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Home ยป What Do We Know About Drone Attacks In Russia?

What Do We Know About Drone Attacks In Russia?

Media caption, Watch: Huge blast as drone explodes in Moscow

By Jake Horton, Olga Robinson & Daniele Palumbo

BBC Verify

Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of carrying out drone strikes on its territory in recent months.

On 18 August, Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin said wreckage from a drone shot down by air defences had hit the city’s Expo Centre exhibition complex, next to the city’s skyscraper district.

There were no immediate reports of casualties but footage, verified by the BBC, showed damage to one of the exhibition centre buildings.

Although Ukraine hasn’t claimed responsibility for specific drone strikes, President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously said that attacks on Russian territory are an “inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process”.

How many drone attacks have there been in Russia?

According to Russian media reports monitored by BBC Verify, there have been over 140 suspected aerial drone attacks this year in Russia and Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.

These have been concentrated in the Bryansk and Belgorod regions in Russia near the western border with Ukraine, as well as in Russian-annexed Crimea.

There have been a series of drone attacks in the Moscow region in recent months, which is about 450km (280 miles) from the border with Ukraine, including a wave of strikes on 30 May which damaged several buildings.

Flights were forced to be diverted from Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow after a drone attack on 4 July.

Image source, Reuters

Image caption, A suspected Ukrainian drone hit Moscow’s Expo Centre on 18 August, damaging one of the exhibition halls

It was also shut briefly following drone attacks on 30 July and 1 August.

Russia accused Ukraine of trying to kill President Vladimir Putin in an alleged attack on his residence in the Kremlin on 3 May, which Kyiv denies.

Oil facilities, airfields and energy infrastructure have all been targeted in 2023.

We have identified at least nine reported drone attacks on oil depots. One of these was in Sevastopol, a major city in Crimea, which was hit on 29 April, destroying several of its oil tanks.

On 31 May, an oil refinery was set ablaze in Krasnodar Territory in southern Russia, about 200km (124 miles) from the Crimean border. The regional governor said it was probably caused by a drone.

Layla Guest, an analyst at Sibylline security consultancy, says: “Ukrainian forces will highly likely prioritise targeting oil refineries, as well as railway infrastructure and wider Russian logistics, to cause maximum disruption.”

In February, a drone crashed about 100 km (62 miles) from Moscow, in what the local governor said was an attempt to target civilian infrastructure.

A picture of the wreckage appeared to be consistent with a UJ-22 – a type of drone manufactured by Ukraine.

It has a range of 800km (497 miles) in autonomous flight. Its range under directly-controlled flight is much shorter.

Image source, Anton Gerashchenko

Image caption, An image of what appears to show a Ukrainian manufactured UJ-22 drone

Another suspected drone attack injured at least 10 Russian soldiers at a military training ground in the Voronezh Region on 10 May, according to local media reports.

And in December last year, a drone attack hit an airbase 600km (372 miles) north-east of the Ukrainian border, leaving three people dead, according to the Russian military.

How far can Ukraine’s drones fly?

Ukraine says it is rapidly increasing its production of drones as demand grows on the front line.

In terms of range, experts say drones launched from Ukraine could reach deep into Russian territory, and as far as Moscow, which is about 450km (280 miles) from the border.

“Although Ukraine has not confirmed that its armed forces carried out the attacks [on Moscow], I think that the pre-emptive raids we have seen last year prove that Ukraine has the capability to launch long range attacks of that kind from within Ukrainian territory,” says David Cenciotti, editor of the Aviationist blog.

Drone specialist Steve Wright also said it was possible that a drone could hit the Kremlin having been launched from within Ukraine.

But he added: “My guess is that the drone was launched from far closer in than that, as this would avoid it having to run the gauntlet of much of Moscow’s defences.”

Ukraine’s Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov boasted of a Ukrainian drone called the R18 that “can fly from Kyiv to Moscow and back”.

But he denied that he was calling for drone strikes on Moscow.

Mr Cenciotti says: “Ukraine has made extensive use of several drones, with the Bayraktar TB2 drone emerging as the real star of the air war for Ukraine, inflicting heavy losses on Russian forces, some of those caught on tape and circulated online.”

Turkey has sold Bayraktar TB2 armed drones to Ukraine in recent months, while the Turkish manufacturer of the drones has donated to crowd-funding operations in support of Ukraine.

Additional reporting by Tural Ahmedzade, Joshua Cheetham, Thomas Spencer, Shayan Sardarizadeh, Paul Brown and Adam Robinson