Ukraine hits Sevastopol power plant with massive drone attack, Russia says

Struggling to contain Russia's advance on the battlefield, Ukraine is increasingly pushing the battle against Russia beyond the front lines in a bid to disrupt its military operations and put pressure on its economy by targeting airfields , logistics hubs and critical energy facilities with missiles and drones.

This strategy was put on full display last Friday, when a series of explosions hit fuel depots, oil facilities and a power plant in southwestern Russia and in Crimea, the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula. Just a day earlier, Ukrainian missiles had hit an airport in Crimea, destroying at least three planes.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it shot down more than 100 Ukrainian drones on Friday, a figure that would represent one of Ukraine's largest airstrikes against Russia in recent months. A Ukrainian security official said Ukraine was behind the attack.

While the extent of the damage is unclear, Russian authorities said an electricity substation was hit in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, causing rolling blackouts.

Just 70 miles east of Crimea on Russia's Black Sea coast, fires broke out at several oil facilities, including at the port of Novorossiysk, which operates a major oil terminal.

Crimea, which Russia illegally seized a decade ago, and nearby Russian Black Sea ports have long been a prime target for the Ukrainian military.

The attacks have three main objectives: to reduce Russia's ability to use Crimea as a launching pad for missile and drone attacks; disrupt supply lines that deliver fuel and ammunition to the battlefield; and degrading the Russian fleet docked in the region to ease pressure on Ukrainian operations in the Black Sea, such as grain exports.

Ukraine has increasingly struck Russian oil facilities in what military analysts say is an attempt to complicate the Russian military's logistics by targeting facilities that supply fuel for its tanks, ships and planes.

Ukrainian officials also hope the attacks will weaken Russia's energy complex, which is at the heart of the country's economy and war effort – accounting for about a third of Russia's federal budget revenue – although they appear to have had no effect yet. serious.

The attack on Novorossiysk could mark an escalation in Ukraine's strategy.

While Kiev had previously attacked warships in Novorossiysk, Friday's assault was the first in which it targeted oil facilities in the area, said Damien Ernst, an energy expert at the University of Liège, Belgium.

Novorossiysk is a major Russian port for oil exports, with about 1.5 million barrels of Russian oil passing through each day, Ernst said. It is also the terminal of one of the world's largest oil pipelines, which exports the majority of Kazakhstan's oil, about 1.3 million barrels per day.

Verified footage of the attack showed a large explosion above the city's oil terminal, although it was unclear whether the attack caused serious damage to the terminal.

But that could raise further concerns in the United States, where the Biden administration has urged Kiev to stop attacking Russian oil refineries out of concern for global oil markets.

Additionally, American oil companies have a stake in the terminal. Chevron, for example, is a significant shareholder in the pipeline that transports oil from Kazakhstan. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ukrainian attacks on Crimea, an important logistical and military hub for the Russian army, have been more frequent.

Mikhail Razvozhaev, governor of the Crimean city of Sevastopol, home to about half a million people, said on Telegram that schools across the city were closed following the attack. He added that repairs to the affected substation will take about a day and that the resulting power shortage will force authorities to introduce rolling blackouts.

It was the third attack in two days against Sevastopol. The day before, local authorities had reported Ukrainian missile attacks on the Belbek military airport outside the city. Satellite images verified by The New York Times showed that three Russian planes had been destroyed and another had been damaged.

Ukrainian officials have long argued that targeting Russian assets and operations in Crimea is critical to their war effort. It is “extremely important for us, because it is the way to reduce the number of attacks from that region,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this year.

This goal appears to be even more important now that Ukrainian troops are losing ground on the battlefield.

Russia launched a new offensive in the northeast last week, quickly capturing several settlements in the Kharkiv region and forcing Kiev to bring troops into the area.

Zelensky told Ukrainian journalists on Friday that Russian troops had advanced to within six miles of the Russian border into Ukrainian territory but had not reached the strongest defensive lines in the region. He added that the situation in the area has stabilized.

Ukrainian officials and military analysts say Russia's offensive in the northeast is aimed at further extending Ukraine's already depleted forces. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine's commander-in-chief, said Russian forces had extended the front line by about 45 miles.

President Vladimir V. Putin has suggested that the objective of the offensive is for Russia to push Ukrainian forces back from the border to prevent them from bombing Russian villages and cities.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to China on Friday, he said Ukraine's regular shelling of Russian border areas, including the city of Belgorod, had forced the Russian military to “create a buffer zone” in the Kharkiv region to protect civilians.

While Ukrainian drones can fly to distant Russian targets, such as oil facilities, artillery shells only have a range of several miles. But unlike drones, projectiles cannot be intercepted and have been widely used throughout the war to immobilize troops and limit military operations.

Putin added that his forces have no intention of conquering the city of Kharkiv. Most independent military analysts consider this claim credible, saying Russia does not have sufficient forces in northern Ukraine to threaten the city, Ukraine's second largest.

But analysts add that Russian forces could push within artillery range of the city and hit it, creating chaos and panic. According to local authorities, more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have already been evacuated from settlements and villages north of Kharkiv.

Bogdan Yahno, Kharkiv region head for the Relief Coordination Center, a nonprofit group that helps people evacuate, said shelling had intensified on Kharkiv and its suburbs in recent days. “The fight is getting closer,” he said.

Anatoly Kurmanaev AND Maria Varenikova contributed to the reporting.

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