Russia launches huge missile barrage on Ukraine

Russia launches huge missile barrage on Ukraine
Russia has launched the biggest missile barrage on Ukraine since the early days of the war as it tries to demoralise the population and deplete its air defences. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews January 3, 2024

The final days of 2023 and the first ones of 2024 saw some of Russia’s heaviest bombing campaigns against Ukrainian cities since the start of its full-scale invasion nearly two years ago.

Russia has attacked Ukraine with at least 500 missiles and drones in the past five days, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on January 2 during a phone call with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Ukraine hit back with a missile attack on the Russian border city of Belgorod which suffered what appears to have been the deadliest attack on Russian soil since the war began.

The long-anticipated winter missile campaign to terrorise Ukraine’s population and take out key heating and power infrastructure has started. Analysts estimate that the Kremlin is burning through some $620mn worth of missiles a day for almost a week, according to Forbes.

Part of Russia’s strategy could also be to exhaust Ukraine’s dwindling supply of air defence ammunition now that Western financial and military aid has become snarled in internal wrangling both the US and EU. Kyiv boasted that it used US-made Patriot missiles to shoot down all ten of the hypersonic Kinzhal missiles Russia fired, its new generation of super-missiles that are supposed to be able to penetrate even the best of western-made anti-missile technology. However, Ukraine's stock of Patriot missiles is limited, and Russia has been firing around 100 missiles a day at Ukraine since before New Year’s Eve.

According to a recent US military assessment, if the US and EU aid packages are not approved soon, Ukraine could start running out of long-range precision missiles in January, Air defence missiles in February-March and the crucial 155mm shells by the summer.

Missile barrage

The missile barrage started on the morning of December 29. The Russian army launched a massive wave of strikes on Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and other cities in Ukraine, using Iranian-made Shahed drones as well as cruise and anti-aircraft missiles.

The shelling hit residential buildings, a shopping mall, and a maternity hospital, among other civilian infrastructure, although Ukraine’s air defences managed to shoot down most of the Russian missiles and has become very effective over the last two years. According to Ukrainian officials, at least 39 people were killed and over 150 injured in the first attack.

The next day, the Russian authorities reported that at least 25 people were killed and at least 111 injured by a Ukrainian missile counter strike on Belgorod that is close to the Ukrainian border that targeted a skating rink in the centre of the city. Several children were killed.

Vladimir Putin called the Belgorod attack a “terrorist act” and vowed to retaliate against Ukraine. That evening, Russia launched a new wave of drone and missile strikes targeting the Kyiv region and the city of Kharkiv that lasted throughout the night – reportedly the biggest barrage since the early days of the war almost two years ago.

Ukrainian media called the attack a response to Russia’s bombing campaign a day earlier. Ukrainska Pravda quoted sources from Ukraine’s security services as saying that the strikes were aimed at “military targets” in Belgorod and that any damage to civilian infrastructure was the result of the “unprofessional actions” of Russia’s air defence forces.

And the barrage has not stopped. On January 2, Russian forces launched almost a hundred rockets of various types during another attack.

Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhny reported that the Russians launched 99 missiles of various types into Ukraine, of which 72 were destroyed, the Kyiv Independent reports.

Between December 29 and January 2, Russia used almost 300 missiles and more than 200 Shahed-type drones against Ukraine, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He claimed that in a first, no other country has had to deal with such a barrage nor so successfully prevented so many missiles and drones from reaching their target.

In addition to the civilian casualties, power facilities in Kyiv were hit, leaving a quarter of million Kyiv residents temporarily without power following Russian attacks. An overhead line was damaged in the missile strikes against the capital, after which several substations lost voltage, according to the ministry's report. But Ukraine’s leading utilities company DTEK reported the damage was repaired the same day.

“Ukraine needs more air defence systems; more missiles for air defence are what directly save lives," Zelenskiy said in one of his regular video messages.

Russia’s tactics have also changed as it tries to overwhelm Ukraine’s missile defences. Some of Russia’s missiles reported transverse Polish airspace in an attempt to surprise Ukraine’s missile defences by approaching their targets from supposedly neutral Polish territory and aiming at targets near Ukraine’s western border. Newly elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk immediately called an emergency Security Council meeting as the news of the violation came in.

Zelenskiy called on the West to immediately respond to the “Russian missile terrorism.” Enthusiasm for continued support of Ukraine has been flagging in recent months and the Ukrainian president took the opportunity of the attacks to remind Ukraine’s Western supporters of what is at stake.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: "Putin is intensifying terror against Ukraine. It was the second massive missile strike in just four days. Civilian infrastructure was damaged, people were injured and killed, among them children," speaking after the January 2 attacks, reports Meduza.

He added that Western countries could currently take five steps in response to Russian aggression, including: accelerate the provision of additional air defence systems and ammunition to Ukraine, provide Ukraine with combat drones of all types, provide Ukraine with long-range missiles with a range of over 300 km, approve the use of frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine, and isolate Russian diplomats in their respective capitals and international organisations.”

He also lambasted the German government for dragging its heels over supplying Ukraine with the powerful long-range Taurus missiles that are capable of destroying the Kerch bridge connecting the Crimea peninsula with Russia’s mainland.

EU help on the way

As it looks increasingly unlikely that all, or even any, US financial aid will arrive in Kyiv in the coming months, the EU has moved to fill in and provide more stop-gap financial support.

After Hungary vetoed the passage of a €50bn EU support package, the European Commission (EC) has called on willing member states to raise €20bn at a sovereign level, thus negating the need for a unanimous EU vote, and contribute it to the EU’s Ukraine fund. While that amount would fall short of the estimated $41bn of foreign funding Ukraine needs this year in its 2024 budget it would be enough to keep Ukraine supplied for most of this year.

The UK and other European countries are also eyeing the possibility that Donald Trump may win the US elections in November and end all aid to Ukraine completely.

The Times reports that Europe is ramping up its military production capacity to be able to replace the supplies of weapons and ammunition currently provided largely by the US with European-made materiel. Ukraine is also attempting to become a military production hub by investing into its own domestic production.