Is Ukraine's counteroffensive turning out to be a bust?

Drone attacks hit Moscow, but Russian defenses continue to hold on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine.

Two men stand in the burned-out, broken windows of a building.
Two men on Aug. 1 in a Moscow high-rise that was damaged in a drone attack launched by Ukrainian forces. (Bai Xueqi/Xinhua via Getty Images)
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In recent days and weeks, Ukraine has launched drone attacks deep inside Russia — including at Moscow itself. The attacks have rattled Russians, who, for the most part, have been accustomed not to have to think about the war that President Vladimir Putin launched almost 18 months ago.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly said that his only goal is to reconquer territory that Russia has illegally taken in its two invasions of Ukraine, first in 2014 and then, on a much larger scale, in 2022.

“We are not fighting on their territory,” Zelensky said in the late spring of 2022. “We have the war on our territory.”

Attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles carrying explosives are a low-risk but potent effort to bring at least some of the pain back home to Russia. But they are also something of a sideshow, some say, when the counteroffensive now taking place in eastern Ukraine is far more important for the country’s future.

Read more on Yahoo News: Is the Ukrainian counteroffensive faltering?

Attacks deep inside Russia

Three workers in hardhats with fluorescent green patches on their work suits look up at the damaged skyscraper.
Security workers look up at the damaged skyscraper in Moscow on July 30. (AP Photo)

Drones can be tools, or toys. They can also be “kamikaze” weapons, sent remotely to explode over distant targets. Although Ukraine has used drones since the start of the war to harass Russian forces close to the frontlines, as well as military installations inside Russia itself, it has lately been making incursions deep into Russian territory. (Russia has kamikaze drones of its own, sent by Iran.)

This week, drones struck both of Moscow’s airports and, in a separate attack, a Russian ship in the Black Sea. Russia said it shot down two drones apparently intended to hit Moscow, as well as 11 headed for the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

In recent weeks, drones twice hit a Moscow skyscraper.

“Those who work in Moskva-City towers are the privileged class of government officials and business people,” a Ukrainian official said of the skyscraper attack. “They saw with their own eyes that Russian authorities are incapable of and cannot protect even their social group. There is no air defense, air raid alerts, bomb shelters for them.”

Drones even reached the Kremlin itself in May.

“In some ways it’s more effective than what Ukraine can do in the counteroffensive,” Michal Baranowski, managing director of the German Marshall Fund East, recently told The Hill. “Ukrainians are basically trying to show the Russian elites that look, there is a cost to what Putin is doing.”

Read more on Yahoo News: Why Ukraine may have launched an unprecedented drone attack on Moscow, via Los Angeles Times

Some criticize Ukrainian tactic

A map showing what Russia controls, the contested area and territory retaken by Ukrainian forces.
A map showing what Russia controls, the contested area and territory retaken by Ukrainian forces.

Some argue that while the drone attacks may satisfy supporters in the West, they don't further the goal of winning back lands conquered by Russia.

“Thus the first serious war of the third millennium must be fought on the ground — quite a comedown from the ‘post-kinetic’ cyber and information warfare that had been confidently predicted by both Western and Russian generals,” writes the historian Edward Luttwak. “This is a war that must be fought by sheer, grinding, attrition, just like the First World War on the Western Front.”

A rare condemnation of Ukraine also came from the United Nations, most of whose members have stood against Putin’s aggression. “We are against any and all attacks on civilian facilities, and we want them to stop,” a U.N. spokesman said earlier this week.

Russia, of course, has launched many more attacks against civilians — and has killed many more of them — than Ukraine.

Read more on Yahoo News: Why no one can end the Ukraine war, via UnHerd

Counteroffensive drags on

A Ukrainian soldier in a helmet and no shirt in a dugout, handling artillery.
A Ukrainian soldier Wednesday at the frontline in the Donbas region. (Wojciech Grzedzinski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The fate of Ukraine will be determined by what happens on the battlefield in the country’s eastern regions, where a long-planned counteroffensive has tried to break through Russian defensive lines.

The counterassault has been slow because Russia spent months preparing, digging and installing antitank barriers. Zelensky has acknowledged that the pace and extent of progress have not met expectations either at home or abroad.

The danger is that Western allies’ impatience and Ukrainians’ frustration could set in, especially as another winter of war approaches. “Our expectations were higher,” a 36-year-old woman in Kyiv whose partner is fighting on the frontlines told the Washington Post. “If it’s going on, it’s going slow.”

Read more on Yahoo News: Biden will ask Congress for $13B to support Ukraine and $12B for disaster fund, via the Associated Press