Russia’s Reprisal Attack On Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure Was The Biggest Yet

Russia launched its biggest missile and drone onslaught in many months against Ukraine overnight. Authorities in Kyiv described the raids as the heaviest to target its energy infrastructure in the war so far. For Moscow, the latest round of attacks was revenge for Ukrainian strikes launched against targets inside Russia, especially energy-related ones, during its recent presidential election. More generally, they are part of a pattern of raids by both sides aimed at energy infrastructure.

The latest attacks involved 88 missiles of various types and 63 Iranian-designed Shahed one-way attack drones, the Ukrainian Air Force said. These were primarily targeted against the regions of Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhia. 

The Air Force said that 37 missiles and 55 drones were shot down, or otherwise defeated, representing a lower-than-average result for the country’s air defenses. The reason for this is likely to have been the more extensive Russian use of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), perhaps including examples supplied by North Korea, which Ukraine has fewer means to defeat. At the same time, the targets were disproportionately located in regions close to Russian-controlled areas, reducing the warning time and weapons’ time to target. Rural areas are also less defended than Ukraine’s major population centers.

Among the key targets selected by Russia was the huge DniproHES dam over the Dnipro River, in the city of Zaporizhzhia, which left at least five people dead and left more than a million without power.

The dam, Ukraine’s largest, was hit eight times by Russian missile strikes, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office. Videos posted to social media showed what appeared to be Russian Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles ejecting infrared countermeasures to spoof heat-seeking air defense missiles as they made their terminal attack runs on the dam.

Ihor Syrota, the director of the state hydropower company, said both the power blocks and the dam itself had been damaged. One of the blocks sustained two direct strikes, he stated. Despite the hits, the company said there was no risk of a breach. However, the state ecological inspectorate said that oil had leaked into the Dnipro River, presenting a serious risk to the environment.

As well as the dam, around 20 substations and electricity stations were also hit in the latest Russian offensive, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Furthermore, there were reports from Ukraine’s largest private energy company, DTEK, that some of its thermal powerplants were hit, while the country’s state oil and gas company, Naftogaz, said its facilities had also been damaged.

According to officials in Kyiv, the strikes led to power outages in seven regions of Ukraine, including around 1.2 million people left without power in four regions alone, according to presidential aide Oleksiy Kuleba. To make up for the deficit, Ukraine has been forced to seek emergency electricity supplies from Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

Beyond Ukraine’s onslaught against energy targets in Russia, the Kremlin said that the attacks were in response to Ukrainian shelling and cross-border raids into Russian border regions last week. These appear to have been timed to coincide with presidential elections that secured Vladimir Putin a fifth term in office.

For Ukrainian officials, the Russian raids are part of a renewed winter offensive that’s aimed at Ukraine’s power grid. Similar tactics were employed during the winter of 2022-23, as well, leading to severe disruption. Ukraine had long warned that another such winter offensive would take place and officials had called for additional Western air defense systems to counter just such a contingency.

“The world sees the targets of Russian terrorists as clearly as possible: powerplants and energy supply lines, a hydroelectric dam, ordinary residential buildings, even a trolleybus,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko added:

“The goal is not just to damage, but to try again, like last year, to cause a large-scale failure of the country’s energy system.”

While it’s abundantly clear that the destruction of critical non-military infrastructure is the primary aim of these attacks, Russia has justified the campaign in terms of the alleged disruption it brings to the Ukrainian military machine.

Today, however, saw a noticeable uptick in rhetoric from Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Russian publication that Moscow saw itself as in a “state of war” because of the West’s intervention on behalf of Ukraine.

In the past, Russian officials have repeatedly described the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and the offensives that have followed as a “special military operation.” 

Some saw Peskov’s words as evidence that Moscow is now preparing its citizens for what will now be more openly considered a full-scale conflict, and one that will be longer and harder-fought than expected.

Others have pointed out that descriptions of a “war” from Russian officials are not entirely new. Notably, Moscow has euphemistically used the term “special military operation” to describe its invasion of Ukraine, while also talking about a broader “war” with Ukraine’s NATO allies, and even the West in general.

Peskov subsequently walked back his statement, at least to some degree.

Rhetoric aside, Russia has clearly ramped up its winter offensive aimed at Ukrainian energy infrastructure and, once again, civilians have received the brunt of it.

“The wide impact of today’s attacks on critical civilian infrastructure is deepening the already dire humanitarian situation for millions of people in Ukraine,” the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said in a statement.

While Ukraine was expecting just such an attack and will have been better prepared than it was last winter to defend against it, it’s also true that Kyiv has, since then, greatly increased its potential to hit back at Russian targets in kind. As well as shelling and cross-border raids directed at border areas within Russia, Ukraine has a growing arsenal of long-range attack drones that are able to strike targets much deeper within Russia. There are also reports that the Biden Administration has warned Kyiv about targeting Russian energy production infrastructure due to the possibility of escalation and that it would raise global energy prices.

Regardless, before today, Russian energy infrastructure was very much in Ukraine’s sights and it would have been surprising if a response in kind doesn’t follow sooner rather than later. The big question is if Ukraine will let off the pressure it has put on Russia’s energy sector by slowing or ceasing long-range drone strikes on those facilities. From what we have seen in the past, barring extreme outside influence, that is unlikely to happen.

Contact the author:

Thomas Newdick Avatar

Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.