Kyiv, Ukraine – “UFOs” have been raining down over Russia in recent days – some dangerously close to the capital Moscow and the birthplace of President Vladimir Putin.
Russian officials and media outlets using that term – “unidentified foreign objects” – seem unnerved, accusing Ukraine of drone strikes.
Ukraine on Wednesday denied targeting Russia and suggested attempted domestic attacks – which Moscow did not accept.
With a touch of black humor, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that a sense of “panic and collapse” was growing in Russia, “manifested by increasing domestic attacks by unidentified flying objects on infrastructure sites.”
Throughout the war, Ukrainian leaders and top executives have routinely disclaimed any responsibility for attacks on Russian soil — often resorting to ridiculing disorganized Russian military personnel.
A Ukrainian military expert said that while Kiev can and should attack Russian territory, it would not reveal details about its operations there.
“In principle, we are allowed to launch attacks against the attacking nation, but we adhere to the rule that if and when it happens, (the attacks) must first attack military sites,” said Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, former deputy chief of the general staff of Ukraine. of the armed forces, Al Jazeera told.
“But due to many circumstances, we will not state at this stage what and how we are doing on enemy territory,” he said.
Analysts have said Kiev is preparing to launch more attacks with its growing fleet of domestically produced unmanned aerial vehicles — and leading pro-Kremlin figures are concerned.
“I have a lot of questions,” Tina Kandelaki, acting head of the TNT television network, wrote on Telegram.
“Is this our new reality? How many regions will be (hit) by the next attack? Does the Department of Defense have a plan to protect our cities? Who can guarantee the safety of our people?” she wrote.
🇺🇦 doesn’t hit RF’s territory. 🇺🇦 is waging a defensive war to relieve all of its territories. This is an axiom.
Panic and disintegration processes are building in RF, mirrored by an increase in internal attacks against infrastructure facilities by unidentified flying objects.
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) March 1, 2023
What has happened so far?
On February 26, an airfield in pro-Putin Belarus was rocked by two blasts, damaging one of Russia’s most precious weapons: one of only nine A-50 aircraft capable of identifying the locations of Ukrainian air defense units. Belarusian “guerrilla fighters” have claimed responsibility.
On Monday night, at least four drones reached a power station in the western Russian city of Belgorod, less than 40 km (25 mi) from the border.
And on Tuesday, an “unidentified flying object” was spotted over St Petersburg, where Putin was born.
The airspace over Russia’s second-largest city, which is nearly 1,500 km north of Ukraine, was briefly closed and fighter jets took off as part of a rehearsal – exercises to “train for intercepting and identifying a contingent target” , a defense official said.
However, when asked earlier about the St Petersburg incident, the Kremlin had said little, only that Putin was aware of the events.
On the same day, at least one drone carrying explosives fell about 100km southeast of Moscow but caused no damage, according to regional governor Andrey Vorobyev.
Hours earlier, “unidentified flying objects” were said to have crashed near an oil refinery and farm in southwestern Russia, more than 800 miles (500 m) from the nearest Ukrainian military installations in Odessa.
After locals reportedly heard two blasts, the refinery – the only one on Russia’s Black Sea coast with a tanker terminal – was on fire covering 200 square meters but was quickly extinguished.
Also on Tuesday, another “Ukrainian Armed Forces unmanned aerial vehicle” was shot down over the nearby Bryansk region, local officials said.
On Wednesday, Russia said its air defenses repelled a drone attack on occupied Crimea blamed on Ukraine; Moscow has long accused Kiev of using the guns to hit the annexed peninsula.
In July, they attacked the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, injuring six and forcing Moscow-installed authorities to cancel Russia’s Navy Day celebrations in Crimea.
More drone strikes in Crimea destroyed military aircraft and an arms depot in August and damaged naval vessels in October.
In early December, a Ukrainian drone hit a Russian military air base 650km (400 miles) east of the border, which hosts strategic bombers used to launch missile strikes against Ukraine.
Most likely, the attacks involved a converted Soviet-designed Tu-141 jet drone produced in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Apparent Ukrainian shelling and drone attacks on the westernmost Russian regions such as Belgorod, Kursk, Bryansk and Orlov have become regular since last May, as they destroy homes, injure and even kill civilians.
Since last May, several Russians have been murdered in border regions, including a 12-year-old girl and a 70-year-old woman.
Are Ukraine’s Apparent Attacks on Russia Significant?
According to Nikolay Mitrokhin, a historian at the University of Bremen in Germany, most Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian soil have so far been ineffective.
Eight out of 10 Ukrainian drones fail to reach their targets because Russia has found ways to intercept and destroy them, or because they lose connection with their operators, he said.
The drones that reach the target pose no significant danger, he said.
“About once a month, Ukrainian forces manage to stage a really large-scale diversion against Russian aviation or, less rarely, Russian fuel supplies,” he told Al Jazeera.
However, their effect on the general theater of war is much less immediate than using US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, he said.
In recent months, swarms of Russian and Iranian Shaheed drones in Ukraine have wreaked havoc on Ukrainian military personnel, key infrastructure and residential areas.
In October, one flew right past the window of this reporter’s apartment.
Kiev is frantically looking for a way to counter the attacks.
This week’s attacks are “more of a warning and a test of what the (Ukrainian-made) drones can do prior to a breach. A signal to Russia – not to catalyze missile attacks on Ukraine,” Kiev-based analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.
As Russian forces are conserving resources for an ongoing offensive, Ukraine is showing it has something to respond with, he said.
A Tu-141 was most likely used to attack the Tuapse oil refinery on Tuesday.
Russian media claimed the other attacks were carried out by Russian-made Granat-4 drones, Chinese civilian models loaded with British-made plastic explosives or the unmanned aerial vehicle UJ-22, made in Ukraine.
The UJ-22s look like smaller versions of World War II fighter jets and were made public in 2021. They can carry bombs or jet-propelled anti-tank grenades and fly up to 800 km (500 mi).
The production of brand new Ukrainian-made drones is not centralized and Russia will hardly be able to destroy the manufacturer with targeted attacks, he said.
“The industrial potential will be enough, and the potential is decentralized. There is no major holding company or factory that has a monopoly on drones in Ukraine, so Russia’s chances of hitting the industrial property are very doubtful,” he said.
However, other analysts dismissed the effectiveness of Ukraine’s alleged attacks.
“These minor incidents mean nothing. At least, until now,” Pavel Luzin, a defense analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told Al Jazeera.