Drones hit oil depots and a refinery, causing huge fires. The explosions derailed not one but two freight trains. Over the past few days, Russian infrastructure has been repeatedly targeted near the border with Ukraine and in Russian-controlled Crimea.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for the strikes, the latest of which appeared to hit an oil refinery in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region on Friday, according to Russian state media. But an increase in the tempo of attacks could help set the stage for a counteroffensive that Ukrainian officials say is about to begin, according to military analysts.
Even away from the front lines of war, the strikes have put Russian logistics under pressure, forcing Moscow to spend additional resources on rebuilding damaged infrastructure and complex planning for defenses. Russia against counter-offensive, analysts say. And they also have a psychological effect, piercing Moscow’s aura of invincibility in the territory it controls, they say.
“This is part of the battlefield preparation,” said Yohann Michel, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “You weaken the opponent’s body in various places to make sure they don’t move once you actually attack.”
Such attacks are not primarily designed to hit at the point of a future counteroffensive, he said. Ukraine’s push to retake territory, if it happens, is expected to focus on lands seized by Russia since the start of its massive offensive more than 14 months ago, including in the eastern Donbas region and the southern region of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
But Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, has become a major conduit for supplies and troops supporting Russian occupation forces in southern Ukraine, and has been hit repeatedly in recent months. Ukraine has widely claimed responsibility for the strikes in Crimea, although it has rarely provided details. But it has mostly maintained ambiguity about involvement in attacks on Russian territory.
Mr. Michel said strikes on infrastructure far from the front lines are aimed at creating bottlenecks in the military’s supply chain, forcing Russia to divert resources and energy to cover gaps, which in turn exposes other places.
Hits have increased in recent days. On Friday, a drone attacked the Ilsky oil refinery in Russia’s Krasnodar region for the second day in a row, Russia’s state news agency, Tass, reported. A fire broke out but was extinguished and no one was injured, he said.
Russian officials reported strikes on rail lines in Russia’s Bryansk region on Monday and Tuesday. The region was a staging ground for the invasion in February last year and has since been used as a launch pad for drone strikes in Ukraine.
There were also fires Saturday in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Four drones also attacked storage facilities Thursday at one of the largest oil refineries in Russia’s southern Krasnodar Territory, according to Tass , the Russian state news agency.
A British defense intelligence report on Thursday said that “disruption to the fuel storage and distribution network will likely force adjustments to Russian military refueling operations to reduce targeting.”
In a 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 were intended for Russian forces. comes from the Crimea.
Western allies have urged Ukraine not to use newly supplied, long-range attack weapons inside Russia, fearing that such attacks could provoke the Kremlin into escalating its war. Analysts say Ukraine has developed a fleet of drones that can travel hundreds of miles carrying ammunition. And Russia’s air defenses are set up to protect its long border against aircraft and larger missiles, according to Samuel Bendett, a Russia expert at CNA, a research institute in Virginia.
Mr. Bendett said that one benefit for Ukraine of staging drone strikes would be to force Russia to reveal the location of its air defense systems, making them vulnerable to future attack.
In addition, any strikes on Russia could cause “severe psychological trauma” and undermine Moscow’s sense of control over its own territory, said a Ukrainian colonel, Petro Chernyk, who was careful not to suggest that the military of Ukraine is behind the recent attacks.
“Everything that is happening on the territory of the Russian Federation in terms of the destruction of fuel materials and lubricants and any other important materials that ensure the war is incredibly good,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Marc Santora contributed reporting.