Ukrainian Drones Target Moscow, Black Sea Fleet

Ukraine has launched strikes targeting Moscow as well as the Black Sea Fleet and involving both aerial drones and drone boats, or unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). Videos and photos reveal damage inflicted in the center of the Russian capital, although the Russian Ministry of Defense has said it thwarted two separate attacks.

At the same time, other footage shows a major blaze at a fuel oil terminal in the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk today, although it’s not immediately clear if that was the result of a drone strike, another kind of hostile activity, or an accident.

Drone war on Moscow continues

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, air defense units downed a Ukrainian drone over Moscow at around 4:00 AM local time today.

“The UAV, after being exposed to air defense weapons, changed its flight path and fell on a non-residential building in the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment area of Moscow,” the ministry said on Telegram. The intended target of the drone strike is not known.

Footage from the Russian capital showed damage to an exhibition center on the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment, located on the Moskva River, close to the center of Moscow.

“The wreckage of the UAV fell in the area of the Expo Center, and did not cause significant damage to the building,” Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said on Telegram. Sobyanin added that emergency services were on the scene, but that initial reports indicated there were no casualties.

There are meanwhile multiple unconfirmed reports that more than one drone was involved, which would be in keeping with previous such Ukrainian raids. Meanwhile, at least one video shows what appears to be a large explosion in Moscow, apparently as the result of one of the UAVs coming down. A witness speaking to the Reuters news agency also described hearing “a powerful explosion.”

Citing emergency services, the Russian state-run news agency TASS reported that one of the walls of Pavilion 8 at the exhibition center had partially collapsed. Other reports mention damage to the roof and facade and wreckage of the drone on the pavement.

“The area of the collapse is about 30 square meters [323 square feet],” the emergency services told TASS.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the incoming drone strike saw around 2,000 people rapidly evacuated from parts of the center of the city. Photos, meanwhile, show large groups of people gathered outside the exhibition center itself.

People and workers stand in line to enter a building within the Expo Center following the drone attack in Moscow on August 18, 2023. Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images

According to Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti, the evacuation was the result of a hoax phone call, at around 2:00 PM local time, warning about the “arrival of a drone.”

The pro-Russian SHOT account on Telegram said that the caller claimed to be Russian Minister of Economic Development, Maxim Reshetnikov, although this cannot be independently verified. At the same time, the recipient of the call is also unclear.

“Obviously, the call came from the territory of Ukraine,” SHOT added.

If true, this could perhaps signal a changing approach from Ukraine, with an apparently calculated move to create more disruption. But it remains very much unclear where the call may have come from. There is no shortage of different potential actors who might have done this, including Ukrainian agents in Russia, local partisans or activists, or even simply a troublemaker.

As is now becoming more routine, air traffic in and out of Moscow airports was also disrupted, although authorities didn’t explicitly tie this to the drone attack.

The Russian Federal Agency for Air Transport, or Rosaviatsiya, announced temporary restrictions at the civil airports of Vnukovo, Domodedovo, and Sheremetyevo, as well as the joint civil-military airport at Zhukovsky.

“At 4:30 Moscow time, restrictions on incoming and outgoing flights were lifted,” Rosaviatsiya stated. In the meantime, seven flights had been diverted to alternate airports, in the Nizhny Novgorod and St. Petersburg regions, while one other flight was diverted to Minsk, in Belarus.

The fact that Moscow has once again come under attack by aerial drones also indicates that targets deep inside Russia are now fairly routine for strikes of this kind, although in this case, we don’t have an indication of the type of drones used.

Black Sea Fleet under attack

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that a drone boat was destroyed overnight by Russian Navy warships, around 150 miles southwest of the port of Sevastopol, a major base of the Black Sea Fleet, in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the target of that drone strike was a pair of Project 22160 corvettes, although it’s not clear if these were the same vessels that are claimed to have destroyed a drone. TASS, meanwhile, reports that the uncrewed surface vessel was destroyed by “fire from standard weapons mounted on the two ships,” which it says were the Project 1135M Krivak II class frigate Pytlivyy and the Project 22160 patrol ship Vasily Bykov.

Blaze in Novorossiysk

Meanwhile, Novorossiysk, one of the largest ports on the Black Sea, around 100 miles from Crimea, witnessed a major fire today, at a fuel oil terminal, the major export hub for Russia in the region.

While it’s currently unclear if the blaze was caused by a Ukrainian drone strike, or any other kind of hostile action, infrastructure of this kind has previously been targeted by Ukraine, both in Crimea and in border areas of Russia. At the same time, there’s been a relative spate of fires like this in recent months, the causes of which have been very hard to directly tie to reported attacks.

Citing the press service of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, TASS reported that the fuel oil terminal “is operating normally; since the beginning of the year, 40.5 million tons of oil have already been shipped from it.”

However, the agency also admitted that “wooden pallets caught fire in the cargo terminal in Novorossiysk on Markova Street,” resulting in a blaze that covered an area of 1,300 square meters (14,000 square feet) before firefighters extinguished it. So far, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

Based on the available videos, and unconfirmed accounts, it would appear that the fire at the very least extended to petroleum products at the site.

While the official line suggests an accidental fire that was quickly brought under control, the Russians do have a history of trying to pass off incidents as accidents. At the same time, major industrial accidents are not exactly unheard of in Russia.

Russian-installed officials in Crimea have so far provided little additional information on the attempted drone attack. However, the governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, took to Telegram and said the situation was calm while stating that undisclosed military “training” was ongoing in the area, including live-fire exercises.

As it is, Novorossiysk has been a repeated target for Ukraine, chiefly due to the major Russian naval port there. Located on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, it is roughly 420 miles from the closest Ukrainian-held shores.

On this occasion, there has so far been no comment from Kyiv, although Ukrainian officials are increasingly talking more openly about drone strikes.

Taken together, the attacks, or attempted attacks today signal, once again, that uncrewed platforms have emerged as a central means for Ukrainian forces to keep up pressure on Russia. Amid the flagging counteroffensive, especially, there’s every likelihood that attacks of this kind will continue, and their scope and complexity continue to increase.

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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.