Ukraine has claimed responsibility for a series of audacious drone strikes on Russian oil depots and infrastructure hundreds of miles inside Russia over the past few days. The attacks mark a significant escalation of Ukraine’s ability to strike strategic targets deep in Russian territory.
On January 18th, an oil storage facility near St. Petersburg was set ablaze after apparent drone strikes. Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility, but presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak stated “If something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to departure point.”
This follows attacks earlier this week on the Russian city of Voronezh, located over 300 miles from the Ukrainian border. Drones struck an airfield and struck an oil depot, forcing Russian authorities to declare a state of emergency.
Most recently, on January 19th, Ukrainian officials stated that drones struck an oil storage facility in Klintsy, in Russia’s Bryansk region located about 20 miles from the Ukrainian border. The resulting fires raged out of control for hours.
|Oil storage facility
|Airfield, oil depot
|Oil storage facility
Russian authorities have confirmed explosions and fires at the facilities but have not explicitly blamed Ukraine. However, the use of drones and the subsequent chaos indicates strikes by Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine’s New Drone Capabilities
The recent long-range drone strikes demonstrate Ukraine’s rapidly expanding arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their ability to penetrate deep into Russian airspace undetected.
Ukraine is now manufacturing a variety of capable drones domestically with the help of allies. The recent strikes were likely carried out by the Grim-2, a one-use suicide drone with a 30lb warhead and 1100 mile range produced in Ukraine.
Ukraine is also employing heavier bombers like the Bayraktar TB-2 supplied by Turkey as well as modified commercial drones to drop munitions. Switchblade suicide drones provided by the US can fly over 40 miles and loiter while finding targets.
Russia on Defense
The drone attacks have exposed major gaps in Russia’s air defenses even close to major population centers like St. Petersburg and Voronezh. Despite having a massive combined air defense network of radars, missiles, aircraft, and electronic warfare systems blanketing its western border regions, Russia has failed to stop the small drones from striking high value infrastructure deep in its territory.
The chaotic aftermath of the strikes also showcases the fragility of Russia’s logistical networks supporting the war effort in Ukraine. Fuel depots are crucial for supplying armored vehicles, aircraft, ships and ground transport relied upon by Russian forces. Their destruction hampers Russia’s ability to sustain offensive operations in Ukraine.
Impact on the War
While the drone strikes themselves caused limited physical damage compared to the scale of the war, their psychological impact is more significant. The inability to stop the attacks and protect strategic sites hundreds of miles from the front lines damages Russian morale and prestige on the home front.
More importantly, the attacks demonstrate Ukraine’s expanding ability to bring the fight directly to Russian soil. As Ukraine integrates more advanced Western weapons like longer-range rockets and missiles, coupled with expanding drone fleets, even more targets across Russia could come under threat.
This could force Russia to divert precious air defense and counter-drone resources from Ukraine to protect infrastructure and population centers inside Russia itself. The costs of defending across such a broad front could undermine Russia’s ability to sustain offensive operations in the long run.
Russia will likely work urgently to address the vulnerabilities highlighted by the Ukrainian drone strikes. Efforts could include deploying more counter-drone systems near key sites, reforming command networks, dispersing fuel depots, and attempting to jam the datalinks used by drones.
However, these are complex and costly adaptations. Ukraine is also rapidly expanding its arsenal, meaning Russia faces an uphill battle trying to plug all the gaps before new Ukrainian capabilities come online.
For its part, Ukraine has every incentive to continue striking high value Russian targets within range. Ukrainian officials have hinted these attacks could be expanded even further, stating “If any supplies flow from Russia by rail, road, sea or any other transport – it will be destroyed.”
With Russia’s grip over Ukrainian territory continuing to weaken, and Ukraine fielding ever more potent Western weapons, the Kremlin’s ability to safeguard strategic sites across Russia itself may face its biggest test of the war so far.
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