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Ukraine hits refinery, weapons plant deep inside Russia

Jan 22

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Ukraine is getting pretty good at hitting targets deep within Russia’s sovereign territory. The tactics could mark a new stage in the almost two-year-old war and certainly call into question the quality of Russian air defense systems.

In mid-January, it’s believed Ukraine used long-range drones to hit oil refineries and weapons manufacturing plants in several different Russian cities, including the Novatek fuel terminal at the Ust-Luga Port in Leningrad, which is around 500 miles or so from the front lines in Ukraine.

It isn’t clear what type of drone Ukraine is using for the attacks, but this could be the work of the domestically-produced Morok.

On Sunday, Jan. 21, Russian state media reported two drones were spotted heading towards St. Petersburg but then swerved toward the port. The terminal processes both fuel used by Russia’s military and fuel destined for foreign markets. Novatek said it was taking the facility offline for the foreseeable future, with no word on when it could be restored to operational status.

Ukrainian media reported the country’s security service (SBU) was behind the attack, which is not only a blow to Russia’s armed forces, but its economy as well.

The strike on the port in Leningrad was at least the second major attack within a week against Russian fuel supplies. Another drone attack at an oil storage depot in Bryansk on Friday, Jan. 19, caused a fire that covered an area of more than 10,000 square feet and destroyed at least four massive oil tanks.

The strategy here for Ukraine is pretty clear. Russia can’t fill up its vehicles if there isn’t any fuel. And Russia can’t use the money from fuel sales to buy new weapons from Iran and North Korea if there is no fuel to sell.

Refineries and storage depots aren’t the only targets Ukraine is hitting inside Russia, though. It’s also targeting more of Russia’s weapons manufacturing facilities.

The Shcheglovsky Val plant in Tula was also hit on Jan. 21 in a staggered series of Ukrainian drone strikes. The plant manufactures anti-tank missiles and the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft defense system. Pantsirs play a prominent role in Russia’s air defense capabilities. So, depending on how damaged the facility in Tula is, Russia’s ability to counter this new onslaught of deep-strike Ukrainian drones could be severely limited.

Limited may be a good way to describe some of the other weapons systems Russia is rushing to the frontlines. In another video that emerged online, a Russian Tor air defense system is seen getting destroyed by a much cheaper weapons system.

Russia touts the Tor as being one of the best ways to counter enemy drones. So, it’s no doubt a blow to Russian military pride that not only did the Tor’s missile miss its target, a small FPV drone, but the drone was able to destroy the Tor system.

Taking out Russian air defenses was always a part of Ukraine’s battle plans. But perhaps the increased focus on those systems, and their manufacturing facilities, is a way for Ukraine to set the stage for the arrival of the first F-16s donated by the West.

Ukraine has several groups of pilots and ground crews in various stages of training. But the first Ukrainian F-16 pilots are expected to take to the skies sometime this spring or early summer.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

UKRAINE IS GETTING PRETTY GOOD AT HITTING TARGETS DEEP WITHIN RUSSIA’S SOVEREIGN TERRITORY. THE TACTIC COULD MARK A NEW STAGE IN THE ALMOST TWO-YEAR OLD WAR, AND CERTAINLY CALLS INTO QUESTION THE QUALITY OF RUSSIAN AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS.

IN THE LAST FEW DAYS, IT’S BELIEVED UKRAINE USED LONG-RANGE DRONES TO HIT OIL REFINERIES AND WEAPONS MANUFACTURING PLANTS IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT RUSSIAN CITIES. INCLUDING THE NOVATEK FUEL TERMINAL AT THE UST-LUGA PORT IN LENNINGRAD, WHICH IS AROUND 500 MILES OR SO FROM THE FRONTLINES IN UKRAINE.

IT ISN’T CLEAR WHAT TYPE OF DRONE UKRAINE IS USING FOR THE ATTACKS, BUT THIS COULD BE THE WORK OF THE DOMESTICALLY PRODUCED MOROK, WHICH WE’VE REPORTED ON BEFORE.

ON SUNDAY, RUSSIAN STATE MEDIA REPORTED TWO DRONES WERE SPOTTED HEADING TOWARDS ST. PETERSBURG, BUT THEN SWERVED TOWARD THE PORT. THE TERMINAL PROCESSES BOTH FUEL USED BY RUSSIA’S MILITARY AND FUEL DESTINED FOR FOREIGN MARKETS. NOVATEK SAID IT WAS TAKING THE FACILITY OFFLINE FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE, WITH NO WORD ON WHEN IT COULD BE RESTORED TO OPERATIONAL STATUS.

UKRAINIAN MEDIA REPORTED THE COUNTRY’S SECURITY SERVICE WAS BEHIND THE ATTACK, WHICH IS NOT ONLY A BLOW TO RUSSIA’S ARMED FORCES, BUT ITS ECONOMY AS WELL.

THE STRIKE ON THE PORT IN LENINGRAD WAS AT LEAST THE SECOND MAJOR ATTACK AGAINST RUSSIAN FUEL SUPPLIES IN THE LAST WEEK. ANOTHER DRONE ATTACK AT AN OIL STORAGE DEPOT IN BRYANSK ON FRIDAY CAUSED A FIRE THAT COVERED AN AREA OF MORE THAN 10,000 SQUARE FEET AND DESTROYED AT LEAST FOUR MASSIVE OIL TANKS.

THE STRATEGY HERE FOR UKRIANE IS PRETTY CLEAR. RUSSIA CAN’T FILL UP ITS VEHICLES IF THERE ISN’T ANY FUEL. AND RUSSIA CAN’T USE THE MONEY FROM FUEL SALES TO BUY NEW WEAPONS FROM IRAN AND NORTH KOREA—ALLEGEDLY– IF THERE IS NO FUEL TO SELL.

REFINERIES AND STORAGE DEPOTS AREN’T THE ONLY TARGETS UKRAINE IS HITTING INSIDE RUSSIA, THOUGH. IT’S ALSO TARGETING MORE OF RUSSIA’S WEAPONS MANUFACTURING FACILITIES.

THE ‘SHCHEGLOVSKY VAL’ PLANT IN TULA WAS ALSO HIT ON SUNDAY IN A STAGGERED SERIES OF UKRAINIAN DRONE STRIKES. THE PLANT MANUFACTURERS ANTI-TANK MISSILES AND THE PANTSIR-S ANTI-AIRCRAFT DEFENSE SYSTEM. PANTSIRS PLAY A PROMINENT ROLE IN RUSSIA’S AIR DEFENSE CAPABILITIES. SO, DEPENDING ON HOW DAMAGED THE FACILITY IN TULA IS, RUSSIA’S ABILITY TO COUNTER THIS NEW ONSLAUGHT OF DEEP-STRIKE UKRAINIAN DRONES COULD BE SEVERELY LIMITED

AND LIMITED MAY BE A GOOD WAY TO DESCRIBE SOME OF THE OTHER WEAPONS SYSTEMS RUSSIA IS RUSHING TO THE FRONTLINES. THIS VIDEO ALSO EMERGED ONLINE OVER THE WEEKEND OF A TOR AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM GETTING DESTROYED. RUSSIA TOUTS THE TOR AS BEING ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO COUNTER ENEMY DRONES. SO, IT’S NO DOUBT A BLOW TO RUSSIAN MILITARY PRIDE THAT NOT ONLY DID THE TOR’S MISSILE MISS ITS TARGET, A SMALL FPV DRONE, BUT THE DRONE WAS ABLE TO DESTROY THE TOR SYSTEM.

TAKING OUT RUSSIAN AIR DEFENSES WAS ALWAYS A PART OF UKRAINE’S BATTLEPLANS. BUT PERHAPS THE INCREASED FOCUS ON THOSE SYSTEMS, AND THEIR MANUFACTURING FACILITIES, IS A WAY FOR UKRAINE TO SET THE STAGE FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE FIRST F-16s DONATED BY THE WEST.

UKRAINE HAS SEVERAL GROUPS OF PILOTS AND GROUND CREWS IN VARIOUS STAGES OF TRAINING. BUT THE FIRST UKRAINIAN F-16 PILOTS ARE EXPECTED TO TAKE TO THE SKIES SOMETIME THIS SPRING OR EARLY SUMMER.