Russia said on Friday Ukraine had fired a missile toward Moscow and attacked Crimea with 42 drones in what would be one of the most significant known coordinated Ukrainian air attacks on Russian-held territory. The attack comes a few weeks into Ukraine’s counteroffensive to claw back territory from Russia and is the latest in a series of attacks that have boosted the reputation of its military.
A modified S-200 missile was shot down over the Kaluga region, which borders the Moscow region and is less than 200 km (124 miles) from the capital, the defense ministry said. The ministry added that air defense systems destroyed 42 drones, and another 33 were suppressed with electronic warfare and crashed over occupied Crimea without reaching their targets.
The Kremlin blamed the attacks on Ukraine, saying they were “the next phase” of a campaign to destroy its forces and undermine President Vladimir Putin’s popularity ahead of elections in March. The ministry warned that such actions could have “dangerous consequences.” Ukraine hasn’t commented on the reports but rarely acknowledges responsibility for strikes inside Russia or on Russian-controlled territories in Ukraine. The president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told a conference this week that Kyiv’s goal was to de-occupy Crimea.
Ukraine’s air force has recently ramped up attacks against Russian logistics and resupply efforts on the peninsula but has made few direct assaults on Moscow. The shift in focus has led to criticism in parts of the West over whether Kyiv is trying to provoke Putin without affecting battlefield operations. It has led Washington to withhold from Ukraine weapons that could allow it to strike deep into Russia.
Russian officials say they are preparing for a significant offensive against Ukraine and that Moscow will use Crimea as a base to threaten the rest of the world. They have also threatened to retaliate for near-daily shelling from Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials say the recent rise in attacks against Russian infrastructure in the occupied peninsula is part of a new strategy to disrupt Moscow’s ability to supply its troops and bring supplies to its population. Officials in the southwestern city of Kherson, where a massive explosion last week damaged a grain storage depot, have issued orders for the mandatory evacuation of 37 settlements, saying they are under continuous attack.
The Ukrainian government has also said it is preparing to increase the number of units it can land on Russia’s western border. It will open a corridor for cargo traffic that bypasses Moscow. That plan has faced some opposition from business leaders, including the head of the BRICS group of emerging economies, who says it could lead to a trade war with Europe. However, Ukrainian officials have insisted they are not seeking a conflict with the tycoons. The Kremlin, meanwhile, has insisted that it will not leave Crimea. Despite the tensions, a meeting of the BRICS economic powers in Johannesburg on Saturday was set to discuss issues such as global poverty and climate change.