Russia is planning a protracted campaign of aerial bombardments and attacks using Iranian-made drones in a bid to “exhaust” Ukraine into submission, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In his nightly address to the nation on Monday, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine had received intelligence that Russia would increase its campaign of drone raids on the country.
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“We have information that Russia is planning a long-term attack using Shahed drones,” Zelenskyy said.
“It is probably banking on exhaustion. Exhausting our people, our anti-aircraft defences, our energy,” he said.
Ukraine, he said, had to “act and do everything so that the terrorists fail in their aim, as all their others have failed”.
Drones targeted critical infrastructure in Kyiv and surrounding areas in the early hours of Monday, following attacks by Russian missiles and drones that hit Kyiv and other cities on New Year’s Eve and early on New Year’s Day, killing at least five people and wounding dozens.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had shot scores of drones in just the first two days of 2023, and he expected the number could increase soon.
“Only two days have passed since the beginning of the year … and already the number of drones shot down over Ukraine is over 80,” he said.
“In the near future, this number may increase.”
The Russian military has increasingly turned to the use of so-called kamikaze drones, which are packed with explosives and, at the end of their flight path, descend vertically at high speed on their target, causing extensive damage and casualties.
Though the Iranian Shahed drones are relatively slow moving and an easy target for Ukraine’s air defences, Russia’s drone war strategy has been to launch large numbers of the uncrewed projectiles at a particular target and overwhelm Ukraine’s air surveillance and defence systems.
Iran had denied providing drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war until confirming in November that it had given a “limited number” of the aerial explosives to Moscow but insisting that they were in the hands of Russian forces before the invasion of Ukraine had begun.
Zelenskyy has rejected Tehran’s account of its drone supplies with Russia, saying the number of Shaheds shot down far exceeded what Iran had claimed to have provided to Moscow.
Ukraine’s military officials said on Monday that it successfully had shot down all 39 drones Russia had launched in a third straight night of air raids against civilian targets in Kyiv and other cities. The officials said their success proved that Russia’s tactic in recent months of raining down missiles and drones to knock out Ukraine’s energy infrastructure was increasingly failing as Kyiv beefs up its air defences more than 10 months since Russian forces invaded.
However, while the drones deployed by Russia are relatively cheap to procure, the missiles and other weaponry used by Ukraine to intercept such aerial attacks are far more expensive.