Ukraine Strikes Russian Oil Facilities, Including One Far Over the Border

Ukraine Strikes Russian Oil Facilities, Including One Far Over the Border

Ukrainian drones struck two oil depots and a refinery across Russia in a 24-hour period, including one deep in Russian territory, officials on both sides said Thursday, as Kyiv presses a campaign aimed at hampering the country’s military operations and putting strain on its most important industry.

Radiy Khabirov, the head of Russia’s Bashkiria region, near Kazakhstan, said a drone hit the Neftekhim Salavat oil refinery, one of the country’s largest, around midday on Thursday, sending plumes of smoke into the sky. The facility is more than 700 miles from the Ukrainian border, in a sign that Ukraine is increasingly capable of striking further into Russia.

An official from Ukraine’s special services, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters, said Ukraine was behind the assault. The official said Ukraine was also responsible for two other drone strikes overnight that hit oil depots in Russia’s Krasnodar region, southeast of Ukraine.

The strikes follow some 20 similar attacks since the beginning of the year. Military analysts say they are an attempt by Ukraine to disrupt the Russian military’s logistical routes and combat operations by targeting the facilities that supply fuel for its tanks, ships and planes.

Kyiv’s rationale for these attacks appears to be that by disrupting Russian military logistics, it could buy time for Ukrainian troops on the battlefield, who are outnumbered, undergunned and steadily losing ground to Russian forces.

In recent months, Ukraine has increasingly been relying on asymmetrical tactics to disrupt Russian operations, including sabotage activities against railway infrastructure and ammunition depots.

“It’s no secret that a big army like Russia, with a lot of equipment, consumes a lot of fuel,” said Serhii Kuzan, the chairman of the Ukrainian Center for Security and Cooperation, an independent research group.

“So the strategy here is very simple: create fuel shortages,” he said, both in the long term by attacking refineries and in the short term by targeting oil depots.

The two oil depots that were hit on Thursday in the Krasnodar region are near Novorossiysk, a major Russian port that is home to part of the Black Sea Fleet. They are also close to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, where the Russian military has stockpiled fuel and ammunition that it funnels to the battlefields in southern Ukraine.

Russian local authorities confirmed that several drones had fallen on the oil depots, starting a fire and damaging several tanks.

The Russian state-run news agency TASS on Thursday blamed Ukraine for the recent attacks on oil facilities.

Russia has targeted Ukraine’s logistical lines and energy system on a much larger scale, with relentless assaults on power facilities and transportation infrastructure. On Wednesday, Russian missiles and drones damaged several power plants across Ukraine, officials said, part of a concerted effort to degrade Ukraine’s energy grid and deepen the hardship for civilians.

Ukrzaliznytsia, the Ukrainian state railway operator, has reported several attacks against its railways in recent weeks, including as recently as Wednesday against the Kherson railway station in the south.

On Thursday, Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s national electricity company, said that electricity consumption would be limited for industrial companies in the evening, for the second day in a row, as a result of the damage caused by the recent attacks.

The Ukrainian strikes against Russian oil refineries appear to have more than an immediate military objective. They are also seemingly aimed at putting pressure on the Russian economy, experts say.

Damien Ernst, an energy expert and professor at the University of Liege in Belgium, said the strikes have taken more than 10 percent of Russia’s oil-refining capacity off line, temporarily reducing the country’s ability to turn its crude oil into usable products like gasoline, diesel and petrol.

“There are shortages of diesel and petrol in some regions and prices are rising,” said Mr. Ernst. But he added that Russia’s prewar oil refining capacity covered about twice the amount consumed domestically, meaning that gasoline shortages at Russian pumps are a long way off.

Still, Russia increased gasoline imports from neighboring Belarus in March, according to Reuters, and imposed a six-month ban on gasoline exports in March.

Mr. Ernst added that the strikes have had no major effect on international crude oil prices — as the U.S. government feared — because Russia now exports more of its crude oil, including large amounts to India, to compensate for the loss in refining capacity, and because there is currently a surplus of crude oil on international markets.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, three energy and military analysts said on Wednesday that the strikes “can still inflict pain inside Russia” without affecting the economies of Kyiv’s Western partners.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.

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