Despite shortages in its long-range missile arsenal, Moscow has demonstrated that it still maintains the ability to terrorize the Ukrainian population. In the early hours of Friday morning, Russian strategic bombers fired over 23 missiles, one of which struck a residential building in the city of Uman, 134 miles south of Kyiv. In the southeastern city of Dnipro, a 31-year-old woman and her two-year-old daughter were killed when a shell hit their home, bringing the civilian death toll in this latest wave of air strikes to 25.
Kyiv was also targeted for the first time in almost two months, although there were no reports of any targets hit. The city government said Ukraine’s air force intercepted 11 cruise missiles and two unmanned aerial vehicles over the capital. Ukrainian officials and analysts have alleged the strikes are part of a deliberate intimidation strategy by the Kremlin. Russia, meanwhile, has denied its military aims at civilian targets.
This is the second most deadly Russian attack in terms of civilian casualties so far this year after the one Moscow carried out on January 14, in which around 30 people were killed when a missile hit a residential building in Dnipro.
After a sustained period of attacks designed to knock out the Ukrainian power grid and inflict misery on the civilian population throughout winter, Moscow has been progressively decreasing its long-range bombardments over the past three months due to the reduction of its missile arsenal after more than a year of war. The Ukrainian Air Force even suggested last week that Russia had practically run out of stocks of Kh-101 and Kh-555 air-launched cruise missiles, which were among the barrage aimed at Ukrainian targets on Friday. The head of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence services, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, said on Monday that Kyiv believed whatever long-range missiles were still available to Moscow were being held in reserve to respond to the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The attacks came as NATO announced that its allies and partner countries have delivered more than 98% of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine during Russia’s invasion and war, strengthening Kyiv’s capabilities as it contemplates launching a counteroffensive. Along with more than 1,550 armored vehicles, 230 tanks and other equipment, Ukraine’s allies have sent “vast amounts of ammunition” and trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian brigades, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Friday’s bombardment marked a shift in Russia’s recent strategy, in which the Kremlin’s forces had concentrated firepower on the Donetsk front, where most of the fighting is currently taking place. Russian bombers based in the Caspian Sea fired 23 missiles in total, of which 21 were shot down according to the Ukrainian Air Force. The attack caused power outages in the Obolon district of the capital and damage to power lines and roads, but no casualties were reported.
The last large-scale bombardment of Kyiv was launched on March 9. In recent months, Ukrainian defense systems have been reinforced with some of the most modern anti-aircraft batteries in the world, such as the American Patriot or the German Iris-T. The only missiles that remain difficult to intercept, and which Russia uses sparingly, are ballistic rockets such as the Kinzhal. Ukraine’s effectiveness in intercepting long-range missiles is matched by the armed forces’ ability to detect and shoot down drone-bombs, particularly the Iranian-produced Shahed, which Moscow has increasingly deployed as its missile stocks have dried up. These drones are regularly used to identify the positions of anti-aircraft batteries, according to Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat.
In a recent interview with EL PAÍS, Ukrainian General Sergei Melnik reiterated that the priority for the Armed Forces of Ukraine is air defense systems. Melnik also advocated attacking airfields on Russian territory to prevent attacks like Friday’s, when Tu-95 bombers took off from the Caspian Sea, fired their missiles hundreds of miles from their targets and returned to their base in the knowledge that Ukraine has no means of shooting them down.
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