beginning of the attacks on civilian targets focused more on energy infrastructure, which was a bit more strategic, though the Ukrainians learned to repair that infrastructure fairly quickly.”

According to Courtney, the shambolic attempts to land strikes on Kyiv might also reflect the Kremlin’s desire to force Ukraine’s long-awaited push along the southern and eastern fronts before it is fully ready. “The Russians may be hoping that these strikes will cause the Ukrainians to launch a counteroffensive prematurely or erratically, thereby lessening its impact.”

There has previously been speculation that this element of Russia’s aggressive military posture may be geared towards capitalising on the economic asymmetry between launching air raids and defending against them. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, kamikaze drones can cost as little as $20,000 to produce, whereas the cost of firing a surface-to-air missile can range from $140,000 for a Soviet-era S-300 to many multiples of that for more advanced Western systems like the NASAMS and Patriot systems.

As Courtney observes, however, the Ukrainians have adopted an economical approach in order to reserve these more advanced defence systems for Russian missiles like the hypersonic Kinzhal. “Ukraine is not wasting Patriots against drones,” he notes. “The Ukrainians have learned to use anti-aircraft machine guns, and the kill [interception] ratios are so high that the Russians are accomplishing very little by launching these attacks.”

Despite Ukraine’s relatively successful interception record, the violent air raids above the capital show no sign of relenting in the near future. And in light of an unprecedented drone attack launched on Moscow on Tuesday morning — an incident that Ukraine has denied involvement in and that Russia has described as a “terrorist attack” —  there is reason to believe that retaliatory strikes could be facing Kyivans for weeks to come.


Sam Forster is a freelance journalist who has lived in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Dallas, New York, Paris, and Buenos Aires, where he worked as a reporter for the Buenos Aires Times.

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Charlie Dibsdale
CD
Charlie Dibsdale
10 months ago

If the Ukrainians have initiated (or influenced Russian rebels to initiate) drone attacks on Moscow, it may help divert more Russian military resources away from the front lines. It may also show how incompetent Russian defences are, to an already brainwashed Russian population. The raids may also become an excuse for others to offer Putin a choice between a window or a loaded cup of tea in a leadership coup. Alternatively, if Russia is conducting a Red Flag operation, it may be a ploy to infuriate the Russian population so much that they swallow total mobilisation. Putin has pivoted this war from being a de-nazify Ukraine to being an existential war for the survival of Russia. Spinning the story so much, it is worthy of Alistair Campbell. Given Putin’s total control of the media, this will impact ordinary Russians. Observing the history of this conflict, the Ukrainians seem to have played a blinder and with a great working relationship between Zelinsky and his military leadership, the appropriate balance between political and military needs has been met to work towards victory, I do not think the expected offensive will be launched prematurely by desperate Russian missile attacks.

Charlie Dibsdale
CD
Charlie Dibsdale
10 months ago

If the Ukrainians have initiated (or influenced Russian rebels to initiate) drone attacks on Moscow, it may help divert more Russian military resources away from the front lines. It may also show how incompetent Russian defences are, to an already brainwashed Russian population. The raids may also become an excuse for others to offer Putin a choice between a window or a loaded cup of tea in a leadership coup. Alternatively, if Russia is conducting a Red Flag operation, it may be a ploy to infuriate the Russian population so much that they swallow total mobilisation. Putin has pivoted this war from being a de-nazify Ukraine to being an existential war for the survival of Russia. Spinning the story so much, it is worthy of Alistair Campbell. Given Putin’s total control of the media, this will impact ordinary Russians. Observing the history of this conflict, the Ukrainians seem to have played a blinder and with a great working relationship between Zelinsky and his military leadership, the appropriate balance between political and military needs has been met to work towards victory, I do not think the expected offensive will be launched prematurely by desperate Russian missile attacks.

stephen archer
SA
stephen archer
10 months ago

Retaliation is a meaningless concept when the said state is waging an all out war and destruction on its neighbour, as is Escalation, nuclear excepted. Nuclear is all they’ve got left to utilise. Putin has run out of options and his only hope is for the West to buckle.

stephen archer
SA
stephen archer
10 months ago

Retaliation is a meaningless concept when the said state is waging an all out war and destruction on its neighbour, as is Escalation, nuclear excepted. Nuclear is all they’ve got left to utilise. Putin has run out of options and his only hope is for the West to buckle.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
10 months ago

Can Prigozhin no longer afford accounts in Unherd?

Pretty thin support for Putin now.

james goater
JG
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

It would certainly appear so, ml — which I find rather a pity as there is consequently less opportunity (or even need) for your hitherto impressively regular, insightful, and informative rebuttals.

james goater
JG
james goater
10 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

It would certainly appear so, ml — which I find rather a pity as there is consequently less opportunity (or even need) for your hitherto impressively regular, insightful, and informative rebuttals.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
10 months ago

Can Prigozhin no longer afford accounts in Unherd?

Pretty thin support for Putin now.

Will K
WK
Will K
10 months ago

If the Russian drones have no precise target, I’d expect them to still do damage on impact if shot down over a city. And the weapons the Ukrainians fire up, will also presumably fall back and cause damage.

Last edited 10 months ago by Will K
Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  Will K

Just a modern day equivalent of the doodlebug, with similar tactics to those of the blitz

Charlie Dibsdale
CD
Charlie Dibsdale
10 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

with similar outcomes. It stiffened resistance in the UK and Antwerp (where V1 and V2 were also used)

Charlie Dibsdale
CD
Charlie Dibsdale
10 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

with similar outcomes. It stiffened resistance in the UK and Antwerp (where V1 and V2 were also used)

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  Will K

Just a modern day equivalent of the doodlebug, with similar tactics to those of the blitz

Will K
WK
Will K
10 months ago

If the Russian drones have no precise target, I’d expect them to still do damage on impact if shot down over a city. And the weapons the Ukrainians fire up, will also presumably fall back and cause damage.

Last edited 10 months ago by Will K
Rob N
RN
Rob N
10 months ago

We need to remember that believing that the US is using Ukraine to weaken Russia and that the US purposefully set the conditions to ‘force’ Russia into war and will now fight Russia to the last Ukrainian does NOT necessarily mean that one supports Russia or their invasion.

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Rob N

Just like the Polish plot in WW2 to weaken Hitler lol

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Rob N

Just like the Polish plot in WW2 to weaken Hitler lol

Rob N
RN
Rob N
10 months ago

We need to remember that believing that the US is using Ukraine to weaken Russia and that the US purposefully set the conditions to ‘force’ Russia into war and will now fight Russia to the last Ukrainian does NOT necessarily mean that one supports Russia or their invasion.

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago

Anyone who believes the Ukrainian claim that they shoot down close to 100% of the drones/missiles is a fool

The Russians are winning

Dominic A
DA
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The Russians have already lost. Or at least the very best outcome they can hope for is a pyrrhic victory – keep hold of the seized territory, declare victory…. at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, their national credibility, and being a backward pariah state for another century.

Charlie Dibsdale
CD
Charlie Dibsdale
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Russians have lost the initiative, they are not winning.

Steve Farrell
BR
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

I’m curious – even if it were confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt that the Russians do have the upper hand (i.e. by someone other than MacGregor / Ritter / Hinkle / Dore etc), what’s your point? That the Ukrainians should just roll over?

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

They should have avoided war at all costs, the extreme Ukrainian nationalists seem overjoyed about war with Russia, but its not going well for them, a large number of them are dead, they won’t take back Crimea or the Donbass, the longer the war goes on the worse it will be for the Ukraine

Dominic A
DA
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

So are you then a pacifist? Then why so little outrage at those who led the unecessary violence by invading another country, and so little sympathy for those who react to it by trying to protect their country. You come across a little like a victim blamer. “I told her she shouldn’t go out looking like that, she’s only herself to blame, she should either have covered herself up, or just let him do what he wanted.”

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

No I’m not a pacifist, but its not a good idea to poke a bear with a stick

stephen archer
SA
stephen archer
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The bear is fast becoming a donkey.

Dominic A
DA
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The Russians may be bears, but their leaders are wolves.

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

OK if you choose a big stick and thump it on the bridge of the nose. Rolls over, claws out, QED.

stephen archer
SA
stephen archer
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The bear is fast becoming a donkey.

Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The Russians may be bears, but their leaders are wolves.

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

OK if you choose a big stick and thump it on the bridge of the nose. Rolls over, claws out, QED.

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

No I’m not a pacifist, but its not a good idea to poke a bear with a stick

Steve Farrell
BR
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Was there no burden of responsibility on Russia to avoid war at all costs?

Dominic A
DA
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

So are you then a pacifist? Then why so little outrage at those who led the unecessary violence by invading another country, and so little sympathy for those who react to it by trying to protect their country. You come across a little like a victim blamer. “I told her she shouldn’t go out looking like that, she’s only herself to blame, she should either have covered herself up, or just let him do what he wanted.”

Steve Farrell
BR
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Was there no burden of responsibility on Russia to avoid war at all costs?

D Walsh
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

They should have avoided war at all costs, the extreme Ukrainian nationalists seem overjoyed about war with Russia, but its not going well for them, a large number of them are dead, they won’t take back Crimea or the Donbass, the longer the war goes on the worse it will be for the Ukraine

martin logan
ML
martin logan
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Thanks, Lord Haw Haw!

Sadly, this will have zero effect on the pending counter offensive The troops will sleep well, and then use their engineers eqmt to first blast thru Russian defences, and then use their Leopards to blast what tanks Putin has left.

1917 all over again–with a dash of Crimea in 1855.

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Muh spring offensive, real soon now LOL

Last edited 10 months ago by D Walsh
Doug Pingel
DP
Doug Pingel
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The English saying “Don’t lose a clout till May is out” has nothing to do with the calendar month. Spring in various other places is also a “moveable feast”

Doug Pingel
DP
Doug Pingel
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The English saying “Don’t lose a clout till May is out” has nothing to do with the calendar month. Spring in various other places is also a “moveable feast”

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Muh spring offensive, real soon now LOL

Last edited 10 months ago by D Walsh
Tom Graham
TG
Tom Graham
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Anyone supporting the Russians is lacking a brain and a soul.

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

It’s the Soyboys and the bugmen controlling globohomo who are lacking in the Soul

Steve Farrell
BR
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Riding a horse with your man tits on show is about as homo as it gets in my book.

Steve Farrell
BR
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Riding a horse with your man tits on show is about as homo as it gets in my book.

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

It’s the Soyboys and the bugmen controlling globohomo who are lacking in the Soul

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Elvis lives!

Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

The Russians have already lost. Or at least the very best outcome they can hope for is a pyrrhic victory – keep hold of the seized territory, declare victory…. at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, their national credibility, and being a backward pariah state for another century.

Charlie Dibsdale
CD
Charlie Dibsdale
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Russians have lost the initiative, they are not winning.

Steve Farrell
BR
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

I’m curious – even if it were confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt that the Russians do have the upper hand (i.e. by someone other than MacGregor / Ritter / Hinkle / Dore etc), what’s your point? That the Ukrainians should just roll over?

martin logan
ML
martin logan
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Thanks, Lord Haw Haw!

Sadly, this will have zero effect on the pending counter offensive The troops will sleep well, and then use their engineers eqmt to first blast thru Russian defences, and then use their Leopards to blast what tanks Putin has left.

1917 all over again–with a dash of Crimea in 1855.

Tom Graham
TG
Tom Graham
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Anyone supporting the Russians is lacking a brain and a soul.

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Elvis lives!

D Walsh
DW
D Walsh
10 months ago

Anyone who believes the Ukrainian claim that they shoot down close to 100% of the drones/missiles is a fool

The Russians are winning