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Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Defends Against Russia’s Inexpensive Drones With Far Costlier Missiles

Analysts note that the damage the drones could cause would be extremely expensive, but question whether the cost imbalance between offense and defense can be sustained.

Defending against Russian drones is expensive, but Ukraine sees the cost as worth it.
In Russia, critics of the military avoid directing their ire at Putin after the Makiivka attack.
Ukrainian prosecutors identify a Russian torture site, adding to a list of more than 50.
Activist who removed Banks y mural from Kyiv suburb could face prison, police say.
A U.S.-made long-range rocket system has helped give Ukraine momentum in the war.
Firefighters in embattled Bakhmut are ‘doing what we did before the war, which is helping people here.’
Ukraine says it shot down all the drones Russia launched over the new year.

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Defending against Russian drones is expensive, but Ukraine sees the cost as worth it.

They are lumbering and noisy and relatively easy to shoot from the sky. Over the New Year’s weekend, the Ukrainian military said it downed every single one of the 80-odd exploding drones that Russia sent the country’s way.

“Such results have never been achieved before,” a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman said on Tuesday.

But beneath that result lies a question: How long can Ukraine sustain its effort when many of its defensive measures cost far more than the drones do?

The Shah-ed-136 drones used by Russia and supplied by Iran are relatively cheap, while the array of weapons used to shoot them out of the sky are much more expensive, according to experts.

Art-em Starosiek, the head of Molfar, a Ukrainian consultancy that supports the country’s war effort, estimated that it costs up to seven times more to use a missile to shoot down a drone than it does to launch one. The Iranian drones can cost as little as $20,000 to produce, while the cost of firing one of the surface-to-air missiles used by Ukraine can range from $140,000 for a Soviet-era S-300 to $500,000 for a U.S.-made NASAM, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System.

That is an imbalance that could over time favor Russia, costing Ukraine and its allies dearly, some analysts say.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a recent overnight speech that Russia is betting on the “exhaustion of our people, our air defense, our energy sector.”

Molfar said it estimated that, since September, Russia had fired around 600 drones at Ukraine. The campaign, which gathered pace just as Moscow sustained a series of battlefield losses, has caused rolling blackouts and outages just as the country’s harsh winter has started to bite, compounding the misery caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Both sides have used drones not just for reconnaissance and attacks since Russia’s invasion began in February, the first time that they have been widely deployed in a European war.

Military authorities in Kyiv have said little about the details of their air defenses in line with the operational secrecy that has shrouded much of their war planning, or about the cost, making analysis difficult.

Ukraine’s forces have used antiaircraft guns and small-arms fire to down some drones, but increasingly, as the Russians have taken to launching assaults at night, Kyiv has also relied heavily on missiles fired from warplanes and the ground. Officials said that Ukraine has employed surface-to-air missiles known as NASA-Ms multiple times over the weekend to counter drones.

Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the C N A research institute, said that Ukrainians are using “a zoo of different air defense systems” to combat the threat, including Soviet-era and NATO missile systems, each with its own cost profile.

Some of Ukraine’s antiaircraft guns, like the Gepard 2 radar-directed mobile gun system, are inexpensive in comparison with other Soviet-era and European defense systems being deployed. And some of the American-made interceptor missiles are relatively expensive.

Even so, Mr. Starosiek said, the expense of downing the drones with missiles needed to be seen in context. It costs far less to shoot down a drone than to repair a damaged or destroyed power station, he noted. And then there is the human factor.

“People are still alive,” he said.

In a report issued on Nov. 7, Molfar said that 82 percent of the drones were being shot down, but that figure has since increased.

Ukraine currently depends on its allies, chief among them the United States, to resupply its air defense systems and foot the bill, he said. There is a danger those allies will grow weary of the cost over time.

“The cost is irrelevant as long as the West keeps providing military assistance to Ukraine,” Mr. Boulegue said.

 

In Russia, critics of the military avoid directing their ire at Putin after the Makiivka attack.

As Russia took stock of one of its worst military losses since the invasion of Ukraine, the initial outpouring of anger began to settle into a familiar pattern on Tuesday, focusing on the West, and on what critics describe as incompetent officials rather than the man overseeing the war effort: President Vladimir V. Putin.

Relatives of mobilized soldiers who died or went missing in the rocket strike on their base in the occupied Ukrainian town of Makiivka gathered in the central Russia city of Samara, where military bloggers say many were from, to lay flowers at a military memorial, videos posted by local media and state television showed.

The regional governor of Samara flew to Moscow on Tuesday to meet with military officials, underlining the gravity of the losses.

Russian military officials on Tuesday said the death toll from the strike had risen to 89 servicemen, including the deputy commander of the regiment, according to Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin news outlet. Ukrainian officials have said the toll is much higher. Neither claim could be independently confirmed.

Despite an extraordinary crackdown on dissent, Ukraine’s battlefield successes have left some opponents of the Kremlin’s handling of the war newly emboldened. With state media muzzled and the opposition largely jailed or exiled, Russia’s military bloggers have emerged as the some of the most influential critics of the war effort, but even they have steered clear of taking on Mr. Putin directly.

Military bloggers said the high death toll in the Makiivka attack could have been minimized if commanding officers followed basic precautions, such as spreading out the recently arrived soldiers around the area and imposing stricter barrack discipline, including preventing the use of cellphones, which they say helped the Ukrainians pinpoint their location. It was the latest in a series of errors by the Russian military command that has contributed to the deaths of soldiers and the loss of a large part of Russia’s occupied territory in Ukraine.

At the memorial service in Samara, about a hundred participants waved Russian flags, coordinated aid collection for survivors and called for revenge, according to videos and local media reports. Local media did not mention any criticism of the officials responsible for the war.

“The entire West has closed ranks against us in order to destroy us,” Yekaterina Kolotovkina, the head of a soldiers’ humanitarian fund and the wife of a Russian general fighting in Ukraine told the Samara rally, echoing a main theme of state propaganda.

“For the first time since the start of the special military operation, I asked my husband to take revenge for the tears of the widows,” she added, using the Russian government’s euphemism for the war. “We will not forgive, victory will be ours.”

On social media, initial calls by pro-war Russian commentators to charge officials responsible for the Makiivka losses with treason gave way to more guarded criticism of local military decisions and advice for avoiding future disasters. None appeared to direct criticism toward Mr. Putin, with veiled criticism more often aimed at his senior officials.

“Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, we love our country,” wrote influential Russian military blogger Anastasia Kashevarova, a native of the Samara region on Monday night, referring to Mr. Putin. “I love Russia so much that I hate specific personas in your entourage.”

State television has downplayed the strike or ignored it completely, minimizing the reaction to the disaster among the public.

Ruslan Leviev, a Russian military analyst, said the speed with which the Defense Ministry issued a statement with estimated losses suggested the government is trying to control the narrative and prevent it from feeding wider social discontent.

“Everyone is calling for reaction at the highest level, some conclusions, punishments,” he said. “But I doubt that any of it will come.”

But the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group that studies the conflict, said in its latest daily report on Monday that “profound military failures” such as Makiivka could make it harder for Mr. Putin to placate concerns among some vocal war supporters that Russia’s military effort is under control.

“Putin’s inability to address the criticism and fix the flaws in Russia’s military campaign may undermine his credibility as a hands-on war leader,” the group said.

The State of the War
A Long Fight Ahead: As the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine looms, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is doubling down on efforts to draw the nation further into the war effort.
Targeting Cellphones: Ukraine is able to target Russian soldiers by pinpointing their cellphone signals. Despite the deadly results, Moscow’s troops keep defying a ban on using phones.
A Costly Defense: Ukraine is getting more skilled at taking down Russia’s explosive drones, but there is a growing imbalance: Many of its defensive missiles cost far more than the drones do.
U.S. Troops in Romania: The deployment of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to the country, a NATO member, is widely seen as a deterrence tactic and a warning to Moscow.

Ukrainian prosecutors identify a Russian torture site, adding to a list of more than 50.

Investigators have discovered what they say is a Russian torture chamber in a village in the Mykolaiv region, adding to a list of more than 50 similar sites Ukraine has in territory recaptured from Moscow’s forces, Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday.

The site was found in the village of Oleksandrivka, where Russian forces had seized houses, according to the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general. In a post on the messaging app Telegram, the office said that “local residents who refused to cooperate with the enemy were illegally detained and brutally tortured there.” The report could not be independently verified.

From the earliest days of the war, which began with Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, Ukrainian prosecutors have been collecting evidence of war crimes committed by Russian forces.

The prosecutor general’s office had counted 54 torture sites in territory reclaimed from Russian forces as of Dec. 23, according to a report in The Kyiv Independent.

 

Activist who removed Banksy mural from Kyiv suburb could face prison, police say.

An activist who removed a mural painted by the reclusive British street artist Banks y from a war-ravaged building in a Kyiv suburb could face up to a dozen years in prison for theft, the Ukrainian authorities said in a statement released on Facebook.

The mural, showing a woman in a bathrobe wearing a gas mask and holding a fire extinguisher, garnered widespread attention when it appeared in the Kyiv suburb of Hostomel in November. It was one of seven artworks painted by Banks y on war-ravaged buildings in and around Kyiv.

On Dec. 2, a group of activists removed the mural, the police said in a statement. The authorities arrested several people in connection with the removal.

The statement, put out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Monday, said that the mural was valued at more than 9 million Ukrainian hryvnia, the national currency, or about $245,000. It said one activist, described as the organizer, could face up to 12 years in prison for removing the mural.

While the police did not identify the individual who could face jail time, one of the activists, Serhiy Dovhyi, had previously said that he was facing a criminal investigation for removing the work. Mr. Dovhyi said in an interview with The New York Times last month that he intended to auction it and donate the proceeds to the Ukrainian Army.

In the interview, he defended his actions, saying the artwork had to be saved because the wall on which it was painted was scheduled to be demolished. He described the act of removing the graffiti, which he documented in videos, as an additional act of performance art that might add to its value.

“Street art, in contrast to a piece of art in the Louvre, doesn’t belong to anyone,” Mr. Dovhyi told The Times.

The authorities, however, maintained that the mural should have remained on the wall, to be part of a future memorial or building.

It isn’t the first time ownership of one of Banks’s works has been in dispute. In 2014, a Banks y painting appeared on a piece of plywood secured to the Broad Plain Boys Club in Bristol, England. The club’s owner, Dennis Stinchcombe, planned to auction the painting to raise money for the club, but the city stepped in and claimed it owned the depiction of a couple embracing and staring at their cellphones. In a rare public move, Banks y wrote a letter saying the art should be used to help the club.

A U.S.-made long-range rocket system has helped give Ukraine momentum in the war.

Since the earliest weeks of the war, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has pleaded to any government that would listen that his country was outgunned by Russia’s army. If Ukraine was going to survive, he said, it needed longer range weapons.

Answering that call in June, Washington delivered the first batch of truck-mounted, multiple-rocket launchers known as HIMARS, which fire satellite-guided rockets with a range of around 50 miles, greater than anything Ukraine had previously possessed.

Since then, these weapons have helped Ukraine shift the momentum of the war.

On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that 63 service members died on New Year’s Day in an attack on a building in Donetsk Province that officials on both sides said was carried out using a HI-MARS system. Ukraine’s military estimated hundreds had been killed in the attack.

The HI-MARS system — the acronym stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System — is most effective when deployed against stationary targets that can be identified in advance and pinpointed, such as ammunition dumps, infrastructure, or concentrations of troops. The United States has so far supplied Ukraine with at least 20 HI-MARS systems, which are made by Lockheed Martin.

Ukrainian forces started to deploy the rocket launchers last summer as part of a counter offensive to recapture land in the southern region of Kherson.

Starting in late July, Ukraine used the artillery rocket system to attack the Antonivsky Bridge, cutting a key supply line for thousands of troops Moscow had stationed in the city Kherson on the west bank of the Dnipro River. Eventually, the Kremlin ordered its forces to withdraw from the city.

“They patiently destroyed Russian logistics and command-and-control, making it impossible for Russia to maintain forces on the west bank of the Dnipro,” said Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews, in an analysis of the war published on Sub-stack.

Western military analysts said that Monday’s strike reflected a shift in tactics. Ukraine’s commanders had been using the rockets mostly to hit ammunition dumps and supply lines, but recently they have targeted more barracks and other troop concentrations, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at C.N.A., a research institute in Arlington, Va.

“The influx of mobilized personnel at the front lines has visibly made them vulnerable to strikes,” he said.

Mr. Kofman said the recent HI-MARS strikes have had less overall impact in the war than when they were first introduced over the summer and reduced Russia’s advantage in artillery.

So far, the rocket launchers have not led to big changes to the front lines in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine where Monday’s deadly strike on a school being used as a barracks happened. Russia has controlled much of the territory since 2014 and has significant defenses.

But the rocket launchers have been used to hit other troop concentrations in the east. Russia’s state news agency, Tass, said in December that a HI-MARS struck a hotel in Luhansk Province. Ukrainian authorities said the hotel was a base for Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group, which has played a significant role in Moscow’s campaign in Donbas.

Mr. O’Brien argued that weapons like the HI-MARS will likely be important as the war enters its second year.

“The first step of any Ukrainian road to victory will be the continuation of this great wasting stage we are in, ” he wrote, adding that Ukraine “will rely mostly on ranged weapons to methodically dismantle the Russian forces facing them.”

Firefighters in embattled Bakhmut are ‘doing what we did before the war, which is helping people here.’

Emergency service workers are the last line of defense in the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, where the sound of outgoing and incoming fire is relentless, even during what firefighters consider a calm stretch.

Only five workers remain in Bakhmut, but they rotate with another group of five every two days.

“Our lives have been under a lot of pressure,” said Yevhenii Yevtushenko, 36, who is the head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Bakhmut. “It’s a very intense situation here, as we are under constant shelling from the late morning until evening, and even through the night. There are only a few hours in a day where the situation is somewhat calm.”

Bakhmut has been heavily contested between Russian and Ukrainian forces for months. At least 90 percent of the city’s 73,000 people have fled as shelling has intensified, causing a high number of casualties on both sides.

A heaviness hangs over the mostly empty streets. At a humanitarian aid station, several dozen people huddled around their only connection to the outside world: a Star-link internet device.

With so few staff, the firefighters have to make decisions about what to respond to, especially when a fire rages, as they may only have the capacity to contain the flames and prevent the spread. But the most difficult situations, according to Mr. Yevtushenko, are when they have to dig under the rubble to search for missing people after a strike.

“You have to work as quickly as possible to rescue people, but sometimes it’s impossible because you have to try and do everything according to the rules to protect yourself,” he said.

The remaining men don’t see themselves as heroes. “We’re doing what we did before the war, which is helping people here,” Mr. Yevtushenko said. “That’s it.”

Back at their base, the unmistakable sound of an incoming round echoed through the halls. A resident arrived five minutes later to plead for first aid for a woman who was injured in the doorway of a shopping center. But it was too late: Shrapnel had killed her and two dogs. The daily rhythm of life continued in Bakhmut, even on what was considered a calm day.

Ukraine says it shot down all the drones Russia launched over the new year.

Ukraine shot down all of the exploding drones that Russia had fired over the new year, an Air Force spokesman said on Tuesday, in a measure of the country’s growing ability to resist Moscow’s effort to incapacitate its energy infrastructure.

“Such results have never been achieved before,” the spokesman, Yuri i Ihnat, said on Ukrainian television, referring to the nights of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

Russia launched its latest swarm of the Iranian-made weapons, nicknamed “flying mo-peds” for their relatively slow speed, at targets inside Ukraine on Monday. None reached their destination because of antiaircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles and warplanes, a rare shutout. Twenty drones were downed over Kyiv alone.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said his military began the new year by putting up stiff resistance to the unmanned attacks from above.

“Only two days have passed since the beginning of the year, and the number of Iranian drones shot down over Ukraine is already more than 80,” Mr. Zelensky said late Monday in his nightly address.

In October, about a month after Russia began deploying the Shah-ed drones, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister said that they were shooting down more than 70 percent of the drones.

As winter bites, the fighting on the ground in Ukraine has become a war of attrition, and the focus has shifted to the struggle in the air over Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and other major cities.

Russia has launched wave after wave of drone and cruise missile attacks aimed at knocking out electricity and water supplies to civilians, leaving as much as 25 percent of the nation without power at times. Monday’s drone attack is the latest in a series of year-end assaults, including one that killed three civilians on New Year’s Eve.

Given that Ukraine’s defensive measures cost more than Russia’s aerial attack methods, some military experts fear a growing imbalance that could, over time, favor Russia. In his nightly address on Monday, Mr. Zelensky said his government had intelligence suggesting that there was no end in sight to the Russian attacks using Shah-eds.

“We have information that Russia is planning a prolonged attack with Shah-eds,” he said, according to a transcript put out by his office. “Its bet may be on exhaustion — on exhaustion of our people, our air defense, our energy sector.”

But, with each attack, Ukraine’s forces are getting better at taking out the drones before they hit their target, giving Ukraine what Mr. Zelensky called small “victories over terrorists and terror.”

“Each shot-down drone, each shot-down missile, each day with electricity for our people and minimal schedules of blackouts are exactly such victories,” he said.

One reason for the success against the drone campaign might be the United State’s decision in early November to provide 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 American missile system played a role in Monday’s assault.

“Despite having learned to operate them only a few weeks ago, our military used them almost like artillery, reloading them as fast as possible,” the center said on Twitter. “The highly successful use of these weapons show that our soldiers learn fast.”

Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired C.I.A. officer, said training had helped Ukrainian forces get better and better at managing sophisticated weaponry.

Russia, on the other hand, he said, seemed to be giving up on the idea of winning the war with a traditional land fight, at least in the near future.

“It appears their fallback is just to blow the country to smithereens,” he said. “You can’t win a war by airstrikes.”

 

The Russia-Ukraine War: Key Reporting and Investigations

History: Here’s what to know about Russia and Ukraine’s relationship and the causes of the conflict.

Inside Putin’s War: Secret battle plans, intercepted communications and Russian soldiers explain how a “walk in the park” became a catastrophe for Moscow.

Russia Digs In: Satellite images show a vast network of trenches and traps that Russia is building to slow Ukraine’s momentum. Will it work?

An Army in Disarray: In intercepted phone calls, Russian soldiers gave damning insider accounts of battlefield failures and civilian executions.

Ukraine’s Cultural Losses: Russia’s war has systematically destroyed Ukrainian cultural sites. We identified 339 that sustained substantial damage.

​​How Russia Pays for War: International trade with Russia boomed after invading Ukraine, filling Moscow’s war chest — even as countries imposed sanctions.

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