Russia, shaken by Ukraine attack, may increase its use of drones

KYIV, Ukraine — Emergency teams on Tuesday sifted through the ruins of a building hit by a Ukrainian missile that killed at least 63 Russian soldiers stationed there, in the latest blow to the country’s war strategy. Kremlin when Ukraine says Moscow’s tactics may be changing.

An Associated Press video of the scene in Makiivka, a town in the eastern part of the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, shows five cranes and emergency workers moving large blocks of concrete under a clear blue sky.

In what appeared to be an attack last weekend, Ukrainian forces fired rockets from the US-supplied HIMARS multiple launch system, according to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry.

It is one of the deadliest attacks on Kremlin forces since the war began more than 10 months ago and is an embarrassment that has sparked renewed criticism within Russia over the way it is advancing. conduct the war.

Monday’s Russian statement about the attack provides few other details. Other, unconfirmed reports put the death toll much higher.

The Directorate for Strategic Communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced on Sunday that about 400 mobilized Russian soldiers were killed in a vocational school building in Makiivka and about 300 others were injured. That statement cannot be independently verified. The Russian statement said the strike occurred “in the Makiivka region” and made no mention of the vocational school.

Satellite photos analyzed by the AP show the clear consequences of the strike. An image from December 20 shows the building still standing. One from January 2 shows it in dilapidated condition. Other days there was intense cloud cover, making the location impossible to see with standard satellite imagery.

The state agency RIA Novosti reported that vigils for soldiers killed in the strike took place in two Russian cities on Tuesday.

In Samara, southwestern Russia, locals gather for an Orthodox ceremony to remember the dead. The ceremony was followed by a minute of silence and flowers were placed at the Soviet-era war memorial, RIA reported.

Unconfirmed reports in Russian-language media said the victims were reservists mobilized from the region.

With fierce fighting lasting much longer than the Kremlin anticipated, and mired in a war of attrition amid a Ukrainian counterattack backed by Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin are considering ways to regain motivation.

In a video address late Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country needed to strengthen its defenses against what he described as Russia’s plan for a new offensive.

“There is no doubt that Russia’s bosses today will gather all they can to try to reverse the tide of battle or at least delay their defeat,” he said. “We have to break that Russian scenario and get ready for it.”

In comments a day earlier, Zelenskyy had announced the Kremlin plans to increase its use of Iranian-made exploding drones.

“We have information that Russia is planning a protracted strike with Shaheds (drone exploding),” he said.

Zelenskyy said the goal was to break Ukraine’s resistance by “depleting our people, (our) air defenses, our energy.”

For the Russian military, exploding drones are cheap weapons and instill fear in the enemy. The United States and its allies have sparred with Iran over Tehran’s role in supplying Moscow with drones.

The Institute for the Study of War says Putin is trying to gain support for his strategy from key voices in Russia.

“Russia’s missile and air campaign against Ukraine may not produce the desired informational effect of the Kremlin on Russian nationalists,” the think tank said late on Wednesday. Two.

“Such profound military failures will further complicate Putin’s efforts to appease Russia’s pro-war community and maintain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space,” it said. said more.

Meanwhile, advances in drones in Ukraine have fueled a trend that could soon bring the world’s first fully automated combat robot to the battlefield. Experts say it may only be a matter of time before Russia or Ukraine deploy them.

However, Putin’s further reliance on existing drones may not help him achieve his goals, as Ukraine claims a high success rate for these weapons. Part of the intention to use drones, though, is to deplete Ukraine’s air defenses.

Zelenskyy said that during the first two days of the new year, marked by relentless nighttime drone attacks on Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure, the forces of the country shot down more than 80 Iranian-made drones.

Since September, Ukraine’s armed forces have shot down nearly 500 drones, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat announced in a television interview on Tuesday.

As well as seeking to weaken Russia’s ability to resist invasion, long-range bombing raids have targeted the power grid, exposing civilians to harsh winter weather.

In the latest fighting, a Russian missile attack overnight on the city of Druzhkivka in the Donetsk region injured two people, Ukraine’s deputy chief of staff Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Tuesday.

The Russian military on Tuesday acknowledged the attacks on Druzhkivka and Kramatorsk, also in Donetsk. The Department of Defense announced it destroyed four HIMARS launchers in the area. This statement cannot be independently verified.

A reporter for the French broadcaster TF1 was live on a television screen when an explosion from one of the strikes broke out behind him in Druzhkivka. A German reporter for the newspaper Bild was slightly wounded by shrapnel during the same bombardment.

Officials said the attack destroyed an ice hockey stadium described as the largest figure skating and hockey school in Ukraine.

Kherson Ukraine governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said that in recently recaptured areas south of Kherson, Russian shelling on Monday killed two people and wounded nine. He also said two people were killed in the Kherson area on Tuesday after the driver hit a landmine.

In other developments on Tuesday:

Ukraine’s main security service says it is bringing criminal charges against two senior Russian commanders accused of overseeing attacks against civilians.

Ukraine’s Security Service said on its website that it had obtained “high-quality evidence” against Sergei Kobylash, the commander of Russia’s long-range aviation forces, and Igor Osipov, the former commander of the Fleet. Russia’s Black Sea. Both were charged under Ukrainian law with violating the country’s territorial integrity and “planning, preparing, starting and waging a war of aggression”, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. .

While it is unlikely Kyiv will bring Kobylash and Osipov to trial in the near future, this announcement marks the first time that Ukrainian authorities have brought charges directly related to attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure.

— Ukraine’s Chief of Staff, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said he had his first phone call this year with US General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Zaluzhnyi said on Facebook that he told Milley about heavy fighting around Svatove-Kreminna and in the direction of Lysychansk. “The most difficult situation remains in the Soledar-Bakhmut-Mayorsk region,” he said, adding that the Russians were trying to move forward by “marrying effectively on their own corpses.” He said Ukrainian forces secure the Zaporizhzhia region and make efforts to protect Kherson from Russian shelling, while the situation along the border with Belarus is under complete control.


Jon Gambrell of Rome contributed to this report.


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