Russian air defenses downed dozens of Ukrainian drones in occupied Crimea and southern Russia on Friday, officials said, as Kyiv pressed its strategy of targeting the Moscow-annexed peninsula and taking the 22-month war beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Air-raid sirens wailed in Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula, and traffic was suspended for a second consecutive day on a bridge connecting Crimea, which Moscow seized illegally a decade ago, with Russia’s southern Krasnodar region. The span is a crucial supply link for Russia’s war effort.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its defenses intercepted 36 drones over Crimea and one over Krasnodar, part of an emerging pattern of intensified Ukrainian aerial attacks in recent days.
A Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile also was destroyed over the northwestern part of the Black Sea, the ministry said.
The developments came after three people were injured Thursday night by other Ukrainian rocket and drone attacks on the Russian border city of Belgorod and the surrounding region, said Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov. On Jan. 6, Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod killed 25 people, officials there said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to strike more targets on the Crimean peninsula and inside Russian border regions this year. The goal is to unsettle Russians as President Vladimir Putin seeks another six years in power in a March 17 election.
Following a drone strike deep inside Russia last year, Zelensky said Ukraine had developed a weapon that can hit targets 400 miles away. He said last month that Kyiv plans to produce 1 million drones, which have become a key battlefield weapon.
Other Ukrainian officials said the country aims to manufacture more than 10,000 attack drones this year with a range of hundreds of miles, as well as more than 1,000 longer-range drones that can hit targets well behind the front line and inside Russia.
Both sides are raising the stakes of their long-range warfare as soldiers remain bogged down on the wintry battlefield. The British Defense Ministry said Friday that “ground combat has continued to be characterized by either a static front line or very gradual, local Russian advances in key sectors.”
The Kremlin, meanwhile, has acquired ballistic missiles from North Korea and fired at least one of them into Ukraine on Saturday, the White House said Thursday, citing recently declassified U.S. intelligence. Rusia also is seeking close-range ballistic missiles from Iran, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Asked about the development, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said in televised comments Friday that he couldn’t immediately confirm the use of the North Korean-supplied missiles, adding that experts need to study the fragments. Russian officials have refrained from commenting on previous U.S. claims that North Korea has supplied ammunition to Moscow.
Ukraine said it stopped 21 of 29 Russian Shahed drones launched late Thursday and early Friday. The assault injured two people, including a 14-year-old, and was the latest of near-daily Russian drone attacks in the New Year.
Zelensky thanked Germany late Thursday for a delivery of military aid, especially air-defense materiel that he said “is timely and focused on our priorities.”
Ukraine “should look to continue degrading Russia’s ability to wage war by conducting an escalating campaign of airstrikes on targets far behind the front lines throughout occupied Ukraine and inside Russia itself,” according to Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies.
“This could include attacks on troop concentrations, military bases, and munitions stores along with logistical hubs and armament production facilities,” Bielieskov wrote in an assessment published by the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank.