Ukraine launches drone attacks targeting Russian energy infrastructure, Ukraine special services source says

Ukraine launched attacks on eight Russian regions with long-range strike drones in the early hours of Saturday morning, targeting a fuel depot and power substations, according to a statement from a Ukrainian special services source.

The overnight attacks, which were confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry, come amid a renewed effort by Moscow to disable Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and plunge its citizens into darkness, using the freezing temperatures as a weapon of war.

“Russian Defense Ministry is complaining that dozens of Ukrainian drones popped up in some eight regions - Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Tula, Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga regions, and even Moscow region. At least three power substations and a fuel storage facility were damaged and caught fire,” the source said, adding that the attacks were part of a joint operation by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Defence Intelligence, and the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The source added that the “energy infrastructure that feeds the Russian military-industrial facilities was the target. Some areas experienced troubles with power and water supply following the attacks.”

Video shared on social media showed the aftermath of drone strikes on a fuel depot in Russia’s Smolensk region, which caught fire in the early hours of the morning.

“At around 2 a.m. this morning, there was an attempted attack by Ukrainian UAVs on a fuel and energy facility in Kardymovsky district. Air defense forces shot down the aerial devices. Information on casualties is being clarified,” Smolensk regional governor Vasiliy Anokhin wrote on Telegram.

According to Anokhin, the falling UAV debris caused a fire in a fuel and lubricants tank, and crews with Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations were responding to the blaze.

In a separate post, the governor of Smolensk reported that air defenses repelled one more UAV attack on the regional center later Saturday morning.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported intercepting one drone over the Smolensk region, and said that its air defense systems intercepted or destroyed 50 Ukrainian drones in the past day.

Aleksandr Bogomaz, governor of the southwestern region of Bryansk in Russia, reported on Saturday that “a downed Ukrainian UAV caused a fire at an energy infrastructure facility.”

“Fire and rescue units and emergency crews of PJSC Rosseti are operating at the site, ensuring uninterrupted power supply to consumers,” Bogomaz said in a Telegram update on Saturday.

Smoke billows after Ukraine's SBU drone strikes a refinery, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Ryazan, Ryazan Region, Russia, in this screen grab from a video obtained by Reuters, March 13, 2024. - Video obtained by Reuters
Smoke billows after Ukraine's SBU drone strikes a refinery, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Ryazan, Ryazan Region, Russia, in this screen grab from a video obtained by Reuters, March 13, 2024. - Video obtained by Reuters

In recent months, Ukraine has stepped up drone attacks deep inside Russian territory, targeting energy infrastructure like oil refineries and terminals, as well as airfields. After strikes on three refineries in mid-March, a Ukrainian defense source told CNN on that Ukraine is “implementing a well-planned strategy to decrease Russian economic potential.”

The attacks have been made possible by the use of drones with longer ranges and more advanced capabilities, some of which have even begun to integrate a basic form of artificial intelligence to help them navigate and avoid being jammed, a source close to Ukraine’s drone program told CNN.

News of the drone attacks come as the situation on Ukraine’s eastern front has “worsened significantly,” the military’s top commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said a few days ago – a message backed up by video evidence, analysts, and interviews conducted by CNN with Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukrainians were waiting Saturday in anticipation of a highly-anticipated vote in the US House of Representatives that could finally unlock nearly $61 billion of military aid for the country, as frontline troops find themselves withdrawing from key terrain, or getting pounded from the air as they try to hold on to important towns.

Of that total, about $23 billion would be used to replenish US weapons, stockpiles and facilities, and more than $11 billion would fund current US military operations in the region. Nearly $14 billion included in the bill would help Ukraine buy advanced weapons systems and other defense equipment.

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