Ukraine’s ‘De-Naftafication’ of Russia (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 60

(Source: Ukrainska Pravda)

Executive Summary:

  • Ukrainian forces have enjoyed a string of successes in targeting energy facilities and military installations within Russia and the occupied territories.
  • Kyiv’s “de-naftification” of Russia reflects Ukraine’s growing ability to bring the war home to Moscow, further enflaming societal discontent with Putin’s Kremlin.
  • The successful attacks on Russian targets in the country have been carried out almost solely by Ukrainian military equipment to avoid some Western capitals’ bans on using their aid within Russia.

Ukrainian military intelligence has invented the term “de-naftafication” (i.e., removal of oil [nafta] from Russia) as a counter to the Kremlin’s declared goal of denazification in Ukraine (, April 7). Kyiv’s campaign of targeting Russian energy assets is proving to be more successful than Moscow’s approach. While the Russian side continues to attack civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, Ukrainian forces are increasingly launching strikes against military targets within Russia. In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Russian military commanders Lieutenant General Sergei Kobylash and Admiral Viktor Sokolov for ordering attacks on civilian targets (ICC, March 5). Ukraine’s heightened ability to disrupt Russian energy and military infrastructure has been underscored by a string of recent successes, even as portions of the front seem close to collapse. Russian President Vladimir Putin is already struggling to quell societal strife, and Ukraine’s “drone offensive” looks to disrupt the Kremlin leader’s domestic standing further.

De-naftafication is part of Ukraine’s multifaceted campaign to increasingly bring the war home to Russia (see EDM, December 21, 2023, January 19, February 1, April 11). These attacks primarily rely on Ukrainian-produced weapons, though the United Kingdom is assisting Kyiv in procuring, producing, and delivering 1,000 one-way attack drones (, March 7). Tech-savvy Ukrainians build Ukrainian drones, and a large volunteer movement supports their development and procurement. These drones have become more sophisticated, using artificial intelligence for navigation and to avoid jamming rather than communicating with orbital satellites. New Ukrainian drones and small unmanned planes now possess a range between 750 and 1,000 kilometers (470 and 620 miles), carry far deadlier payloads, and offer greater precision (Ukrinform, June 20, 2023).

The new capabilities have allowed Ukrainian forces to attack military bases within Russia and strike Russian Air Force assets in the air. For example, in April, a missile strike on the Dzhankoi airfield in occupied Crimea destroyed one S-400 surface-to-air system, two S-300 long-range missile systems, and a large amount of ammunition (, April 17). Additionally, Ukrainian drones flew some 400 miles to the Republic of Mordovia in Russia and destroyed a 29B6 Container radar system (, April 17).

At sea, Ukraine has destroyed almost one-third of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (see EDM, September 25, 2023; March 26). With most of the remaining vessels moved from Crimea to Novorossiysk, Ukraine has begun attacking naval vessels in the Kaliningrad region (Ukrainian Military Intelligence, April 8).

In Russia and the occupied territories, bridges and railways are regularly attacked, including the Chertov Bridge in Buryatia, thousands of miles from Ukraine (, December 1, 2023). Additionally, Ukrainian special forces attached to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR) and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) carry out assassinations, explosions, and the distribution of anti-Kremlin propaganda inside Russia and occupied Crimea (see EDM, May 26, 2023). For example, Russian submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky was assassinated in Russia after the HUR tracked the route he took while jogging on a running app (Kyiv Post, July 11, 2023). Ukraine also supports Russian partisans undertaking an extensive arson campaign against military facilities within Russia (Meduza, September 25, 2022).

In 2014, Russia seized the three oil and gas rigs off the coast of Crimea (dubbed the “Boyko Tower”), stealing large volumes valued in the tens of millions of dollars (Nashi Hroshi, January 16, 2015). After the full-scale invasion in 2022, the rigs began to be used as forward deployment bases, helicopter landing pads, and long-range missile firing sites. In the fall of 2023, HUR special forces announced that they had re-captured the facilities after a well-planned operation (, September 11, 2023).

Kyiv’s decision to begin targeting Russian energy facilities came in response to Russia’s missile and drone strikes against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. When asked in November 2023 how Ukraine would respond if Russia continued, Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko replied, “By taking the same approach, attacking their energy infrastructure” (Levyy Bereh, November 11, 2023). Later, an SBU spokesperson said that Ukraine was implementing a “detailed strategy” to reduce Russia’s economic potential by attacking its oil infrastructure (Institute for the Study of War, March 23).

Ukraine has seven goals in attacking Russian energy installations:

  • Reduce revenues from energy exports for the Russian government;
  • Force Russia to transfer already insufficient air defense assets to protect refineries and other energy facilities;
  • Delay oil exports to India and China, the two largest customers of Russian oil since the expanded invasion began (see EDM, April 27, 2023, January 9);
  • Create shortages for the Russian army to compromise the Kremlin’s ability to launch an offensive later this year;
  • Capitalize on Moscow’s inability to repair and maintain damaged infrastructure;
  • Bring the war increasingly home to Russia by creating domestic shortages of fuels and showing that Ukraine can penetrate Russian air defenses;
  • Spur the US Congress to approve the $60 billion aid package that has been held up since the end of 2023.

Currently, no Russian refineries are operating in European Russia. Some in the West estimate that Ukraine has damaged or destroyed 14 percent of Russia’s oil refineries (, April 4). Ukrainian attacks have reduced Russia’s daily production to between 600,000 and 900,000 barrels of oil (The Kyiv Independent, March 19). Russia’s estimated production of 858,000 tons of oil per week is the lowest since December 2023. Highlighting Ukraine’s successes, on March 1, Moscow imposed a six-month ban on gasoline exports (The Moscow Times, February 27). As a result, Russia has begun importing gasoline from Belarus, with 3,000 metric tons imported in March, up from no imports in January and 590 metric tons in February (, March 28).

Since the beginning of 2024, Ukraine has attacked a wide range of Russian energy installations.  

  • In January, Ukraine attacked an oil refinery in Tuapse (, January 25). Of particular note, Ukrainian forces launched three drone attacks against oil terminals in the Port of Ust-Luga, near St. Petersburg (, January 21). The attack was a success because the air defense systems that had been protecting Ust-Luga were moved to one of Putin’s private palaces. 
  • In February, Ukraine attacked an oil refinery in Volgograd, an oil depot in Kursk, the Ilsky and Afipsky oil refineries in the Krasnodar region, and an oil depot in the Oryol region.
  • In March, the oil depot in Kursk was again attacked, together with oil refineries in Kaluga, Samara, Ryazan, Tatarstan, and elsewhere (, March 10, 21). Ukrainian special forces and partisans operating in Crimea also blew up the oil pipeline in Feodosia (, March 3).
  • In April, Ukrainian special forces have blown up oil and gas pipelines in Azov in Rostov oblast (, April 6).

Ukraine, a country without a navy and a smaller military than Russia, has successfully taken the war into Russia with drone attacks on energy and military installations. As Western governments have disallowed the use of their military equipment inside Russia, most attacks have relied on military equipment designed and manufactured in Ukraine. The exception has been the attacks in Crimea, which have used British, French, and Ukrainian military equipment. Overall, Kyiv’s de-naftafication of Russia has been more successful than Russia’s declared goal of de-nazification of Ukraine—and every successful strike puts more pressure on Putin and stokes Russian discontent for the Kremlin leader’s war.