Ukraine live briefing: Russia hit by a third drone strike, signaling strengthened Ukrainian ability

A police officer stands next to part of a Russian cruise missile that was shot down by Ukrainian forces in the Kyiv region on Monday. (National Police of Ukraine/Reuters)

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia on Tuesday was hit Tuesday with the third drone attack on its soil in 24 hours, an apparent escalation of the already full-scale drone war with Ukraine.

All three strikes were carried out by Ukrainian drones, said a senior Ukrainian official Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation. After reports of the third attack, the State Department said the U.S. had not enabled or urged Ukraine to strike Russia.

The drones reached far into Russia, signaling an emboldened Ukrainian military’s ability to hit its enemy outside the active combat zone and exposing vulnerabilities in Russia’s air defenses.

The Tuesday incident caused a fire at an oil facility near an airfield in Russia’s Kursk oblast, which borders Ukraine, regional governor Roman Starovoit said on Telegram.

The strike came a day after explosions at two military installations deep inside Russia, including an airfield that served as a base for bombers allegedly used in Moscow’s strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Three Russian service members died in those blasts, which Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed on Ukraine after intercepting low-flying drones in the area.

An oil tanker near an airfield in Kursk, Russia, caught fire after a drone strike on Dec. 6, according to regional governor Roman Starovoit. (Video: Storyful)

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • “These were Ukrainian drones — very successful, very effective,” the senior Ukrainian official said of the strikes, which signal a potentially serious security lapse by Russia. The official added that Moscow has “sowed the seeds of anger, and they’ll reap the whirlwind.” He said he could not comment on whether the drones were launched from Ukrainian territory or whether special forces were involved.
  • The U.S. "have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said, speaking to reporters during a U.S.-Australia event in Washington. The United States has provided Ukraine with defensive supplies to use against Russia on its own territory; citing ongoing Russian attacks on Ukraine and its energy grid, Blinken said the U.S. remained determined to ensure Ukraine could defend itself. The U.S. is “absolutely not” working to prevent Ukraine from developing its own ability to strike Russia, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who appeared with Blinken.
  • Russia appears to have run out of Iranian drones, and there is no sign that fresh supplies are on the way, a Western official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said Tuesday. Russia has not used Iranian drones in its attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure since mid-November, and there is also no indication that a proposed deal to manufacture the drones in Russia is near completion, the official said. The slow-moving, noisy drones have in any case proved increasingly ineffective as Ukrainian air defenses have adapted, Western and Ukrainian officials say.
  • Russia said there are no direct negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv on the issue of a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he was nearing an agreement between the two sides to safeguard the facility. “We are discussing the possible parameters of a declaration on the establishment of a zone of protection,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. But under no circumstances would Russian forces withdraw from the plant, she added.

2. Battleground updates

  • Russia and Ukraine carried out a prisoner swap Tuesday, exchanging 60 prisoners each, officials said. Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told Reuters that some of the returned Ukrainian prisoners were those who held out in the besieged city of Mariupol earlier this year. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the Russian prisoners would be flown to Moscow to receive medical care and psychological support, Reuters reported.
  • The Monday drone strikes on Russian military bases angered pro-Moscow military bloggers, who criticized officials for not anticipating and preventing the attacks, according to the Institute for the Study of War. “Several prominent Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups must have launched the strike against the Engels-2 air base from inside Russian territory,” the Washington-based think tank reported.
  • Russia appears to be capable of producing guided missiles despite heavy sanctions, weapons analysts say. Conflict Armament Research, an investigative organization based in Britain, examined two cruise missiles that struck Kyiv last month and concluded that they were produced in recent months, even after export controls prohibited vital components from reaching Russia. The group said Russia could be producing the weapons using a supply workaround or stockpiled components from the United States and Europe.

3. Global impact

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin “has no genuine interest in negotiation or meaningful diplomacy” to end the war in Ukraine, the United States told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. Ambassador Lisa Carty, U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, said Putin is “trying to break Ukraine’s will to fight by bombing and freezing its civilians into submission.”
  • Turkey wants Finland to publicly announce an end to its arms embargo on Ankara before it will ratify the Nordic country’s bid for NATO membership, the Turkish foreign minister said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Finland and Sweden decided to join the alliance this year after Russia invaded Ukraine, but Turkey, which has accused the two countries of ignoring threats from Kurdish groups, has held up their accession.

4. From our correspondents

She fled Russian occupation by boat. Minutes later, she was shot: Nowhere feels safe along the Dnieper River. What was once a main draw of Kherson, a waterway that helped turn this regional capital into a major Ukrainian port city, the Dnieper River has now become a front line — and a source of constant peril for those living on either side of it, write Samantha Schmidt and Serhii Korolchuk.

For weeks, Dmytro Matiukha had urged his in-laws to leave their cottage on the east bank. But just minutes after they left on Sunday, Matiukha received a call from his father-in-law.

“Mom was hit,” said Vladyslav Svitlov, 76. “What do I do?”

At least four bullets pierced the side of their small motorboat. Tetiana Svitlova, 75, was crouching low in the boat when the gunfire struck her in the abdomen. She reached her arm toward her husband briefly before collapsing into the boat.

Cunningham reported from Washington; Ilyushina from Riga, Latvia; Stein from Kyiv; Kasulis Cho from Connecticut; Hassan from London; and Berger and McDaniel from Washington. Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Karen DeYoung and Missy Khamvongsa in Washington and Liz Sly in London contributed to this report.