Ukraine Situation Report: Ballistic Missiles Target Kyiv After Biden Meeting

Russia launched another large-scale missile attack against Ukraine this morning, apparently focusing on the capital, Kyiv, where authorities reported that at least 53 people — including six children — had been injured by debris after Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 ballistic missiles.

The attacks may well have been timed to strike Kyiv only minutes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met his U.S. counterpart President Joe Biden for talks in Washington. Zelensky’s visit is aimed at breaking the deadlock holding up the around $60 billion in aid earmarked for Kyiv.

Zelensky described the ballistic missile strikes as a “heinous” crime again describing Russia as a “terrorist” state. “Russia has proven once again that it is a heinous country that fires missiles at night, trying to hit residential areas, kindergartens, and energy facilities during the winter. There will be a response. Certainly,” he said.

While their claims cannot be verified, Ukrainian officials said that all 10 of the missiles involved in the strikes were successfully brought down by Ukrainian air defenses in the early hours of this morning.

The exact type of Russian missiles used is unclear, although there are reports, including from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, that at least some of the weapons were 48N6 missiles from the S-400 air defense system. In the past, Russia has repurposed the earlier S-300 air defense system to engage targets on the ground, apparently mainly driven by a shortage of suitable ballistic missiles. Also involved were 9K720 Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), known in the West as SS-26 Stone. 

Clearly, however, there was still extensive damage. In particular, what Ukrainian authorities described as falling debris brought destruction to neighborhoods on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.

Emergency services dealing with damage caused by falling missile debris on Voskresenskyi Avenue in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 13, 2023. Photo by Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Kyiv city military administration reported that “as a result of the downing of enemy air targets, numerous falling debris was recorded in Dniprovsky and Desnyansky districts.” A children’s hospital in Dniprovsky was among the buildings said to have been damaged, although there were apparently no casualties there.

Some of that destruction can be seen in the following video, published by Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko. In this case, ballistic missile fragments had reportedly come down in the yard of an apartment building, damaging balconies and setting fire to a flat. A nearby kindergarten was also badly damaged, and several parked cars were set alight.

“As a result of the enemy’s night missile attack [on] the capital’s Dniprovsky district, an apartment building was damaged,” Klitschko posted on social media.

According to Klitschko, at least 20 people, including two children, needed hospital treatment, mostly due to cuts from flying glass. Another 33 civilians received treatment on the ground, while 15 residents had to be evacuated, Klitschko said.

Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration, said on the Telegram messaging app that the city’s water supply had been damaged. Russia’s long-awaited campaign of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine had long been expected, with concerns, in particular, that it would seek to cause maximum disruption by targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure, as was the case last winter.

The latest missile attack comes after a previous raid, again involving ballistic missiles, on December 11. According to reports, at least eight missiles were used to attack Kyiv on that occasion, leaving four people injured by debris. Today’s attack therefore appears to represent a significant scaling up of Russian strikes on the capital.

These two days of ballistic missile attacks follow on from Russia’s return to long-range cruise missile attacks against Ukraine on December 8, after a long pause. Ukrainian officials said 19 long-range missiles were launched at targets in Ukraine on that occasion, including Kyiv, killing one person and wounding eight, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Today, however, a direct link between the Zelensky–Biden meeting and the Russian missile strikes was made by the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Bridget Brink.

As well as meeting Biden in the Oval Office and taking part in a joint press conference, Zelensky made efforts — so far unsuccessfully — to get certain Republican senators to drop their opposition to Biden’s military aid package. Zelensky met the House speaker, Mike Johnson, and other leading Republicans.

Biden also announced an additional $200 million drawdown in security assistance.

Biden further warned that a Republican failure to back the additional military aid for Ukraine would provide Russia with a “Christmas gift.” During the joint press conference with Zelensky, Biden said: “Russian loyalists in Moscow celebrated when Republicans voted to block Ukraine’s aid last week. The host of a Kremlin-run show said: ‘Well done Republicans, that’s good for us.’”

At his next stop in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, Zelensky said he had received a “positive signal” during his trip to Washington, and the United States would continue its support and assistance to Ukraine. However, the Ukrainian leader noted that there would likely be timing issues and internal politics still to negotiate.

Citing conversations with “congressmen, senators, representatives of both parties, with [the] administration of the president and with him personally, from the speaker of the United States,” Zelensky said that he “received a positive signal concerning support of Ukraine and assistance from the side of the United States.”

Standing out among the additional military support that Kyiv is seeking is additional air defense equipment, to help thwart just the kind of missile strikes that have been visited upon Kyiv in recent days.

In a message on X (formerly Twitter), Zelensky said that “powerful new agreements” had been reached with the Biden administration to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses. “We are working on speeding up delivery,” Zelensky said. These defenses would save lives.”

Additional ground-based air defense systems were also pledged to Ukraine during Zelensky’s Oslo visit, where he met with the prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and Denmark.

Ukrainian air defenses were again near the top of the agenda during the Oslo visit. At the summit with Nordic leaders, Zelensky said: “Today we talked and will talk about such specific things that can save thousands and thousands of Ukrainian lives, as well as increasing pressure on the aggressor.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said that Norway will donate $273 million to Ukraine, as part of a package agreed previously by Norway’s parliament.

“Norway will continue to support Ukraine’s fight to defend itself. We are providing targeted, long-term support to assist Ukraine in its battle for freedom and democracy,” Stoere said in a statement. “Ukraine’s efforts are important to safeguarding freedom and security here in Norway as well.”

Norwegian military aid to Ukraine also includes additional equipment related to the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS. This reportedly includes both second-hand items delivered from Norwegian stocks as well as new-build items from industry. The latter should include eight launchers and four fire-control centers. NASAMS is already in Ukrainian hands, deliveries having been expedited after large-scale missile and drone assaults on major population centers in Ukraine.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

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Germany, too, is continuing to provide Ukraine with air defense systems, with apparent confirmation now that a second Patriot surface-to-air missile battery has been delivered. The German government had confirmed in October that a second Patriot battery had been pledged and that training of related Ukrainian personnel ended earlier this month.

The latest bleak assessment of Russian losses in the war in Ukraine comes from a declassified U.S. intelligence report. This assesses that, since the full-scale invasion launched in February 2022, 315,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured. This is considered to be almost 90 percent of the personnel committed to the conflict when it began.

An unnamed source said that the report also assessed that Moscow’s losses in personnel and armored vehicles have set back Russia’s military modernization by 18 years, Reuters reports.

“The scale of losses has forced Russia to take extraordinary measures to sustain its ability to fight. Russia declared a partial mobilization of 300,000 personnel in late 2022, and has relaxed standards to allow recruitment of convicts and older civilians,” the assessment said, according to the source.

The Russian Ground Forces began the war with 3,100 tanks, lost 2,200 of them, and has had to backfill that force with T-62 tanks produced in the 1970s, leaving it with only 1,300 tanks on the battlefield, the source quoted the report as saying.

The numbers are worth comparing with those provided today by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They claim that Russia has lost 341,500 troops in Ukraine since the beginning of its full-scale invasion.

According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces report, Russia has also lost 5,682 tanks, 10,594 armored fighting vehicles, 10,662 vehicles and fuel tanks, 8,076 artillery systems, 919 multiple-launch rocket systems, 605 air defense systems, 324 fixed-wing aircraft, 324 helicopters, 6,173 drones, 22 ships and boats, and one submarine. These claims cannot be independently verified.

On the battlefield, the latest reports describe progress made by Russian forces in southern Ukraine. Moscow’s troops have “advanced considerably” around the village of Novopokrovka in the Zaporizhzhia region, according to the Moscow-installed occupational authorities there. “Our units have advanced significantly forward north-east of Novopokrovka,” the head of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, wrote on Telegram.

While ballistic missiles were aimed at Kyiv this morning, Ukraine’s biggest mobile network operator, Kyivstar, says that the country was also targeted by an “unprecedented” cyber-attack. This knocked out many of the operator’s services, some of which were being restored today, according to Oleksandr Komarov, the company’s chief executive.

Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency told Reuters it was investigating the possibility that Russian security services were behind the attack.

The attack, which took place Tuesday, is said to have knocked out cellular and internet services, damaged IT infrastructure, and also affected air raid alert systems in some regions. It was reportedly the largest attack of its kind since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. Ministry of Defense reports that Russia yesterday launched at least 15 Iranian-designed Shahed one-way attack drones from the Balaklava district of Crimea. Notably, the assessment states that a new drone launch site has been established south of Sevastopol. The ministry says this is the fifth confirmed launch site being used in Russian operations against Ukraine.

“Russia is highly likely dispersing its [one-way attack drones] launch capabilities across several locations as both a force protection measure and to complicate Ukrainian air defense efforts. Russia will likely use additional launch sites in response to Ukrainian attacks, forcing Ukraine to adapt to new transit corridors of these systems.”

The video provides an incredible example of armor versus armor combat. It shows a Ukrainian M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle that appears to knock out a column of three Russian MT-LB multi-purpose tracked armored fighting vehicles, together with infantry. The night-time footage purportedly comes from an attempted Russian attack on Stepove, near Avdiivka. According to one account, “the armored vehicles went to storm the Ukrainian position and came under the fire of the experienced crew of the Bradley using TOW ATGMs and the 25mm gun.”

Russian airpower remains active over the front lines, including this Su-34 Fullback strike fighter, seen operating at an extremely low altitude to deliver freefall bombs on Ukrainian positions. The weapons used are apparently 500-kilogram (1,102-pound) FAB-500ShN aerial bombs that feature a parachute system for low altitude release. The parachutes slow the descent of the bombs so that the blasts do not destroy the aircraft that released them. They are optimized for delivery from around 500 feet, which the fighter-bomber is clearly far below in the video. We have seen exactly these kinds of deliveries by Su-34s before.

An interesting analysis of a small Ukrainian drone has appeared on Telegram and now elsewhere on social media. The propeller-driven, straight-wing drone is constructed from mixed materials, including metal spars as well as wooden and plastic components, although its exact purpose is unclear. The drone came down over Russia, for reasons that are unclear, leading to speculation that this is a new type of low-cost medium-range attack drone intended to attack infrastructure within Russian borders.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.