Russia boosts Iranian drone strikes on Ukraine ahead of Christmas season - analysis

Moscow is upping the attacks before Christmas in order to do as much harm as possible. Will Western air defenses come fast enough to help Ukraine?

 Smoke rises over power lines after Russian missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Lviv, Ukraine October 10, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/PAVLO PALAMARCHUK)
Smoke rises over power lines after Russian missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Lviv, Ukraine October 10, 2022.

Ukrainian air defenses have attempted to stop a new barrage of Iranian-supplied drones that Russia is using to target infrastructure.

Ukraine said Russia launched 35 drones overnight at Ukraine, including at the capital Kyiv. Ukraine shot down 30 of the drones, which is an impressive number, but five of them still got through.

Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate reportedly assessed that Russia received a new batch of Iranian drones. This would augment the hundreds of drones Russia has already received from Iran and used against Ukraine. These so-called “kamikaze” drones, which fly one-way missions, are primarily used by Russia against civilian infrastructure targets.

Russia's main tactic in Ukraine

This has been Russia’s main tactic in the last few months, designed to break Ukrainian morale while creating as much damage as possible. Moscow is not trying to win the war; it is trying to create attrition and harm Ukraine.

This is akin to other wars of attrition, like the Battle of Verdun in the First World War. Germany’s goal then was to “bleed France white” by forcing France to sacrifice large numbers of soldiers in the battle. Moscow likely wants to do the same to Ukraine, but is targeting civilians because it doesn’t want to sacrifice military equipment on the front lines.

In response to continued Russian acquisition and use of Iranian drones, the West is sanctioning Russia and trying to move more air defenses to Ukraine. The question is whether the defenses will come fast enough to help the Ukrainians get through a harsh winter.

Moscow is clearly upping the attacks before Christmas in order to do as much physical and psychological harm as possible. Orthodox Christmas is on January 7, according to the Julian calendar, while others celebrate it on December 25, meaning Ukrainians generally have several weeks of holiday.

During the First World War on the Western Front, there were unofficial truces on the German and French front lines. However, it appears Russia, in its attempt to harm civilians in the lead up to Christmas, has no intention of pursuing a truce or any kind of ceasefire. This illustrates how devoid of compassion and humanity Moscow’s war against Ukrainian civilians has become.

Of course, it is always possible for things to change over the next week. Global faith leaders have not appeared to work strongly to stop the war on the eve of Christmas, although Pope Francis did call on people last week to “renew our closeness to the battered Ukrainian people” and to persevere in “prayer for these our brothers and sisters who are suffering so much.”

CNN reported that some Orthodox churches in Ukraine would celebrate Christmas on December 25 as the rift with Moscow deepens and, according to Iran International TV, as the Tehran regime continues to supply Moscow with drones.

The report said, “A Ukrainian senior intelligence official says Russia has received a new shipment of Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones from the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to Ukraine’s defense intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov, the new shipment is smaller than the previous one sometime in the summer that is estimated to have included at least 400 UAVs.”

Ukrainian officials reported attacks overnight between Sunday and Monday.

“Several explosions were heard in the Solomaynskyi and Shevchenkovskiy districts of the capital,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Monday morning. The heating had only recently been restored throughout most of Kyiv.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said, “In recent days, there has been an uptick in Russia’s campaign of long-range strikes against Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure.” The UK assesses that these are “Iranian-provided uncrewed aerial vehicles [UAVs] being launched from Russia’s Krasnodar region.”

Russia may be launching from Krasnodar because it believes Crimea is now vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes, or that Ukraine’s defense radars and detection systems have become more alert.

Krasnodar is further east than Crimea, across the Kerch Strait. Nevertheless, the flight paths of these drones would likely be similar, depending on how they are programmed.