Russia firing empty nuclear shells at Ukraine

Civilians walk past destroyed buildings in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut - Anadolu Agency/Anadolu
Civilians walk past destroyed buildings in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut - Anadolu Agency/Anadolu

Russia has likely had to dip into its stock of ageing nuclear cruise missiles, removing the warheads and firing unarmed munitions at Ukraine because of low supplies, Britain's military intelligence said on Saturday.

The evidence cited was open source imagery showing the wreckage of a cruise missile which was apparently shot down after being fired in Ukraine. The missile appeared to be an air-launched AS-15 Kent missile, which was designed in the 1980s as an atomic weapon delivery system.

When used without the nuclear warhead attached, the missile’s kinetic energy and any unspent fuel will still cause damage upon impact, however, it is unlikely to achieve reliable effects against intended targets, the ministry added.

Instead Russia is likely using these missiles as decoys in the hope of diverting Ukrainian air defences, the statement added.

"Whatever Russia's intent, this improvisation highlights the level of depletion in Russia's stock of long range missiles."

Ukraine's Defence Ministry has suggested that since its February invasion, Moscow has exhausted over half of its total missile arsenal.

A Ukrainian woman is evacuated from the city of Bakhmut as Russian strikes destroy infrastructure and lead to power outages in sub-zero temperatures - Anadolu Agency
A Ukrainian woman is evacuated from the city of Bakhmut as Russian strikes destroy infrastructure and lead to power outages in sub-zero temperatures - Anadolu Agency

Faced with a looming shortfall, Russia has ordered surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles from Iran, Western intelligence officials said earlier this month. The Islamic Republic has already supplied Moscow with large numbers of Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones.

Russian missile strikes on cities far from the frontline have wrought havoc on civilian infrastructure as winter approaches, with fears growing of a humanitarian catastrophe as vulnerable populations struggle to heat their homes in sub-zero temperatures.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said six million households were without power on Saturday after the Kremlin targeted Ukrainian infrastructure with missile strikes. That is down from 12 million on Wednesday, he added.

But in a rare public rebuke, he chided Kyiv officials, including mayor Vitali Kitschko, for not acting faster to open "points of invincibility" – public centres where residents can stock up on food, water, battery power and other essentials.

President Zelensky has called on ordinary Ukrainians to conserve power this winter - AFP
President Zelensky has called on ordinary Ukrainians to conserve power this winter - AFP

"Please pay attention: Kyiv residents need more protection," he said. "As of this evening, 600,000 subscribers have been disconnected in the city. Many Kyiv residents were without electricity for more than 20 or even 30 hours."

"I expect quality work from the mayor's office," he said.

City authorities said on Saturday that water connections had been restored throughout the city, but that about 130,000 residents remain without electricity, promising that all power, water, heating and communication services would be restored within 24 hours.

President Zelensky also called on ordinary Ukrainians to conserve power this winter. “If there is electricity, this doesn’t mean you can turn on several powerful electrical appliances at once,” he said.

To help restore Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Finland's government has asked its companies to donate equipment to Ukraine. Mika Lintila, the economy minister said "the operation will be started immediately" with the first batch expected to be sent as early as next week.

Boris Johnson is spearheading a similar initiative to donate medical equipment to Ukraine.

On Saturday the former prime minister visited a warehouse of the private hospital company Circle Health Group as it prepared its 13th lorry load of medical equipment including beds and anaesthetic machines for Kherson. "Please consider supporting their appeal," he said.

It came as the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary visited Kyiv on Saturday for a summit to promote a "Grain from Ukraine" initiative to export grain to countries most vulnerable to famine and drought.

Mr Zelensky said Kyiv had raised around £124 million from more than 20 countries and the European Union to export grain to countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

"We plan to send at least 60 vessels from Ukrainian ports to countries that most face the threat of famine and drought," he told the gathering.