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Ukrainian drones strike Tatarstan region, deep in Russia

A Ukrainian serviceman, crew member of a German-made self-propelled anti-aircraft (SPAAG), better known as the Flakpanzer Gepard, prepares for a combat duty in Kyiv region, on March 21, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.    (Genya Savilov/AFP/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/TNS)
Bloomberg News

Ukrainian drones struck Russia’s Tatarstan region early Tuesday for the first time since the start of the invasion, hitting targets that included a refinery about 930 miles from the border between the two countries.

The drones hit targets in the cities of Yelabuga and Nizhnekamsk and didn’t cause serious damage or disrupt business operations, the head of the region, Rustam Minnikhanov, said on his Telegram channel. Bloomberg News couldn’t independently verify the extent of the damage. Twelve people were injured in the attack on Yelabuga, state-run Tass news service reported, citing regional authorities.

Long-range drones also hit a refinery in the region, part of a joint operation conducted by Ukraine’s state security service and military intelligence aimed at reducing Russia’s ability to finance its war, according to a Ukrainian official.

Part of the Taneco facility, one of two large refineries in Nizhnekamsk, caught fire after the drone attack, though it was put out within 20 minutes, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news service. Production at the refinery was not disrupted, RIA reported.

The nameplate capacity of the refinery owned by Tatneft is 15.3 million tons a year, or roughly 307,000 barrels a day of primary crude processing. The plant accounted for about 6.6% of Russia’s total refinery runs for most of March, according to a person with knowledge of industry data. Tatneft didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg request for comment.

Ukrainian military intelligence also targeted a drone assembly plant in Tatarstan, RBC Ukraine reported, citing a person in the special services. The plant manufactures Shahed drones, which are Iranian designed, long-range unmanned aircraft branded as Heran-2 in Russia, according to RBC.

Drones have become an increasingly important element in Ukraine’s military strategy, as Kyiv’s US and European allies remain reluctant to provide long-range missiles capable of destroying targets deep within Russia, for fear of escalation. On top of this, the months-long holdup of $60 billion of U.S. military aid in Congress has left Ukraine increasingly short of even basic ordnance such as artillery shells in the face of recent Russian advances.

Ukraine has been increasing production of drones with a range of over 1,000 kilometers, the country’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said in an interview last month.

Ukraine’s national electricity grid said that Russia hit a substation and damaged a high-voltage line overnight, limiting the electricity supply in Kharkiv and Kryvyi Rih, an industrial hub where steelmaker ArcelorMittal has its plant.