Russian Attacks on Ukrainian Critical Infrastructure Become Hybrid Threat to Europe

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 74

(Source: Telegram of Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal)

Executive Summary:

  • Russia’s hybrid strategy against Ukraine continues to focus heavily on crippling civilian infrastructure to undermine the Ukrainian economy.
  • Moscow is targeting Ukraine’s underground natural gas storage system, with the aim of weakening the European Union since it has increasingly relied on Ukraine’s storage facilities since 2023.
  • The environmental impacts of Russian bombings extend beyond Ukraine to ecosystems across Europe, requiring urgent action to protect future generations.

On May 8, Russia initiated yet another assault on Ukraine by launching 55 cruise and ballistic missiles, accompanied by 21 attack drones, on Kyiv’s critical infrastructure (, May 8). The strike targeted energy infrastructure sites in the regions of Poltava, Kirovohrad, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Vinnytsia (, May 8). DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private investor in the energy industry, reported severe damage to its equipment. The strike marked the fifth major attack on DTEK’s facilities over the past month and a half. Russia has attacked DTEK’s thermal power plants (TPP) about 180 times, killing three and injuring 51 (, May 8). These targeted strikes from Russia are already leading to energy supply and environmental issues for Ukraine, and if continued, Ukraine will fall further into an energy crisis.

These targeted assaults on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure reflect one of the central tenets of Moscow’s plan to weaken and demoralize Kyiv. Since February 2022, Russia’s hybrid strategy has consistently involved the deliberate crippling of civilian infrastructure. Moscow has sought to strike public health and education facilities, agricultural sites, telecommunication hubs, dams, railways, pipelines, ports, and power plants—including the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the largest nuclear power plant in Europe (see EDM June 1, 2023, June 19, 2023, June 28, 2023). According to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, since the full-scale invasion began, Russia has destroyed or damaged approximately 250,000 residential buildings, around 4,000 schools, over a thousand hospitals, and many other civilian facilities (, May 3). Some estimate that Ukraine’s reconstruction would currently require $486 billion (, May 3).

Spring has brought a notable shift in Moscow’s drone and missile strategy. Russia has significantly increased its drone and missile attacks, particularly targeting Ukraine’s key electricity and gas facilities. These assaults have intensified in frequency and scale, surpassing the capabilities of Ukraine’s air defenses (, May 8). Since the beginning of the year, Russia has unleashed almost 1,000 missiles, approximately 2,800 Shahed-type “kamikaze” drones, and nearly 7,000 guided aerial bombs. Alarmingly, only 3 percent of these Russian munitions have targeted military objectives, while the remaining 97 percent have struck civilian infrastructure (, April 11). Russia primarily targets TPPs and hydroelectric stations (HES). Following a series of attacks on March 22, a staggering 80 percent of all TPPs in Ukraine lay in ruins (, March 22; Euromaidan Press, April 8).

This attack and others like it have caused severe power outages across Ukraine and jeopardize the stability of the country’s energy system. Notably, facilities aimed at generating “green energy” remain unaffected due to their decentralized and less vulnerable nature (, April 12).

Russia’s objective is to induce a widespread collapse of Ukraine’s energy system (Radio Svoboda, March 22). For example, an attack on April 11 resulted in the near-complete destruction of the Trypilska TPP, the largest electricity supplier in the Kyiv region. Before this, Russia targeted the Vuglehirskaya TPP in the Donetsk region and the Zmiivska TPP in the Kharkiv region. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city after Kyiv, has experienced a near-total electricity loss, compounded by water supply challenges (, March 22). “Centrenergo”—one of the largest energy companies in Ukraine—has lost all of its generation capabilities (, April 11).

Russia’s primary objective is to depopulate Ukraine and instigate a fresh wave of Ukrainian refugees to neighboring EU countries (, May 2). Increasingly, Ukrainians are fleeing the country, which has exacerbated labor shortages, particularly in labor-intensive sectors (Radio Svoboda, October 17, 2023;, October 28, 2023;, March 11). Additionally, the expected surge of refugees presents challenges for Ukraine’s European partners, potentially fueling social tensions and eroding political support for Ukraine within the European Union (, November 22, 2022; Radio Svoboda, January 22). This destabilization closely aligns with the Kremlin’s strategy, undermining Ukraine’s economy, facilitating further Russian offensives, and stoking tensions among EU member states.

Additionally, Russia has targeted Ukraine’s natural gas underground storage system (UGS) situated in the Western part of Ukraine (, May 8). Kyiv’s UGS network is the largest in Europe, with a total storage capacity of 31 billion cubic meters (bcm). Since 2023, when Europe’s storage facilities approached maximum capacity, European energy firms, including Shell Plc and DXT Commodities, began utilizing excess reserves in Ukraine in anticipation of peak demand during the winter months.

Ukraine has emerged as a viable alternative for gas storage despite the war, thereby significantly bolstering the energy security of the European Union (, November 1, 2023). Naftogaz, owner of the UGS, recently engaged in discussions with various European firms regarding potential collaborations. Ukraine allows traders to reserve storage space of up to 10 bcm, constituting roughly one-third of the country’s total annual capacity (, April 11). Russia’s spring assaults coincided with these negotiations and the start of the gas injection season. Despite UGS being located 2 kilometers underground (making it challenging for the enemy to target), Russia’s attacks still pose a threat to the European Union’s energy security, disrupting European gas prices. Following the Russian bombings on April 11, European gas futures surged by 7.1 percent (Unian.ual, April 11).

Russian bombings of critical infrastructure have also caused significant environmental damage, with repercussions extending to ecosystems across Europe. Following the destruction of the Kakhovka HES, Russia is now attempting to provoke another environmental disaster (see EDM June 19, 28, 2023, February 15). The recent attack on the Dnipro HES and dam released oil into the Dnipro River, contaminating the adjacent soil and the waters of the Black Sea, with the potential to spread to the Mediterranean Sea (, March 22). Additionally, Russia’s ongoing militarization and periodic shelling of the territory surrounding the ZNPP poses a nuclear threat to not only Ukraine but also Europe and the rest of the world (, April 8, 26). As the conflict persists, urgent measures are needed to mitigate the ecological devastation and safeguard the environment for present and future generations.

Russia’s aerial attacks on Ukraine exacerbate energy, environmental, and migration problems for the European Union. In an article published in April, Ukrainian analysts Olga Aivazovska and Andriy Savchuk called attention to the migration issues that Russian bombings could cause for Europe, which may be unable to take in more Ukrainian refugees (, May 2). As a result, they noted that Europe and other Western allies should have a vested interest in increasing aid to Ukraine, including air defense systems and supplies for rebuilding infrastructure.

As the war continues, the impact on Ukraine and the wider region will only increase as Russia’s brutal strategy of attacking civilian infrastructure remains effective. While the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland in June could make strides toward ending the war, Kyiv’s allies may soon be forced to play a larger role to protect their own interests (see EDM, January 29, April 15).