Strikes focus on cutting supply routes to Russian forces in southern Ukraine, analysts say

By Matthew Luxmoore and Laurence Norman

May 4, 2023

The Wall Street Journal


A second day of drone attacks inside Russia targeted military logistics hubs in an apparent effort to disrupt Moscow’s battlefield supply lines ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The attacks, which Ukraine hasn’t commented on, are the latest in a string of apparent drone strikes and acts of sabotage on Russian territory. Military analysts say the attacks are focused on cutting off Russia’s supply route to its forces in southern Ukraine as Kyiv prepares the ground for its expected attempt to recapture parts of the area.

The U.K.’s Defense Ministry on Thursday said the drone attacks targeting Russia’s fuel storage and distribution network would likely force Moscow to adjust its refueling operations by shoring up its defenses or using infrastructure further from vulnerable areas near the border with Ukraine.

Such a move by Moscow could aid Ukraine as it gears up for a fresh push to dislodge Russian forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that the whole country was working to assure the success of the offensive.

Kyiv has sought to weaken Russia’s defenses and its ability to reinforce units on the front lines, a strategy that has proved successful in the past. Last fall, Ukraine conducted strikes deep into Russian-held territory using U.S.-provided Himars multiple-rocket launchers, which destroyed Russian ammunition depots and key supply lines into Kherson before Ukraine retook the city in November, following a Russian withdrawal.

Russia scrambled on Thursday to contain the damage from the latest strikes. Firefighters worked overnight to combat blazes at oil facilities in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region, near Crimea, and in the Rostov area close to the border with Ukraine. Russian state media and local authorities said both fires were caused by drones.

It followed a drone strike on another oil-storage facility in the Krasnodar region, according to state media, which also reported Wednesday a drone attack on an airport in Russia’s Bryansk region after two trains carrying fuel toward the front lines were derailed in the same area.

Moscow also said two drones struck the Kremlin after being downed by electronic-warfare systems on Wednesday, blaming Kyiv for the attack. Ukrainian officials denied involvement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Washington had chosen the target of the strike, without providing evidence.

“The United States was not involved in this incident in any way, contrary to Mr. Peskov’s lies,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

A U.S. official said that intelligence is increasingly pointing to the likelihood that a Ukrainian group was behind the attack, though it remains unclear whether the group was linked to the government in Kyiv.

In Ukraine, authorities in Kherson on Wednesday announced a three-day curfew in the city beginning Friday. Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson military administration, said the curfew would aid law enforcement in safely conducting unspecified activities.

Ukraine has previously imposed curfews in the first days of the war to aid the task of rounding up Russian spies and saboteurs, and later in cities such as Mykolaiv that had been plagued by instances of suspected Russian agents passing coordinates of military objects to Russian forces.

Mykola Bielieskov, a military analyst at the Kyiv-based National Institute for Strategic Studies, a government-backed think tank, said the curfew in Kherson was likely aimed at making it easier for Ukraine’s forces to use artillery and other military equipment inside the city within range of Russian hardware it hopes to disable with strikes across the Dnipro River.

“This can aid a possible counteroffensive by decreasing the overall potential of the grouping of [Russian] forces there,” he said. But, Mr. Bielieskov added, the Dnipro River and Kherson weren’t likely to make up the main axis of attack.

As Ukraine completes preparations for the offensive, its government has continued to push for Western military aid to bolster its combat capacity against well-equipped Russian forces manning deep defensive lines across the front lines in the east and south.

On Thursday, Mr. Zelensky visited the Netherlands to press for more support, following a trip to Helsinki the previous day. He met with the Dutch and Belgian prime ministers after meeting senior officials at the International Criminal Court.

In March, the court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another senior Kremlin official accused of war crimes.

“Of course, we all want to see a different Vladimir here in The Hague,” Mr. Zelensky said in a speech at the ICC on Thursday, referring to Mr. Putin. “And I am sure we will see that happen when we win—and we will win.”

In a speech to the two houses of the Dutch Parliament, Mr. Zelensky appealed for European support for Ukraine’s ambition of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He also pressed for further military assistance from the West as he warned of the challenge Ukraine faces on the battlefield.

“We believe in the success of our counteroffensive. We are doing all we can. Not just our military, but also society and our factories and entrepreneurs,” he said. “I can’t say that 100% success is guaranteed, because that’s something no one knows.”

Meanwhile, Kyiv said Russia was continuing drone attacks on Ukrainian territory, with Ukraine’s armed forces on Thursday saying 18 out of 24 Iranian drones launched by Russia had been shot down. The military administration in Kyiv said the capital was targeted with drones and missiles early Thursday, but all projectiles had been shot down by its air defenses.

Another group of drones shot down on Thursday evening resulted in damage to buildings in the capital’s Solomyanskyi and Pecherskyi districts, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. Ukraine’s air force said later that one of the downed drones was a malfunctioning Ukrainian craft that had veered off course. There were no casualties, the air force said.

Mr. Zelensky condemned Russian strikes on Kherson that he said killed 21 civilians and wounded 48 others on Wednesday. “The world needs to see and know this,” he said in a post to Telegram that included graphic images of the victims at a supermarket hit by Russian missiles.


Vivian Salama contributed to this article.

Write to Matthew Luxmoore at matthew.luxmoore@wsj.com and Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com