Ukrainian Drone Strikes Target Russian Nuclear Radar Stations

In recent days, Ukraine has conducted a series of drone attacks inside Russia, including one of the longest-range strikes of the war, that target radar stations used, at least partly, as early nuclear warning systems by Moscow.

On Monday, Ukraine struck a radar station near the border with Kazakhstan that was more than 1,100 miles away, a Ukrainian intelligence official said. Ukrainian experts said the facility was used to detect missile threats from Asia.

On Tuesday morning, the governor of the Krasnodar region of Russia reported that a Ukrainian drone was downed in the sky over the town of Armavir, which is home to two radar stations. Ukraine did not report any new strikes that day.

Ukraine has used its own drones and missiles to carry out these strikes, but they come as officials in Kyiv make urgent appeals to the United States for permission to fire powerful American-made weapons into Russia. The Biden administration has resisted those appeals for fear of getting drawn into a wider war, though it may be close to modifying that position.

The strikes on the radar systems also have American officials worried about escalation, according to a senior Biden administration official. The administration conveyed its concern this week to Ukraine over Kyiv’s recent drone and missile strikes against three nuclear early warning radar stations inside Russia in the past couple of weeks, the official said.

By striking deeper into Russia, analysts said, Ukraine is hoping to force Russia to stretch its air defense systems deep into the country so that Moscow can’t bunch its defensive weapons near the border. In this sense, military experts say, the strikes serve a military purpose even if the radar systems aren’t being used in the war.

In the strike on Monday, Ukraine hit a radar station in a region around Orsk with a long-range drone manufactured in Ukraine and launched from inside the country, an official in Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations.

Satellite imagery verified by The New York Times showed damage to the radar station on Monday that had not been there the day before. The images show damage consisting of scorch marks, including in the middle of the radar system itself. It could not be determined from the imagery what had struck the facility.

Russian news media reported a strike on a military facility in the region where the radar station is, but did not specify what exactly was hit. The drone was launched from Ukrainian territory and produced inside Ukraine by the main military intelligence agency, the official said.

In the strike on Tuesday, a Telegram message posted by the governor’s office said that an unmanned aerial vehicle was destroyed by air defense forces over Armavir. It said there were no casualties or damage.

The scale of the destruction caused by Monday’s drone strike is unknown. Defense Express, a Ukrainian open-source military analysis group, said the radar system was designed to warn against missiles from the south and east of Russia, such as those flying from China or India.

The strike followed a pattern of successful Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russia, even as the Ukrainian military has been defending against advances in the ground war in the country’s southeast.

Ukraine has created domestically produced weapons to conduct long-range attacks, and is ramping up production of these weapons. About 200,000 drones were produced in Ukraine in the first months of this year, compared with 60,000 last year, the Ukrainian military’s general staff has said.

However, the drones cannot shift the situation along the frontline, where Russia has an advantage in artillery and missiles and has been advancing along multiple points. That is why Ukraine has been appealing to America and its allies for permission to fire powerful Western weapons into Russia.

Kyiv does use Western weapons to strike into Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, including Crimea.

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