Ukraine Situation Report: Cruise Missile Strikes Return To Kyiv

After a long pause, Russia has launched a wave of air-launched cruise missiles against Ukraine, including Kyiv. The raid, carried out early this morning, killed one person and wounded eight, according to Ukrainian authorities. For several months now, Ukraine has been preparing for a major campaign of Russian winter airstrikes, intended above all to damage and disrupt energy infrastructure.

Ukrainian officials said 19 long-range missiles were launched at targets in Ukraine on Friday morning, according to a report from Reuters.

The one recorded fatality and eight injured were in the central region of Dnipropetrovsk, the governor, Serhiy Lysak, said on the Telegram messaging app. “These are men from 32 to 66 years old,” Lysak said “Two of them will be recovering at home. The rest are in the hospital.”

Authorities also reported damage to an unnamed industrial facility and power lines. There was also damage to more than 20 homes in the towns of Pavlohrad and Ternivka, as well as in the villages of Yuryivska and Mezhyrich, Lysak said.

The renewed large-scale use of cruise missiles comes after a long period in which long-range one-way attack drones were mainly used by Russia for its airstrikes against Ukrainian infrastructure and cities. The reasons behind the pause are unclear but are likely connected to a dwindling stockpile of cruise missiles, while production capacity has almost certainly failed to meet the demand, with sanctions making those issues even more pronounced.

In a television interview, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said that 14 of the missiles were shot down by air defenses. These missiles were brought down around Kyiv and in the Dnipropetrovsk region. The air force said that the missiles were delivered by seven Tu-95MS Bear-H bombers, which launched them from different regions across Russia. This would be the first use of Russian long-range aviation to deliver strikes against Ukraine in months.

While the Ukrainian capital was once again in Russia’s sights, Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration, said that all the missiles directed against it were downed by local air defenses. This, and the other Ukrainian claims about the effectiveness of their air defenses, cannot be independently verified.

A woman is looking out of a window that has been broken by an explosion, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on December 8, 2023. Photo by Pavlo Pakhomenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

However, the governor of the Kyiv region, Ruslan Kravchenko, said that debris from falling missiles had damaged homes in several parts of the wider Kyiv region, smashing windows and destroying some walls.

While air alerts were announced at around 7:00 a.m. local time in Kyiv, a previous wave of missile strikes was reportedly directed at the Kharkiv region, in northeastern Ukraine. Here, there were reports of more damage to residential buildings. Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said that rescuers and police were clearing debris after the attack damaged a five-story residential building, at least seven residential homes, and 20 vehicles.

While it’s not clear if the latest Russian missile strikes were primarily directed against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, although that would certainly not be unexpected.

As we have reported in the past, Ukraine has been preparing for a Russian campaign of airstrikes that is expected to be bigger than that launched last winter. So far, this has mainly involved Russian drone attacks, which make particularly heavy use of Iranian-designed Shahed-series drones, and which have been stepped up considerably in recent weeks.

The results of a missile attack, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on December 8, 2023. Photo by Pavlo Pakhomenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Russian airstrikes last winter left millions of Ukrainians without power and repairs to the energy infrastructure are still ongoing as of now, with grid operators imposing regular rolling power cuts and rationing of hot water.

Since last winter, Ukraine has received new Western-made air defense systems, but nowhere near enough equipment of this kind to ensure coverage of all potential energy targets. While Ukrainian officials have claimed positive results against the majority of the missiles launched overnight, it remains the case that there is still a great demand for air defense systems to support the counteroffensive in the east and south of the country.

At the same time, Ukrainian energy infrastructure is in a particularly vulnerable position, with demand at near-record levels and almost 500 settlements facing blackouts due to Russian shelling, airstrikes, and bad weather. Emergency power imports are now having to be made, with additional energy coming from Romania and Poland to meet the soaring demand.

Yesterday, Ukrainian citizens were told to save energy after a power plant near the front line was hit by shelling.

“This afternoon, the enemy attacked one of the thermal power plants in the front-line zone. The equipment was seriously damaged as a result of shelling,” the energy ministry said. The location of the power plant affected was not announced.

With the likelihood of more cruise missile strikes to come, probably combined with long-range drones for maximum effect, the campaign directed against the Ukrainian energy system this winter looks set to be a very tough one indeed.

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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On the battlefield, the beleaguered town of Avdiivka in the eastern Donbas region continues to see fierce fighting. The latest Ukrainian accounts describe an increasing use of aerial attacks to try and make more progress in what has so far been a slow-moving campaign. “For the second day in a row, occupying forces have been actively using kamikaze drones and aviation. And the number of combat clashes has significantly increased,” Ukrainian military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun said on national television.

After many months of fighting and very high casualties, Russian forces have been forced to adapt their tactics in the hope of making a breakthrough. Previously we reported on how the Russian forces were making greater use of infantry; now they are reportedly also employing smaller attack groups as they attempt to fully encircle the town. At the same time, however, there are reports that Russia is once again employing armored assaults; previous attempts to use columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers met with decidedly mixed results.

Two pieces of news out of Russia today will hardly be cause for surprise but have significant implications for the war in Ukraine.

First, the Kremlin has said it will now engage in peace talks with Kyiv, at least if these are to be conducted on Ukrainian terms. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described the idea as “absolutely unrealistic.”

The Kremlin was responding to reports suggesting that Washington wanted to see such negotiations between Russia and Ukraine take place next year.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed that he will run for re-election in the next presidential poll, scheduled for March 2024. The announcement, reported by the state news agency TASS, was widely expected and will likely pave the way for a fifth term in office. Putin made the announcement in the Kremlin after awarding soldiers who had fought in Ukraine with the country’s highest military honor, the Hero of Russia Gold Star, TASS reported.

As his country faces another wintertime assault on its energy infrastructure, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has again made a call for additional and more advanced air defense systems.

Zelensky reiterated the need for more robust air defenses ahead of a key European Union summit in Brussels, planned for next week. During a call with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, the Ukrainian leader said they “discussed the importance of maintaining E.U. political and financial support for Ukraine, as well as E.U. unity in light of the expected [European Council] summit decisions to open accession negotiations and provide €50 billion in support.”

Ahead of the summit, Hungary has already threatened to veto the proposal for €50 billion in budget aid to Kyiv. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has previously touted his ties with Moscow and objected to similar support for Ukraine.

The latest intelligence update from the U.K. Ministry of Defense today said that it was “highly likely” that a Russian Navy Su-24M Fencer swing-wing strike aircraft was shot down by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile in the vicinity of Ukraine’s Snake Island on December 5. There is unconfirmed speculation that a U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missile might have brought the Su-24M down. You can read our full report of that incident, and its wider implications, in this previous story.

Unconfirmed reports from Russian military bloggers suggest that the Russian Navy Project 22800 Karakurt class corvette Askold cannot be repaired after it suffered extensive damage in a Ukrainian cruise missile attack in the Crimean port of Kerch in November. The Askold — designed to carry eight Kalibr cruise missiles — had yet to be commissioned when it was hit.

The United Kingdom has stepped up its pressure on the United States to approve a fresh round of military aid for Ukraine. A day after Senate Republicans blocked a funding bill for Kyiv, the U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron called upon U.S. lawmakers to approve the aid package. “I’m not worried about the strength and unity and consensus and bravery of the Ukrainian people … I’m worried that we’re not going to do what we need to do,” Cameron told the Aspen Security Forum in Washington, D.C.

More aid is headed to Ukraine from Japan, however. The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged $4.5 billion to Kyiv, including $1 billion in humanitarian aid. This will include funding for generators and other power supplies, as well as measures to clear mines planted by Russia, the foreign ministry said. The remaining $3.5 billion includes funding for credit guarantees for World Bank loans to Ukraine.

With Ukraine rapidly burning through stocks of artillery ammunition, both from its own supplies and those provided by its allies, officials have announced agreements with two unnamed U.S. firms that will lead to the joint manufacture of 155mm artillery shells in Ukraine. However, production will not start for at least two years, Oleksandr Kamyshin, minister for strategic industries, said.

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.