Ukraine hits back

Ukrainian drones have struck several key Russian targets in recent days, including:

  • A hit yesterday (Sunday) on an energy facility near St Petersburg (865km from the border) run by Russia’s main independent gas producer
  • Saturday’s strike on an arms factory in Tula (320km from the border) where Russia produces its Pantsir-S missile air defence system
  • Friday’s attack on an oil depot in Bryansk (60km inside Russia), key to supplying the frontlines, and
  • Thursday’s near hit on the St Petersburg oil terminal, the country’s largest oil shipment terminal in the Baltic.

This is all pretty intriguing, both because of what these attacks say about Russia, and what they say about Ukraine.

For Russia, these strikes mark the first time Ukraine has hit targets in St Petersburg, the country’s second-largest city (and President Putin’s home town), located deep behind the frontlines. The attacks also struck at Russia’s ability to resupply the frontlines with oil, and its ability to finance the war with gas.

As for Ukraine, these strikes involved flying drones for hours over Russian territory, exposing real vulnerabilities in Russia’s air defences while showcasing Ukrainian strengths in drone manufacturing and intelligence.

And these last two points are key for Ukraine right now: first, as Western partners still avoid supplying long-range strike capabilities to curb direct escalation with Russia, Ukraine has responded with this long-range drone capability of its own.

Plus second, as both sides harden defences along their 1,500km frontline, intel becomes key in striking behind enemy lines to disrupt logistics, erode the enemy’s industrial base, and demoralise and destabilise broader society.

The agency driving these attacks for Ukraine is its Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR).

The GUR’s leader is 38-year-old Kyrylo Budanov, a cult figure in Ukraine and beyond due to his youth and effectiveness (he’s masterminded attacks like the assassination of a submarine commander, plus high-profile Russian defections).

Of course, this all makes Budanov a high-value asset for Ukrainian President Zelensky and a high-value target for Russian President Putin, who placed him on Russia’s ‘wanted’ list last month, and poisoned his wife the month prior.

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