Ukraine Situation Report: Drones Target Fuel Facilities In Western Russia

Ukraine has responded to Moscow’s campaign of winter airstrikes by targeting infrastructure in the city of Oryol using long-range drones.

byThomas Newdick|
Two drones hit a fuel facility in the Russian city of Oryol, 230 miles south of Moscow and 137 miles from the Ukrainian border, the local governor has said.
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A drone strike today set ablaze a fuel facility in the Russian city of Oryol, in western Russia, according to local officials. The drone in question is said to have hit the Orelnefteprodukt oil depot, while another struck the building of a local energy provider, Oryolenergo.

Oryol is located roughly 230 miles south of Moscow and 140 miles from the Ukrainian border.

The local governor, Andrei Klychkov, took to the Telegram messaging app to announce the strike, saying that the fire at the Orelnefteprodukt facility had been contained.

Klychkov posted the following message on Tuesday morning:

“During an attack by enemy UAVs on the facilities of the fuel and energy complex of the Oryol region, three people were injured and received moderate injuries.”

“They are given the necessary help. Two refused hospitalization. Emergency services are at the scene of the incident.”

Reportedly used in the attack was an undisclosed type of Ukrainian long-range attack drone, a class of UAV that is becoming increasingly important to Kyiv as a means of striking back against Russia.

Meanwhile, explosions, fires, and other incidents also continue to plague Russia within its own borders. Yesterday, there were reports of an explosion on a section of railroad near the city of Nizhny Tagil in Russia’s Urals region.

According to Russian media outlet Baza, the explosion happened near an oil depot, close to the station of San-Donato. Russian Railways said that traffic in the area was “restricted” and some trains might run behind schedule.

Last month, a Ukrainian source told Reuters that Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency was responsible for an explosion on a Russian railway line in Siberia.

Incidents like these once again reflect the long-standing desire on the part of Ukraine to ‘bring the war home’ to Russia, as well as to offer an alternative means of fighting back as the situation along the front lines continues to stagnate.

At the same time, the Ukrainian attacks on Russian infrastructure can be seen as a response in kind to Moscow’s ongoing winter campaign of missile and drone strikes. This is being directed to a significant degree against Ukrainian infrastructure, including its energy network.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

The Latest

Leopard 2 main battle tanks provided to Ukraine were not necessarily properly prepared for combat, according to a report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Citing the results of a German commission that visited a repair center for German tanks in Lithuania, the article states that some of the Leopard 2s there had been maintained in a suitable condition for “exercises and parades,” but not necessarily for frontline combat.

Other highlighted shortcomings reportedly related to fragile tracks, a criticism that was raised by Ukrainian tank crews. At the same time, there are claims that other unspecified equipment on the tanks has failed due to “internal defects,” while there remain issues with procuring spare parts and with general logistics. Der Spiegel quoted a German Armed Forces officer who stated that German tanks wear out “too quickly” in combat conditions.

While the claims have yet to be independently verified, Ukraine says that recent Russian attempts to advance in at least two different areas of the front lines have been successfully repulsed.

The Ukrainian military said that Russian forces were unable to make progress in assaults that were directed around Lyman in the Kharkiv region as well as in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.

The following videos provide a remarkable record of extensive equipment losses around Robotyne, the scene of some of the heaviest recent fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region. As well as documenting 26 Ukrainian losses, there are also two Russian losses, including what appears to be a Ka-52 attack helicopter.

The United Kingdom has been one of Ukraine’s most enthusiastic military backers since the start of the full-scale invasion, including pledging Kyiv its first modern Western main battle tanks. Now, however, there are growing concerns that the country is not doing enough to support Ukraine.

The former U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has warned his successor, Grant Shapps, that the country risks “falling behind” in terms of military support for Ukraine. The nature of the country’s future defense aid for Ukraine remains unclear as ministers are still to announce a military aid budget for 2024-25.

In June, before leaving the government, Wallace said he had requested between $2.9 billion and $3.3 billion of funding for Ukraine, but no final decision on this has been announced so far.

More information has emerged to follow up on our report on the Su-34 fighter-bomber that was apparently set ablaze by a saboteur on an airbase in Chelyabinsk, deep in Russia, last week.

According to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the culprit was a 16-year-old Chechen schoolboy from Dagestan. Prosecutors want to jail him for 20 years, claiming that he undertook the action on behalf of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR).

Sweden is yet to formally join NATO, having applied to join the alliance back in May 2022 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

However, the Nordic country is planning to send troops to Latvia as early as next year as part of a Canadian-led NATO force that will help deter Russia from attacking the Baltic States.

Prime Minister of Sweden Ulf Kristersson warned that Russia is “trying to destabilize all of Europe” with threats, disinformation, and cyber-attacks, before reiterating that Sweden’s natural place is in NATO” and that he would “waste no time waiting for the final ratifications.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday that Turkey looks likely to ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO in the coming weeks.

Less than a week after mistakenly dropping a weapon on a village in Russia, a Russian military aircraft accidentally bombed a town in the Russian-occupied Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine.

The warplane inadvertently released a bomb over the town of Rubizhne, Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the region’s Moscow-appointed government, said, according to a report from the Associated Press. Pasechnik reportedly said the bomb, a FAB-250 weapon, weighing 551 pounds, did not cause injuries.

In another incident, six days ago, a Russian aircraft accidentally dropped munitions over the village of Petropavlovka in the Belgorod region of Russia, as you can read about here.

Russia’s latest wave of airstrikes directed against Ukraine saw dozens of missiles launched across the country early on Monday morning. Ukrainian authorities said that at least four civilians were killed, including two people in the western Khmelnytskyi region, one in Kryvyi Rih, and one in a town south of Kharkiv.

The Ukrainian Air Force said it destroyed 18 out of 51 missiles launched during Monday’s airstrikes.

The Ukrainian Air Force also said it destroyed all eight Iranian-designed Shahed one-way attack drones that were launched. These, apparently for the first time, included jet-powered Shahed-238 versions, which you can read more about here.

According to the Associated Press, the Russian Ministry of Defense said its forces used sea-launched and air-launched long-range missiles in the attacks, including Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles fired from MiG-31 interceptors.

In the Zaporizhzhia region, which Russia has unilaterally claimed to have annexed, local officials said that Russia utilized Iskander ballistic missiles as well as S-400 surface-to-air missiles repurposed for a surface-to-surface role.

The Russian Ministry of Defense meanwhile said that it targeted “facilities of Ukraine’s military-industrial complex.” The following video, taken during a previous set of airstrikes, over the weekend, certainly casts doubt over that claim.

In the wake of Monday’s attacks, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat again warned about a growing shortage of surface-to-air missiles for the country’s air defense systems.

“Ukraine has spent a considerable reserve on those three attacks that took place,” Ihnat told Ukrainian TV, according to Reuters. “It is clear that there is a deficit of anti-aircraft guided missiles.”

“We have more and more western equipment today and, accordingly, it needs maintenance, repair, updating, replenishment, and corresponding ammunition,” Ihnat added.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that White House and Pentagon officials are warning that the supply of Patriot missiles to Ukraine could soon dry up due to lack of funds, with each missile reportedly costing between $2 million and $4 million.

The Russian city of Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border, continues to come under bombardment from Ukrainian forces, according to the regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov. He said that around 300 residents have been evacuated to areas further from the border, due to strikes by Kyiv.

“Some 300 residents of Belgorod, who decided to temporarily evacuate, are at the moment being housed in temporary shelter centers in Stary Oskol, Gubkin, and the Korochansky district,” Gladkov said. This is the largest evacuation of its kind in a major Russian city since the launch of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Ukraine is apparently using a combination of heavy artillery and drone attacks to lay siege to Belgorod. Some of the fiercest attacks on the city on December 30 killed 25 people, local officials said.

A recent Ukrainian variation on the classic U.S.-designed M2 Browning 50-caliber heavy machine gun is this remotely operated adaptation, operated by the 5th Assault Brigade.

The Browning is also very much at the center of the next video. Said to have been taken by a U.S. volunteer fighting in Ukraine, who uses the Instagram handle Nucking_futs_yuri, it shows the soldier engaging Russian positions from aboard a HMMWV. The utility vehicle is used in an apparent hit-and-run attack in which the Russians are hit with both rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and 50-caliber fire.

U.S.-designed guns of a very different caliber are the subject of the next video, featuring an interesting interview with a member of the Ukrainian 92nd Separate Assault Brigade talking about using the M109A6 Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzer.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S.-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Ukraine has recently been engaged in an extensive campaign of strikes against Russian military targets in occupied Crimea and has “successfully struck several targets throughout the peninsula.”

Operations over recent days have reportedly included an attack on the Russian airfield in Saky, with up to four Storm Shadow and/or SCALP-EG cruise missiles on the night of January 5 to 6. The same night, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that its forces destroyed five Ukrainian drones and four missiles over the Black Sea and Crimea. Further Russian claims include six Ukrainian Neptune missiles shot down over the northwestern Black Sea on January 6.

There are also reports that a Russian command post near Sevastopol in Crimea was destroyed in an attack launched by Ukraine, the results of which were later confirmed by a reconnaissance party made up of members of the Atesh partisan movement.

In a dramatic turn of events, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa was forced to take cover in a Kyiv bomb shelter on Sunday, after an air alert was issued.

Kamikawa has now pledged $37 million to a NATO fund that supports the acquisition of equipment for Ukraine including drone detection systems.

Shelters of another kind now, with images of a Ukrainian-designed metal underground shelter designed to offer additional protection to frontline troops.

The Ukrainian Marines aboard this inflatable boat seem to have had a very lucky escape after they were targeted by a Russian drone. While the first air-dropped munition detonated apparently harmlessly, allowing the Marines to escape, successive munitions soon set the boat ablaze.

The winter weather continues to play a major part in determining the fighting capacity of vehicles on the front lines and elsewhere. In this example, a pair of Russian Pantsir-S1 air defense systems — on 8x8 wheeled chassis — became stuck in the mud before being frozen in by rapidly dropping temperatures. It was then left to the Ukrainians to retrieve them. These could well provide another important intelligence windfall, although examples of the Pantsir-S1 have notably been subject to evaluation in the past, too.

There are growing signs that Ukraine may be starting to turn the tables, at least somewhat, on the Russian numerical advantage in terms of first-person view (FPV) drones.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that undisclosed electronic warfare systems have been used by Ukrainian troops in recent days to “neutralize” 33 out of 44 Russian FPV drones.

There are unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian forces are holding firm in Krynky, the village on the east bank of the Dnieper River, in the Kherson region, which has seen heavy fighting of late.

According to Oleksandr Kapshin, commander of the “Chimera” unit of the Ukrainian 126th Territorial Defense Brigade, “The Russians have halted offensive assault operations in the sector due to heavy losses.”

The situation is also said to extend to the air, following the claimed destruction of three Su-34s by Ukrainian air defenses on a single day in December. As a result, Kapshin says, the “Russians have halted aerial operations in the sector, including the deployments of [precision-guided bombs], due to the previous loss of three Su-34s … and Patriot.”

The next video shows some of the latest wreckage of a U.S.-supplied AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM, which provides the Ukrainian Air Force with suppression and destruction of enemy air defense capability, also referred to collectively as SEAD/DEAD. In this case, the weapon reportedly ended up in Ukrainian-held territory, although it’s not clear if anyone was injured in this ‘friendly fire’ incident.

Russian guided munitions are the subject of the next photos, providing some of the clearest views so far of the UMPK series glide bomb kit, which gives a normal freefall bomb standoff range as well as an inertial guidance package. In the first instance, the payload is a cluster bomb, a 1,102-pound RBK-500 type. You can read more about the UMPK kit here, as well as the implications of using these with cluster munitions here.

A recent report in The Kyiv Independent sheds light on the apparent deployment of Russian troops on the borders with Ukraine’s Sumy and Chernihiv regions. The article cites the spokesperson of Ukraine’s Northern Forces, Yurii Povkh, as saying that there is a force of 19,000 Russian soldiers in these areas.

“This number has not changed for several months, so there is no need to discuss signs of the enemy forming any strike groups,” Povkh said. The spokesperson added that these soldiers were likely there to secure the border but were too small in number to force a breakthrough of Ukrainian lines.

The two northern regions were invaded by Russia at the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022 but were pushed back behind the borders in April of the same year. Now, both regions come under regular artillery shelling as well as cross-border raids by Russian sabotage groups.

“Currently, we can say that the enemy is carrying out its harassing fire to a greater extent,” Povkh said.

Ukrainian media reports suggest that Kyiv may have had a major intelligence coup, with the acquisition of 100 gigabytes (GB) of classified data from the Russian company Special Technology Center, a St. Petersburg-based manufacturer of drones, electronic warfare systems, and other equipment. According to reports, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) “allegedly obtained blueprints, patents, and software on both existing and developing projects.”

Javelin is back: One of the signature weapons used by Ukraine in the early months of the conflict is still making a mark on the battlefield. Reports in the Ukrainian media suggest that a single soldier, callsign “Sedoy,” used the U.S.-made anti-tank guided missile system to destroy four Russian armored vehicles in a single encounter.

The effects of a successful attack on a Russian TOS-1A multiple launch rocket system — and its thermobaric payload — have been seen before. However, a direct hit is never less than staggeringly destructive and is worth looking at again in this apparently recent video. The TOS-1 in question was hit by a Ukrainian FPV drone in Krynky, in the Kherson region.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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