With the arrival of spring, Russia did what Ukraine had feared all winter

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In recent weeks, Russian aggression against Ukraine has once again noticeably affected areas far behind the front. Russian attacks targeting energy facilities across Ukraine have affected nearly all of the country’s major energy producers.

The attacks damaged or destroyed virtually half of Ukraine’s production capacity and caused power outages for millions of people. This is what was expected to some extent since last fall.

Damage across the country

The latest wave of Russian airstrikes is remarkable for its scale. Virtually all Ukrainian thermal power plants and a number of substations were affected. The attacks on March 22 and 24 alone caused damage to the operator of the national network Ukrenergo in the amount of around 2.5 billion crowns, the Kyiv Independent reports based on the statement of the company’s head.

Ukraine’s largest private energy company DTEK was also affected, losing half of its production capacity on March 22. Two of its thermal power plants are out of service and will take several years to repair.

Ukraine’s state-owned Ukrhydroenergo said that after several direct hits, entire blocks of the Dnipro hydroelectric plant, located in Zaporozhye, were destroyed, adding that it could take 18 to 24 months to build them from scratch. Another power plant in Kharkiv was also seriously damaged, and according to the regional authorities, it will also take several years to repair it – and that, of course, provided that Russian forces do not attack again.

Ukraine had to end the heating season early

Power plant buildings are relatively resistant targets in themselves and can withstand attacks by drones, such as the Shahid used by the Russians or Ukrainian long-range drones. However, guided missiles tend to have charges in the order of hundreds of kilograms and in many cases warheads built in such a way that they can even break through the concrete walls of bunkers, so a precise hit can also cause great damage to the power plant.

In the Lviv region near Ukraine’s border with Poland, Russia has targeted critical infrastructure for the third time since March 24, destroying an administrative building and killing at least one person, regional chief Maksym Kozytskyi said in a telegram.

The specific status of other Ukrainian power plants remains secret, but reports of recent blackouts in several major cities have highlighted the extent of the threat to Ukraine’s power grid. The extent of the damage caused by the recent Russian bombing is also indicated by the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi ordered an early end to the country’s heating season.

Directly to European gas

Russia has also expanded its air offensive to include attacks on Ukrainian natural gas storage facilities. These facilities, which house large quantities of gas for European customers, have not previously been targeted by Russian bombing campaigns. Although the reservoirs themselves are underground, the gas stations that allow the gas to be injected and extracted are above the surface.

On March 24, Russia fired approximately 20 missiles and drones at the Bilche Volochy-Hungarian storage facility, which represents approximately half of Ukraine’s total storage capacity. The head of Naftogaz, Oleksiy Chernyshov, said that the company’s underground gas storage facility in western Ukraine would require surface infrastructure repairs, but the storage facilities themselves were not affected.

Last year, foreign traders rented 2.5 billion cubic meters of storage space (total capacity is approx. 3.5 billion cubic meters). European companies used Ukrainian reservoirs when European reservoirs were practically full to the brim.

Naftogaz downplayed the extent of the damage, but admitted that repairs would be necessary. Naftogaz officials also sought to reassure European customers that Ukraine would meet all obligations regardless of Russian airstrikes.

How they do it

Russian operations are significantly more complex than simply sending munitions to a target. Timing, route choice, it all plays a role. Exceptions are to some extent ballistic missiles and other very fast munitions (so-called hypersonic), which due to their speed do not perform any complicated maneuvers and aim more or less directly.

Russian forces also launch different types of drones and missiles in sequence to reach the target at the same time. The goal is to overwhelm the Ukrainian defense. This plan can also be fulfilled by various less accurate missiles or ammunition aimed directly at civilian buildings, with which the adversary also has to deal with somehow.

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Photo: MonitorWar

Routes of some of the drones and missiles sent by Russia during the attack on Ukrainian targets on March 22, 2024.

Individual strikes are also de facto “connected containers” that can be understood as one single large operation, as shown by the example of the operation from the second half of March, which we already described in the previous article.

How did it go? First, there was an attack on March 21 that involved about 30 missiles, overwhelmingly cruise missiles. The goal was Kyiv. As historian Phillips O’Brien points out, for example, the international Kyiv Security Forum was taking place in the Ukrainian capital at the time. So the attack could have been planned in such a way as to attract anti-aircraft defenses to the capital itself.

A day later, a massive attack followed with a large proportion of faster-moving missiles (i.e. ballistic daggers and Iskanders and others), which were aimed primarily at objects outside Kyiv. Most of them could not be shot down, because Ukraine only has a limited number of weapons that can hit them (primarily Patriot systems, of which Kyiv apparently only has three at its disposal so far). The Russian missiles thus aimed, among other things, at the large hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper dam, which they completely destroyed.

In the following days, Russian forces attacked Kharkiv, Lviv and Odessa. The goal was again in many cases energy operations. Strikes on key substations and their transformers caused major power outages, for example, in Kharkiv or Odessa. And as we have seen, the damage will probably take years to be repaired.

Difficult question

Russian strikes are a difficult problem for Ukraine to solve. As our previous listing showed, the strikes were quite successful despite the relatively high interception rate of cruise missiles and drones.

The combination of faster munitions and drones used in these attacks, along with different trajectories, makes it difficult to establish a reliable air defense “umbrella” over key areas. Only Kiev is protected against almost all Russian air threats, leaving the rest of the country vulnerable.

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Ukraine’s allies in this case have relatively limited options. For example, the USA is currently the only manufacturer of Patriot missiles. Countries such as Germany or the Netherlands, which operate the systems, only had relatively small stockpiles of missiles. Simply because they did not take the possibility of their deployment very seriously before the Russian invasion.

The Republican Party cannot cope with the displeasure of its presidential candidate Donald Trump towards the question of aid to Ukraine, so military aid to Ukraine is “stuck” in Congress, i.e. in the Republican-controlled House. However, it is still not clear when this will change.

So in many ways there is really nothing to help. Moreover, air defense is not a cheap matter. Even the cheapest guided missiles cost millions of crowns, the most expensive hundreds of millions of crowns (for the Patriot, for example). At the same time, according to the American doctrine, three “counter-missiles” should be used for one incoming missile.

To create a more thorough protection, for example, about a dozen Patriot systems would be needed. Ukraine apparently has three batteries available today. Each covers a circle with a radius of several tens of kilometers. The supply of fighter jets can help, but they don’t solve all the problems of air defense – mainly they can’t hit ballistic missiles.

In spring?

Why is the Russian attack coming now, especially when the heating season is just ending and warming up in Ukraine? In the winter, Russian strikes focused much more on the defense industry and other military targets.

Very simply put: We don’t know. The reasons can be different, moreover connected. There is a possibility that this is retaliation for the Ukrainian attacks on Russian refineries (though most likely the January ones, not the March ones, because the planning of attacks takes some time).

Perhaps the Kremlin was waiting for Ukraine’s stockpile of munitions (ie anti-aircraft missiles) to run out, or Russia is preparing the ground for an offensive planned sometime in the near future. The lack of electricity will affect both manufacturing plants and repair shops of military equipment, as well as the transport of supplies to units. Perhaps Russia took until the spring to prepare sufficient stocks of missiles that it wants to use for strikes. And maybe the reason is completely different.

The article is in Czech

Tags: arrival spring Russia Ukraine feared winter

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