With the war on the ground at a standstill, Russia plans to escalate its drone campaign against civilian targets, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
That prospect doesn’t cause nearly as much angst as it once did.
The Ukrainian military said it intercepted all 84 unmanned aerial vehicles Russia launched on New Year’s Eve and the night of Jan. 1 spilling into the morning of Jan. 2.
The Iranian-made Shahed drones that played such a crucial role in the Kremlin’s strategy to batter Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have become considerably less effective thanks in part to U.S.-supplied air defense weapons and the Ukrainians’ ability to learn how to use them.
Ukraine has shot down almost 500 drones since September, the country’s air force spokesman, Yurii Ihnat, said on television Tuesday. Zelenskyy calls those achievements “victories over terrorists and terror.”
“Each shot down drone, each shot down missile, each day with electricity for our people and minimal schedules of blackouts are exactly such victories,” Zelenskyy said.
►Two top Ukrainian officials – Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Intelligence Directorate – have warned that Russia plans to hold another draft early this month.
►For the first time in the war, Ukraine has filed charges against two Russian officers directly related to attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure. Sergei Kobylash, commander of Russia’s long-range aviation force, and Igor Osipov, the former head of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, are unlikely to stand trial for the charges in the near future.
►Ukraine has reclaimed 40% of the territory Russia seized since the beginning of the war, Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi said, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Putin struggling to turn narrative in his favor
By repelling the latest round of drone strikes, Ukraine denied Russian President Vladimir Putin a rallying point as his forces are reeling from a rocket attack that killed at least 63 soldiers at barracks in Makiivka, a town in the partially Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region.
“The Russian regime needs mobilizing emotions, something they want to demonstrate to their country in order to continue lying that everything is going ‘according to the plan,'” Zelenskyy said.
Instead, images from an Associated Press video in Makiivka showed five cranes and emergency workers removing big chunks of concrete following the attack, apparently executed last weekend with U.S.-provided HIMARS rocket launchers, according to a Russian Defense Ministry statement.
The assault, one of the deadliest and most embarrassing for the Kremlin since the war began, renewed criticism about Russia’s military campaign.
“Such profound military failures will continue to complicate Putin’s efforts to appease the Russian pro-war community and retain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space,” said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
Russia does ‘not plan to end the war,’ Ukraine official says
Battlefield losses have done little to alter the military plans for Russia, which still envisions capturing all the Donetsk province and using the Donbas region as its land corridor to occupied Crimea, a Ukrainian spokesman told media members.
“They understand that they will lose, but they do not plan to end the war,” said Andriy Chernyak, spokesman for the Defense Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate. “We are considering the possibility that they may (attack) at the same time from the north or the east.”
Chernyak said Ukraine’s military intelligence estimates Russia may lose up to 70,000 troops in the war over the next 4-5 months.
“And the leadership of the occupying country is ready for such losses,” he added.
Contributing: The Associated Press