Ukraine keeps up Russia pressure as drone raids intensify psychological war

New series of suspected Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russia this week deepen a sense of insecurity that has been slowly building up since Kremlin assault in May.

A view of the damaged skyscraper in the 'Moscow City' business district after a reported drone attack in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, July 30, 2023.
A view of the damaged skyscraper in the 'Moscow City' business district after a drone attack on July 30 [AP Photo]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned this week that war is coming to Russia after kamikaze drone attacks targeted skyscrapers in Moscow’s financial district, as his country’s forces continued to score small-scale territorial successes against Russian troops in Ukraine’s east and south.

Here is a round-up of the main battlefield events during the 75th week of the war.

Drone raids inside Russia

On July 30, a suspected Ukrainian long-range drone hit a Moscow high-rise building that houses the Ministry of Digital Development, the Economy Ministry and the Ministry of Industrial Development, responsible for military industry.

Two days later, another pair of drones was shot down outside Moscow, but a third made it through to the city where it was intercepted by electronic jammers and crashed into a skyscraper, damaging the facade.

The attacks came just days after a previous drone raid on the centre of the Russian capital. While there were no reported casualties, the latest attacks sustained a psychological impact of insecurity that Ukraine has been slowly building up since May 3, when it first attacked the Kremlin with a drone.

Although Ukraine did not directly claim responsibility, Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address, “The war is gradually returning to the territory of Russia – to its symbolic centres and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process.”

A New York Times analysis of photographs posted by Ukrainian online users showed that Ukraine was using three new types of domestically developed drones.

The first type named Bober, meaning beaver, has a double set of wings and a rear propeller. The second one, the UJ22 Airborne, looks like an aeroplane and has a forward propeller. The name of the third design that looked like a flying wing with a forward propeller was not known.

Ukraine has promised not to use Western-supplied weapons on Russian soil. The effect of domestic production has been to increase attacks inside Russia. A Times video analysis of such drone attacks showed that Ukraine launched twice as many kamikaze drones into Russia between May and July as it did in all of 2022.

Ukraine reportedly plans to invest $1bn in drone warfare this year, 10 times what it spent last year.

“The only advantage the Russians have is mass … Massed infantry and massed artillery,” Frederick B Hodges, a former NATO supreme allied commander Europe, told the newspaper. The attacks inside Russia, he said, “create prioritisation problems for the Russian high command”, by creating uncertainty about where Ukraine would strike next.

The drone attacks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said an African initiative could be a basis for peace but claimed that Ukrainian attacks made a cessation of hostilities “virtually impossible”.

His remarks came after hosting African leaders in St Petersburg for the second Russia-Africa summit. The plan, whose details have not been made public, reportedly includes a series of possible steps to defuse the war, including a Russian troop pullback, removal of Russian tactical nuclear weapons from neighbouring Belarus and the suspension of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant against Putin.

The eastern front

Meanwhile in Ukraine’s east, a total of 170 battles took place in the previous week, according to comments made on July 31 by Hanna Maliar, the Ukrainian deputy defence minister.

In Bakhmut alone, where Ukraine’s forces are conducting a flanking manoeuvre north and south of the city, Ukrainian forces had reclaimed two square kilometers (0.8sq miles) of land, Maliar said. That brought the total land recaptured there during Ukraine’s counteroffensive, now in its ninth week, to 37sq km (14sq miles).

Ukrainian forces made marginal advances on Klishchiivka, one of their targets on the southern side of Bakhmut, on July 27. A few days later, they were well inside the settlement’s western outskirts. They also advanced on July 28 to the outskirts of Kurdyumivka, a few kilometres to the south of Klishchiivka.

Eastern forces spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty described Ukraine’s tactics on the southern flank of Bahmut as “small but confident steps – [preserving] our personnel as much as possible”.

“We are gradually moving forward on the southern flank in the Bakhmut area,” added Maliar. “The enemy is trying with all his might to stop us.”

The southern front

On July 27, Zelenskyy posted footage showing Ukrainian troops announcing they had captured Staromayorske, a village with a pre-war population of fewer than a thousand people on the Zaporizhia-Donetsk border. Ukraine’s forces in the region are driving towards the Russian-occupied port city of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov.

The Russian defence ministry did not comment about the situation on Staromayorske, but some Russian reporters acknowledged its capture. Ukraine’s general staff said Russian losses there were so heavy that the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment disobeyed orders to enter the battle.

Geolocated footage also showed Ukrainian forces advancing towards the nearby town of Pryyutne on July 29.

Ukrainian forces are active on at least five major southern fronts, and Maliar said on July 31 that altogether they had reclaimed 12.6sq km (4.86sq miles) during the previous week, bringing total gains there to 205sq km (79sq miles) since the start of the counteroffensive.

In western Zaporizhia, Ukraine made territorial gains after launching a surprise mechanised assault on July 26 south of Orikhiv. Geolocated footage on the day showed its forces had advanced towards Robotyne, but Putin attempted to recast the initiative as a failure, saying Ukraine had lost 39 armoured vehicles.

Russian reporters tried to support the president’s narrative, using footage showing a Russian tank purportedly defeating an entire Ukrainian company, but the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) identified this as footage from two months earlier.

“Russian sources have previously recirculated old footage to support claims that Ukrainian forces are suffering significant armoured vehicle losses,” said the ISW.

The Robotyne offensive seems to have misled some Western observers. Anonymous US officials dialled back comments they had made to the New York Times on July 26, in which they had said that the main Ukrainian counteroffensive was under way, and that “most of the units trained and equipped by the West for that purpose had been committed”.

The newspaper estimated that Ukraine had trained 63,000 reservists for its counteroffensive, a figure quoted by other experts as well.

An official told the newspaper, “It remains to be seen what they’ll truly commit, when they’ll commit it and where.”

Explaining the stagnation of the front line, journalist Samuel G Friedman wrote on Substack, “After the early June setback, the Ukrainians went back to relying, as so often the case in this war, on actions more at platoon and company level, with small groups of soldiers rushing from one tree line to another, or creeping forward to clear a way through a minefield … Russian forces have adapted in a similar way, if only to prevent Ukrainians consolidating even limited gains … This explains the ebb and flow of the front lines of recent weeks as small settlements regularly change hands.”

He added: “What is important is that Ukraine keeps the initiative, and does not exhaust itself so much that the Russians get a chance to regroup and counterattack. Outside cheerleaders and anxious supporters should not force the pace.”

In addition to wearing down Russian front-line troops with relentless assaults, Ukraine also continued to cut off their ammunition supply lines.

On July 29, it struck the Chonhar bridge in Zaporizhia, a supply chokepoint. That overland route had become an important backup after Ukraine damaged the Kerch Bridge across the Black Sea to Crimea in July. The Kerch Bridge will be under repair until November.

Vladimir Saldo, head of the Russian-installed administration in occupied Kherson province, said Ukrainian forces had launched a dozen Storm Shadow missiles at the Chonhar bridge, but also repeated the Russian defence ministry’s claim to have intercepted them all.

Southern forces spokesperson Natalia Humenyuk said the attack on the Chonhar Bridge had forced the Russian side to use alternative resupply routes for their troops, including roads through Zaporizhia and increased numbers of ships across the Kerch Strait.

“There is still high activity of enemy tactical aircraft in the southeast direction. This indicates that the enemy is gathering intelligence and may be preparing for powerful attacks,” she added.


Source: Al Jazeera