Christmas barrage: Ukraine says it foiled massive Russian drone assault

Ukraine intercepted more than two dozen attack drones and several missiles fired by Russian forces in a massive Christmas Day barrage, Ukrainian military officials said Monday.

The massive onslaught comes as Ukraine tries to fend off creeping advances by Russian troops in the eastern portion of the country. Russia has seized momentum in the nearly 2-year-old war, as Ukraine pleads with the U.S. and European Union to provide more financial and military aid as soon as possible.

Such foreign aid has been crucial in bolstering Ukraine‘s air defense system, which has helped foil aerial attacks from the much larger, better-equipped Russian military. That was the case Monday, Ukrainian officials said, as the country’s air defenses shot down 28 Russian attack drones and at least two missiles. The Russian assault targeted Ukrainian positions in the Odesa, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Donetsk, Kirovohrad and Khmelnytskyi regions, Ukrainian military officials said in a social media post. 

Ukrainian officials also said they shot down two Russian fighter jets, one over the Donetsk region and another flying over the Black Sea.

Hours before the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried to rally his nation amid the grim reality that Russia seems to be gaining the upper hand.

“Christmas Eve is the time of the longest nights of the year. But tomorrow, the day starts getting longer, the light starts prevailing. The light is getting stronger. And step by step, day by day, the darkness retreats,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in a Christmas Eve address. “And in the end, darkness will lose. Evil will be defeated. Today, this is our common goal, our common dream, and this is what our common prayer is for today. For our freedom. For our victory. For our Ukraine.”

But Russia claimed its own successes over the Christmas holiday.

Over the past two days, Russian forces shot down several Ukrainian rockets, anti-ship missiles, at least four Ukrainian aircraft and 49 attack drones, the Russian Defense Ministry said Monday. 

The Kremlin is touting its successes in the war so far, with 2024 looming and questions mounting about how long Ukraine can hold on.

“A total of 558 aircraft, 261 helicopters, 10,040 drones, 442 anti-aircraft missile systems, 14,299 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 1,189 multiple rocket launchers, 7,479 field branch artillery weapons and mortars, as well as 16,660 units of special tactical vehicles have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to the country’s state-run Tass News Agency.

Russian gains could accelerate rapidly without immediate U.S. and EU aid, Ukrainian and Biden administration officials have warned in recent weeks.

Lawmakers left Washington last week after failing to pass President Biden’s $61.4 billion aid package for Ukraine. Republicans in both chambers want to see more money for border security attached to any Ukraine aid bills, while House GOP leaders also are demanding that the White House explain Ukraine‘s roadmap to a decisive win over Russia.

Publicly, the administration is standing firmly behind Ukraine and insisting that Mr. Putin will fail.

“He thinks his strategy of waiting us out while sending wave after wave of young Russians into a meat grinder of his own making will pay off,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters last week. “On one and only point I agree with Putin: America’s ongoing support is critical to enabling Ukraine‘s great soldiers and citizens to keep up their fight to ensure Russia‘s war remains a strategic failure.”

“Putin is betting that our divisions will prevent us from coming through for Ukraine. We have proven him wrong before. We will prove him wrong again,” Mr. Blinken said.

What’s different this time, however, is the combination of Russian battlefield momentum and cracks in Western support. As the U.S. and EU grapple over whether to provide more aid to Ukraine, there are growing questions about what exactly that aid would achieve, short of holding the line and preventing a clear Russian victory.

Indeed, Mr. Putin now seems to be the most confident he’s been since the conflict began in February 2022.

“Our troops are holding the initiative,” Mr. Putin said during a year-end press conference last week. “We are effectively doing what we think is needed, doing what we want. Where our commanders consider it necessary to stick to active defenses they are doing so, and we are improving our positions where it’s needed.”

“The enemy has suffered heavy casualties and to a large extent wasted its reserves while trying to show at least some results of its so-called counteroffensive to its masters,” Mr. Putin said. “All attempts by the West to deliver us a military defeat, a strategic defeat, were shattered by the courage and fortitude of our soldiers, the growing might of our armed forces and the potential of our military industries.”

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