Drones hit oil depots and a refinery, causing huge fires. The explosions derailed not one but two freight trains. Over the past several days, Russian infrastructure near the border with Ukraine and in Russian-controlled Crimea has been repeatedly targeted.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the increased pace of attacks could help set the stage for a counteroffensive that Ukrainian officials said was about to begin, according to military analysts.
Despite being far from the front lines of the war, the strikes have put pressure on Russia’s logistics, forcing Moscow to spend additional resources rebuilding damaged infrastructure and complicating planning for Russia’s defense against a counterattack, analysts say. And they have a psychological effect, they say, that punctures Moscow’s aura of invincibility in the territory it controls.
“This is part of the preparation of the battlefield,” said Yohan Michel, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “You weaken the enemy’s body in different places to make sure the enemy doesn’t move the moment you actually attack.”
Such attacks are not designed to strike at the point of a future counterattack, he said. The push to retake Ukraine’s territory, if it happens, is expected to focus on land Russia seized more than 14 months after the start of its full-scale invasion, including the eastern Donbass region and southern parts of Kherson and Zaporizhia.
But Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, has been a key transit route for supplies and troops supporting Russia’s occupation forces in southern Ukraine and has been repeatedly attacked in recent months. Ukraine has widely claimed responsibility for the strikes in Crimea, though it rarely gives details. But it generally maintains ambiguity about engaging in attacks on Russian territory.
Strikes on infrastructure aimed at creating disruptions in the military supply chain force Russia to divert resources and energy to cover gaps, leaving other areas exposed, Mr. Michael said.
Hits have increased manifold in recent days. Russian officials said there were strikes on railway lines in Russia’s Bryansk region on Monday and Tuesday. The region was the staging ground for an invasion in February last year and was later used as a launch pad for drone strikes on Ukraine.
Fires also broke out Saturday in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Four drones struck storage facilities at one of the largest oil refineries in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region on Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
A British Security Intelligence Report “A disruption to the fuel storage and distribution network would force changes in Russia’s military refueling operations to mitigate targets,” he said Thursday.
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 a third of the supplies that pass through the city to Russian forces come from Crimea.
Western allies have urged Ukraine not to use newly supplied long-range weapons to launch strikes inside Russia, fearing such attacks could prompt the Kremlin to escalate its war. Ukraine has developed drones that can carry explosives and travel hundreds of miles, analysts say. Russia’s air defenses are designed to protect its long range against aircraft and much larger missiles, says Samuel Bendet, a Russia expert at CNA, a research firm in Virginia.
Mr. Bendet said.
Additionally, any strike in Russia could cause “severe psychological trauma” and undermine Moscow’s sense of control over its own territory, said Ukrainian colonel Petro Chernyk, who was careful not to say the Ukrainian military was behind the latest attacks.
“Everything that is happening on the territory of the Russian Federation is incredibly good in terms of the destruction of fuel and lubricants and other valuable goods that ensure war,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Mark Santora Contributed report.