Russia is likely using spy balloons in a bid to get Ukrainian forces to expand its stock of surface-to-air missiles, according to British military officials.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) said in a Sunday intelligence update that was posted to Twitter that balloon-like objects had been detected in the skies above Ukraine. British military officials said the objects, which it believed were likely to be Russian, were used as part of a ploy to get Ukrainian forces to use up their ammunition.
“Ukrainian officials reported that they shot down at least six of these. Earlier on 12 February 2023, Ukraine’s Air Force reported sighting balloons over eastern Dnipropetrovsk,” the MOD wrote. “It is likely that the balloons were Russian. They likely represent a new tactic by Russia to gain information about Ukrainian air defense systems and compel the Ukrainians to expend valuable stock of surface-to-air missiles and ammunition.”
According to the MOD, the sighting of a “balloon-shaped” object last Tuesday led to the closure of Moldovan airspace for several hours.
The defense ministry added it was a “realistic possibility” that the object was a Russian balloon that had drifted from Ukrainian airspace. MOD officials, however, did not mention whether there were any earlier incidents where these balloons had been detected since the war started nearly one year ago.
The chief of the Estonian Defense Forces intelligence center, Colonel Margo Grosberg, also commented on the balloon-like objects earlier this week.
He alluded to the recent case of a Chinese spy balloon that was located and shot down over the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month following approval from President Joe Biden. Three other unknown flying objects (UFOs) that recently entered North American airspace were also shot down also at the discretion of Biden.
“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were. But nothing—nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from other—any other country,” Biden said last week.
According to Estonian public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhääling, Grosberg said this past Friday: “This week, for the first time, a strange phenomenon occurred, when meteorological balloons were observed over Kyiv. I don’t know whether the Russian Federation got this idea from the [recent alleged] Chinese [spy] balloons [in the U.S.] or from somewhere else, but in any case, we can see that this new tactic has now been introduced.”
He also agreed with the British military’s assessment that the purpose of the balloons was to drain Ukrainian supplies.
“This both wastes anti-aircraft weapons and exhausts the crews. It also makes the anti-aircraft crews visible as a result of their actions, because you can then see where the missiles are coming from,” Grosberg said.
The Estonian colonel added that he believed the objects were ordinary meteorological balloons and that they did not carry any military or intelligence cargo.
Newsweek has contacted the Kremlin for comment.