Multiple Russian Fuel Depots Hit By Suspected Drone Attacks, Tempo Increasing
Increasing attacks on fuel facilities in Russia and Crimea come ahead of a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive.
As Ukraine gears up for a looming counteroffensive, a wave of suspected drone attacks hit fuel supply depots in Russia Thursday, local authorities and Russian media outlets claim.
Local government leaders reported fires at the Novoshakhtinsk Oil Products plant in Rostov Oblast blamed on a drone attack and the Ilsky refinery in Krasnodar Oblast, which the Russian SHOT media outlet claims were the result of a massive drone attack.
Novoshakhstinsk is about four miles from the border and some 90 miles from the front lines while the Ilsky refinery is about 180 miles from the border and some 280 miles from the front lines.
These suspected attacks are the latest in a series that have taken place over the past several days against Russian fuel supply centers, with another facility in Krasnodar Oblast hit Wednesday and one in occupied Crimea hit April 29.
Two former high-ranking U.S. military officials familiar with the region said these attacks appear to be an effort to deplete Russian fuel supplies ahead of Ukraine's anticipated counteroffensive.
"I think this is a part of a sophisticated plan to disrupt Russian logistics and defensive preparations, to reduce their ability to flex/respond, and to force the Russians to have to devote air defense systems to protect infrastructure," Ben Hodges, a retired Army lieutenant general who commanded U.S. Army Europe, told The War Zone on Thursday.
A second former high-ranking U.S. military official familiar with the region we spoke to concurred with that assessment.
"I think someone is trying to decrease Russia's capacity to resupply its troops and forces," said the second official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. "I am not sure who it is, but it is clearly to set the stage for Ukraine's coming counteroffensive."
Ukraine addressed concerns about its own fuel reserves by receiving large amounts of fuel in January from the U.S., and over the course of Russia's all-out invasion, purchased thousands of fuel tanker trucks to create a mobile storage system. You can read more about that in our coverage here.
The governor of Rostov Oblast blamed the fire in the facility there on a drone attack.
“Tonight, near the village of Kiselevka, Krasnosulinsky district, at the Novoshakhtinsk Oil Products plant, an unmanned aerial vehicle crashed into the constructions of the inter-workshop flyover of the plant, after which it exploded,” Rostov Oblast Gov. Vasyl Golubev said on his Telegram channel Thursday. “The fire that resulted from the explosion was immediately extinguished. Firefighters were not involved in extinguishing the fire, the fire was eliminated by the company's services.”
There were no casualties or injuries, he said, adding that “damage to structures was insignificant.”
The refinery caught fire last June after Ukrainian drones made attack runs on it. This was the first publicly documented case of the use of 'Alibaba drones' by Ukrainian forces. You can read our initial analysis of that event here. Since then, the use of these drones for standoff attacks has become widespread.
About 190 miles to the southwest, the Iksky refinery in the Seversky district of Krasnodar Oblast also caught fire, according to regional governor Veniamin Kondratiev.
“The fire of tanks with oil products at the Ilsky oil refinery in the Seversky district has been confirmed,” Kondratiev wrote on his Telegram channel Thursday. “Fire brigades and employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations are already working, consisting of 48 people and 16 pieces of equipment. On my instructions, the head of the district is also at the scene."
"According to preliminary information, there were no casualties," he said. "The population of the village is not in danger.”
While Kondratiev did not say what caused the fire, the Russian SHOT media outlet said it was the result of a drone attack.
“There were four UAVs in total,” SHOT reported on its Telegram channel Thursday. “One crashed before reaching the target, three others set off explosions: they destroyed one tank and started a fire in another.”
The wreckage of one of the drones was found on the territory of the Ilsky Oil Refinery 20 minutes before the fire, SHOT reported. “There were three explosions before the fire”.
As a result of the “attack…one tank was destroyed, and the second - 5k cubic meters - caught fire. The latter was about 85% filled with diesel fuel,” SHOT reported.
The suspected attack on the Ilsky refinery was the second in as many days on a Russian oil facility in that oblast.
Yesterday we wrote about a suspected drone attack on the Tamanneftegaz facility in Volna, which is just across the Kerch Strait from Crimea. The resulting fire was the result of a drone attack, the official TASS state news agency reported Wednesday.
You can see it burning in this video that emerged on social media Wednesday.
These attacks were preceded by one on April 29 in Crimea that sparked huge flames and damaged at least four tanks at the Kozacha Bay fuel storage complex in Sevastopol, which you can read more about in our story here.
You can see it burning in this video that emerged on social media at the time.
While it is unclear what kind of drones were used or where they originated, it seems that long-range drone strikes on Russian soil and in Russian-controlled areas against fuel-related targets are ramping up. That's despite statements made yesterday by top officials in Kyiv denying Ukraine has attacked Russian soil issued in the wake of the purported attack on the Kremlin, the nature of which is still in question.
We will keep an eye out for future developments and update this story with any new information about the most recent fires at Russian fuel facilities.
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