Russian troops have come close enough to Kyiv to launch short-range “kamikaze” drones, potentially to attack Ukraine’s President Voldymyr Zelenskyy.
Following the recovery of the Aero Kub from the city centre, military analysts have not ruled out that the drones could be used in an assassination attempt on Mr Zelenskyy, as they are designed to hit static targets.
The small drone, known as a loitering munition that has a maximum reach of 40 kilometres, is difficult to detect and carries a one-kilogram explosive packed with deadly metal ball bearings.
The drone came down on a house in Kyiv’s historic Podil district, close to government buildings and embassies, suggesting the Russians may have been hunting for a specific target.
The drone has a speed of up to 130kph and carries a 3kg payload, including the camera and bomb. It has reportedly proved successful when used by the Russian military to attack insurgents in Idlib, Syria.
While there is a possibility the Aero Kub could be used for targeted assassinations, these would probably be done by more sophisticated missiles, said Sam Cranny-Evans, an expert on the Russian military at the Rusi think tank.
“Potentially, if they can find President Zelenskyy, they could be used against him but I'd have thought if that was really their goal, then they would use a cruise missile,” he said.
“The drone is controlled through video transmitted back in real time so it will depend on the capability of the operator and the manoeuvrability of the drone to get on target.”
The drone’s appearance suggests that some Russian forces are close enough to the capital to launch smaller UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, he added.
“It’s got a fairly short duration of 30 minutes which suggests that whoever launched it must have been close.”
The Aero Kub, built by the Kalashnikov Group known for its AK-47 rifle, is designed to be cheaper and more straightforward to use, both in attack and surveillance roles.
The drone, which only became operational in the last year, can scout positions but if the operator sees an attack opportunity, it can perform a vertical dive on to a stationary target, detonating a device with the explosive power of a large hand grenade, which experts say could even penetrate armour
Kalashnikov claims the UAV can remain in the sky for up to six hours and its 1.2-metre length makes it difficult for air defence systems to find. Other analysts say the $160,000 drone can only fly for up to 30 minutes with a range of 7km.
It has also been suggested that due to poor pre-invasion preparation, the Russians do not have their more sophisticated UAVs on hand, so the Aero Kub might have only been being used for surveillance.
“They don't have their normal reconnaissance means handy so they could be using what they have available to just get a picture of what's going on,” said Mr Cranny-Evans.
Jeremy Binnie, a drone expert at Jane's Defence Weekly, suggested that it might have been looking for stationary vehicles or been out on reconnaissance.
“It is relatively short range and carries a fairly small warhead and is GNSS [Global Navigation Satellite System] guided,” he said.
“That means it can only be used against static targets, which makes it inappropriate for assassinations as you would have to be sure the target remained in exactly the same place.”
He added the Aero Kub was also “very similar” to a suicide drone developed by Iran.