The Hamilton Spectator

Russia turning to decoy missiles, intel balloons

Goal thought to be to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defence system by offering too many targets


Russia has switched its aerial strike tactics to fool Ukraine’s air defences, using decoy missiles without explosive warheads and deploying balloons, a senior Ukrainian official said Thursday.

“The Russians are definitely changing tactics” as the war approaches its one-year anniversar­y, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The goal of the decoy missiles, Podolyak said, is to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defence systems by offering too many targets.

“They want to overload our antiaircra­ft system to get an extra chance to hit infrastruc­ture facilities,” Podolyak said, adding that Ukraine’s air defences are adapting to the challenge.

After firing wave upon wave of missiles and killer drones at Ukraine since October, in a targeted effort to take out power supplies and other essential infrastruc­ture over the winter, Russia may be running short of such weaponry, Ukrainian and western officials say.

Podolyak said Russia is facing “missile exhaustion” and that shortages are forcing its change in tactics. He said Russia is mixing in older Soviet-era missiles with “new missiles that have some value.”

Moscow has not acknowledg­ed problems with weapon supplies. But Britain’s Defense Ministry said in late November that Russia appeared to be stripping nuclear warheads off old cruise missiles and then firing the missiles as blanks at Ukraine.

“Russia almost certainly hopes such missiles will function as decoys and divert Ukrainian air defences,” it said.

Ukraine’s western allies have progressiv­ely boosted the country’s air defences in response to Russia’s expanded bombardmen­ts of the power grid and other targets. The sophistica­ted western-supplied systems have helped deny air superiorit­y to Russia’s much larger air force and blunted its missile and drone attacks.

The changed Russian tactics — seen by some as evidence that Moscow is adapting its brute-force war strategy into something more nuanced — appeared to pay dividends Thursday when Russian forces fired 36 missiles in a two-hour overnight burst. Ukrainian air defence batteries shot down 16 of them — a lower rate of success than against some previous Russian waves.

Another new feature of Russia’s strategy is the use of what Podolyak called “special air balloons.” He wouldn’t go into detail about their suspected purpose. But they may be intended to possibly confuse or provide intelligen­ce about Ukrainian air defences.


They want to overload our anti-aircraft system to get an extra chance to hit infrastruc­ture facilities.


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