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ISW: Russia attacks Ukraine’s energy system to undermine defense industry

Russian forces are likely trying to exploit Ukrainian air defense missile shortages in a renewed attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid, ISW reported.
Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant march 2024
Fire at Zaporizhzhia’s Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant after a Russian missile attack on the morning of 22 March 2024. Photo via Pavlo Nuss.
ISW: Russia attacks Ukraine’s energy system to undermine defense industry

The latest Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy facilities appear aimed at degrading the country’s defense industrial capacity, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on 23 March.

Russia launched a coordinated missile and drone strike in the early hours of 22 March on critical infrastructure targets in Ukraine, employing 151 attack assets. Ukrainian air defense forces destroyed 92 aerial targets, according to Ukraine’s Air Force.

“Russian forces are likely trying to exploit Ukrainian air defense missile shortages in a renewed attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid,” ISW reported.

Russian strikes temporarily caused power, water, and other outages, but Ukrainian authorities have since restored these services, according to Ukrainian officials.

The intensified Russian strikes in the winter of 2023-2024 heavily targeted Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises, and the recent strikes on energy infrastructure likely aim to “collapse the energy grid in part to stall Ukrainian efforts to rapidly expand its DIB,” according to ISW.

While the Russian forces failed to collapse the Ukrainian energy grid on 22 March, the report indicates they “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 constrain Ukraine’s air defense umbrella significantly.”

ISW also reported about Russia’s efforts to degrade Ukraine’s power production capabilities, citing the capture of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in March 2022, the occupation of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in February 2022 and its subsequent dam destruction in June 2023, and the significant damage to the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant in Zaporizhzhia City during the 22 March 2024 strike. “The strikes took the DHPP offline, and it will likely take some time to repair,” said the report.

Additionally, the report suggests the Russian strikes may support 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 22 March that “Russia is preparing information operations aiming to falsely portray Ukraine as without power,” according to the report.

Other takeaways from the ISW report:

  • 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.
  • 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-Zaporizhzhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact.
  • Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets reported on 22 March that Ukrainian authorities helped return another nine Ukrainian children to Ukrainian-controlled territory from occupied Ukraine and Russia.
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