KYIV, Ukraine—Russia has changed its aerial strike tactics to deceive Ukraine’s air defenses, using decoy missiles without explosive warheads and deploying balloons, a senior Ukrainian official said Thursday. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the goal of the decoy missiles is to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defense systems by offering too many targets.
Podolyak also renewed Ukraine’s appeals for long-range missiles that would enable it to strike Russian troop concentrations far behind the front lines, and also stressed that “we just don’t have enough shells.” He argued that speeded-up supplies of weaponry from Western partners would quicken an end to the war and said drawn-out war would favor Russia, not least because its population is more than three times that of Ukraine.
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 defenses,” it said.
Ukraine’s Western allies have progressively boosted the country’s air defenses 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.
Podolyak said Russia is facing “missile exhaustion” and that shortages are forcing its change in tactics. He said Russia is mixing older Soviet-era missiles with “new missiles that have some value.”
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 defenses.
Russia’s latest barrage of cruise and other missiles hit targets in the north, west, south, east, and center of the country, Ukrainian officials said. One of the strikes killed a 79-year-old woman and injured at least seven other people in the eastern city of Pavlohrad. Overall, Russian attacks and shelling over the previous 24 hours killed at least seven people, Ukraine’s presidential office said Thursday. Russia’s use of balloons in Ukraine comes after the Biden administration shot down a China balloon, saying it was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals.