Russian attacks devastate Ukrainian energy infrastructure

Russian attacks devastate Ukrainian energy infrastructure
Russia is targeting Ukraine's power infrastructure in an effort to systematically destroy its generating capacity. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 13, 2024

Russian strikes in the early hours of April 11 inflicted severe damage on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, including the near-complete destruction of the largest power plant in the Kyiv region, the Tripoli thermal power plant (TPP). This marks a change in strategy, focusing on targeting power generation instead of distribution, and may serve as a precursor to a major summer offensive.

According to military estimates, a barrage of 42 missiles and 40 drones targeted power stations across five regions – Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv and Kyiv. Ukrainian forces managed to intercept 57 of the incoming threats.

The destruction wrought by the attacks is significant, with the Tripoli TPP suffering total obliteration, according to the chairman of the Supervisory Board of Centrenergo, the company that operated the facility, as reported by The Bell. Centrenergo has now lost 100% of its generation capability. Videos circulating on Ukrainian social media platforms showcased the inferno engulfing the power station, marking a catastrophic loss.

Russian forces have already taken out the Zmiivskaya TPP in the Kharkiv Region and done the same to the Vuglehirskaya TPP in the Donetsk Oblast. Overnight they also damaged two major plants operated by DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company.

This latest assault comes amidst a strategic shift in Russian tactics, as outlined by Maxim Timchenko, CEO of DTEK. Unlike previous attacks that targeted distribution stations and transformers, Russian forces are now concentrating their firepower on major power plants, aiming for their total destruction.

In the south, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Rafael Grossi told his board of directors that likely Ukrainian attacks on the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP) demonstrated a “major escalation” for nuclear safety danger in the country. The attacks’ origins on the Ukrainian side could not be independently confirmed.

The vulnerability of Ukraine's defences has been exacerbated by a shortage of Patriot missile defence systems, crucial for thwarting Russian air attacks. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated the urgent need for these systems, underscoring the critical role they play in safeguarding Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

Despite this, US House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters on April 11 that no agreement had been reached in negotiations between Speaker Mike Johnson and the White House. Meanwhile, the EU Parliament has refused to distribute the EU Council’s budget until member countries transfer more Patriot missile systems to Ukraine.

The devastation inflicted by these attacks, coupled with the dwindling capacity of Ukraine to defend its airspace, paints a bleak picture for Kyiv. With the Ukrainian military facing shortages in personnel and ammunition, and Western aid falling short of expectations, the vulnerability of Ukraine stands at its peak, with concerns rising over the potential collapse of its defence.

Ukraine’s parliament passed a mobilisation bill in its second reading on April 11. A total of 283 lawmakers (out of 450) voted for the bill. A much-anticipated clause about demobilisation after 36 months’ service did not make it into the latest draft of the bill, indicating mounting political pressure on President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Ukraine’s decreasing reserves force the military to defend only certain locations and cities, reported Ukraine Business News. According to Zelenskiy’s calculations, Ukraine needs at least 25 Patriot air defence systems to repel Russia’s attacks.

General Christopher Cavoli, the top US commander in Europe, cautioned during a Congressional hearing on April 10 that Ukraine is on the brink of running out of ammunition and air defence interceptor missiles. Kyiv is in urgent need of renewed support from the US in the next months if it is to avoid conceding more territory or possibly losing the war completely.

US financial support for Ukraine already began to dwindle last August, but things have rapidly deteriorated since January, when the US ran out of money for Ukraine and Russia struck with a major missile barrage to deplete Ukraine’s air defences, followed up by an even larger barrage in March targeting its power infrastructure.

In the first days of the March barrage Russia hit and largely destroyed Ukraine’s biggest hydropower station, Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro hydroelectric power plant (HPP). DTEK says that 80% of its generating capacity is now damaged or destroyed. With Ukraine going into spring, the destruction of Trypilska and the Dnipro HPP is not seen as catastrophic, but as both facilities are unlikely to be repaired before the winter their absence will become “a major headache” this autumn, officials from Trypilska said in comments posted on social media.

Rumours about a possible second mobilisation in Russia after Putin’s re-election in March have been vehemently denied by both presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Andrey Kartopolov, chairman of the defence committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament. Earlier reports had suggested Russia could call up an additional 300,000 troops for an attempted siege of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

The Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, has stated that Ukraine has experience defending its eastern territories and the army is effectively building up barricades and defences in preparation for a possible Russian assault.

Western officials, speaking anonymously to Bloomberg, have described the current situation in Ukraine as the most vulnerable since the onset of the conflict, with fears mounting over the possibility of a significant Russian advance, marking a potential turning point in the war.

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