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Thursday, 09 February 2023
Russia’s Terror Drones  
James Denselow

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv has had a feeling of false normalcy about it for months. Despite going into full invasion mode back in February, the Russian retreat and arrival of summer meant that much of the standard pace of life had returned. The sound of air raid shelters did pierce that normality but for a time many would ignore the shrill alarms and keep going about their daily business. War resilience had bred a certain type of lifestyle in the city. 

This resilience has not been shattered but has certainly been dented by a change of tactics from Moscow following the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge. Twice in the last week a swarm of kamikaze drones have attacked the city, seemingly being directed towards energy infrastructure. About 128 Russian missiles were fired into Ukraine mainly targeting Ukrainian power plants - ‘Ukraine is about to face the hardest winter in all the years of independence,’ said Volodymyr Zelensky in one of his nightly addresses to the nation. Many get shot down but those that get through announce themselves with an eery whirry sound before slamming into buildings.  

The conflict in Ukraine has had a series of weapon systems that have defined phases of the fighting to date. In the early weeks it was Ukraine’s Western supplied anti-tank missiles that held up and reversed the Russian advance, then Russian conventional artillery began to shape a steady advance in the east of the country, in response the arrival of US-made HIMARS allowed the Ukrainians to start a devastatingly effective counteroffensive. Today the arrival of what look like Iranian supplied drones could signal the adoption of more wanton tactics from Russian.  

The EU has said it is seeking concrete evidence of Iran being involved with Russian attacks in Ukraine, after it was claimed that Iranian Shahed 136 drones were used in Kyiv on Monday. While Iran has denied supplying Russia with weaponry, can these drones be identified in Ukraine? They are comparatively cheap, costing in the region of $20,000 and Intelligence analysts have said that the key characteristics of the Shahed 136 are the "delta wing shape, the push rotor at the back which propels the drone, and the winglets used to control direction".  

Ukrainians call these drones ‘mopeds’ and the country’s politicians accuse Russia of using them to commit an assault on the fabric of normal life. Unlike missiles they are slow and can change course significantly, meaning people are forced to spend longer in air raid shelters. The change of targeting that has seen residential buildings more frequently hit means civilians are suffering higher rates of casualties. Images of police and security forces firing their personal weapons at the drones but some slam into buildings mean they are covered as a weapon far more than other tools in Russia’s armoury, which presumably is all part of the information war and the logic of responding to the humiliation of the Kerch attack.  

The weapons also bring up questions as to wider geopolitics. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, said on Saturday: ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran has not and will not provide any weapon to be used in the war in Ukraine’. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has urged the E.U. to impose sanctions on Iran for supplying Russia with drones that were used in the strikes on Kyiv. Kuleba addressed a gathering of the E.U.’s Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg from a bomb shelter in the Ukrainian capital.  

The Institute for the Study of War had previously reported that Russia may have signed a new contract with Iran for the supply of Arash-2 drones. Ukrainian and Russian Telegram channels reported “leaked” information from unspecified Iranian sources that Russia has purchased an unknown number of Arash-2 drones, which are purportedly faster and more destructive than the Shahed-136 drones that are currently in use by Russian forces. Russia will likely continue to leverage its relationship with Iran to circumvent sanctions. One Israeli minister, Nachman Shai, minister of diaspora affairs, has already broken ranks to say that Israel should drop its official neutrality and begin arming Ukraine in response to Iranian actions 

Ukrainians are not passive in response to these new weapons. The have already raised nearly £8.6m in one day to buy kamikaze drones for the army. The ‘revenge’ crowdfunding campaign was announced shortly after Russia’s mass missile attack on Ukraine last week. For those worried about continued escalation there is the question as to whether Ukraine would use drones over Russian soil as Russia has over theirs? As ever in this war events are impossible to predict.


BY: James Denselow