March 22, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Massive Russian attack on Ukrainian energy infrastructure

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces conducted the largest series of combined drone and missile strikes targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure since the start of the full-scale invasion during the night of March 21-22. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched 151 drones and missiles at Ukraine overnight, including 63 Shahed-136/131 drones from Primorsko Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai; 12 Iskander-M missiles from Belgorod Oblast and occupied Crimea; 40 Kh-101/Kh-55 missiles from strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea; five Kh-22 cruise missiles from bombers over Rostov Oblast; seven Kh-47 Kinzhal missiles from bombers over Tambov Oblast; two Kh-59 cruise missiles from bombers over occupied Zaporizhia Oblast; and 22 S-300/S-400 air defense missiles from Belgorod and Kursk oblasts. Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces shot down 55 Shahed drones, 35 Kh-101/55 missiles, and two Kh-59 missiles. Ukrainian officials stated that Russian forces targeted 136 energy facilities in Zaporizhia, Khmelnytskyi, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Mykolaiv, Vinnytsia, Lviv, and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts, damaging dozens of these facilities in the largest attack against Ukrainian energy infrastructure since February 2022.

Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy facilities may aim to degrade Ukrainian defense industrial capacity, and Russian forces are likely trying to exploit Ukrainian air defense missile shortages in a renewed attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid. Ukrainian officials reported that the Russian strikes temporarily caused power, water, and other outages but that Ukrainian authorities have since restored these services. Intensified Russian strikes in winter 2023-2024 reportedly heavily targeted Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises, and the Russian strikes on energy infrastructure in early Spring 2024 likely aim to collapse the energy grid in part to stall Ukrainian efforts to rapidly expand its DIB. Russian forces failed to collapse the Ukrainian energy grid on March 22 but may aim to continue intensified strikes on energy infrastructure in subsequent strike series, especially to capitalize on continued delays in Western security assistance that are reportedly expected to significantly constrain Ukraine‘s air defense umbrella. Russian forces have steadily degraded some Ukrainian power production capabilities: capturing the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in March 2022, occupying the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP) in February 2022 and subsequently destroying its dam in June 2023, and now significantly damaging the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant (DHPP) in Zaporizhzhia City during the March 22, 2024 strike. The strikes took the DHPP offline, and it will likely take some time to repair. The Russian strikes may also support Russian efforts to sow internal instability in Ukraine as the Kremlin seeks to degrade domestic and international confidence in the Ukrainian government. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command warned on March 22 that Russia is preparing information operations aiming to falsely portray Ukraine as without power.

Russian forces will likely continue offensive operations through Spring 2024 while preparing for an expected offensive effort in Summer 2024, although Russian forces will likely struggle to launch a concerted large-scale offensive operation in multiple operational directions in Ukraine at the same time. Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavlyuk stated on March 22 that Russian forces are currently committing all available resources to the Lyman, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka directions to sustain ongoing offensive operations and retain the advantage of holding the theater-wide initiative in Ukraine. Russian forces have conducted consistent offensive operations throughout eastern Ukraine in order to first seize and then retain the theater-wide initiative and appear to be committing tactical and operational reserves to ongoing offensive operations in hopes of destabilizing Ukrainian defensive lines and preventing Ukraine from getting the respite it would need to contest the initiative. Pavlyuk stated that Russian forces are currently creating force groupings of 100,000 personnel in Ukraine but did not specify in which operational directions. Russian forces have accumulated roughly 100,000 personnel along the Kharkiv-Luhansk axis, roughly 50,000 near Bakhmut (as of fall 2023), over 50,000 near Avdiivka, and are reportedly attempting to accumulate a grouping of roughly 50,000 personnel in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Pavlyuk stated that Russian forces can use these groupings to replenish units that are currently losing combat power but that Russian forces may form a grouping sufficient to conduct an offensive operation in one operational direction in Summer 2024. The Russian military command also appears to be forming reserves capable of sustaining ongoing offensive operations at their current tempo in Ukraine, but these reserves are unlikely to be able to function as cohesive large-scale penetration or exploitation formations ahead of the Summer 2024 offensive effort. Russian forces have previously struggled to conduct large-scale offensive operations in more than one operational direction at the same time, and the Russian military does not appear to have accumulated multiple large groupings of forces or established the ”strategic reserves” that would facilitate two or more large-scale offensive operations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces conducted the largest series of combined drone and missile strikes targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure since the start of the full-scale invasion during the night of March 21-22.
  • Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy facilities may aim to degrade Ukrainian defense industrial capacity, and Russian forces are likely trying to exploit Ukrainian air defense missile shortages in a renewed attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid.
  • Russian forces will likely continue offensive operations through Spring 2024 while preparing for an expected offensive effort in Summer 2024, although Russian forces will likely struggle to launch a concerted large-scale offensive operation in multiple operational directions in Ukraine at the same time.
  • Russian forces likely seek to exploit current Ukrainian materiel shortages while preparing for efforts that will force Ukraine to expend a sizeable portion of the Western security assistance it may receive in the coming months.
  • The Ukrainian military command appears to be prioritizing rotations for frontline units but will have to address additional manpower challenges if Ukrainian forces are to seize the initiative even on a localized basis in 2024 as Ukrainian senior military officers say they hope to do.
  • Russian authorities reportedly intend to significantly expand crypto-mobilization efforts starting in Spring 2024 amid reports about significant decreases in the number of voluntary recruits.
  • Verstka reported that select Russian officials stated that the Russian military command hopes that increased force generation will allow Russian forces to conduct a future offensive operation to encircle Kharkiv City. Such an operation would pose significant challenges both to the Russian forces responsible for the effort and to the wider Russian campaign in Ukraine, however.
  • This Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a mass shooting and bombing at a concert venue in the suburbs of Moscow on the evening of March 22.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna, Avdiivka, Donetsk City, and the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact.
  • Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets reported on March 22 that Ukrainian authorities helped return another nine Ukrainian children to Ukrainian-controlled territory from occupied Ukraine and Russia.
  • The Moscow military registration and enlistment office has reportedly begun to issue electronic summonses for the Spring 2024 Russian conscription cycle.
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