Russia claimed Sunday to have shot down Ukrainian drones and missiles a day after Kyiv was struck by dozens of kamikaze drones, part of what officials called Moscow’s biggest coordinated attack against Ukraine in months.
Background on the Conflict
The war between Russia and Ukraine began in February 2022 when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. After failing to capture the capital Kyiv early in the war, Russia has focused its efforts on securing control of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
For months, Russia has been using Iranian-made kamikaze drones to target critical infrastructure across Ukraine. These drones act as flying bombs, exploding on impact. Recently, Ukraine has acquired its own kamikaze drones and has started using them to strike targets within Russia.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, with Russia carrying out massive missile and drone attacks against Ukrainian cities while Ukraine has targeted Russian military bases and infrastructure with drones.
Massive Kamikaze Drone Attack on Kyiv
On Saturday morning, Kyiv was struck by a huge swarm of kamikaze drones. Ukraine said it intercepted 37 out of the 55 drones launched against the capital.
"The Kremlin is seeking to overwhelm Ukrainian air defences through sheer volume," said the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The drones caused explosions and fires around the city, damaging buildings and killing and injuring civilians. Critical infrastructure like power plants and water systems were also damaged.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the attack was an attempt "to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth."
Russia Claims to Have Intercepted Retaliatory Drone and Missile Attack
On Sunday, Russia said its air defenses shot down 16 Ukrainian drones over Moscow and central Russia. It also claimed to have intercepted Ukrainian missile launches.
"The Kyiv regime, in order to disable Russian long-range aircraft, made attempts overnight to conduct drone attacks on two Russian air bases," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The drones and missiles were allegedly launched by Ukraine to retaliate for Saturday’s attack on Kyiv. Russia claimed the attacks targeted military bases and civilian infrastructure in Moscow and surrounding areas.
Videos on social media purportedly showed explosions and air defense systems being activated over Moscow early Sunday morning. Two international airports in Moscow were temporarily closed and flights were grounded.
Differing Views on Scope of Attack
Ukraine has not explicitly acknowledged launching any attacks on Moscow or central Russia. A senior Ukrainian official told the New York Times that Ukraine was behind the drone attacks but said Russia exaggerated their scale.
Independent verification of Russia’s claims has been difficult, as Moscow tightly controls information. Some analysts believe the drone attacks on Moscow may have been carried out by partisan groups inside Russia rather than the Ukrainian military.
"The Ukrainians are being very tight-lipped about what they have the capability to do," said Mick Ryan, a retired Australian major general. "The Russians have every reason to paint a picture that they are under attack."
What Might Happen Next
Experts say the tit-for-tat attacks demonstrate how both sides are now going after civilian and economic targets, not just military ones.
"What we see are attacks far behind the front lines, aimed at civilian infrastructure," said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. "And the war is taking on a more massive, more destructive nature."
Many analysts expect the drone attacks, especially on civilian targets, to escalate as winter sets in. With frozen terrain hindering ground offensives, both sides will likely rely more on air power.
Russia still retains massive stocks of long-range missiles and aircraft to strike Ukraine. But its failure to suppress Ukraine’s small but agile drone forces could give Kyiv an asymmetric advantage.
"The scales are tipping in Ukraine’s favor when it comes to drones," said Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the CNA military think tank.
Impact on the Ukraine War
The drone attacks on both sides over the past two days signify major escalations that could change the course of the war:
They represent Ukraine’s first known strikes on Moscow, bringing the war directly to Russia’s doorstep. This could increase pressure on Putin domestically.
The attacks show Ukraine’s growing ability and willingness to go after Russian targets far from the frontlines.
Russia is responding by indiscriminately attacking civilian areas of Kyiv and other major cities, trying to freeze Ukrainians into submission.
But Russia still retains the advantage in raw firepower and could unleash even more devastating missile and rocket attacks across Ukraine.
In the near term, civilians on both sides will bear the brunt of the escalation. Ukrainian officials say their priority is protecting critical infrastructure like electricity and water systems as winter sets in.
Longer term though, Ukraine’s emerging drone capabilities allow it to sustain its strategy of attriting Russian forces. This could eventually force Moscow to the negotiating table as costs mount.
Table: Comparison of Capabilities in the Drone War
|Modified commercial drones; loitering munitions like Switchblade; custom-built kamikaze drones
|Mostly Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones
|Russian military bases; infrastructure; Crimea bridge
|Ukrainian civilian infrastructure like power plants and water systems
|Smaller but expanding; being supplemented by Western equipment
|Large remaining stockpiles but resupply constrained by sanctions
|Density of Attacks
|Lower intensity but increasing over time
|Mass attacks in waves of 50+ drones
|Limited but having psychological/strategic impact
|Devastating against undefended civilian targets
|60-70% according to Ukraine
|Unknown but doesn’t deter Russia from attacks
"The scale and depth of the strikes on Kyiv in the last month show Russia can still do terrible damage," said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews. "But Ukraine is now demonstrating it too can strike back in a meaningful way."
Reactions from Ukraine and Russia
In the wake of the drone attacks on Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took to social media to rally international support:
"The terrorists must be neutralized. The terrorism must be defeated," he tweeted.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, vowed retaliation for Russia’s strikes:
"We will fight back on all fronts. Very soon…We will bring down the enemy’s deadly machines," he posted on Telegram.
For its part, Russia has remained defiant in the face of Ukraine’s emerging drone threat:
"The Kyiv regime, in order to disable Russian long-range aircraft, made attempts overnight to conduct drone attacks," the Russian defense ministry said matter-of-factly Sunday.
Behind the scenes though, Russia is likely unnerved by strikes deep inside its territory and Ukraine’s increasing ambition to take the fight directly to Russia.
The furious barrages of drone attacks over the last 48 hours represent a concerning escalation between the warring parties. With infrastructure and civilians now squarely in the crosshairs, the conflict threatens to become even deadlier as it drags into winter.
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