Advertisement

Ukraine appears to be attacking Russia's oil-and-gas industry with small, cheap drones that can bypass its air defenses

Ukraine appears to be attacking Russia's oil-and-gas industry with small, cheap drones that can bypass its air defenses
Firefighters extinguish oil tanks at a storage facility that local authorities say caught fire after the military brought down a Ukrainian drone, in the town of Klintsy in the Bryansk Region, Russia January 19, 2024.
Firefighters extinguish oil tanks at a storage facility in the Bryansk Region in Russia on January 19, 2024.Russian Emergencies Ministry/Reuters
  • Oil and gas facilities in Russia have caught fire in recent weeks following suspected drone attacks.

  • In the latest attack, an oil refinery in the southwestern Volgograd region was ablaze on Saturday.

  • Russia's air-defense systems have proven to be less effective against small drones.

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 Russian energy infrastructure locations over the past few weeks following suspected drone strikes, including at a major oil refinery operated by Lukoil in the southwestern Volgograd region on Saturday.

Videos posted on Telegram appear to show firefighters battling the blaze, which took place nearly 400 miles from the Ukrainian border.

Similar incidents have occurred across Russia in the past month, including the Slavneft-Yanos oil refinery, an oil refinery in Tuapse, a storage facility in Klintsy, and a Baltic Sea Ust-Luga terminal.

A source from the Security Service of Ukraine, Ukraine's spy agency, told The Kyiv Post last week that the agency was behind the attacks.

"The SBU is striking deep into Russia and continues to attack facilities that are not only important for the Russian economy but also provide fuel for enemy troops. There will be many surprises to come, the systematic work continues," they said.

Ukraine is likely targeting the facilities 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 the 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 more than $400 billion from oil exports since the war started in February 2022.

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 rate 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, a military source claimed that Ukraine sent a drone flying over President Vladimir Putin's palace during an attack on a St. Petersburg oil depot.

Putin and secret palace
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his purported secret palace in Valdai, Russia.Getty Images, Navalny.com

En route, one of the drones that flew 775 miles into Russian airspace traveled over one of Putin's palaces in Valdai, an unnamed special-services source told the Ukrainian news agency RBC.

The vast woodland complex, next to Lake Valdai, halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, is one of Putin's favorite boltholes.

Why Ukraine can embarrass Russia's air-defense systems

Russia's air-defense systems have proven to be less effective against small drones because 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," or unnamed aerial vehicles, he added.

'Bringing the detonator'

Ukrainian soldiers build home-made drones, as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 16, 2023
Ukrainian soldiers build homemade drones.Ignacio Marin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Forbes noted that Ukraine's effective approach reflected a drone-warfare strategy of "bringing the detonator," or the tactic of using small amounts of drone-carried explosives to detonate larger amounts of explosive materials in or on the targets, which are often aircraft, vehicles, fuels, and ammunition dumps.

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.

Read the original article on Business Insider