Drones hit oil depots and a refinery, starting huge fires. The explosions did not derail, but two freight trains. Over the past few days, Russian infrastructure near the Ukrainian border and in Russian-controlled Crimea has been targeted repeatedly.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for the strikes, the latest of which appeared to hit an oil refinery in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region on Friday, according to Russian state media. But an increased frequency of attacks could help pave the way for a counter-offensive that Ukrainian officials have said is about to begin, according to military analysts.
Analysts say that although the strikes have pushed back the front lines of the war, they have put Russia’s logistics under strain, forcing Moscow to spend additional resources rebuilding damaged infrastructure and planning for Russian defenses against a counterattack. It also has a psychological effect, they say, permeating Moscow’s aura of invincibility over the lands it controls.
“It’s part of the preparation for the battlefield,” said Johan Michel, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “You weaken the enemy’s body in different places in order to make sure they don’t move while you’re actually attacking.”
He said such attacks are not primarily designed to hit a counterattack point in the future. Ukraine’s bid to regain territorial control, if that happens, is expected to focus on territories that Russia has seized since it began its full-scale invasion more than 14 months ago, including the eastern Donbass and the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia.
But Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, has been a major conduit for supplies and troops supporting Russia’s occupation forces in southern Ukraine, and it has been repeatedly hit in recent months. Ukraine has widely claimed responsibility for the strikes in Crimea, though it rarely provides details. But it has usually kept a secret about involvement in attacks on Russian soil.
Mr. Michel said the strikes on infrastructure far from the front lines are intended to create bottlenecks in the military supply chain, forcing Russia to divert resources and energy to fill gaps, which in turn exposes other areas.
The strikes have multiplied in recent days. The Russian state news agency TASS reported that, on Friday, a drone attacked the Elski oil refinery in the Russian Krasnodar region for the second day in a row. She added that a fire broke out, but it was put out and there were no casualties.
Russian officials reported strikes on train lines in Russia’s Bryansk region on Monday and Tuesday. The area was a staging ground for the invasion in February of last year, and has since been used as a staging ground for drone strikes on Ukraine.
A fire also broke out on Saturday in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Four drones also attacked storage facilities on Thursday at one of the largest oil refineries in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region, according to Russian news agency TASS.
British Defense Intelligence Report On Thursday, he said, “Disruption of the fuel storage and distribution network will likely force Russia to make adjustments to Russian military refueling operations to mitigate targeting.”
In one measure of Crimea’s importance to Russian military logistics, the mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine said last month that less than a third of the supplies passing through the city destined for Russian forces come from Crimea.
Western allies have urged Ukraine not to use newly provided long-range weapons to strike inside Russia, fearing such attacks could prompt the Kremlin to escalate its war. Analysts say Ukraine has developed a fleet of drones that can travel hundreds of miles carrying munitions. Russia’s air defenses are also set up to protect its long borders against larger aircraft and missiles, according to Samuel Bendett, a Russia expert at CNA Research Institute in Virginia.
One benefit to Ukraine of launching drone strikes, Mr. Bendett said, is forcing Russia to reveal the location of its air defense systems, leaving them vulnerable to attack in the future.
In addition, any strikes in Russia could cause “serious psychological trauma” and reduce Moscow’s sense of control over its own territory, said the Ukrainian colonel, Petro Chernik, who was careful not to suggest the Ukrainian military was behind the recent attacks.
“Everything that happens on the territory of the Russian Federation in terms of the destruction of fuel, lubricants and any other materials of value ensures that the war is incredibly good,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Mark Santora Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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