Ukraine appears to be targeting Russia’s oil and gas industry with small, cheap drones as it seeks to disrupt Russian supply lines.
Fires have broken out at several energy infrastructure locations in Russia over the last few weeks following suspected drone strikes, including at a Rosneft oil refinery in Tuapse, a Rosneft storage facility in Klintsy, and Novatek’s Baltic Sea Ust-Luga terminal.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show the fires at the facilities in Tuapse and Klintsy.
Ukraine is likely targeting the facilities in an attempt to disrupt Russia’s military operations.
“Strikes on oil depots and oil storage facilities disrupt logistics routes and slow down combat operations,” Olena Lapenko, an energy security expert at Ukrainian think tank DiXi Group, told The New York Times.
“Disruption of these supplies, which are like blood for the human body, is part of a wider strategy to counter Russia on the battlefield,” Lapenko added.
The strikes also aim to damage a lucrative industry that the West’s economic sanctions have not badly hampered. Lapenko told The Times that Moscow had made over $400 billion from oil exports since the war started in February 2022.
Ukraine is exploiting gaps in Russia’s air defenses, which were designed for a different kind of war. Ukraine says it flew a drone over Putin’s woodland palace, evading its heavy defenses. Ukrainian drone operator says there are so many drones in the war that ‘nobody knows how to advance.’
But the attack on the Baltic Ust-Luga terminal and bad weather in the region have helped disrupt Russia’s seaborne crude shipments, which fell to their lowest in almost two months, Bloomberg reported.
If the attack is confirmed to have been carried out by Ukraine, it would show Kyiv can hit targets deeper inside Russian territory than usual with what are thought to be domestically produced drones, Reuters reported.
To add insult to injury, Ukraine sent a drone flying over President Vladimir Putin’s palace during an attack on a St. Petersburg oil depot, a military source claimed.
En route, one of the drones that flew 775 miles into Russian airspace travelled over one of Putin’s palaces, an unnamed special-services source told the Ukrainian news agency RBC.
Set next to Lake Valdai, halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the vast woodland complex is one of Putin’s favorite boltholes.
Why can Ukraine embarrass Russia’s air defence systems?
Russia’s air defense systems have proven to be less effective against small drones as they struggle to detect them.
“Russia boasted of having layered defenses before the war, the sensor electronic warfare, different missile batteries, kinetic batteries, radars, that can sort of identify and interdict the threat,” Samuel Bendett, an analyst and expert in unmanned and robotic military systems at the Center for Naval Analyses, previously told Business Insider.
But “most of these defenses were built to identify and destroy larger targets like missiles, helicopters, aircraft. Many were not really geared towards identifying much smaller UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles],” he added.
‘Bringing the detonator’
Forbes noted that Ukraine’s effective approach reflected a drone warfare strategy of “bringing the detonator.”
T.X. Hammes, a Research Fellow at the National Defense University, wrote that small, low-cost drones with a minimal bomb load could wreak havoc if used against flammable targets.
“Even a few ounces of explosives delivered directly to the target can initiate the secondary explosion that will destroy the target,” Hammes wrote.
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