February 25, 2024

Drones (Pilotless Planes)

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Police officers photographed from the rear in front of large apartment buildings.
Police officers stood outside several apartment buildings damaged after a drone attack in Moscow on Tuesday. Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A day after a drone strike on Moscow, Kremlin officials jumped on the refusal of Ukrainian allies to denounce the attack as proof that Russia’s real war was with the West.

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said Russia “would have preferred to hear at least some words of condemnation” from Western capitals.

“We will calmly and deliberately think how to deal with this,” he said.

While none of Ukraine’s allies went so far as to endorse the drone attack, Britain’s foreign secretary said on Tuesday that Kyiv had “the right to project force beyond its borders.”

The U.S. response was more circumspect, but it stopped short of criticizing the first military strike to hit civilian areas in the Russian capital since the start of the war. Ukraine officials have said they were not “directly involved” in the drone strike.

From the outset of the conflict, Russia has portrayed the invasion of Ukraine as a defensive war provoked by the West, and on Wednesday it seized on the attack.

Dmitri A. Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s national security council and a former president, said Britain “de facto is leading an undeclared war against Russia” by providing Ukraine with military aid and called it “our eternal enemy.”

Known since the war began for staking out extreme positions, Mr. Medvedev argued that now any British official “can be considered as a legitimate military target.”

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A man sitting at a desk in front of papers, next to a flag.
Dmitri A. Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s national security council, accused Britain of “leading an undeclared war against Russia.”Credit…Ekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik

The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, called the U.S. refusal to condemn the attack “an encouragement for Ukrainian terrorists,” his embassy said on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia has repeatedly hit civilian areas of Ukraine over the course of the war, though it has denied targeting nonmilitary sites. And in recent weeks it has turned up the barrage of missiles and attack drones aimed at Kyiv, the capital. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including children, have been killed in Russian airstrikes and artillery bombardments, U.N. officials say.

Though the drone strike on Tuesday was unusual, it was not the first one on Russian soil since the war began. Drones have hit military air bases deep inside Russia, as well as an oil facility near an airfield in the province of Kursk. And this month, drones exploded over the Kremlin.

The incursions continued on Wednesday, when, the Russian authorities said, Ukrainian drones attacked two oil refineries in the region of Krasnodar. They also said that four people had been injured by shelling in the border region of Belgorod.

Russia has long accused the West of waging a proxy war against it. Those claims grew louder this month when a group of Ukraine-based Russian paramilitary members staged a multiday raid in Russia’s Belgorod border region — apparently with U.S. armored vehicles.

A New York Times analysis found that at least three of what appeared to be American-made MRAPs had been part of the attack. A leader of one of the groups claimed the weapons had not been provided by the Ukrainian military.

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Damaged armored military vehicles stand in mud after a fight.
The aftermath of a cross-border raid in Russia’s Belgorod region last week. The image was released by the Russian military.Credit…Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

Russian officials have said that NATO’s decision to send weapons, which have become increasingly advance as the war has worn on, raises the risk of a direct confrontation and a potential nuclear war.

On Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin also made an oblique reference to this threat, calling the drone strike on Moscow an attempt “to create a response reaction from Russia.” He accused unspecified forces of trying to sabotage a Ukrainian nuclear plant occupied by Russia or to use “a type of a dirty bomb related to the nuclear industry.”

Although Western governments initially focused their military support for Ukraine on bolstering its defenses, over time, the desire to hasten an end the war has led to growing deliveries of offensive weapons to Kyiv.

Tensions between Moscow and Western capitals have worsened since the invasion, as have the economic sanctions imposed on Russia as penalty.

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The Russian president standing in an office with flags.
President Vladimir V. Putin said the drone strike in Moscow was an attempt “to create a response reaction from Russia.”Credit…Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik

At a security conference on Wednesday in Slovakia, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said that Western allies must give Ukraine “tangible and credible” security guarantees in its battle against Russia.

“If we want a credible, durable peace, if we want to hold our own against Russia, if we want to be credible with the Ukrainians, we must give Ukraine the means to prevent any new aggression and to include Ukraine in any new security architecture,” he said in a speech.

Mr. Macron was criticized early in the war over his insistence on not antagonizing Russia, but his approach toward Mr. Putin has hardened. He also expressed regret that France and other Western European countries had failed to heed warnings from countries on the European Union’s eastern edge about Russian belligerence.

On Wednesday, Germany said it had ordered four of the five Russian Consulates in the country to close after Moscow limited the number of German diplomatic staff allowed in Russia, the latest in an escalating tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry was told to start shutting down its consulates in Germany immediately and to finish by the end of the year, said Christofer Burger, a spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry.

One Russian Consulate and the Russian Embassy in Berlin will be allowed to remain open.

In Sweden, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken met with European officials on Wednesday to discuss trade and technology issues, cracking down on exports that could aid Russia.

On Thursday, Mr. Blinken is scheduled to meet with NATO foreign ministers to discuss the alliance summit planned for July, as well as the war in Ukraine and the prospects for Swedish membership in the alliance.

Explosions echoed across Ukraine’s capital for hours before dawn on Sunday as air defense teams raced to combat the largest swarm of Russian attack drones targeting Kyiv since the war began more than 15 months ago.

The Ukrainian Air Force said it had shot down 58 out of 59 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones aimed at targets in central Ukraine, describing the number launched as a record. More than 40 drones were intercepted over the capital, where city officials said at least one person had been killed and another injured, probably by falling debris.

As Ukraine draws closer to launching a counteroffensive aimed at reclaiming land lost in the first months of the war, Moscow has stepped up its assaults on Kyiv. The capital has been attacked 14 times this month by waves of Russian drones, cruise missiles and sophisticated ballistic missiles.

“This was the largest-ever drone attack on the capital since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, particularly using Shahed loitering munitions,” the Kyiv military administration said in a statement.

Ukraine’s complex air defense network has become adept at intercepting the Russian barrages, often shooting down the majority of the dozens of drones and missiles. The arrival this spring of the American-made Patriot system, the most advanced U.S. ground-based air-defense system, has given it an added layer of protection. This month Ukrainian air defenses managed for the first time to shoot down some of the most sophisticated conventional weapons in Russia’s arsenal, hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, according to Ukrainian and American officials.

While nearly every assault on Kyiv in May has been thwarted, the attack on Sunday was the first to result in the loss of life.

ImageA yellow building shows signs of damage.
A tobacco factory damaged by debris in Kyiv on Sunday. Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
A yellow building shows signs of damage.

One person died and another was hospitalized after debris from a downed drone hit a seven-story nonresidential building, the Kyiv military administration said in a statement. It said the roof of a shopping mall caught fire and a warehouse was set ablaze.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised the work of Ukraine’s air defense forces, calling them heroes.

“Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved,” he wrote in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

The assault on the capital came as Ukrainians prepared to mark the city’s founding 1,541 years ago, a holiday traditionally celebrated on the last Sunday in May.

“The history of Ukraine is a longstanding irritant for complex Russians,” Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said after the assault, vowing revenge.

Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, said the “record number” of drones aimed at Kyiv were “gifts” from Russia on Kyiv Day but that air defense teams working through the night had probably saved hundreds of lives by ensuring “only fragments” remained by the time the assault ended.

Ukrainian officials were quick to note that Moscow has targeted the capital since the first days of the war, when they hoped to quickly seize Kyiv. The intensity of the assaults has ebbed and flowed — with Ukrainian officials saying that Russia is constantly trying to adapt its tactics.

In the latest attack, air alarms sounded in Kyiv at around 1 a.m. on Sunday as the first wave of Shahed-136 drones streaming toward the city was detected.

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A triangle shaped drone seen in the sky.
An unmanned aerial vehicle in the distinctive shape of an Iranian-made Shahed-136 in the sky over Kyiv during a drone attack in October. Credit…Roman Petushkov/Reuters
A triangle shaped drone seen in the sky.

“The routes of these aircraft were somewhat unconventional,” Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern command, said in an appearance on national television.

“They tried to bypass the southern air defense as much as possible, as evidenced by the fact that they flew mainly over the temporarily occupied territories and then dispersed across Ukraine,” she added, saying that the drones had hugged riverbeds in an attempt to evade radar.

The Ukrainian Air Force has explained how missiles and drones become less visible on radar the closer they press to the ground, which is one reason it is hard to shoot them down outside the Kyiv city limits.

Ukraine’s most sophisticated air-defense systems like the Patriot — which employs interceptor missiles that cost $4 million per shot — are largely reserved for countering Moscow’s most sophisticated missiles. To counter the Iranian-made drones Russia has been launching, Ukraine has tended to rely on less expensive weapons like antiaircraft guns and Stinger missiles.

At around 2 a.m., the skies above Kyiv lit up with tracer fire as the Ukrainian air defense teams took aim at the drones over the heart of the city.

While the drones themselves, with their distinctive triangular wing design, were often not immediately visible to civilians watching the battle in the sky, when the Ukrainians found their target, the resulting explosion looked like a fireworks display.

For nearly five hours, explosions echoed across the capital until the last drone disappeared from Ukrainian radar.

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Debris is seen inside a dark room.
Damage inside a building struck by debris in Kyiv on Sunday. Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
Debris is seen inside a dark room.

Here’s what else is happening in Ukraine:

  • Frontline Strikes: Russian attacks on towns and cities closer to the front line continued. Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling of the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine injured at least one person. Russian fire killed at least one person in the town of Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine, the officials said. Nearly two dozen villages near the front in the southern Zaporizhzhia region were hit in artillery attacks, injuring at least four civilians, local officials said. Russia also continued to shell towns and cities close to the border, killing two people in the Kharkiv region, local officials said.

  • Dnipro Death Toll: Local officials said the death toll from a Russian missile strike on a medical facility in Dnipro on Friday has climbed to four. The authorities initially expressed hopes that people still listed as missing might be found alive.

    “The three people who went missing during the missile attack on Dnipro have been found,” the Dnipro military administration said in a statement on Sunday. “Unfortunately, they have been killed.”

    A 56-year-old doctor, a 64-year-old employee of the damaged medical facility and a 57-year-old employee of a neighboring veterinary clinic were among the victims.

  • Bakhmut: Combat has largely subsided in the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, with only one clash reported over the past 24 hours, Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces, said Sunday on national television.

    Russia now controls the shattered city after a bloody months long battle, and the Wagner mercenary group — whose fighters led much of the assault — appears to be following through on a pledge by its founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, to withdraw from there. Mr. Cherevaty said that Russia was “rotating its troops, replacing Wagner” fighters with other units. That echoed an assessment from Britain’s defense intelligence agency on Saturday.

    Ukrainian officials have said Kyiv’s forces had recaptured land on the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut. But Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, said on Saturday that Ukraine had halted combat operations there for now.

A person was killed by falling debris from an intercepted drone. Ukraine said it shot down more than 40 drones, the largest attack on Kyiv since the start of the war.

At least one person was killed and another was injured on Sunday morning in Kyiv as Russia fired its largest wave of attack drones at the Ukrainian capital since the start of the war.

A 41-year-old man died after fragments from a drone that was shot down fell to the ground, according to Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, and the city’s military administration. The first wave of explosions, including three that damaged buildings across the city, came shortly after 2 a.m. local time, according to Mr. Klitschko. The air-raid warning was lifted at about 6 a.m.

Russia has intensified its focus on Kyiv in May, unleashing its biggest and most sustained attack there since at least March, with near-nightly volleys of missiles and drones. Sunday’s attack, the 14th this month, appeared to be the first deadly one in May. Ukraine’s air defenses destroyed more than 40 drones, the most fired at Kyiv in one night, the city’s military administration said on Telegram.

Ukraine’s armed force have become adept at intercepting the Russian barrages, often shooting down dozens of drones and missiles. As of this month, Ukraine has been using U.S.-made Patriot antimissile systems, one of the most advanced air defense systems, as part of its growing arsenal of weapons.

In a show of just how skilled Ukraine’s armed forces have become, its air defense system shot down Kinzhals aimed at Kyiv earlier this month on more than one occasion, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials. The weapon is one of Russia’s most sophisticated conventional weapons. And while some analysts have cast doubt on the abilities of the Kinzhal, Ukraine’s defense against them demonstrates a great capability to withstand Russia’s arsenal, which includes Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, signaled that the nation’s armed forces were ready to launch their counteroffensive, but stopped short of declaring an official start to it. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have grown bolder and attacked deeper into Russian territory, trading drone and missile attacks with Russia, and targeting military and industrial facilities key to Russia’s war effort.