Russia Attacks Ukraine with Waves of Iranian ‘Kamikaze’ Drones

 Moscow is targeting Ukraine’s critical infrastructure as winter nears.



Russian forces attacked targets across Ukraine on October 17 with waves of Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones. The drones, each packed with an explosive warhead, descended on energy infrastructure targets across the country, killing eight civilians. The attacks seem calculated to deprive Ukrainian civilians of heat as winter approaches—more out of a desire to inflict cruelty than gain conquest.


The attacks, according to the BBC, took place in the Kyiv, Dnipro, and Sumi regions. CNN reports at least 42 drones and three cruise missiles took part in the attack. Ukrainian authorities claimed to have shot down 36 or 37 of the drones, so at least five got through. The BBC quotes the mayor of Kyiv as stating that air defenses intercepted 23 out of 28 drones that targeted his city.



Drones targeted energy infrastructure across Ukraine, including oil-holding facilities and power plants. Ukrainian authorities claimed the attacks cut power to “hundreds” of towns and villages. Until now, Russian forces have steered clear of attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure—including roads, energy, and communications—with the impression that it would become useful if Russia absorbed Ukraine. Now, Russia is taking its gloves off.

The attacks come as seasonal weather pushed overnight temperatures across central Europe into the low 30s. The attacks against civilian infrastructure serve no military purpose. This comes at a time when Russia’s land offensive has stalled and Ukrainian counter offensives in Kherson and Kharkiv are retaking territory. The attacks could arguably fall under the United Nations’s definition of terrorism, which includes, “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury.”

The drones used in the attacks are Iranian-made Shahed-136s. The U.S. Army calls the Shahed-136 a “loitering munition.” It’s a drone designed to take off and then crash itself against a target, detonating its 80-pound, high-explosive warhead. The Army estimates the Shahed-136’s range as 1,242 miles. While a Shahed-136 is not particularly hard-hitting, its long range opens up the number of targets it can reach. The v-shaped drone is reported to sound like a “lawnmower,” due to it being powered by an engine similar to that used by remote-controlled hobbyist aircraft.



Iran has flatly denied arming Russia with drones, despite the fact that their debris is littered across Ukraine.

Russia has imported Iranian drones due to its inability to manufacture enough drones of its own to support the war effort. Russia’s military drone industry has long been considered years behind the West, and now apparently even Iran. It’s yet another example of the war in Ukraine illuminating Russian military shortcomings.

Russia’s onslaught against Ukrainian civilian targets is set to get worse. According to The Washington Post, Iran has secretly agreed to send more sophisticated arms to Russia, including Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar surface-to-surface missiles. The Fateh 110—a truck-mounted, short range ballistic missile—can deliver a 1,000-pound, high-explosive warhead up to 186 miles, half the time within 50 feet of its target. Zolfaghar can deliver a 1,200-pound warhead up to 434 miles. Zolfaghar has a longer range than the ATACMS missile system Ukraine asked for but was denied by the Pentagon.



It’s not clear how many additional missiles and drones Iran will provide, but for every one launched, Ukraine will need to expend missiles of its own to shoot them down. (At least one Shahed-136 was shot down by machine gun fire.) Playing defense in a war of attrition hands the initiative to the enemy. Ukraine will need to get ahead of the game by destroying the drone- and missile-launching trucks, likely with intelligence provided by the United States and NATO.

Iranian drones and missiles may not change the military equation on the ground in Ukraine—Russian forces appear too weak to advance further. However, like the V-1 and V-2 missiles of the Second World War, they are a threat to Ukrainian civilians. The Iranian threat will draw Ukrainian resources and attention away from the front lines, where Ukraine has the advantage.

Dealing with them at the source—Iran—is beyond the scope of Ukraine’s abilities. It is, however, not beyond the abilities of the U.S. and the rest of NATO. The European Union will soon vote to impose sanctions on Iranian military leaders and the drone company in response to the attacks, according to Reuters and The Guardian.


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