Russia targets Ukraine’s defence industry as it prepares for a long war

Russian forces are targeting Ukraine’s defence industry with long-range strikes in a tactical switch as Moscow prepares for a long war, British intelligence officials have said.

The attacks are part of an escalating missile and drone duel between Russia and Ukraine, with both sides bidding to degrade one another’s military and industrial capacities while the front lines remain largely static.

The Ministry of Defence assessment came as Kyiv launched a wave of strikes on occupied Crimea and a Russian border region on Wednesday in what appeared to be a retaliatory assault for a barrage on Ukrainian cities the previous day.

Britain’s MoD said Moscow’s volley of around 100 high-velocity projectiles aimed at the capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv on Tuesday had likely targeted Ukrainian drone and missile producers.

Missile and drone attacks have escalated in recent weeks between the two countries in a bid to degrade military capacities
Missile and drone attacks have escalated in recent weeks between the two countries in a bid to degrade military capacities - GLOBAL IMAGES UKRAINE

“This contrasts with its major attacks last winter, which prioritised striking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure,” the department said.

“Russia appeared set to restart this campaign by hitting energy sites in early December 2023,” it added.

“These new operations suggest at least a temporary change of approach in Russia’s long-range strikes. Russian planners almost certainly recognise the growing importance of relative defence industrial capacity as they prepare for a long war.”

A defence industry source in Ukraine told the Economist that recent strikes had been targeted at sites connected to domestic missile and drone production.

“The attacks had strategic meaning for the enemy, with the aim of reducing our capacity to strike,” the source said. “It’s a battle to see who can destroy more of the enemy’s long-range weapons.”

A Ukrainian air defence serviceman retrieves parts of a destroyed drone near Kyiv on Wednesday
A Ukrainian air defence serviceman retrieves parts of a destroyed drone near Kyiv on Wednesday - ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP

Ukrainian strikes deep behind enemy lines have followed a similar pattern, as Kyiv seeks to disrupt Russia’s ability to launch missiles and drones.

It is likely to become a battle of endurance as both sides move to improve their air-defence systems to protect valuable targets on the ground.

Russian forces have taken to using vast barrages combining Iranian-made kamikaze drones and dozens of types of missiles to evade surface-to-air interceptors.

“Its forces have committed a significant portion of the stock of air-launched cruise missiles and ballistic missiles they had built up over recent months,” the MoD’s intelligence update said.

But Ukrainian officials dispute that Russia had shifted away from civilian targets, such as heating and power stations, in the hope of freezing the war-torn country into submission during the cold winter months.

Yuriy Sak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s strategic industries minister, said: “I saw the destroyed residential homes, shopping malls, maternity wards, railway stations, and the high numbers of civilian casualties.

“These are facts. Everything else is speculation.”

A man stands in front of a residential building damaged by Russian shelling on Jan 2
Yuriy Sak disputes that Russia had shifted away from civilian targets after claiming he's seen the damage caused - GLOBAL IMAGES UKRAINE

The strikes on Belgorod Wednesday were said to have been aimed at an ammunition bunker just south of the city, some 20 miles from Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia.

Russian air defences destroyed 12 Ukrainian missiles fired at Belgorod, local officials said.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the region’s governor, said: “The situation in Belgorod continues to be tense. There were two attacks in the morning.”

He added Ukraine had also launched several drones targeting the city. Russia has said 25 civilians including five children were killed in Ukrainian attacks on Saturday, and the wider region.

Footage shared on social media purportedly showed a plume of smoke rising into the sky on the outskirts of the city. Explosions, which are characteristic of burning munitions, could be heard in one clip.

Another aerial attack damaged infrastructure and caused power cuts in the Kursk region, to the north of Belgorod, its governor Roman Starovoyt said on Telegram.

Mikhail Razvozhaev, a Moscow-appointed local official, said a missile had been intercepted and that there were no casualties or damage
Mikhail Razvozhaev, a Moscow-appointed local official, said a missile had been intercepted and that there were no casualties or damage

Meanwhile, in occupied Crimea, local authorities said a Ukrainian missile was downed over the port city of Sevastopol.

The missile was reportedly aimed at Belbek air base, from which Russia has frequently launched jets used to conduct bombing sorties in Ukraine.

Residents of the nearby villages of Fructovoye and Verkhnesadovoye reported hearing loud explosions before witnessing a bright flash of light in the area near the base.

A plume of smoke was also spotted following the explosion.

The Telegraph could not independently verify the reports.

Kyiv has yet to comment on Wedneday’s attacks.

Russia has launched a series of major drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian cities in recent days, marking some of the most intense strikes since the war began in February 2022.

The strikes killed more than 50 people, with some 330 others wounded, and prompted Kyiv to intensify its calls for more weapons and ammunition from the West.

Kyiv said on Tuesday that Russia had launched more than 300 attack drones and missiles of various kinds at cities across Ukraine since Friday.

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