Ukraine shot down all of the exploding drones that Russia had launched in the new year, an air force spokesman said on Tuesday, in a measure of the country’s growing ability to counter Moscow’s efforts to disable its energy infrastructure.
“Such results have never been achieved before,” spokesman Yuriy Ignat said on Ukrainian television, referring to the night of December 31 and January 1.
Russia fired its latest swarm of Iranian weapons, dubbed “flying mopeds” because of their relatively slow speed, at targets in Ukraine on Monday. None reached their destination due to anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets, a rare interruption. 20 drones were shot down over Kyiv alone.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said his military had started the new year by firmly resisting drone attacks from above.
“Only two days have passed since the beginning of the year, and the number of downed Iranian drones over Ukraine is already more than 80”, said Mr. Zelensky late Monday in his evening address.
In October, about a month after Russia began deploying the Shahed drones, an adviser to Ukraine said the defense minister that they shoot down more than 70 percent of the drones.
With the onset of winter, fighting on the ground in Ukraine has turned into a war of attrition, and the focus has shifted to fighting in the air over the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and other major cities.
Russia has launched wave after wave of drone and cruise missile attacks aimed at cutting off electricity and water supplies to civilians, leaving up to 25 percent of the nation without power at times. Monday’s drone attack is the latest in a string of late-year attacks, including one killed three civilians on New Year’s Eve.
Given that Ukraine’s defensive measures cost more than Russia’s air strike methods, some military experts fear a growing imbalance that could, over time, favor Russia. In his evening address on Monday, Mr Zelensky said his government had intelligence suggesting there was no end in sight to Russian attacks using Shahedi.
“We have information that Russia is planning a sustained attack with martyrs,” he said, according to a transcript released by his office. “The stake may be on attrition — on the attrition of our people, our air defenses, our energy sector.”
But with each attack, Ukrainian forces have gotten better at destroying the drones before they hit their target, giving Ukraine what Mr. Zelensky called small “victories over terrorists and terror.”
“Every drone shot down, every missile shot down, every day with electricity for our people and minimal schedule disruptions are just such victories,” he said.
One reason for the success against the drone campaign may be the United States’ decision in early November to secured Ukraine with an advanced surface-to-air missile system known as NASAMS. It includes radar, sensors, launchers and a mobile command center.
According to the Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security, a Ukrainian government agency, the US missile system played a role in Monday’s attack.
“Although we only learned to operate them a few weeks ago, our military has been using them almost like artillery, reloading them as quickly as possible,” the center said on Twitter. “The extremely successful use of these weapons shows that our soldiers are quick learners.”
Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired CIA officer, said the training helped Ukrainian forces get better and better at handling sophisticated weapons.
Russia, on the other hand, he said, looked like this I give up with the idea of winning the war with traditional land combat, at least in the near future.
“It seems their reserve is just to smash the country to shreds,” he said. “You can’t win a war with airstrikes.”
Victoria Kim contributed reporting.
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