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Ukraine strikes Russian oil facilities, including one far over border

A Ukrainian serviceman of the “Achilles” Battalion from the 92nd Brigade of the Ukrainian Army runs tests flights with a Vampire hexacopter drone ahead of missions, in the eastern Donetsk region on April 30, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These drones are almost exclusively used at night to drop munitions on Russian targets or supplies and medical necessities to Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)  (Genya Savilov/AFP)
By Constant Méheut New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine – 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 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.

Ukrainian officials also hope the strikes can undermine the Russian energy complex, which is at the core of the country’s economy and war effort – accounting for about one-third of Russia’s federal budget revenue – although it is too early to say whether they can have any serious impact.

The United States government has publicly urged Ukraine to stop its attacks on Russian oil refineries out of concern that they could affect global oil markets.

But Ukraine has instead doubled down on its strategy. Last month, Ukraine struck Russia’s third-largest refinery, located about 800 miles from its border with Russia. The refinery hit Thursday is also one of Russia’s biggest, with a capacity to process 10 million metric tons of oil a year, according to Gazprom, its owner.

Khabirov, the head of the Bashkiria region, said the attack did not disrupt the refinery’s operations. He described the strike as “an attempt to discredit our holiday,” in reference to Russia’s commemoration Wednesday of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II.

Ukraine’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, chair 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 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.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said last month that his army would increase its attacks on Ukrainian logistical hubs in an effort to disrupt the arrival of U.S. military aid.

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% of Russia’s oil-refining capacity offline, temporarily reducing the country’s ability to turn its crude oil into usable products such as gasoline, diesel and petrol.

“There are shortages of diesel and petrol in some regions and prices are rising,” said 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.

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 Wednesday that the strikes “can still inflict pain inside Russia” without affecting the economies of Kyiv’s Western partners.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.