Ukraine Situation Report: Long-Range Drone Strikes Expand To St. Petersburg

A domestically produced long-range drone design struck the Russian city, as Ukraine promises a “new phase” in the conflict.

byThomas Newdick|
Ukraine's drone attacks expand to St. Petersburg
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Ukraine launched a long-range drone strike against Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, overnight, where the target was reportedly an oil terminal. An unnamed Ukrainian military source said that the attack kicked off a “new phase” in the conflict, which looks like it will rely heavily on the country’s recently developed long-range one-way attack drones.

Citing a Ukrainian intelligence source, the Ukrainska Pravda reported that the drone attack was undertaken by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, or GUR.

“This is a Defense Intelligence operation involving modern Ukrainian assets. Data collection continues, and there are confirmed strikes on targets,” the source told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that a Ukrainian drone was intercepted over the Leningrad region, in which St. Petersburg is located, early this morning.

Unofficial Russian sources, including on the Telegram messaging app, reported that a drone was shot down close to the St. Petersburg Oil Terminal on the Gulf of Finland. It’s unclear if this is the same drone referenced by the Russian Ministry of Defense, but accounts suggest that it exploded on impact and started a fire at the terminal.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the drone, or drones, may have passed over a residence belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Lake Valdai, in the Novgorod region of northwestern Russia, as it flew toward St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is Putin's home town.

According to Ukrainian officials, this is not the first time that targets in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region have been hit by Ukrainian attacks. However, the latest development suggests that new long-range drone technology is now being put to use, with these types offering not only greater reach but also a higher level of performance and greater payloads, compared with previous drone designs.

Already this month, other targets reportedly struck by Ukrainian drones in Russia include an oil depot and energy provider in the Oryol region, which you can read more about here.

In December, The War Zone reported on how the Ukrainian military had received an initial batch of a new kind of relatively low-cost, long-range, one-way attack drone, the AQ 400 Scythe drone. Officials also announced plans to drastically scale up production soon.

Another new Ukrainian drone design has also recently broken cover, this one notably featuring jet propulsion.

Many other types with increasing range and performance or cost saving features have been developed or are in development in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s campaign of long-range drone strikes is perhaps the best example of the country’s long-standing desire to ‘bring the war home’ to Russia, as well as to offer an alternative means of fighting back as the situation along the front lines continues to stagnate.

At the same time, the Ukrainian attacks on Russian infrastructure can also be seen as a response in kind to Moscow’s ongoing winter campaign of missile and drone strikes that have targeted Ukraine energy infrastructure.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

The Latest

Russia claims that its forces have taken control of the settlement of Vesele in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. The information comes from the Russian Ministry of Defense and was reported by Reuters, although the ministry provided few further details and the claim has not been independently verified.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the settlement had been taken by what it called the active efforts of units that are part of Russia’s Southern Military Group. Vesele, which has an estimated population of around 100 people, is located 12 miles northeast of the Russian-controlled city of Bakhmut. The surrounding area has seen heavy fighting in recent months.

A new batch of French-made weaponry is headed to Ukraine, including more CAESAR 155m self-propelled wheeled howitzers. The CAESAR — which stands for Camion Équipé d’un Système d’Artillerie, or ‘Truck equipped with an artillery system’ — has been supplied to Ukraine before, by both France and Denmark, which provided 36 and 19 examples, respectively.

The new purchase, amounting to six CAESARs, valued at around $3.3 million-$4.4 million each, was announced today by Sebastien Lecornu, the French defense minister. It is Ukraine’s first purchase of French-made weapons since the start of the war. Lecornu also said that France would provide 50 examples of the Safran Armement Air-Sol Modulaire (AASM) Hammer precision-guided bomb to Ukraine each month. You can read more about that air-launched weapon in our recent writeup on it here.

Lecornu noted that Nexter, manufacturer of the CAESAR, has cut the production time of the howitzer in half, to 15 months, meaning that around 78 units will be available this year.

France has also committed to spending around $54 million from a fund it has created for Ukraine to buy a further 12 CAESARs that it will transfer to Kyiv. Lecornu said he hoped that other allies would team up to buy a further 60 CAESARs for Ukraine at a cost of about $310 million. “We want to share the bill and enable European countries to share the financial burden,” Lecornu said.

The latest Russian drone attack on Ukraine last night reportedly involved 33 Iranian-designed Shahed-type one-way attack drones, as well as missiles fired at Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the east. The Ukrainian Air Force said that its air defense systems brought down 22 of the drones and added that Russian forces also fired two S-300 surface-to-air missiles — repurposed for the land-attack role — from the Belgorod border region.

The Ukrainian Air Force stated that the 33 Shahed-136/131 attack drones were launched from the Primorsko-Akhtarsk area and the Kursk region of Russia, Agence France-Presse reported.

Interactive software is helping Ukrainian high-school students prepare for future combat, with rifle and pistol shooting practice added to the curriculum.

A regional official confirmed that the new software was being introduced in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reports. Svitlana Onyshchuk said: “Prykarpattia high-school students will learn shooting on safe interactive systems at Defence of Ukraine classes.” She added that the training will be introduced in three dozen schools across the western region.

As well as the demands of fielding new soldiers, the move reflects how much of school life has already been forced to go online, with thousands of schools damaged or destroyed by Russian attacks, as well as more general turmoil in Ukraine’s education system.

The interactive software is being introduced together with mobile multimedia equipment and replica weapons. Onyshchuk said that the training is part of a broader effort to “improve skills related to military and patriotic education.”

A total of 68 alleged foreign mercenaries have had charges filed against them in Russia, accused of fighting for Ukraine.

The Russian state-run TASS news agency cites a statement provided by Russia’s Investigative Committee (IC), which says: “In the criminal case on mercenary activities, investigators received additional materials and filed charges in absentia against 68 more nationals from seven countries.”

The same report adds that criminal proceedings are now underway against 591 foreign citizens from 46 countries. Most of these are citizens of the United States, Canada, Georgia, Israel, the United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, and Latvia, according to the IC.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has said Ukrainians “must make the choice between being part of Russia or death,” in one of his most belligerent statements since the start of the full-scale invasion.

Medvedev, who now serves as deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, has made previous outlandish threats directed against Ukraine and its Western allies.

In a post on Telegram, Medvedev added that Ukrainians must choose between “eternal war and inevitable death and life.” He added: “They [Ukrainians] will understand that life in a large common state, which they do not like very much now, is better than death. Their deaths and the deaths of their loved ones. And the sooner Ukrainians realize this, the better.”

Other statements from Medvedev on January 17 included reiterating Russia’s commitment to eliminating Ukrainian statehood and independence, as discussed in the threat below from the U.S.-based think tank, The Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Reports emerged today suggesting that another Russian patrol ship has been sunk in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

The individual ship has so far not been identified, but the incident was reportedly claimed by agents of the Atesh group, a military partisan movement active in the occupied territories of Ukraine, as well as in the territory of Russia.

It is claimed that the ship fell victim to an attack by some kind of naval drone some weeks ago, but that its loss had been concealed by Russia until now.

A report from the British think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) states that North Korea has, to date, supplied Russia with “several dozen” short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).

The report states that the U.S. government first identified the Russian use of a single North Korean-designed SRBM in a failed effort to hit a Ukrainian target on December 30, 2023, with multiple missiles fired on January 2, 2024.

The IISS states:

“Ukraine estimates that Russia has launched more than 800 SRBMs during its invasion. North Korea’s transfer of several dozen SRBMs will be welcomed by Moscow, which has depleted its pre-war stockpile despite efforts to increase missile production. An unknown number of North Korean transporter erector launchers (TEL), and presumably support vehicles, have also been sent.”

Based on images presented at a U.S. government press gathering, Russia has likely received examples of the road-mobile Hwasong-11A (KN-23) and/or Hwasong-11B (KN-24) SRBMs.

The KN-23 and KN-24 are relatively new solid-fuel SRBMs, which were first test launched in 2019.

Among the latest drone systems to appear in Russian hands is this uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV), named Bratishka, meaning “little brother.”

As can be seen in the video below, the UGV combines a tracked power unit that can pull a variety of payloads, including a wounded soldier or a pallet of ammunition, also over fairly steep terrain and obstacles.

While the presence of the MIM-23 HAWK surface-to-air missile in Ukrainian hands is well known by now, photos and videos showing the system remain generally scarce. The photo below, date and location unconfirmed, shows a Ukrainian serviceman posing in front of a former U.S. Army HAWK missile. Other HAWKS and related subsystems have been provided to Ukraine by Spain and Sweden.

U.S.-designed air defense systems of a more modern nature next, with a statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he praises the capabilities of the Patriot surface-to-air missile.

Zelensky describes the Patriot as “the most effective air defense system in the world today ... I must bow deeply to its creators ... Both Russians and our partners are in shock.”

The Ukrainian leader may be pointing to the reported shooting down of a Russian A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning aircraft over the Sea of Azov last weekend. While the exact cause of that loss remains unclear, the Patriot has been suggested as one possible candidate.

While no evidence of the wreckage of the A-50 has appeared so far, a Telegram channel has provided a list of crew members who are currently listed as missing.

Reports suggest that Russia may be developing a new range of armor-piercing rounds, in 12.7mm caliber.

The monolithic steel penetrators are claimed to be able to penetrate the side armor of a NATO armored personnel carrier at around 100 yards.

One of the latest videos that shows a first-person-view (FPV) drone in action reveals the destruction of a Russian T-72 tank by one of these devices, reportedly in Dibrova, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine. The destination of the explosive payload very quickly leads to a catastrophic ammunition “cook-off.”

Finally, intriguing photos have appeared on social media showing the wreckage of an unusual-looking weapon, apparently an example of the Soviet-era P-35B supersonic anti-ship missile. This missile is used in the static Utes system coastal defense system as well as the road-mobile Redut coastal defense system.

As far as is known, the missile has not previously been used in the Ukrainian war. With no Ukrainian naval vessels to target, it seems probable that the P-35B has been repurposed for a land-attack role, perhaps launched from the Utes complex on the Crimean peninsula.

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

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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