Ukraine is busy blowing up Russia’s oil depots, including tankers on rail links

Sometimes the metaphors write themselves. As Putin purportedly seeks to showcase the illusion of Russian strength by parading a captured British Saxon armoured personnel carrier from the 1970s in Red Square – donated to Ukraine in 2015 from mothballed British stocks – Ukrainian saboteurs are deep behind Russian lines actually doing the business. 

Whereas Russia is desperate to display ‘destroyed’ western kit, Ukraine is hard at work eroding Russian capacity and, crucially, hitting Moscow where it hurts – inside its own borders.  The news today that two railway lines in Russia have been destroyed is a clear example of an evolving strategy designed to hurt a security-obsessed Putin and degrade Moscow’s ability to wage war.

One train was set on fire in Orenburg, 1,100 kilometers east of the Ukrainian border, by “unknown persons” on 28 April. Another was destroyed in a fire in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, close to the border with Georgia, overnight on 26 April. 

As long-awaited US military aid recently passed by Congress begins to make its way to Europe over the coming days and weeks, Russia’s war of aggression is changing, as Kyiv increases the number of guerrilla operations against Russian forces. This comes at a time of decreasing conventional operations – particularly offensive actions – due to the reduced armaments available during this spring’s Congressional budget deadlock.  

Kyiv is relying on SAS-in-WW2-style operations, therefore, to make the difference on the battlefield – targeting rail networks, infrastructure and energy depots, seeking to cause death by a thousand cuts to Russia’s increasingly vulnerable and exposed critical supply lines.

This comes only one week after further likely partisan action on the border of Russia and Belarus, as suspected saboteurs set fire to two relay cabinets and burned railway equipment on the Gusino-Krasnoe section in the Smolensk region of western Russia, on the route to Moscow. 

The Russian rail network has been critical for Russia throughout the war, with the Kremlin often relying on trains to ferry tens of thousands of troops and enormous amounts of artillery and armoured vehicles to the front. 

As Kyiv has had to grapple with the existential uncertainty of continued US funding and assistance, in addition to being denied long-range German-made Taurus cruise missiles perfectly designed to destroy Russia war infrastructure, it’s little wonder Ukraine have stepped up their attacks inside Russia’s borders – something many western leaders advised caution against, fearful of potential Russian retaliation. 

That caution is misplaced though. Whenever the Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov, or even Putin himself, has vaguely threatened the West – such as when Britain announced the sending of main battle tanks to Ukraine last January – it has always resulted in a sabre-rattling…then nothing.

Rather than hamstringing Kyiv from taking action against legitimate military targets inside Russia, the West should be supporting such actions, particularly if it is still unprepared to supply weapons that will make a tangible difference to Ukraine’s defence, or if choosing to hold Ukraine economically hostage. 

As Moscow continues its unrelenting scorched earth policy across Ukraine – bombing population centres and targeting cities – the brave Ukrainian people are steadfast and resolute. They will not falter. Can the same be said about Russians, as Ukraine rightly steps up legitimate attacks within Russia’s borders?

If Ukraine really wants to hit Russia where it hurts, it must increase attacks against its rail network and other core infrastructure. Oil and gas depots, too, offer ample opportunities, which is why they have made such good targets, albeit at the alleged frustration of Washington, who – absurdly – apparently feared the implications for global energy markets.

Such examples of Western weakness, tying Ukrainian hands, must end. Just imagine where we might be if we had given Kyiv the conventional weapons they asked for on Day One: they would never have had to be launching these strikes inside Russia at all. Western attempts to ‘deescalate’ the conflict have done the complete opposite.  

We should remember that in the weeks and months ahead when Russia threatens retribution for ‘escalatory’ acts. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

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