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For the past year and a half, Russian Forces have been able to strike Ukrainian territory with impunity from bases in Russia and ships in the Black Sea. Believing the war they started would never return to their country, the Kremlin felt untouchable as they stoked the fears of nuclear war to scare Western support away from retaliation attacks against the Russian Federation.
Needing a valuable weapon to strike at vital Russian targets without Western restrictions, Kyiv has invested in homemade drones, which has had a devastating effect against not only the Russian military but its leadership and economy as well.
Homegrown Aerial and Sea Drones
For months, Ukraine has developed its homegrown defence capabilities in lieu of bureaucracy and hesitation by its allies. The state arms producer, Ukroboronprom, has continuously worked on long-range drones that can strike targets deep inside Russia.
Indeed, Ukroboronprom succeeded in developing armed drones with a range of 1,000 km. Testing would begin in early December 2022, and Kyiv would announce its first successful strike this summer. According to an interview by Army Recognition, Ukraine has over 100 teams working around the clock to produce 1,000 km of drones.
Along with aerial drones, Ukraine has enhanced its sea drone capabilities to supplement a lack of navy due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The various versions of the seaborne drones, the TLK 150 and TLK 400, range from 100km and 1200km, respectively.
A Strategic, Psychological, and Economic Effect
Ukraine has subverted the red lines of attacks inside Russia by using its drones. Whereas NATO weaponry cannot be used on Russian territory, there are no restrictions on Ukraine using its arsenal to strike strategic targets. Though HIMARS currently does not have the reach to maintain fire control over Russian bases inside of Ukraine and Storm Shadows are restricted against Russian territory, the homegrown drones are not.
Numerous attacks on military bases in Crimea have been reported since last summer. Even more brazen attacks against critical targets, such as the strategic bomber base in Engels, deep inside Russia, showed the Kremlin’s air defence capabilities aren’t as invincible as Putin made them out to be.
Ukraine’s intelligence agencies, such as HUR and SBU, have also perfected the drone attacks to not only hit strategic locations but also to have a psychological blow to Russia’s leadership and society.
The drone attack against the Kremlin on 3 May, a few days before Russia’s Victory Day parade, was a blow against Putin’s invincibility, and numerous drone busters were present for the festivities on 9 May. Ukrainian aerial drones have also hit oil depots inside Russia, which is critical for Moscow’s war effort and economy, primarily based on gas exports.
Naval drone attacks on the Black Sea fleet and Russian infrastructure has increased since the spring. In tandem with Ukraine’s naval warfare operations, the SBU struck the Crimean Bridge on July 17th, further degrading Russian Forces of a much-needed supply route. Ukraine could continue showing the world how it could impair Moscow’s naval operations without a fully functional navy.
Targeting the Black Sea Fleet and Transport Ships
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has not only enacted a naval blockade on Ukraine’s economic exports out of Odesa, but their ships have also bombed Ukrainian cities without impunity since the full-scale war began. Kyiv’s leadership has stated that the Black Sea Fleet must be dismantled and incapacitated.
Russia recently withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative that was brokered by Turkey and sponsored by the United Nations. The Kremlin would reiterate all ships would be acceptable to be targeted if Russia’s navy assumed they were carrying weapons.
By withdrawing from the Initiative, Russia had hoped to continue putting Ukraine’s economy and livelihood under brutal siege by continuously striking grain silos. Ukraine’s military would play a reverse uno on Russia and use their tactics against their most prized fleets.
Ukraine’s naval operators targeted the Port of Novorossiysk on August 4th and hit the Olenegorsky Gornyak maritime ship. The Gornyak was one of the few remaining landing ships Russia had left in the Black Sea, and the naval vessel was critical for resupplying its army. With the ship incapacitated indefinitely, Russian logistics will continue to be degraded.
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Decapitating naval power not only hampers Russia’s overseas operations in Syria but also hampers their economic output. Immediately after the strikes on the Port of Novorossiysk, Kyiv’s military command announced that Russian ports in the Black Sea would be targeted, akin to how the Russian navy put Ukraine under siege. With Russia’s ports exporting 600,000 barrels of oil daily, Ukraine’s naval strikes are now detrimental to their economy.
Now with a growing fleet of air and naval drones, the Ukrainian Armed Forces will increase their strikes with their homegrown defence industry. Bypassing the indecision of their Western allies, Ukrainians continue to show the world how they improvise, adapt, and overcome obstacles in their ongoing existential war against Russia.