Ukraine Situation Report: Explosive Drones Are Getting Very Close To Moscow
Ukrainian long-range drones are creeping closer to Moscow, which could become a major issue for the Kremlin as the war drags on.
Several locations in Russia, including near Moscow - as well as Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula it has occupied since 2014 - were reportedly hit by Ukrainian drone attacks Sunday and Monday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD), local government officials and various media accounts.
A Ukrainian UJ-22 drone packed with explosives was found near Moscow, in what appears to be the closest discovery of a weaponized Ukrainian drone near Russia’s capital. However, there was a discrepancy in reporting about exactly where it landed.
The official TASS media outlet, the Russian Shot news agency and Al Jazeera reported that it fell in the Bogorodsky district, about 19 miles east of central Moscow.
"In the Bogorodsky district, not far from the SNT Zarya, a fallen drone filled with explosives was found," TASS reported, citing a source. “According to him, the aircraft was discovered the day before, it was broken in half. Currently, the drone was taken for examination, during which those who launched it and where it flew to will be established.”
A “‘Ukrainian’ drone has been found outside Moscow, an official has said, adding that the discovery had forced local authorities to call off a Victory Day parade for security reasons,” Al Jazeera reported, citing the Telegram channel of Igor Sukhin, head of the Bogorodsky city district.
However, the Telegram channels for Russian media outlets Baza and Mash reported that a drone matching the same description was discovered near the city of Noginsk, about 31 miles east of Moscow.
While it is unclear exactly where the drone was found, or if these were different drones, either location is closer to Moscow than the Ukrainian UJ-22 drone discovered in February about 70 miles from the capital. You can read more about that in our coverage here.
In addition to the UJ-22 drone discoveries, there were also several recent attempted Ukrainian aerial drone incursions in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, just over the border, according to the Baza's Telegram channel. The oblast has been a frequent target of Ukrainian attacks.
“The Belgorod region was massively attacked by drones,” Baza reported Monday on its Telegram channel. “Only yesterday, four UAVs flew into the region.”
“One of them, flying over the village of Mur, 500 meters from the border, was landed by means of electronic warfare. The second drone, seen on the outskirts of the village of Sereda, was also shot down - when it fell, the ammunition detonated and the drone exploded.”
In addition, “a quadcopter was able to fly to the village of Murom, 4 kilometers inside the Russian border. There, an explosive device was dropped from him onto a communications tower,” Baza reported.
Another “unidentified aircraft-type UAV could fly the farthest. [It] flew to a village in the Belgorod region, after which he fell and exploded. One person was injured, as well as a diesel transformer.”
The Russian Rybar Telegram channel, closely aligned with the Kremlin, offered two reasons for this apparent uptick in drone attacks inside Russia.
“At first glance, with such attacks, the Armed Forces of Ukraine seek to hit military installations or critical infrastructure facilities deep in the rear in order to reduce the morale of the population,” Rybar said. “However, they may have another, much more important goal: to force the Russian command to ‘pull’ the air defense system from the front.”
Meanwhile, about 750 miles to the south, there was another uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attack on Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, on Monday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) and Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Crimean occupation governor.
“Today around 3:30 a.m. Moscow time, the Kyiv regime attempted to attack the Black Sea Fleet's base in the city of Sevastopol with three unmanned speedboats,” according to the Russian MoD. “Anti-submarine warfare forces destroyed all of the enemy's unmanned speedboats on the approach to Sevastopol Bay. There are no losses.”
The resulting explosion of the Ukrainian USVs shattered windows in four residential buildings, Razvozhayev reported Monday on his Telegram channel.
“An important point,” he added. “The drone did not enter Streletskaya Bay…Buildings, moorings and other structures were not destroyed.”
However, Andrii Ryzhenko, a Ukrainian naval expert, told The War Zone that at least one of the drone boats exploded inside the bay, where about 20 Russian vessels, including anti-submarine ships and minesweepers, were docked at the time.
"Until 6:20 a.m. [local time], helicopters of the Russian Federation were patrolling over the bay, and the internal [harbor] of Sevastopol was closed for several hours in the morning," he added.
Though the mouth of the bay received added protection in the form of boom barriers after the massive sea and aerial drone attack on Sevastopol, which took place on Oct. 29, 2022, OSINT trackers back up Ryzhenko's assertion that at least one of the drones made it inside the bay and suggest that contrary to what the Russians said, something may have been hit.
Whether anything was hit remains unclear, however. We will update this story with any additional information we can uncover.
While Ukraine seems to have continued its efforts to attack Russia inside its borders and in Crimea, The Washington Post on Monday reported that Ukraine at the last minute called off a large-scale effort to attack inside Russia on the anniversary of its all-out invasion.
Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), instructed one of his officers “to get ready for mass strikes on 24 February … with everything the [G]UR had,” the newspaper reported, citing a leaked a classified report from the U.S. National Security Agency.
But on Feb. 22, the CIA circulated a new memo that the GUR “had agreed, at Washington’s request, to postpone strikes” on Moscow.
While the veracity of these leaked documents, which contain intelligence snapshots from specific points in time, is hard to verify, one thing is clear. We have not heard the last about Ukrainian strikes inside Russia, as well as Crimea.
Before we head into today’s latest updates from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Ukrainian RBC news outlet, Budanov said that Russian advances are at a standstill and they are now in a defensive posture.
Since December, “the only thing they have achieved is an advance in Soledar and fighting in the city lane inside Bakhmut," he said. “Well, that's all their achievements. Let's compare. If you bring a person from Ukraine to the map and ask where Soledar is, not everyone knows. If you and I are talking about the successes of the so-called ‘second army of the world,’ it doesn't seem very good, let's put it that way."
Bakhmut “is the only place, let's say, where they have a certain tactical success due to huge losses. And against the background of the lack of success anywhere else, they face the problem that even their ‘stupid’ society needs to show something, some kind of victory. This is the only place where they succeed at anything.”
Russia, meanwhile, cannot conduct a future offensive, he said.
“It's not that I don't have the data, but they don't plan. They completely switched to positional defense everywhere. The only places on the front where their attempts are taking place are an attempt in the city of Bakhmut, an attempt to capture the city of Avdiivka from the north, and local combat operations in the city of Maryinka. Both in Avdiivka and Maryinka, the tactics are identical, as in Bakhmut - simply an attempt to wipe the settlement off the face of the earth, as they say. Fighting in forestry in the area of Luhansk region - we are already completely reduced to the tactical level.”
The Pentagon on Monday offered a few more details about the M1 Abrams tanks that will be provided to Ukraine.
As we mentioned Friday, there are two sets of tanks involved. The first is 31 Abrams that Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley called "training tanks," which are not quite combat capable and will be headed to Germany. That's where Ukrainian troops will learn how to operate and maintain them.
On Monday, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, said the second tranche of 31 Abrams tanks is those being refurbished to meet Ukrainian specifications. Those are the ones that will be used in combat, Ryder said.
"By providing these training tanks, which are not coming from the active Army stocks - these are coming from other sources within the inventory - that will enable us to do the training concurrent with the production" of the tanks being refurbished, Ryder said.
That will allow the Pentagon "to expedite the timeline so that they can be training on operations, on maintenance, on sustainment then the personnel will marry up with the tanks obviously before the end of the year for delivery to Ukraine."
Russian ships "are ferrying large quantities of Iranian artillery shells and other ammunition across the Caspian Sea to resupply troops fighting in Ukraine," The Wall Street Journal wrote Monday, citing Middle East officials.
"Over the past six months, cargo ships have carried more than 300,000 artillery shells and a million rounds of ammunition from Iran to Russia, according to the officials and documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal," the newspaper reported. "Intelligence about the shipments has been shared with the U.S., people familiar with the matter said."
In November, we wrote about concerns that interdicting arms shipments crossing the Caspian Sea, a closed body of water bordered by Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazhakstan, would likely be near impossible.
Asked about Kyiv's frustrations with the European Union's (EU) $1.1 billion plan to provide ammunition to Ukraine, High Representative Josep Borrell told reporters on Monday that some of the details are still being hammered out.
"I have been talking with [Ukrainian Foreign] Minister [Dmytro] Kuleba," Borrell said Monday during a press conference in Luxembourg. "I have been explaining that there are two tracks. The first track is on the way, we have received requests for reimbursement for €600 million (about $663 million). I cannot tell you exactly the ammunitions which are behind the €600 million [and] in which situation they are, [but] I have been asked to pay €600 million for that."
There is "some disagreement," on the second track of that plan, Borrell said, "but I am sure everybody will understand that we are in a situation of extreme urgency. I am sure that in the following days we will reach [an agreement]. But while we look for this legal agreement, do not believe that we are just sitting and waiting. The overall work is going on. And once the legal agreement will be reached, the practical work will be finished. So, it is not, first one thing and then the other thing. It is overlapping."
When asked about claims by Elon Musk that his SpaceX company turned down Defense Department funding to provide the Starlink satellite service to Ukraine, the Pentagon said there is no current contract with the company for that service.
"Satellite communications systems constitute a critical layer in Ukraine’s overall communication network," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Jurgenson told The War Zone Monday morning. "As a result, we continue to work with a range of partners to ensure Ukraine has what it needs in terms of satellite communication support. The department does not currently contract with Starlink for the provision of these services in Ukraine. Beyond the above – we’ll have no additional details or info to provide."
"I've donated $100m to Ukraine, how much have you donated?" Musk tweeted Sunday in response to a complaint by novelist Stephen King about the payment of $8 for Twitter's so-called "blue check" verification. "(We turned down the DoD money btw)."
While DoD says it is not currently contracting with SpaceX, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in April 2022, issued a press release saying it "has delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals to the Government of Ukraine through a public-private partnership with the American aerospace manufacturer, SpaceX."
This is just the latest controversy over Starlink and Ukraine, including SpaceX limiting the ability of Kyiv to use the system in its military operations. You can read more about that here.
The U.S.-donated Bradley Fighting Vehicles are showing up in Ukraine, decked out with camouflage netting. You can read about what the Bradleys will bring to the table for Ukraine in our deep dive here.
Several Russian troops were able to scramble out of their BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle after it was struck by a Ukrainian anti-tank guided missile near Vodyane in Donetsk Oblast. You can watch the scene unfold in the video below posted by the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group.
It is inevitable that some of the armor and other weapons donated to Ukraine will be destroyed. That seems to be the case of this M80A infantry fighting vehicle, one of 35 donated by Slovenia last summer.
Meanwhile, weapons donations continue to flood into Ukraine.
The "Return Alive" organization "independently purchased 1,460 7.62-mm machine guns for the Armed Forces for €6,570,000, ($7.38 million)" the organization said. "And this batch of weapons is already working on the most critical areas of the front."
And finally, the massive amount of unexploded ordnance left by both sides has created huge difficulties for Ukrainian farmers whose crops are vital for world food supplies. But craftsmen in Kharkiv Oblast took matters into their own hands. They developed an automated demining device, using a remote control tractor with improvised armor. Yet another example of the wonders of Ukrainian tractors.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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